A brief history of East-the-Water (part 6)

At war with Napoleon

By 1809 Napoleon was seeking to conquer Europe. A French blockade of Baltic timber caused a slump in Torridge-side ship-building. In response, Bideford expertise was shipped to Newfoundland to utilise the timber there. In that same year the first series Ordnance Survey map of Bideford was published. Along with the riverside developments in East-the-Water, it marks Salterns, Grange, Grange Barn, and Lodge. Between these latter two, nestling between the spurs, is a structure marked as Conegor Hills, where there now remains only an empty field and parts of the ancient hedge-row that once adjoined its drive.

An account from 1811 noted that whilst the streets of Bideford were clean and many of the houses were well built and occupied by opulent merchants, the town's trade was suffering as the war dragged on.

French prisoners were again in Bideford, presumably at the Prison Field (aka Folly Field, but now Pollyfield) site. It is during this period that French prisoners were believed to have produced the beautifully carved models of ships now on display in the Burton Gallery Museum, but more recent thinking on their provenance suggests they may have originated elsewhere.

The battle of Waterloo in 1815, left Napoleon defeated and the seas a whole lot safer for Bideford’s shipping. It was a good time to be a merchant and merchants need ships. In the early 19th C. an established shipyard (on the Brunswick Wharf site) was taken over by East-the-Water resident, Robert Johnson (1794-1855). The business later passed to his son John, who lived in Springfield Terrace. The yard had two slipways and they were often both in use

Exodus to Empire

The defeat of Napoleon, together with the Victorian expansion of the British Empire, brought a boom in maritime trade. Bideford's quays were a hive of activity: large quantities of timber, hemp, and tallow were imported from the Baltic and America; wines and fruits arrived from the Mediterranean, cattle came from Ireland; coal, culm, iron, and flag-stones from Wales; and marble and slate from Cornwall. The Newfoundland trade had also revived. Yet something else was also going on. The early half of the 19th C. saw a mass exodus from England of folk seeking a better life abroad. For many, Bideford was their chosen port of embarkation.

The western route

The road from Bideford to Great Torrington had historically run to the east of the Torridge, departing up the steep hill through East-the-Water then running southward through Weare Giffard. In 1824 that was the route followed by the toll road, but, in that year, an act was passed to enable the construction of a new road between the towns. This was the New Road, which is now the main road to Torrington and follows the west bank of the Torridge. It was finally constructed in 1827.

Meanwhile, Bideford’s Congregation of Protestant Dissenters of the Independent Denomination were concerned about a very different sort of traffic. Petitioning the House of Lords "to take the Subject of Colonial Slavery into their early and serious Consideration, with a view to its entire and speedy Abolition.” Slavery was abolished in 1833, but penal transportation from Britain and Ireland would not officially end until 1868.

Coal, lime, and clay

Culm is a local name for anthracite and an outcrop of culm bearing strata crosses East-the-Water, beneath Mines Road, Eastridge View, and Grange Road, before continuing, under the Torridge, and onward under western Bideford. A lease signed by the Earl of Bath (John Grenville, 1628-1701) suggests this was being exploited on the lands of Port Farm as long ago as 1664.

As well as three seams of anthracite, the outcrop contains one of a carbonaceous clay known as Bideford Black. Used as a pigment, Bideford Black was once in demand for products as diverse as boat blacking and mascara. Black mining once flourishing in East-the-Water at Chapel Park, where there was already a mine as early as 1820. To the east, the Chapel Park mine linked to another mine just north of Warmington Farm, the Westwood Mine. A further mine, the Broadstone Mine, lay near the head of the valley that runs southward from near the Salterns and the works continued westward from there to the Torridge.

During 1823-4 the Rolle Canal was dug to facilitate transport between Great Torrington and Bideford. The canal, which joined the Torridge at Landcross, allowed limestone from Wales to be imported further inland, along with the coal needed to slake it. In return, clay from the Peters Marland pits (south of Great Torrington), together with other products from Rolle’s mills, could make the reverse journey, then, as required, trans-ship into ocean going vessels for export from Bideford’s quays.

