The Making of the Bideford Port Memorial Ceramic Trade Maps
Bideford town council has redesigned The Bideford Port Memorial.
On the remaining central obelisk, Orchard Stonemasons carved the replacement ship and Maggie Curtis designed and made two terra-cotta plaques depicting two illustrated trade maps.
Being asked to make commemorative plaques for a public memorial is an honour, but daunting, especially when my knowledge of the history of Bideford Port was sketchy at best. However the research was fascinating, I found out why Harry Juniper called Peter’s Marland clay “pipe clay”, why when on holiday in Portugal in 1967 at the Cascois’ Fiesta the Prize for the Greasy pole was a salt cod and why there are so many Americans and Canadians visiting the North Devon Maritime Museum in Appledore.
I decided to show Bideford’s mercantile shipping history by depicting two illustrated trade maps.
Bideford’s shipbuilding industry played a crucial part in enabling Bideford’s merchants to trade, so I researched and found named Bideford built ships throughout the history of both the Tobacco trade and the Salt Cod trade and used them to represent the development of each trade and their subsidiary cargos.
The following notes are to give you a small insight to the vast history of the Port of Bideford.
Columbus’ journal in 1492 is the first reference of Europeans seeing Native Americans smoking tobacco.
The “Tigar” Frigate 140 tons
Between 1585 and 1588 Sir Richard Grenville planned expeditions, built and manned ships from the Port of Bideford. One of the ships to sail with Grenville was the “Tigar”.
Sir Richard Grenville was a politician, privateer and son of an influential local family. He was also Lord of the Manor of Bideford with lands in Devon, Cornwall and Ireland.
Grenville famously brought home a Native American who lived with him in Bideford for two years, baptised “Raleigh” he’ s buried in St Mary’s Church Yard. The illustration of “Raleigh” on the trade map is taken from one of John White's watercolours: he drew directly from the native Wynganditoian/Algonkin tribesman on Roanoke Island. John White, a distant cousin to Grenville, acted as unofficial artist and map maker for Grenville on his 1585 expedition. The first expedition with settlers was to Roanoke Island and ended with the disappearance of The “Lost colony”.
The Tigar was also part of a fleet of five Bideford built ships Grenville sent to combat the Spanish Armada.
Sir Walter Raleigh, Grenville’s distant cousin and friend, named Virginia after Elizabeth 1, but it was not until after Elizabeth’s death in 1603 that settlements were established for the growing of a strain of Tobacco imported from South America.
1603 to 1616 London Merchants using West Country mariners brought tobacco to England and Europe. This led to the creation of the Virginia Company in 1606 and established Jamestown in 1607.
1630 The “Fellowship” 170 tons
Bideford-built and joint owned by George Shurt and John Strange. Already sending ships to New Found Land both were significant in setting up trade in Virginia and New England; John Strange was one of the few North Devon members of the Virginia Company.
George Shurt’s brother Abraham founded a settlement in Pemaquid in Northern Maine in 1629 and was an agent for 2 Bristol Merchants.
Both George Shurt and John Strange owned land in Virginia and encouraged settlers with financial incentives to populate settlements. Outward journeys took settlers and goods to sustain the new population.
Part of the out-going cargos were earthenware products from the 6 Bideford Potteries including bread ovens. Bideford was well situated for slipware pottery with Fremington clay pits supplying the red earthenware body and white clay being found at Bideford itself: each needed for the famous Sgraffito decorated dishes and harvest jugs. Bideford Pottery export was so successful that a wealthy Potter Thomas Beale became Mayor in 1658.
Although early kilns were fired with wood, coal shipped from Wales supplemented local anthracite (Bideford Black) to fire kilns, both ceramic and lime. Shipments of the white clay were exported to Bristol, Gloucester and other places to make tobacco pipes: hence “Pipe Clay”. Later Staffordshire potters became aware of the properties of North Devon ball clay and Wedgwood is said to have obtained clay from the pits near Meeth and Marland and in 1796 on Petrockstow moor.
1675 The ship “Bideford Merchant”
The “Bideford Merchant” landed a record 135,000 lbs of Tobacco for just three merchants: Abraham Helman, Anthony Hopkins and John Davie. John Davie built Colonial House East the Water now the Royal Hotel. In fact many buildings and much of Bideford Quay in old town Bideford date from the 17th and 18th Centuries.
