BIDEFORD, a seaport, market town and municipal borough in the Barnstaple parliamentary division of Devonshire, England, 84 m. S.W. of Barnstaple. Pop. (1901) 8754. It is served by the London & South-Western and the Bideford, Westward Ho & Appledore railways. It is picturesquely situated on two hills rising from the banks of the river Torridge, 3 m. above its junction with the estuary of the Taw. Many of the houses are built with timber framework in Elizabethan style, and the two parts of the town are united by a bridge of 24 arches, originally erected in the 14th century, when the revenue of certain lands was set apart for its upkeep. The church of St Mary, with the exception of the tower, is a modern reconstruction. A stone chancel screen and a Norman font are also preserved. Industries include the manufacture of earthenware, leather goods, sails, ropes and linen, and ironfounding. The small harbour has about 17 ft. of water at high tide, but is dry at lo w tide. Anthracite and a coarse potter's clay are found near the town. The borough is under a mayor, 4 aldermen and 12 councillors. Area, 3398 acres.
Bideford (Bedeford, Bydyford, Budeford, Bytheford) is not mentioned in pre-Conquest records, but according to Domesday it rendered geld for three hides to the king. From the time of the Conquest down to the 18th century, Bideford remained in the possession of the Grenville family, and it first appears as a borough in an undated charter (probably of the reign of Edward I.) from Richard de Grenville, confirming a charter from his grandfather, Richard de Grenville, fixing the rent and services due from the burgesses and granting them liberties similar to those in use at Breteuil and a market every Monday. Another charter, dated 1271, confirms to Richard de Grenville and his heirs a market every Monday and five days' fair yearly at the feast of St Margaret (loth of July). In 1573 Elizabeth granted a charter creating Bideford a free borough corporate, with a common council consisting of a mayor, 5 aldermen and 7 chief burgesses, together with a recorder, town-clerk and 2 serjeants-at-mace. This charter also granted the Tuesday market, which is still held, and three annual fairs in February, July and November, now discontinued. A later charter from James I. in 1610 added the right to have a town seal, 7 aldermen instead of 5, and 10 chief burgesses instead of 7, and continued in force until the Municipal Corporations Act of 1873, which established 4 aldermen and 12 common councillors. In the 16th century Sir Richard Grenville, the famous Virginian settler, did much to stimulate the commercial development of Bideford, which long maintained a very considerable trade with America, Spain and the Mediterranean ports, the import of tobacco from Maryland and Virginia being especially noteworthy. From the beginning of the 18th century this gradually declined and gave place to a coasting trade in timber and coal, chiefly with Wales and Ireland. The silk industry which flourished in the 17th century is extinct.
See John Watkins, History of Bideford (Exeter, 1792).
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