A history of East-the-Water (part 7)

Turning the town white

In 1850 the town was battling outbreaks of cholera and, in the hope of combating the disease, the council ordered its houses to be lime-washed and the street’s to be spread with lime ash. These measures may have been ineffective, but almost overnight they transformed Bideford into Charles Kingsley’s “little white town.” The use of white rendering or white-glazed brick during later developments has preserved much of that whiteness.

Despite Bideford’s battle with disease, or perhaps because of it, White's Directory of 1850 claimed "Few places excel in romantic scenery this beautiful little seaport town of North Devon," which "is highly salubrious, and the streets are clean and well drained." The directory also notes the presence in the town of three potteries, several malt-houses, two breweries, a number of lime-kilns, and an iron-foundry.

In 1850 the Bideford Anthracite Mining and Mineral Black Paint company’s Chapel Park tramway was still under construction. By this point flooding was clearly an issue for the culm works, and a shaft and pumping station were also installed, on the hillside above the East-the-Water quays, between Vinegar Hill and Chudleigh Fort.

The company moved culm from its tramway to waiting colliers via an aerial chute that ran  across Barnstaple Street. So high was the chute and so urgent the miner’s desire to get the Culm to market, that falling coal became a menace to the public and the town council issued the company with a public warning.

A palaeontologist, writing in 1905, mentioned that an adit had been run from Broadstone Quarry, for the purpose of draining it, and it has been said that you could walk through to Barnstaple Street from there.This appears to have happened after the closure of the mine, and in connection with the extraction of stone from the quarry, rather than the extraction of culm.

The railway arrives

It is said that in 1851 Bideford’s Town Clerk, seeking more storage space, burnt many of the council’s older records, leaving later historians to tear their hair out. Fortunately, the power of combustion was also being put to more profitable use. On 2 November 1855, the North Devon Railway Company opened the Bideford Extension Railway, a line which linked Barnstaple with East-the-Water. The original terminus, at Cross Park (now the northern end of Ethelwyn Brown Close), extended into the river to provide room for a station, a quay, and a large goods depot. The quay was equipped with a travelling steam crane, which served for unloading coasters laden with coal and river barges full of locally-dredged gravel.

The timing of the railway extension could not have been better, for it was also in 1855 that Charles Kingsley published his blockbuster novel Westward Ho!, bringing the attractions of the area to a wider audience. Part of Westward Ho! was reputedly written in Colonial House (now The Royal Hotel), which, in Kingsley’s day, housed the local library and was an ideal place for a writer to research his book.

Picturing the town

On 1 Jan 1856, Thomas Honey (whose surname adorns a close in East-the-Water) published the first edition of his Bideford Gazette. It is still in circulation and serves both sides of the water, but now as the advertising-financed Gazette. Henceforth, the Gazette would provide later historians with a far clearer picture of activities in the town.

With the railway bringing tourists into East-the-Water, a proportion would have needed rooms, In addition to the Royal Hotel, Billings Directory of 1857 gives them the choice of the Sailors Inn in Torrington Lane, managed by J Kivell, or the Railway Inn in Barnstaple Street, managed by William Lake.

A painting of the town, believed to show the launch of Copiapo from Johnson’s ship-yard in 1862, provides a glimpse of East-the-Water, as viewed from the south. Lime-kilns are shown at the southern end of the settlement, which may be those mentioned in 1794 by Instead Marshall. The coal chute across Barnstaple Street and the hillside pumphouse are all clearly seen.

Whilst some developments were preserving a clearer picture of the town, the re-development of St Mary's in 1862 was having the reverse effect. The church had served as a repository for municipal documents, but its redevelopment saw the disappearance of a chest believed to contain the Borough’s earliest records. A subsequent deathbed confession suggested that this “quantity of old rubbish, written chiefly in Latin, such as nobody could read or understand,” had been “destroyed and burned,” at the instruction of the Town Clerk. How this relates to the destruction of documents attributed to 1861, if at all, remains uncertain.

Deeper water

In the early 19th C, Brixham developed an improved trawler design, known for its graceful lines, strength, and speed, it was capable of carrying fisheries into deeper water. The deep sea fishery had been born, but it would take Bideford a while to catch onto it. From 1854 Cox’s Cleave Houses shipyard (on the western shore where Riverside Close now stands) had been producing vessels of up to 1,220 tons, but the East the Water ship-builders specialised in smaller vessels, with Johnson’s yard producing boats of 100-430 ton capacity. Boats for deep sea fishing fell into this class, and, in 1866, Johnson's yard at East-the-Water built the first trawler for the Bideford Deep Sea Fishery Company.

In 1871 the railway was extended to Great Torrington, but the bridging of the Torridge at Landcross had unanticipated repercussions, for the viaduct and its various embankments shifted the river’s deep-water channel from the eastern side of the river to its western side. With the steady increase in size of shipping the usefulness of Bideford’s eastern quays was now bound to decline, but it would take a long time before their industry would finally fall silent.

A new station and a new water supply

In 1872 a new Bideford railway station was opened, coinciding with the extension of the line to Great Torrington. The position of the existing tracks ensured that this lay in East-the-Water.The Station Hotel, formerly in Barnstaple Street, relocated to Torrington Lane.