Outgoing cargo for Virginian settlers consisted of passengers, Bideford pottery, woollen cloth (fustians, worsted and serge) from Barnstaple, linen from Germany and from Ireland, lawn and a little thrown silk, wick yarn, rugs, curtain material, blankets, rope, nails and all types of tools from axes to cutlery. The colonies sent back tobacco from Virginia and rum, sugar and molasses from the West Indies.
Just after the Civil and Dutch wars Ireland had its first “butter boom” 1680- 1684. Bideford potteries made “Tall Jars” or “Balister Pots” or the smaller “Bussas” to ship salted butter all over the known world. In 1681 export of Irish butter to England was banned, so the pots were “exported to the butter”. The steady trade of earthenware to transport Irish and Welsh butter was a big part of Bideford Potteries therefore, Bideford town’s economy.
1692 The ship “Henrietta” 120 tons
Owned by Philip Greenslade, the “Henrietta” shipping earthenware to Virginia, Maryland and Barbados.
Also part of the outgoing cargo were emigrants, indentured servants and convicts. Craftsmen were in great demand, not least ship builders. Bidefordian John Smith built at least two 200 ton ships in 1696 on the Chester river Chesapeake Bay, The” Entrepot” and The “John”.
1708 to 1714 Emigrants from wealthy families were attracted by the prospect of increasing their trade and acquiring land, and their servants were encouraged by having their passage paid. The Transportation Act was intended to deter criminal activities by sentencing those convicted of even petty crimes to transportation to the colonies, where they would provide free labour for the colonists. Shipping merchants received £5 (at this time) for each convict taken. Bideford was a favoured port where George Buck alone took 16 shiploads of convicts between 1726 and 1743.
Lundy Island: strategically placed for pirates
Algerian and “Sallee” corsairs (Generic name “Turkish”) and European pirates preyed on English shipping in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. So rich and easy were the pickings off the entrance to the Tor and Torridge estuary that Bideford Bay was dubbed the “Golden Coast”.
There are many conflicting stories about the use of Lundy as a base for privateers and pirates, however in a government enquiry, (a deposition by William Younge on 17th March 1610) it seems a Captain Selkeld used Lundy as a base to prey on passing cargo ships and put their captive crews to work constructing fortifications and a quay. A revolt led by an Appledore ship’s officer George Escott overthrew the regime and in recognition of his action was given a life pension.
In 1625 in a Government report evidence from Nicholas Cullen states three “Turkish pirates” seized Lundy for a fortnight.
Reported in April 1628:
“Four French ships took about 26 sail of ships in the Severn and other parts of the coast and took also the isle of Lundy and rifled it and so left the shore”.
There are still more references to pirates on Lundy between 1630 to 34 including Captain John Nutt, and in 1633 a French Captain Meggor (Le Maigre) in a Spanish Man of War landed eighty men on Lundy.
On 9th September 1633 Captain John Pennington in HMS Vanguard was commissioned by Government to patrol the Bristol Channel. Despite the Naval presence a report of 28th January 1633/4 states Captain Brundiville was seen on Lundy and 1635 Algerian corsairs were reported using the island as a “Harbour and Shelter to commit spoil there”.
1667, 1688 and well into the 1700, more reports of pirates. Most notable is the report of a frigate bringing Captain Kidd and other notorious pirates who had been captured in New England anchored off Lundy in 1700 to await further instructions.
The Barbary Corsairs were not private thieves and kidnappers - theirs was a system of socialised crime, state-sanctioned and state-regulated. At the beginning of the 16th century there were three Barbary States: Tripoli, Tunis and Algiers. These States relied on their attacks on European shipping to maintain their economies. Prize ships and their cargoes paid the wages of government officials and furnished the governor’s palace; they financed the building of mosques and mausoleums, harbour defences and residential housing, while slaves, taken in coastal raids and attacks on merchant ships, provided the labour. Each of these states owed allegiance to Istanbul, The Ottoman Emperor sent governors to each of the three cities to collect taxes. Morocco was made up of several Islamic society states, but they were outside the empire, many of the Muslins (Marico’s) expelled from Spain in the 1600s joined the Barbary Corsairs along the North African coast and a great many settled in the Republic of Sale, and became independent of the Moroccan authorities.
