Bideford has a rich and interesting heritage and we are lucky enough to host a range of related artefacts, many of which came from the original Bideford Museum.
These items illustrate local personalities from Bideford’s past such as Sir Richard Grenville, the former Lord of Bideford and sailor who died heroically at the Battle of Flores; Edward Capern the postman poet; John Strange, who assisted plague victims in 1646 when the others had fled; the last Witches to be executed in England; and the first Native American to land on English shores.
Artefacts include examples of North Devon slipware, the original Town Charter sealed by Elizabeth 1 in 1583 and a scale model of Bideford’s ancient Long Bridge in all its stages from 1280 to the present day. We also have examples of local trades’ products, such as a lime-burning kiln, saddlery, glove and collar-making.
The Long Bridge was begun c1280, when tradition has it that Bishop Quivel of Exeter was granted indulgences to raise the money for its cost. It was certainly there in 1327, when Bishop Stapleton left forty shillings to “the bridge of Bydeforde”. The original structure was wooden and there was a chapel at each end.
In 1459, the Pope granted indulgences for the repair of the “Bridge at Bideford… there flows a very rapid and dangerous river, in which on account of the faulty structure of the said bridge, which is of wood, many persons have been drowned, and that on the said bridge there are two chapels, the one of St. Mary the Virgin and the other of All Saints, which are also in great need of repair”.
The museum has two items relating to Bideford’s famous bridge: the model of the Bridge at various stages of its development, constructed by Mr. Frank Whiting in 1945 for the Bridge Trust. Mr. Whiting, a notable architect, designed the original Burton Art Gallery. The Bridge Trust owned many properties in Bideford and the rent from these was used to maintain the bridge, which needed to be widened throughout history as local traffic increased from horse-drawn to engine-powered. The model shows the different building stages from the 13th century to the mid 20th century.
An oak beam from the original Bideford bridge was discovered during repairs to the later stone bridge and is displayed in the Museum.
“Everyone who knows Bideford cannot but know Bideford Bridge for its very soul….. around which the town, as a body, has organised itself…”