East-the-Water Businesses


The following are a few of some of the families and businesses that have helped to make the story of the wharves.

I. Baker & Son., builder’s merchants of Brunswick Wharf

Between 1818 and 1830, Isaac Baker, a builder and stonemason, was living and working in East-the-Water, at a location yet to be identified.

By 1858 Baker was at New Road, where he established his business until he died in 1865, at Brunswick Cottage, whereupon another Isaac Baker took over the business.

In May 1866 he presented a foundation stone, with inscription, for the new Baptist School. The next glimpse of him is in February 1869, when he was occupying a piece of land 54 feet long by 30 feet in breadth, adjoining the south turnpike gate, in Bideford, and abutting the Turnpike Road (i.e. on the West of the river), as a stone yard.

In May 1873 Baker’s wife died at Brunswick House, Bideford, and the following July Isaac Baker himself died, apparently having been unwell for some time and suspected of suffering from “softening of the brain”. After which John C. Baker succeeded his father in the business, which was possibly already trading as I. Baker & Son.

In 1886 the Baker family, having purchased the Restarick shipyard, set about establishing Brunswick Wharf as a builders’ merchant’s yard, whilst retaining a stonemason’s yard and offices on Torridge Hill.

A date stone on the current quayside wall of Brunswick Wharf is inscribed “JCB 1887,” which refers to John Cooke Baker, then head of the family.

By 1893 a directory refers to the company as ' Baker I. & Son, statuaries, stone, slate & marble merchants & builders' merchants, Brunswick place, New road & Brunswick wharf, East-the-Water; lime kilns; Mouth mill, Hartland & Cleavehouses & Hallsannery'.

In October 1895 the Ketch Double X, of Bideford, owned by J. C. Baker, and laden with coal, was bound Lydney, in the Forest of Dean, to Bideford, when she was lost in a furious gale. Supposed to have gone down, with all her three hands, off Portishead, her captain, Richard Walters, of Bideford, left a widow and several children.

In 1898 J. C. Baker died, and he was interred in the old Non-conformist Cemetery. His sons “Mr. Montegue and Mr. Isaac Baker” were present. Baker, described in the account of his funeral as a general merchant and monumental mason. He was aged 47, and had resided at Brunswick House, been a Congregationalist by religion, and was politically a Unionist.

In April 1900, Baker and Son, of Brunswick House, Bideford, advertised for a “Steady, respectable” man “as foreman and caretaker of Wharf.” Which would be consistent with them taking Queen’s Wharf under their control at around that time.

On 31 October 1901 two vessels, the Susanna and Sylph, both owned by Messrs. Bakers and moored alongside their wharf, got into trouble. With the rising tide, the Susanna broke from her moorings, dragging the Sylph with her. The Sylph jammed in the corner of the bridge, breaking her bowsprit, which swung the Susanna round, causing her to catch under the fourth arch (known as “the large arch”), where the tide then forced her through stern first, eventually bringing down here mizzen-mast. The s.s. Devonia, being in her berth, came to the rescue and drew both vessels to safety.

By 1902 I. Baker & Son had erected a wooden coal store in the centre of Brunswick Wharf and in 1903 they, advertised the availability of White Lump Welsh Lime, for agricultural or building purposes, from Brunswick Wharf, the company having lit the Barton Kilns (which were in East-the-Water, south of the bridge, and which they had taken over from Mr. W. Turner. By 1910 the company was offering to deliver lime by the truck load to stations, or by lorry to customer's farms.

Baker’s continued to occupy Brunswick Wharf until at least 1953, when a pamphlet carried an advertisement for I. Baker & Son of “Brunswick Wharf, Bideford,” “for Building Materials and Household Coal.”

Bideford Anthracite Mining Co., an adit and a chute

In November 1846 a new company was formed to exploit Barnstaple Street's anthracite, who decided to work the mine in 64 shares of £100 each. The company started work in 1847 and by 1848 had commenced an adit from Barnstaple Street. Folk memory suggests that it was possible to walk from the Quay Stores tunnel entrance, via this adit, all the way to Broadstone Quarry (which was just beyond the Primary School in Mines Road, but now landfilled). 1849 proved eventful as the company discovered a fine seam, but also managed to dig under a former working that had filled with water. Fortunately all escaped before the mine was flooded, and the water was subsequently pumped out. By 1849 it was reported that the anthracite was increasingly being used in local limekilns, and that large quantities were being carted to the South of Devon. Maltsters were also using it for drying malt, in preference to importing coal from Wales.

