Bideford

The town of Bideford, sits on the banks of the river Torridge, its name is said to derive from ‘by-the-ford. Most people will know the iconic bridge that crosses from Bideford to East-the-Water, first built in 1286 as a pack horse bridge, it was later rebuilt in 1535. The 24 arch bridge as we see it today was built in a variety of sizes, it is rumoured that this was the case because each of the arches was paid for by local businessmen, the larger arches reflecting those with more wealth. Historically the town was referred to as the ‘Little White Town’ before the Doomsday book recorded the ‘manor’ in 1086. According to the Doomsday book there were 30 villagers and 8 smallholders. Bideford is also very well known for a slightly unusual reason, it would be the home of the last woman to be convicted of witchcraft in England. The story of how Temperance Lloyd, Mary Trembles and Susanna Edwards came to the gallows is a tragic one that serves as a dark reminder of England’s superstitious past. The book of Bideford, written by John Watkins, a local historian in 1792 tells the story of their misfortune: On a July Saturday in 1682, a local shopkeeper reported to the town constables that he suspected that Temperance Lloyd had been using witchcraft to cause illness to a local woman by the name of Grace Thomas. Following this, Temperance was arrested and further charged of using magical acts upon Grace Thomas, and having communicated with the Devil. Following this, others came forward to accuse Temperance of further acts of witchcraft, including the sightings of a cat, which was believed to be a manifestation of the Devil. Lloyd denied the use of magic. Two more Bideford women, Mary Trembles and Susanna Edwards, were denounced by their neighbours, having been noticed in the company of Lloyd when all three were begging for food in Bideford.

They were arrested and incarcerated with Lloyd, and crowds gathered to stare at the three suspects as they languished in the town lock-up. The three women were sent to Exeter on the 8th July 1862 were they awaited trial for over a month. The trial eventually took place on the 19th August, The presiding judge, Sir Thomas Raymond, allowed his will to be swayed by the emotional atmosphere in the court and raised no objection to the jury finding the suspects guilty of all charges. Once sentence of death had been passed, the women were sent back to Exeter gaol to await execution. Their deaths took place on 25 August 1682 at Heavitree just outside Exeter. A plaque commemorating the tragic deaths of the Bideford witches can be viewed today on the wall of Rougemont Castle in Exeter. By the 16th Century, Bideford was the countries third largest port, it was even rumoured that Sir Walter Raleigh landed his first shipment of tobacco here, although this is believed to be a myth. In 1699 more ships are reported to have left Bideford than anywhere else in England, apart from London and Topsham. The area of Bideford is probably best known by the works of Charles Kingsley who came to Bideford in 1854, hiring a house, where he wrote his best seller, Westward Ho! And consequently the area saw a boom in tourism from people coming to the see the stories setting. In 1886 The ‘Thorough Guides of North Devon & Cornwall’ promoted Bideford: “Every visitor to these parts is or ought to be familiar with Kingsley’s “Westward Ho!” and so we need not quote his description of this old fashioned town and port. It stands on the margin and steep western bank of the Torridge, and is fully seen as we approach by rail and alight at the station, which is on the opposite side of the river.

The town is of considerable antiquity, and was formerly of relatively greater importance than at present. It’s principal streets are wide, and the atmosphere and general appearance of the places throughout suggestive of quiet and healthy ways, not unaccompanied with fair prosperity. The bridge has been more than once widened, and affords a delightful promenade when the tide is up and the softly beautiful Torridge valley is bright with the windings of its then broad stream. There are no particular points of interest in this town by a pleasant place for a day or two whilst exploring the neighbourhood. Today Bideford is still a working port seeing many ships transporting aggregates and clay extracts, there is still a small but flourishing local fishing trade as well as local connections to Lundy Island. The town houses its own Pannier Market, and traffic free streets makes this the perfect place to have a walk around and enjoy the many shops and cafes that the town has to offer. You could take a walk along the quay and admire the expansive waterfront, or perhaps visit the fortnightly farmers’ market. For cyclists and walkers, there is the Tarka Trail that is the perfect way to explore the area.

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