No doubt most captives had a miserable time, hard manual labour on land or manning the oars in galleys. However, a few, sold to kind owners, and employed in shop keeping or lighter jobs found life better than at home: some “turned Turk”, converted to Islam and naturalised. At home poor populations were faced with unpayable ransoms. Churches in coastal regions tried to help and had collection boxes to collect ransom money, but were mostly ineffective. Many acts were passed by government, after “The Provisions of the offence at sea act” 1536, commissioners were appointed in each maritime county with powers to try cases: some pursued pirates with “vigour and rectitude” others regarded the job as a business opportunity.
In 1640 a petition 3000 signatures strong, to King Charles brought the subject to the government and the chairman of the “Committee for the Captures in Algiers” Richard King, reported to the Commons in 1641 that between Algiers and Tunis the number of British subjects being held was up to 5000. It was decided a Navy presence was needed, and an emissary to negotiate a release of captives. But who would pay? The response was a tax of 1per cent on all goods coming into and going out of the kingdom: this led to, in 1642, the “Act for the relief of the captives taken by Turkish, Moorish and other pirates” Which is a measure of how seriously everyone viewed the piracy problem, even at the beginning of the Civil War.
Edmond Cason was the (first) agent charged by parliament with leading the negotiations with Yusuf II, and the Diwan of Algiers but not until 1645 (just after a raiding party of “Turks” had landed on the Cornish coast and kidnapped 240 men women and children). After a disastrous first attempt, in 1646 Cason did succeed in returning 250 former captives, paying six percent tax on money he brought into Algiers to “Compensate the slaves owners” plus 20 Dollars export duty for each slave. Cason continued to free slaves, as money became available, begging passage on merchant ships back to England, for a further 8 years until his death in 1654, he never went home. Between threats with navel blockades and careful negotiations Britain emissaries became more diplomatic and acts in the 1680’s led to passes for British ships, and at one time, British sailors, making British seamen a “must have” onboard European ships.
Over the next 100 years relations between the European powers and the Barbary States gradually achieved an uneasy equilibrium, Britain and other countries discovered that if the agreement and renewal of articles of peace were accompanied by the giving of presents and hefty cash payments, the corsairs would be more conscientious in their observance of those articles. The sums involved varied, but were substantial. In the 1780s Britain was paying Algiers around £1000 a year to maintain the peace (roughly equivalent to £1.2 million today), the Dutch paid about £24,000 and the Spanish a huge £120,000.
The state of Algiers commanded the biggest bribes, since it still presented the biggest threat to European merchant shipping, but all the states needed to be paid. European powers tolerated this system of paying for licences to trade because it was cheaper than launching naval expeditions, convoying merchant shipping and, even less creditably, it ensured that the Barbary corsairs directed their attention towards poorer commercial competitors who couldn’t afford to pay.
1752 The “Nightingale” Brigantine 80 tons captain John Lancey
The Nightingale was owned by Thomas Benson a wealthy and respected merchant ship owner and privateer residing at Knapp house, Appledore. High Sheriff of Devon and became a Member of Parliament for Barnstaple in 1747.
Benson took advantage of his status and the influential friends it enabled him to make, so within a few months of his election he secured, from the government, a valuable contract for shipping convicts to the colonies of Maryland and Virginia. The following year, no doubt using his contacts, Lord Gower and Lord Cartaret (descendants of Richard Grenville), he leased the Island of Lundy at a rental of £60 per annum, and instead of taking the convicts to America, Benson put them to work on Lundy as labourers where they built a store for his smuggled tobacco and other contraband goods.
The Custom officers caught up with Benson and he was facing huge duties and penalties due on “British Plantation Tobacco”.
The “Nightingale” sailed in 1751 from Bristol after being insured for both ship and cargo. Captain John Lancey unloaded the crew and cargo on Lundy, then set the ship on fire and scuttled her.
