Some Historical Anecdotes about Bideford
In 1854 Charles Kingsley came to Bideford, hired a house at the end of the Strand (now Stella Maris Court) and wrote his best-seller Westward Ho! So successful was it that readers came to Bideford as tourists to see the real sites used by Kingsley for his story’s setting – thus starting the town’s tourist industry. In March 1903 the Mayor E.Tattersill set up the Kingsley Memorial Committee which decided on ‘something to look at’ i.e. a statue rather than a building named after the author. By June funds were coming in and the Mayor suggested placing the statue where today’s library now stands – even though one councillor suggested it might look like an extension of St.Mary’s graveyard! By May 1904 some £400 had been collected and the Committee were inspecting models of the proposed statue and proposing to site it at the bottom of High Street on the Quay facing up the hill. In August of that year Joseph Whitehead’s design was accepted – this being an 8’ high Sicilian marble statue with a 9’ high Portland Stone plinth at a cost of £530. Work pressed ahead and in February 1906 Mayor Tattersill (by then in the third year of his Mayoralty) and Lord Clinton unveiled the completed statue at the site where it still stands today – a proud monument to a famous Victorian.
October 1881 the Port of Bideford was abolished by Parliament. This didn’t mean that the harbour was closed but rather all the status associated with being an official port disappeared. This long rankled with the council and in August 1928 following pressure from councillors Huxham and Goaman plus the M.P. Sir Basil Peto and Sir William Reardon Smith (an Appledore born shipowner) the designation was returned to Bideford. The four had journeyed to London to have a meeting with Winston Churchill, then in the Treasury, and the fact that Sir William had registered his 36 ships at Bideford carried a lot of weight – especially as they represented the largest registered tonnage of any port in Devon.
Needless to say there were huge celebrations in the town when the honour was reinstated and to mark the restitution Sir Basil presented the town with the marvellous silver ship model that still takes pride of place during ceremonial council events. It dates from around 1750 and represents an Elizabethan vessel manned with ‘silver sailors’ and sits on 4 silver dolphins who themselves sit on 4 wheels. Intriguingly at the presentation ceremony the Mayor carried the ‘small silver oar’ which was the insignia of the Lord of the Manor - which has now gone missing. If anyone knows of its whereabouts please do contact the town clerk.