Recent events at a local election count have nothing on what happened in the past. In 1879 four seats on the town council became vacant and six candidates stood, being divided between pro-drinkers, led by Mr.Ascott of the New Inn, and teetotallers under Mr.Restarick a local shipbuilder. Voters came to the town hall to both vote and hear the result announced – Ascott 320, Restarick 258. Amidst ‘hooting and yelling, cheers and hisses.’ Restarick declared ‘that his head was clear, as they would always find that of a teetotaller’ - which was met with cries of ‘Shut your mouth’. He then said he would reduce the rates by ‘doing away with the public houses’ which caused ‘indescribable confusion’ and cries of ‘kick him out’. Fighting then broke out between some of the other candidates and onlookers – although ‘the room was too densely crowded to all of the fight becoming general.’ Eventually the town hall was cleared by the police and ‘so ended one of the most tumultuous meetings that has taken place in Bideford even so far back as the memory of the oldest inhabitant reached.’ As is clear our ancestors took their politics seriously.
The town council purchased the right to the Pannier Market in 1881 and immediately decided to rebuild the old ramshackle premises. After some major squabbles over both the plans and where to move the traders whilst reconstruction was going on the new building was finally opened in April 1884 at a cost of £2956.6.0. Contemporary descriptions fit almost exactly what is there today – with one major exception. The coverage of the new building in the Journal notes ‘In the centre is a stone fountain.’ This had been suggested and paid for by Alderman W.L.Vellacott a long time councillor. When this disappeared is uncertain but does anyone have a photograph of it – and should the council reinstate what today would doubtless be called ‘a water feature’ in the market hall?
There are few surviving links with Bideford’s Elizabethan past – but there is one that is a mystery. In 1894 Thomas Tedrake, proprietor of the Bideford based Western Express newspaper, published his Illustrated Guide to Bideford and North Devon in which he wrote of the Castle Inn in Allhalland Street (the building next to the Bridge Buildings) being part of the residence of Sir Richard Grenville - once the town’s Lord of the Manor and the man who master-minded the first permanent English settlement in North America. There is no proof that this was his house but Tedrake does note that a picture over the bar of the Inn showed ‘the Fort of Virginia and two ships with the Grenville flag passing under its guns.’ Tedrake says this was painted on Grenville’s orders but by 1894, not surprisingly, it was ‘somewhat blurred and obscured by dirt and varnish.’ That the picture had been accurate had been confirmed in 1892 when the Reverend Dr.Hale of Boston, USA inspected the picture. Three years after Tedrake published his book a couple visited Bideford and recorded seeing the same painting noting that they were told that ‘persons had come from America purposely to see it, and they [the publican] had been offered thousands for it, but of course it could not be sold as it is painted on the wall.’ Apart from these two references the painting seems to have disappeared – but to where? If anyone knows the council would love to hear from them.