The deception was discovered, and in the resulting trial Captain Lansey was found guilty and hanged. True to character, Benson escaped to Portugal and built a wealthy trading company with the help of his nephew Thomas Stafford and his contacts within the Portuguese merchants.
The Tobacco trade of Bideford was considerable. In the peak period between 1700 and 1750, Bideford merchants imported, in their own ships, nearly a million tons of Tobacco each year. Most of the tobacco was shipped on to Ireland and other European ports.
After many years of Britain setting taxes in the American Colonies, revolution resulted with the American War of Independence.
1497 John Cabot ‘s ship The “Matthew” 50 tons
Though not built in Bideford, sailed from Bristol on a voyage of discovery around the North Atlantic.
John Cabot is credited with the discovery of the “Grand Bank Fishery, but it was Humphrey Gilbert (half brother to Walter Raleigh) who claimed Newfoundland for the Queen in 1583.
In fact the Vikings had discovered the grand bank during the 9th century and the Basques and British fishermen had fished there long before John Cabot’s ship The “Matthew” arrived.
“The Grand Bank”
A shallow sea area off Newfoundland where, in late June and July, dense shoals of cod feed on capelin, a small fish which in turn chase after krill.
Newfoundland fishery was the main stimulus for the dramatic growth of the English merchant fleet in the 16th and 17th centuries. The trade was dominated by the small West Country Ports of Bideford, Barnstaple, Poole, Dartmouth and Topsham. Ships departed each spring and returned in the autumn bound for Spain, Portugal and the Mediterranean as their principal markets, and returned to England with cargos of wine and other Mediterranean goods.
The British had one disadvantage compared with the French, Spanish and Portuguese, in these early times, they lacked a good supply of salt. At first they simply produced winter fish that was dried without salting, but the English wanted to produce a year round supply for a growing market. In an attempt to conserve their limited salt the British invented a product that was to be favoured in Mediterranean and Caribbean markets for centuries: a lightly salted dried Cod. The Norwegians called it Terrananova fisk (Newfoundland fish, but later called it Rlipfisk, Rock Fish. This Rock Fish (named because it was dried on the rocky shore) was much preferred than the Green (salted not dried) and the Stockfish (dried not salted).
Salt was imported from France, but wars got in the way of supply so the British got supplies from Aveiro in Portugal. In exchange for salt the British Government gave the Portuguese ships protection from the French.
Later rock salt was shipped from Liverpool as this quote from The Universal Magazine in 1749 states: “Bideford frequently sent out 50 sail of ships to the Newfoundland fishery and others were sent to Liverpool and Warrington to fetch rock salt which was here dissolved by sea water into brine then boiled up into “Newsalt” with which they cured their herrings and Cod”.
1604 “Zenobia” and the “Bark Strange” 100 ton ships
George Shurt and John Stange had shares in these Bideford ships which were crewed with about 40 men who worked with 12ft to 15ft fishing boat called “Dories”. The fishing was done with hand lines in the Dories and as soon as the boats were full they’d return to harbours on Newfoundland and “pew” the fish onto the landings with pitchforks. There were separate teams of “Headers”, “Splitters and “Salters” who’d process the fish in wooden fishing rooms then dried/cured the cod on the Newfoundland beaches during the summer months. The cod livers were pressed to produce “Train oil”.
The journey back across the Atlantic in these overcrowded ships must have been uncomfortable with some men sleeping on deck. The best fish, which usually amounted to about 100 tons were sold in continental ports. The Green cod was for the home market, along with the “Train oil” which was mainly used for making soap.
The French occupied Plecentia, northwest area of Newfoundland and the English occupied the Avalon Peninsula, Barnstaple and Bideford had the southern shore Cape Broyle to Trepassey.
The Admiral system was employed, which meant the captain of the first ship to arrive was responsible for law and order.
1699 The “Pearl” Captain John Whitefield
By the late 17th century some ships started leaving a few men to over winter, called “Bye Boaters” a few people started to settle: These were “Planters”. This presence protected equipment and stopped the local population of Beothuk tribesmen from dismantling the fishing rooms for the nails and other metal.