In 1850 the company erected a gantry over Barnstaple Street, together with an engine house on the hillside above. The engine-house was equipped with a mill for the production of paint, from Bideford Black, and briquettes, from culm. With the aid of this engine-house and chute, culm could be transported directly from the coalface to waiting vessels. The mine was, perhaps understandably, a messy neighbour, but it also had an impact on the local water supply, the mining being blamed for drying up many of the local wells.

The 1851 Census lists William Skewes, Culm Mining Agent, in a house which would later be 36 Barnstaple Street (now demolished). Skewes had been involved with the company since at least 1850 and was the brother-in-law of Thomas Pollard (of the Chapel Park mine).

In May 1851 the company appears to have promoted international interest in mineral black through exhibiting at the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations, at Crystal Palace. In the year ending in October of that year, the company managed to sell 8,000 tons of culm, though the output was not necessarily sustained at that level, as the 1856 return of anthracite for Bideford was only 5,036 tons.

By 1852 the company were experiencing difficulty chartering vessels to fulfil their orders, so they purchased their own smack. In the same year they floated the company publicly. Their prospectus mentions that their black was used in Chatham Dockyard, and their culm in silver-smelting at Combe Martin.

In November 1864 the Bideford Anthracite Mine witnessed a particularly tragic accident, when a face gave way, the small culm began to “run,” and a miner was semi-buried. So fast, the inquest heard, was the influx of culm, that the poor soul’s colleagues were eventually unable to prevent him being entombed alive.

In 1865 the company stood accused of its gantry being a public nuisance, and the gantry was condemned at the January Quarter Sessions, but the court held over the question of whether it had been a nuisance. In the meantime the company closed, claiming that it was no longer economic, and the gantry was demolished. Come the next Quarter Session, the jury were scandalized when the judge instructed them that they had to find the company not guilty, as the nuisance no longer existed.

The Cooke family, pig iron and coal

Trade directories identify that George Cooke was trading in East-the-Water, as a coal and pig-iron merchant, during the early 19th C. He appears to have rented a wharf (probably that which would later become Queens Wharf) in 1824.

In 1824, George Cooke rented a dwelling, with an accompanying quay, which appears to have been on the site that would later become Queen’s wharf. George was the son of George Cooke, of Langley Barton, near Great Torrington, a farmer and banker, who has been the subject of genealogical research, because of his family's North American connections, through his son William. George junr married Mary Best in 1811 in the parish church at Bishop's Tawton, and by 1841, Mary Cooke, by then a widow and a landed proprietor, is living in in the vicinity of the wharf (across the road), with her sister and an elderly James Best.. She is also listed on the 1851 census, and in approximately the same place.

William Cooke left England in about 1817, to manage a Newfoundland fishing station, on Placentia Bay. Transatlantic trade connections between the brothers, William and George, are likely to have existed, but, in 1836, William is described as “of Newfoundland, North America, but now of Bideford, merchant,” his return perhaps necessitated by business concerns, if the health of his brother, George, was already declining.

In 1842 a Mrs Cooke appears on a plan, as owners of a wharf, roughly where Queen's Wharf later lay (almost opposite the Torridge Auctions site at 19 Barnstaple Street), is shown as Wharf Mrs Cook. In 1857 this wharf, and the building opposite, with its shrubbery in front and garden behind, was offered at auction, at which time it was occupied by Mrs COOKE, widow of Mr. George COOKE, merchant.

John Davie, Bideford’s Premier Merchant

The northern part of the Royal Hotel is amongst the oldest structures in Bideford, for it originated as the house of Bideford's principle merchant, John Davie, of Orleigh Court, in Buckland Brewer, who used it as a town house. The oldest parts of the structure date from c. 1688, and the building is the most significant dwelling marked on a plan of c. 1717, which also shows it was fronted by quay, complete with traffic flow control, through separate entrances and exits. At this period the river's deeper water channel flowed against the eastern shore, making this quay accessible for handling larger vessels.

Though details of Davie's business affairs in the arena of the tobacco trade are more widely known, his diverse business portfolio also included involvement in the Newfoundland trade.

Whilst trade was flourishing, merchants seemed to have seen officialdom as a brake upon enterprise, resisting efforts for a governor to be appointed in Newfoundland. However, once conflict with the French became an issue, those same merchants, Davie amongst them, began to make their voices heard, in a clamour for official assistance.

