A history of East-the-Water (part 5)

Two mathematicians

1718 saw the birth in Bideford of Abraham Donn, the first of two brothers, the other being Benjamin Donne (b. 1729). Both would prove to be eminent mathematicians, though Abraham died quite young. Benjamin, who survived him, reverted the family name to its original form of Donne, but only after publishing a celebrated map of Devon (in 1765), of which more will be said later. Donne lends his surname (in its earlier version) to an East-the-Water road.

Defoe’s account

Published in 1724, Daniel Defoe's account of his visit to the SW peninsular reported that the Port of Bideford's trade was, by then, mostly in fish, but that rock salt, for preserving the local Herring catch, was also being shipped into the town from Liverpool. Defoe noted "There is indeed, a very fine stone bridge over the river here, but the passage is so narrow, and they are so chary of it, that few carriages go over it; but as the water ebbs quite out of the river every low water, the carts and wagons go over the sand with great ease and safety."

Change of hands

In about 1732 William Cleveland, Commisioner of his Majesty's Navy, sensing that he had found the perfect place to retire and focus his thoughts on religion, bought the Tapley estate. William had married into the Davie family of Orleigh, owners of the great house by The Key William died in 1734 and Tapley passed to his son John (-1763), who, in about 1750, purchased the Manor of Bideford from some descendants of William Granville, 3rd Earl of Bath, possibly consolidating their waterfront holding. A year later John Cleveland became sole Secretary to the Admiralty, a position he held until his death. The era of Granville dominance in the affairs of East-the-Water had finally come to an end.

Around this time the Countess Granville began to lease out a portfolio of other property in, or adjacent to, East-the-Water. The transactions give some indication of the Granvilles’ extensive holdings to the east of the Torridge.

In 1715, 1728 and 1755 the Countess leased out property at Roper’s Path Fields, comprising two closes in the East Land, in 1727 she also leased out Roper's Path in Putshole Tenement. The 1715 transaction had been to a Bideford rope-maker, suggesting that the fields derived their name from rope making activity. Its location has yet to be traced.

In 1723 she leased out Tennacott, East-the-Water, still identifiable as the farmstead of that name. In 1733 the Countess leased out Holdishcleave, East-the-Water. This is probably a reference to Oldiscleave Farm, which lies due south of Tennacott Farm.

In 1736 she leased out Dunscombe's Tenement, East-the-Water, to an Inn holder. Its location has yet to be traced.

In 1737 she leased out Lodge, a property located just south of the current Nuttaberry Industrial Estate, half way to Tennacott, where there is still a Lodge Plantation.

In 1739 she leased out Summers Bibery (East-the-Water). A court case from 1758 identifies Summers Bibery as one of three Biberys, all in the possession of Henry Stoneman, the other two being Griggs Bibery and Darracotts Bibery. These probably live on in as Bybury, already marked on a map of 1809, it is still to be found just east of Tennacott and SE of Woodville Farm.

Another map

On Donne’s 1756 one inch to the mile survey, East-the-Water still shows as little more than a ribbon of development. In Torrington Street this extends southward to a point due east of Ford House, at which point a street, with accompanying properties, runs directly inland for a short distance. Adjacent to this short spur is marked Folly. What lay at Folly and how it got that name remains enigmatic, but its memory lived on in 1904 in the name of Folly Field (aka Prison Field) at Nuttaberry. That, together with its marked location, suggests it gave its name to the modern Pollyfield. Half way along Torrington Street a relatively undeveloped Torrington Lane runs eastward, but with some property marked. Another strip of development (Barnstaple Street) runs northward from the bridge for around twice the distance of its southern counterpart. The Grange is marked, as also is the farmstead on the Barnstaple Road known as Salterns (shown as Saltrns). South of the community, half way to Tennacott Farm, is marked a property called Lodge.

From fishermen to middlemen

By the time of Defoe’s account, deep sea fishing was already in decline, American enterprise, piracy and conflicts all having taken their toll. Bideford’s shipmasters ceased fishing themselves and became middlemen, providing transport of prepared fish, much of which ended up in the Mediterranean, from whence the ships could return with spices, wine, and dried fruit. The changing pattern of business also saw shipbuilding become more prominent as a local industry, as merchants sought to expand their fleets.

Seven years of war

In 1754, competition over trade between Britain, France, and Spain erupted into the Seven Year’s War, during which Bideford hosted French prisoners of war. Bideford was a parole depot, so the French officers were reasonably accommodated, often with their families and in private lodgings. The remainder were held in close confinement in a camp sited near The Pill. That is until, in October 1758, the squalid conditions of their detention triggered a riot and the camp was promptly transferred across the river to East-the-Water, and to a secure compound near Nuttaberry Hill (later to become the gasworks site). In 1759 there were estimated to be as many as a thousand prisoners, all kept in check by one half of the Somerset Militia. An Admiralty inspection of their new camp still found it inadequate for such numbers.