“Sac ships” had smaller crews and arrived late July/early August laden with supplies for the fishing fleet and planters, and departed with the finished product home. In a good year the “sac ships” might make two trips or trade poor quality fish, earthenware pots and other cargos for salt, indigo, cotton, rum, molasses and sugar from the West Indies, collecting more fish from Newfoundland before returning to Europe.
Although Bideford seamen deliberately avoided the transportation of black slaves, this didn’t prevent the trade with colonies relying on slave labour and those economies relying on the supply of salt cod to feed their slave population. In West Africa slaves could be bought with salt cod and stockfish.
John Smith risked, and lost, £3,000 with The “Pearl” as she was captured by pirates off the Newfoundland coast. I’ve found two conflicting accounts of this episode: either the skeleton crew were taken whilst the majority of men were ashore, or the whole crew was captured and taken to Africa to be sold as white slaves. Both versions say the “Pearl” was captured off the Newfoundland coast, so it is uncertain who was responsible: Barbary Corsairs or private pirates who overwintered in the Caribbean and other warm climates. These pirates were mainly British, but had in their midst a rag tag of captured sailors of all nationalities, disillusioned itinerant servants and fishermen.
A story in the Boston Newsletter states that on the 21st of June 1720:
“The Good Fortune” with Bartholomew Roberts in charge (“Black Bart”(a Welshman)) sailed into the fishing harbour of Trapassey on the southern shore of Newfoundland with “ Guns blazing, drums beating, and trumpets blaring” there were twenty two ships and somewhere between 150 and 250 small fishing boats in the bay; between them they carried 1200 men and 40 guns; but they surrendered without a shot, the men and their officers fleeing ashore to safety. The “Good Fortune” carried just 12 guns and 60 men, but with the harbour secure the pirates ransacked the settlement. Roberts was contemptuous of the captains, particularly a captain Babidge of the “Bideford Merchant” the Admiral of the port, who had abandoned his ship “with Jack ensign and pendant flying; the guns loaded” The Pirates had benefited from the fact the common men showed little enthusiasm for defending their master’s property: a few even joined the pirates’ crew.
A Summer migration northwards to prey on the fishing grounds of Newfoundland was common among pirates, it was part of what was called “The pirate round” and was followed by a return to warmer waters of the Caribbean, West Africa or the Indian Ocean in Autumn. Pirates headed out into the Atlantic beyond the Grand Bank and parked themselves in the latitude of New England a couple of hundred miles South West of Newfoundland. Here they sat attacking not only fishing vessels, but large merchant ships passing between Britain and New England, seizing cargos particularly tobacco and ships’ provisions, more importantly collecting large numbers of men, some forced, others willing volunteers many of them West Countrymen.
1760 The “Beelzebub” Warship built at Crosspark, East the Water for the Navy
Successive wars with France periodically stopped the fishing trade, especially when the navy took a large portion of the workforce. Parliament supported the fishing industry because it provided “employment for the poor, wealth for the nation and seafarers for the Navy”.
The British Navy kept a presence off the shore of Newfoundland and New England to protect “British interests”: Fighting the French and pirates, then later, after the American War of Independence, denying the New Englanders access to the Grand Bank.
1783- 1790 was a boom time for emigrants to Newfoundland the population grew to 30,000 (most from the westcountry).
Napoleonic Wars were almost continuous from 1793 to 1815 and the demands of the Royal Navy reduced the fishing crews from thousands to hundreds.
1809 The “Peter and Sarah” Polacca Brigantine 59 tons Built by Richard Chapmen Cleave House Bideford
Napoleon had declared a blockade against Britain in the Berlin Decree of November 1806, closing the ports of his empire and its dependencies to the ships of Britain, and declared British goods liable to seizure. A consequence of the Treaty of Tilsit of July 1807 was that Russia, Prussia and Denmark joined the blockade.
Although the British Navy controlled the Baltic Sea, Napoleon controlled the ports of the timber supplying countries. Timber was vital for Naval and Merchant ships. On the Torridge alone, one hundred and seven merchant ships and seven warships had been built between 1800 and 1808. To be deprived of Baltic timber meant that Britain faced the eventual loss of the war.
The “Peter and Sarah” made pioneering expeditions to Prince Edward Isle for timber.