An exodus to Canada and a new road

The period from 1830-1844 marked a low point for the economy of Devon and across that period some 1,500 people sailed to Prince Edward Island from the West Country, the majority choosing Bideford as their point of departure. James Yeo's 283 ton vessel, British Lady (built in 1836) regularly sailed between Bideford and Charlottetown, carrying lumber for Bideford's shipbuilders and carpenters (potentially including those on the east bank), and returning with goods and passengers. Bideford's popularity amongst West Country emigrants as a point of departure would continue until the coming of the railway provided easier access to Bristol, Plymouth, and eventually Liverpool.

At about the same period, a coastal turnpike from Barnstaple to Bideford, via Instow, was constructed, providing for much easier communication between the two towns (though local tradition links this to the building of the railway embankment, that would not happen until much later).

The resurgence of the eastern potteries

Bideford’s potteries were still hard at work, but in 1835 the Penny Cyclopedia described them as “principally for the manufacture of flower-pots.” It is true that Bideford’s ceramic industry had always specialised in producing good quality basic wares, however it's output was far from limited to products for the horticultural trade.

Bryant Ching, who appears to have been displaced from his Hallsannery Pottery by the route of the new road to Great Torrington, had moved his business to East-the-Water. By 1861 it employed 6 men and 5 boys and had become renowned for the fire-clay ovens it produced.

The Phillips family ran a pottery in Torrington Lane (maps of the period show the kiln near Potter’s Corner, with a clay-pit just up-hill from it). During the 19th C. the Phillips Pottery shipped thousands of parcels of wares to Newfoundland and Virginia, they also supplied pots to accommodate an Irish butter glut. But it was for their fine harvest jugs that they were really noted, with examples from John Phillips now in several museums. Such jugs, whose production was continued by Henry Phillips (1835-), became something of a Bideford icon.

For potters who shipped their wares around the world, to part-own ships was not unusual, but, in the early 19th C., the East-the-Water potter William Carder had a share in no less than five vessels, possibly because his was a sea going family.

Gas arrives in Bideford

In 1853 the Torrington Lane potteries gained a new neighbour, for, just downhill from them in Nuttaberry, a gasworks opened in East-the-Water, with the gas main running across the river underneath the Long Bridge.

Laying rails

In 1833 the Bideford and Okehampton Railway Company submitted plans for roads and a quay at “Crossparks.” It is unclear what became of this, for it would be another 22 years before the first train rolled into Cross Parks.

In 1840 the civil prison was removed from Meddon Street to East-the-Water, where, for a time, it occupied the wine cellars of the Colonial Building (now the Royal Hotel).

In 1846 the Taw Vale Railway and Dock Company finally laid its first stretch of track. In the same year Chapel Park was sold, by a Mr Pollard, to a newly formed company, the Bideford Anthracite Mining Company, for which Pollard would continue to act as agent. By 1850, to get the anthracite to the quay that bit more easily, an adit was being driven into the hillside, entering it below Chudleigh Fort, above the car-park of what was, formerly, the Ship-on-Launch Inn in Barnstaple Street. It aimed to connected the quay with the Broadstone and Chapel Park works.

In 1845 Thomas Waters (1796-1875) established a shipyard near Crosspark Rock (a feature that is now long gone). The yard eventually closed in 1871. Thomas Brooks, who lived at No. 1 Barnstaple Street, owned a shipyard adjoining that of Thomas Waters. By 1947 the site of his yard was occupied by the Western Counties Association Ltd.

In 1848 a faculty was granted for the use of Church Room, East-the-Water, Bideford, for divine service, the first evidence of a resurgence of the Church’s involvement with the community. In the same year A Topographical Dictionary of England reported that “a gaol and bridewell have been lately built on the eastern side of the river.”