The Bridge Gains a Bust Timelines: All, Victorian (1837 - 1901)


In 1893 East-the-Water gained another of its enduring landmarks. A bust of John Richard Pine-Coffin was erected by public subscription in the open space to the south of the Long Bridge. A distinguished military officer, a Deputy Lieutenant, a Justice of the Peace, Vice-Chairman of Bideford Board of Guardians, and also sometime President of Bideford Conservative Association, Pine-Coffin died in 1890, aged 48. The North Devon Journal reported that he had been ‘an active politician and an energetic public servant’ and that, for his funeral, ‘nearly every shop in Bideford had either shutters up or blinds drawn.’

Local historian Peter Christie suggests that the origins of the Pine-Coffin bust had as much to do with the timing of his death and the local political situation, as to the attributes of the man himself. Somewhat earlier, in 1889, the death of the prominent North Devon Liberal Charles Willshire had been celebrated by erecting a memorial bust of him in Barnstaple Square. Bideford’s Conservatives, presumably wishing to suggest that they had equally worthy men in their ranks, responded by marking the recent departure of one of their own in a similar manner.

The bust would have been very fresh-faced when John Oglander, writing from the Royal Castle Hotel, commented ‘The bridge seems to have a personality in Bideford and where you live depends on it. There are “East the bridge” and “West the bridge” folk.’ Such a perception seemed to persist well into the 20th century, but thankfully, with the rapid growth of Bideford, the bridge no longer provides quite such a clear demographic demarcation (unless you are in the rush-hour traffic trying to cross it).