The “Biddeford” 143 ton schooner built in Bideford by John Evens in 1809
1811- 1815 Napoleon’s disastrous invasion of Russia and Wellington’s victories in Spain opened markets up in southern Europe again.
Fast Topsail Schooners continued to trade with settlers in Newfoundland trading salt cod for Portuguese wine, oranges, and dried fruit late into the early years of the 20th century.
In designing the illustrated trade maps for the Bideford Port Memorial I have been intrigued by Bideford’s rich mercantile history and the influential part the seafaring people of this estuary have played in the world.
I’d like to thank Peter Christie for inviting me to design and make the Port Memorial Plaques, Heather Blackburn for being my contact with Bideford Town Council and Steve Talbot for the installation.
Special thanks go to Suzanne Clines for her constructive criticisms, Mark Myers for his generous information and images of ships. Barry Hughes for bringing me even more reading material and proof reading these notes.
Finally a personal thank you to my husband Jim Crawford, for his support.
Alison Grant – Book of Bideford
Muriel Goaman – Old Bideford and District
Lesley Kerman – Secrets of Bideford a guide to the Artwork
Duncan Fielder – History of Bideford
Rosemary Lauder – Bideford, Appledore, Instow and Westward Ho!
Sound Archives North Devon _ Bideford Black the history of a unique local industry
Peter D Thomas – Lost Devon through the magic lantern
Peter Christie – Bideford through time
Stafford Clark – West to Avalon
Peter Christie – Exploring Bideford
Ann Wells – Appledore Rope Mats
Living from the sea – Devon’s fishing industry
Exeter University -New Maritime History of Devon Volume 1
Exeter University -New Maritime History of Devon Volume 2
Basil Green hill – West Country men in Prince Edward Isle
Rogers Inkerman – Records of wooden sail ships and warships
C.M. Macinnes – Early English Tobacco Trade
F.W.Fairholt – Tobacco, it’s history and associations
Alison Grant – North Devon Pottery
Claire Gulliver – Litchen Street Remembered an oral history
Pat Slade – Bideford
Grahame Farr – Shipbuilding in North Devon
David Albert Taylor – Merchant ship construction
Jane Johnson – Crossed Bones
John Edgeler – Fishleys of Fremington
A and M Langham – Lundy
P.T. Etherton and Vernon Barlow – Lundy, The Tempestuous Isle
Lois Lamplugh – Lundy Island without equal
G.M. Davis – The Loss of the H.M.S.Montagu Lundy 1906
Andy Powell – Biography of Grenville
Stanley Thomas – The Nightingale Scandal
Adrian Tinniswood – Pirates of Barbary
Mark Kurlansky _ Cod
Mark Kurlansky – Salt
Peter E Pope _ Fish into Wine
Neville C Oswald – Devon and the Cod Fishery of Newfoundland
Bob and Ann Brock – H.M.S. Weazle 1782-1799
Peter Christie and Alison Grant – The book of Bideford
Tre Tryckare and E Cagner – Fishing the complete book
J.H Martin – Pictorial History of Ships
Barry D Hughes _ The Ocean Queen
John Beara – Appledore, Handmaiden of the sea
Alison Grant – Grenville
The Project Gutenburg and book of North Devon Pottery
Basil Greenhill – Register with Lloyds Mercantile Navy list
Vernon Boyle – The Story of The West Country New Founders
Richard Sanders – If a Pirate I must be, The true Story of Black Bart
Robert Munn – Articles for Sea breezed March 1932
Ian Hernon – Fortress Britain
Eric R Delterfield The North Devon Story
The North Devon Maritime Museum Appledore.
Bideford and America – A Special Relationship - Sadie Green
1700’s Fishing Industry in Glouster/The Schooner Adventure
Newfoundland Salt Fisheries
The founding of Virginia – North Carolina digital history
Devonshire Characters and strange events/The Pirates of Lundy – Wikisource, the free online library
Sea Thieves – diet- Tobacco
Bristol Channel Pirates
American Minute with Bill Federer - Pilgrim ship captured by Muslim Barbary Pirates
A Brief History of East the Water
Bideford – Wikipedia
Visit Bideford bay
Shipbuilding in Bideford
North Devon Exodus by Arthur Dark