Whilst the railway carried clay and culm out, people now began to flood in, drawn to the area by Kingsley's prose, and accommodated by the growth of his book's namesake town. The majority no-doubt, having arrived in East-the-Water, were then conveyed across the bridge to swell western Bideford’s coffers, or for onward transit. With the advent of the railways, cheaper mass-produced goods began to flood into the area, out-competing the local lime-kilns and potteries. Thus, one-by-one, their fires were extinguished for good.

1872 also saw Bideford gain a waterworks, supplied by two reservoirs on Gammaton Moor.

A shipyard and a mission

The 1871 Census shows a single man by the name of Henry M Restarick lodging at Ridgeway cottages in Northam. In 1871 he gave his occupation as “Ropemaker, employing 3 men and 3 boys.”  In 1877 this same Henry Morgan Restarick (1833-1899) took over Johnson’s East-the-Water Shipyard (the Brunswick Wharf site). Restarick was an Axminster man, but no stranger to shipbuilding, for he had been office manager for John Cox & Son, shipbuilders of Bridport, and had also served as office manager at the Cleave Houses shipyard under George and John Cox. He presumably served at Cleave Houses until it closed, for it did so in 1877, no-doubt enabling Restarick to cherry-pick the redundant staff for his new enterprise. At the time he took over Johnson’s, it was the last working ship-yard in Bideford. Under him it continued to specialise in building deep sea fishing vessels.

1877 proved a busy year for Restarick, for in that year he also founded the seaman’s Bethel chapel in Torrington Street and became its first pastor. John Cox had been a Weslyan preacher and  Restarick continued in the Methodist tradition. As such he was a strong advocate of the temperance movement, and very involved in local matters, twice served as Bideford’s mayor. 

In 1881 John Cleveland sold, the Manor of Bideford and its lands, at least all of them except Restarick’s Shipyard, which was was specifically excluded from the transaction. The new owners were the Mayor and Corporation of Bideford, thus the Aldermen and Councillors became the Lords of the Manor. Restarick’s Shipyard, having been excluded from this transaction, would go on to play a role in the early history of the Fisherman’s Mission (aka. the Royal National Mission to Deep-Sea Fishermen).

With tobacco selling for four shillings per pound onshore, but only eighteen-pence at sea, English seamen had a strong incentive to purchase their supplies offshore. To meet this demand, Dutch vessels known as ‘copers’ (from the Dutch k?pen for 'to buy') were sailing with the north-sea fishing fleets, but in addition to selling tobacco to the seamen, they also functioned as "grog-shops." As a result, drunken seamen were routinely endangering not only themselves and their ship-mates, but even their boats. Concerned about this situation, Ebenezer Mather, founder of the Fisherman’s Mission, reasoned that, by equipping a mission vessel to accompany the fleet, he could help address the issue. The mission ship would finance itself by fishing, but also carry a missionary, a medical box, and a substantial quantity of cheap tobacco, the latter to be made available at cost price and without the accompanying temptation to drink. 

By 1883-84, Mather had already secured the support of tobacco manufacturers, launched a mission smack, and proved the model worked, so he decided to acquire a further three boats. The first, the Salem, he purchased from a Hull smack-owner, but the other two, the Cholmondeley, and the Edward Auriot, he had specially built at Restarick's shipyard, as was the mission’s fifth smack, the Edward Birkbeck. The Edward Birkbeck’s launch was photographed, and the picture graces many books on Bideford history.

The activity of the mission ships was welcomed by the fleet owners, whilst the copers, finding demand for their services reduced, were eventually driven out of business.

Restarick also built ships for a range of other clients. The last boat launched from his yard in 1886, in the process becoming caught by the tide and causing slight damaging to the Long Bridge. In 1887 Restarick’s Yard was purchased by I. Baker and Son, Merchants, under whose ownership a new sea-wall was constructed, and it became Brunswick Wharf. The Baker's warehouse sign is a familiar landmark at the eastern end of the bridge.

As if to underline Bideford’s decline as a maritime centre, the town had lost its status as a port in 1882, a status that was thankfully restored in 1928.

New churches and a new cemetery

Restarick’s Chapel was not the only one that sprang up during the late 19th C. In 1880 an ‘Iron Church’ was established in Barnstaple Street and 1888 saw a Port Mission Chapel opened at Bank End. The Bank End chapel was founded by the Rev Roger Granville, the minister of St Mary’s. He then went on to finance most of the cost of building St. Peter's on Torrington Lane, a church with capacity for 300 people. Opened in 1890, the church was built using local stone and top quality fittings at a cost of £2,150 (the equivalent of £234,000 in 2012). The same year, i.e. 1890, the Church of England Cemetery near Northgate Cottage was opened. The Rev Granville also established an infant school for the children of East-the-Water (in Torrington Street, near the bottom of Torrington Lane).

Despite a sinking floor, the Bank End mission chapel survived until around 1980, at which time former mayoress Ethelwynne Brown was the organist. She gives her name to the local authority housing of Ethelwynne Brown Close. St Peter’s, whose location suffered from a lack of local parking facilities and the increasingly busy road outside its gate, is now also closed.

But it was not just chapels that were springing up all over the place. In 1879, the Barnstaple Turnpike Trust commissioned, as one of its last acts, 104 new milestones, each giving the distance to Barum (the ancient name of Barnstaple). These  were erected beside the turnpike roads and may survive. One may be seen, albeit half buried, beside the bus shelter on the western side of Barnstaple Street.