burton art gallery and museum
gallery highlights




Kingsley Road, Bideford, Devon EX39 2QQ

Telephone: 01237 471455
Email: info@theburton.org

Admission is Free
Open Daily 10am - 4pm
Sundays 11am - 4pm

Bideford’s Heritage

As part of the Collection, the Burton hosts artefacts relating to Bideford’s heritage, many of which came from the original Bideford Museum. These items illustrate local personalities from Bideford’s past such as Sir Richard Grenville, 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 Red Indian to land on English shores. Artefacts include examples of North Devon slipware, the original Town Charter sealed by Elizabeth 1 in1583, a scale model of Bideford’s ancient Long Bridge in all its stages from 1280 to the present day, in addition local trades, such as a lime-burning, saddlery, glove and collar making are also illustrated.

Charles Kingsley wrote:

“Everyone who knows Bideford cannot but know Bideford Bridge for its very soul….. around which the town, as a body, has organised itself…”

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, the rent from these properties 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 mind 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. It has a mortice and tenon joint at one end, and a scarfe joint on the other, suggesting that it was a diagonal supporting timber.

Napoleonic Model Ships
Made by French Prisoners of War during the Napoleonic Wars, these ships are made of mutton bones riveted with copper wire onto a wooden hull. The bone would have been salvaged from their dustbins and worked with nails sharpened into little chisels. The rigging is made from threads drawn from their shirts.

These models were made by men who may have been craftsmen before joining the French Navy, often on a production line basis with one man making the planking and another doing the fine carving, probably with advice from the English on the technical details of the ships. These prisoners often had other talents, such as the ability to forge £5 notes, thousands of which found their way into Banks in Exeter and Plymouth.

The war with the French, which later became known as the Napoleonic Wars, broke out in 1793 and was fought almost continuously, until 1815. At the height of the war there were 8,000 Frenchmen in Dartmoor Prison alone (a prison built for the purpose of housing French Prisoners of War). In Bideford there was a prisoner of war camp, on the site of which was later to be the gas works, and their skeletons were discovered when the foundations were being laid.

Prisoners were supposed to be maintained by their own governments. Those who were poor, however, suffered acutely under this system, while those with private means managed to live fairly well. Some French officers were even allowed to live in lodgings out of confinement, where it was not unknown for them to marry local girls and settle down. At the other end of the spectrum there were prisoners who lived in nothing but blankets and fought like animals for scraps of food.

Calling Card Cases
In the 18th and 19th centuries, what was know as the ‘the gentry’ or better off people, never visited their friends or neighbours without first presenting a card with their name and address on. In order to keep these cards neatly, little cases were made to hold them securely. Some cases opened like a book, with a small pencil in the centrefold, an ivory notepad on one side, and a concertina like section to hold 5 or 6 cards. Other cases were oblong, hollow and had a flip top lid, while some opened from the side with a spring button or clip. The gallery collection consists of around 800 cases, donated by Mr McTaggart-Short, a businessman from Cardiff, who loved Bideford. Some cases are made of silver with embossed designs; others are of ivory and mother-of-pearl, wood or tortoiseshell.

Tea Caddies
These date from the 18th and 19th centuries, when tea was a rarity and very expensive. Tea was locked into these caddies, and only the lady of the house would possess a key. Some caddies are made of ivory with silver decoration, or tortoiseshell, both very exotic and fashionable in those days. Some have 2-lidded compartments for different varieties of tea, and are usually lined with zinc. Tea was served in little bowls without handles, and neither milk nor sugar was added. The drinking of tea in England was on a parallel to the Japanese tea ceremony, and was particularly popular with ladies. These must have been some of the very first ‘tea parties’ where they could meet and exchange gossip.

Clay Pipes
Sir Walter Raleigh first introduced tobacco to Britain in Elizabethan times, it was new and expensive, and smoking quickly became fashionable. The cost of tobacco meant only small quantities were smoked and the first clay pipes were very small, with short stems. Later on as more tobacco was imported into Britain and became cheaper to buy, pipe bowls were larger, and stems longer so that the hot smoke cooled down a little before reaching the smoker’s mouth.

lottery funded