In March 1687 John Davie features on a petition, along with neighbouring merchants, George Strange and John Marks, and their relatives, John Buck and George Buck. They, together with other Bideford merchants, had several ships bound for Newfoundland, already at Milford [Pembrokeshire], and sought a convoy to accompany them as a matter of urgency.

Further evidence of Davie's involvement in the Newfoundland trade comes from March 1697, in correspondence with Richard Usticke. At one point Davie confirmed that he would allow fishermen bound for Newfoundland on his ships to fish from them. At about the same time DAVIE wrote complaining that despite his “petition to the Admiralty that the seamen and others belonging to any ships fitting out for Newfoundland might not be impressed” and confirmation that “there was a general order against impressing such men.” One Mr. John Power, had refused to recognise the order and “pressed a man belonging to one of the ships bound to Newfoundland” Thus leaving Davie to reflect “If it be allowed that our men are liable to be impressed there is no hope of getting men to send on the voyage.” Usticke, in forwarding this complaint from Bideford, calls Mr Davie “our most eminent merchant here.”

In April 1697 rumours of a French naval force sent to Newfoundland, prompted concern in Bideford that Newfoundland would be lost to the English, with the result “that most considerable trade and nursery for seamen is quite lost.” That Mr. Davie had clearly invested heavily in the enterprise can be seen from his offer, to venture a “ship of 24 guns” to lend support to any naval counter-action that might be proposed (on the grounds that he was “unwilling after such expense to keep all at home”).

John Davie's heir, Joseph, appears to have continued his father's business, as he is probably the Jos. Davie who accompanied Capt. Cleveland (his brother-in-law) when, in Feb. 1717, they delivered a petition from “the merchants and traders of Bydeford to Newfoundland” to the Board of Trade and Plantations, “relating to a man of war for securing the ships bound thither on the fishery against pirates, &c.”

The Heard family

In researching the 19th C. history of East-the-Water’s wharves, one soon comes across the surname Heard, as three generations have helped shape the course of business on them.

Richard Heard started out as a carpenter/joiner, moved into decorative building (he was particularly fond of embellishing buildings with eagles), before switching to the shipping of emigrants to North America (operating at the up-market end of the trade), whilst using his returning vessels for timber. Heard’s sons helped him in the business, with William based in Prince Edward Island, building and buying ships and timber, and George helping at the Bideford end, and in 1858 they took the reigns of the business as Heard Brothers. The Minerva, Lady Sale, Civility, Devonia, Electric, Choice, Secret, and others plied the Atlantic, fuelling the families wealth.

In his earlier days Richard Heard constructed, amongst other properties, Victoria Terrace, houses on the west of Grenville Street, the new workhouse “mansion”, Springfield Terrace, a spacious wharf on New Road, and the extended Queens Wharf, but the Royal Hotel is the building with which he and his family are most closely associated. After helping the local board of trustees to build their new workhouse, Heard then bought their old one, a former merchants mansion known as the Colonial Buildings, transforming it into a desirable residence. Then, when extension of the railway required demolition of half of the New London Inn, George Heard (Richard’s son), saw an opportunity. Acquiring the residue of the Inn, he devised a plan to extend the Colonial Buildings and create a hotel (once again aiming for a wealthier class of clientele). In 1874 a company was formed and an architect appointed, but perhaps the hotel was already looking too ambitious, as the Colonial Buildings were rather unexpectedly offered for sale in 1875. In the end the building project continued, but painfully slowly, with the Royal Hotel only finally opening in January 1889, under George’s son, hotel proprietor and artist Stanley Heard.

The Pollard family, steamers and black

At some point in the 1920s Thomas Pollard, a Cornish miner, had come to Bideford, to assist a wealth gentleman to begin opening up the old culm mines in East-the-Water. According to his own evidence, in a court case of July 1856, that he had been involved with the mines near Barnstaple Street for 31 or 32 years, Thomas Pollard's first involvement with a culm mine operating in that area was in about 1822-23, and the discovery of a fine seam on the Saltrens Estate, in 1825, may be attributable to him. A further fine vein was found in the garden of Mr Rodd, East-the-Water, in 1827. This latter find seems to refer to the garden that would later be exploited by the Bideford Anthracite mine.

