Pre-19th Century Origins
In Pigot's 1844 Trade Directory, only one Bideford-based shipbuilder – Evans & Cox – is listed outside East-the-Water. But ship-building in East-the-Water can be traced back far earlier than that.
A plan from around 1717 suggests that sites near those at the mouth of Potter’s Pill (on the west of the river), Bridge End, Clarence Wharf/Brook's Yard, and Brunswick Wharf (all east of the river) were active at that time. It does not show detail far enough to the north to know about the Cross Parks yard, or any potential ship-yard sites on the other side of the river near Cleave Houses.
The folk-memory of shipbuilding in East-the-Water goes back to Elizabethan times, and tells that of two of Sir Richard Grenvilles ships, used for his American voyages, had been built there. Certainly Bideford was, at that period, capable of building one of the largest vessels in the land.
The latter history of ship-building in Bideford includes further yards on the west of the Torridge, for the deep water channel moved to that side in the latter 19th C. Prior to that the deeper water seems to have frequently favoured the East-the-Water shore, making it far more attractive for ship-builders. The Crosspark yard probably relied on the deeper water provided by the pill to the north of the rock (as did the yard at Bank End), its closure, shortly before a new Turnpike ran through that area is probably not a coincidence.
The East-the-Water shipyards did not exist in isolation, but the ebb and flow of their fortunes is particularly tied up with that of other ship-builders on the Torridge, such as the yard at the Rolle Canal sea-lock, Landcross, those at Cleave Houses, Northam, and ship-building in Appledore, as well as the involvement of local families in the growth of ship-building in Canada.
Known ship-yards and boat-yards in East-the-Water
During the 19th C. there appear to have been ship-yards on at least five sites north of the Long Bridge. Some limited evidence also exists for ship-building activities along the shore to the south of Torrington Lane. Johnson, a ship-builder based on Barnstaple Street, appears to have had timber in that area, and an area there “intended for a shipyard” was once offered for sale. Boat-building was certainly carried out there.
The Two Bidefords
Not every ship built in Bideford was built in Devon. Ships built in Bideford, Prince Edward Island, might subsequently cross the Atlantic. Later reference to the vessels place of origin as “Bideford,” would then be assumed to mean Bideford, Devon, unless the source was specific about the county, or country, of origin. This may explain the odd anomaly, e.g. the appearance of the 1883, 748 ton, P.E.I. built barque Isabel on Rogers’ list of vessels built in Bideford, Devon, from which one might (erroneously) conclude that H. M. Restarick must have built her