The war did not seem to quench the local appetite for investment in maritime trade, for in 1758 John Cleveland extended the quay in East-the-Water, southward to the bridge (see Annex 1). Nor did it seem to dent the Newfoundland salt-cod trade, for around 1759 there were about 40 to 50 ships engaged in it.

The Treaty of Paris, signed in 1763, saw an end to the war, but not before Britain had enlarged its territorial assets and provided maritime merchants with an even greater trading base.

Advent of the turnpikes

After significant rainfall, the heavy local soils must have made road travel a nightmare, but in 1763 the Barnstaple Turnpike Trust was established, its responsibilities included provision of improved routes from Barnstaple to Bideford as well as a turnpike from East-the-Water to Great Torrington, via the traditional Wear Gifford and Huntshaw route (at that time the road on the western bank had yet to be constructed). There was a toll house at Pottery Corner, on Torrington Lane, and one on the Old Barnstaple Road. Much later, as the Turnpike Trust was about to be wound up, its final act was the installation of 190 milestones showing the distance to Barum (=Barnstaple), one of which may be seen embedded in the tarmac by a bus stop in Barnstaple Street.

The War with America

On 31 March 1774 Britain ordered the closure of the port of Boston, thus setting the scene for the American War of Independence (1775-81). The war curtailed Bideford's foreign trade, forcing a greater reliance on the local trades of shipbuilding and pottery. But it may also have had a sudden and dramatic impact on some of Bideford’s wealthy traders.

On 2 May 1774 the the Sherborne and Yeovil Mercury carried a series of advertisements for the sale of property in Bideford:

  • James Horwood offered Somers Bibery;
  • Elizabeth Kimber offered Dunscombe;
  • George Sage offered Gammaton.
The first two of these were former Granville East-the-Water properties and the latter lay in the east land. It remains unclear what might have prompted such a sudden and widespread urge to sell, but the timing suggests it could have been events on the other side of the Atlantic.

Two clergymen who left their mark

In 1789 John Wesley, still working within the Anglican denomination, was actively involved in promoting the Methodist approach in Bideford. Whilst Wesley was busy saving souls another clergyman was busy with his pen.

1792 saw the first publication of An Essay Towards a History of Bideford, by John Watkins, the clergyman and local historian after whom Watkins Way is named. His Essay, though criticised in its day for containing too much detail, has proved a useful source for later historians. It later became notorious for including the earliest detailed account of the Bideford witch trial (that had taken place nearly a century earlier in 1682). 

Marshall’s account

In 1794 Instead Marshall published an account of Bideford in his Rural Economy of the West Country. The war with America had apparently taken its toll, for he suggests the town was "remarkably forbidding," by virtue of its narrow streets and cheaply built houses. In the open spaces furze faggots were piled into house shaped ricks. Instead states - "The dangerous piles of fuel are for the use of the pottery for which only, I believe, this town is celebrated; chiefly or wholly, the coarser kinds of wear." The traditional way to fire the pottery kilns was with culm, usually imported from South Wales, but furze or bramble faggots would then be used to 'flash' the kiln.

Marshall witnessed one unusual activity, with low tide seeing 'many men employed in loading pack-horses with sand, left in the bed of the river.' This sand may have been for use in the potteries, or for fertilizing the land, but its removal may also have served a secondary purpose. A map showing Bideford in the 1820s suggests that the depth of water beside the western quay might have been enhanced by a channel dug to divert the Potter’s Pill southward alongside it.

Marshall notes that there were several lime kilns operating on the East-the-Water shore, with much of the limestone and all of the coal coming by sea from South Wales. The output from these kilns was delivered by packhorse within a radius of fifteen miles, providing lime for fertilizing the land and building work.

An Irish rebellion leaves its mark

Overlooking the Torridge, and now vaulting across the Tarka Trail by a stone-built pedestrian bridge, lies the cul-de-sac known as Vinegar Hill. We have, it has been suggested, the Irish Rebellion of 1798 to thank for this unusual name.

Fuelled by the revolutionary fervour in France, and also American's bid for independence, a French-aided armed uprising had been gathering momentum in Ireland since the spring of 1798. Volunteers were sought to bolster the forces available to counter this new threat of an Irish facilitated French invasion. It has been suggested that many troops bound for such conflicts in Ireland would have passed through Bideford.

The rebellion was at its strongest in County Wexford, until, on 21 June 1798, an English force secured victory in the pivotal battle of Chnoc Fhíodh na gCaor, near Enniscorthy. The English won the battle, but then failed to get to get their tongues round the Celtic name. Chnoc they translated as Hill, but Fhíodh na gCaor (fee-na-gare phonetically and meaning "the wood of the berries") was corrupted to Vinegar. 

Vinegar Hill, it is said, was named as a memorial to this English victory, though whether by men of Bideford who fought there, or by returning troops who passed through is uncertain (local's will mention one or other version).