Later, Pollard, who seems to have worked in both the Barnstaple street and Chapel park areas, seems to have established a company to work mines in the Barnstaple Street area (possibly Wood, Pollard & Co. who both operated a culm mine and owned a lighter). Around 1840 Pollard seem to have shifted the focus of his attention to assisting Rundle & Gill, of Tavistock, with the exploitation of their mines near Chapel Park, with which the family would continue to be involved until c. 1920. Though the lease of the mining rights may have lain with Rundle and Gill, it appears that Thomas Pollard was mine captain at the Chapel Park mine itself, and from about 1842 it begins to be referred to as Pollard’s mine, with the implication, even as early as 1842, that he had acquired it for himself. Further light is shed on this early period by the 1894 case of Swain v Way, concerning a right of way across Way’s yard (in Barnstaple Street), the former site of the anthracite mine and now Croft’s car park. In testifying, Mr. Geo. Pollard, who was born c. 1833 (from census data), recalled, from his childhood “the squabble between the Mining Company, of which his father was part proprietor and director, and Mr. Peard, respecting this very right-of-way. Thus placing Thomas Pollard’s mine precisely where the Bideford Anthracite Company’s mine would later be.

At some point in the 1840s Pollard sold his mining interests in the Barnstaple Street area to The Bideford Anthracite Mining Company, but seems to have retained some involvement with the company, though one that ended in litigation.

Thomas Pollard’s son, Thomas junr. had spent time at sea, made his way to Australia at the time of the gold rushes, then ranched in Australia and New Zealand, but around 1873 he returned to England to join his brother George, and his father Thomas, in the family business, as Thomas Pollard & Son black paint manufacturers.

By 1893 the Pollard brothers, George & Thomas, were trading as mineral black paint manufacturers, and coal & manure merchants, with the aid of their Steamers Wharf on Barnstaple Street, but the Pollards had also diversified their business, on the one hand trading in quarried stone, and on the other chartering steamers to organise pleasure trips, e.g. to Lundy.

By 1904 the Pollard’s mine at Chapel Park had become affectionately known locally as the “Paint Mine.”

The Strange family

On a plan of Bideford from c. 1717 a quay is shown on Barnstaple Street marked as "Strange's Key." From the scale given on the plan this would have been roughly opposite Pollards Cottage, or Torridge Auctions.

A later plan, drawn up in 1745, showing the Bridge Trust's land holdings in East-the-Water, shows a house to the east of Barnstaple Street, with a quay and cellars opposite it, all occupied by "George Strange Esq." (No. 85). This appears to be the same quay as shown in the earlier plan.

Initial genealogical studies show that, in 1745, the occupant of the house, with its associated quay, was almost certainly the George Strange of Bideford, merchant, who died in 1747, leaving sufficient property for his will to be proved at Canterbury. In 1717 the likely occupant of the site would be his father.

The Strange family, including those based on the East-the-Water quay, were involved in the Newfoundland fisheries. The connection clearly goes back to at least 1604, when John Strange and George Shurt held shares in the Bideford ships, Zenobia and the Bark Strange, both of 100 tons, and both working in the Newfoundland fishery.

It is not yet clear where the above John Strange is likely to fit within the family, but he could be the father of the John Strange born in 1590, who would later go on to serve as Bideford's Mayor during a terrible outbreak of plague. Secondary sources suggest that John (1590-1646) was involved with the Newfoundland fishery, but he is better known as a wool merchant. Of course, wool from Spain was likely to be one leg of a triangular trade involving Newfoundland fish.

John Strange (1590-1646) may be the ship-owner Strange who had a ship of Barnstaple, under its master, Yawe, fishing in Newfoundland fishery in 1621 (at which time the Taw/Torridge was known as Barnstaple Water and Barnstaple's larger ships used the pool of Appledore).

John Strange's son George, baptised in 1634, married Joan Nottell, daughter of a former Mayor of Barnstaple, but little is known about this couple, beyond the baptism of their son George in 1664. It is this son, or his son of the same name, who are positively linked with both the Barnstaple Street quay.

George Strange (c.1664-1736) married, Dorothy, the sister of George Buck (another Bideford merchant involved in the fishery), and his daughter Sibella married John Marks, whose family later held land alongside the quay, and who also had an interest in the fishery. George appears as a signatory to various correspondence from the Merchants of Bideford, concerning convoys and protection for their interests in Newfoundland.

George's son was born in 1692, and by 1721 he was Mayor of Bideford, but he died shortly after his father (in 1747). At which time he bequeathed to his son Jonathan “my dwelling House in Bideford aforesaid with all the Cellars Courtlages orchards Gardens and Key thereunto belonging.” (a fair description of the Barnstaple Street property). In 1755 Jonathan's property was then bequeathed to his brother John. In the early 17th C. an individual named John Strange is also active in the Newfoundland fishery. That John is a good candidate for being Jonathan's brother.

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