A brief history of the Custom House.

Bideford’s buildings are constantly being reinvented – and anyone walking along to the Post Office will have noticed the old Custom House has become a new coffee shop – with some of the best views over the river from its first floor windows.

The main bulk of the building itself dates from 1695, just three years after the Bideford Bridge Trustees decided to develop a new street to be called Bridgeland. The first house was constructed by Nicholas Gascoyne in 1692-93, being the handsome brown brick building known to most as ‘Dr.Candler’s’. Nicholas, whose name suggests he was a descendant of French Huguenots who fled to North Devon, was a local carpenter and his work was evidently good enough for him to be granted a 99 year lease on the Custom House site on which he built himself a house.

By 1760 Benjamin Grant was leasing the house and there is a note in the Bridge Trust minutes from 1778 asking him ‘to replace the Stone which some time since was taken down from the Wall of the House he inhabits facing Bridgeland Street which Stone sett forth the time the said Street was built.‘ I wonder what happened to that?

In 1792 a new lease was granted to Thomas Grant, who was the Bridge Trust Steward, but he does not appear to have lived in it as by 1794 he was building Northdown House (later the Convent). A decade later three spinster sisters called Morrison were leasing the house though whether they actually lived there or not is uncertain. A surviving sister was still the leaseholder in 1832 when the building was noted as being the HQ of the local customs officers.

The earliest surviving census from 1841 records various of these officers living here – as they are so recorded up until the 1891 census when 72 year old Thomas Martin, ‘a gentleman,’ was then the occupant. In the 1901 and 1911 censuses William Martin, a retired builder, was living here and it seems to have continued as a private house until becoming a shop.

People may recall the dry cleaners that were based here for some years before it became a public house (Tequila Jack’s, Quigley’s, Custom House etc). Today it has been refurbished as a coffee shop, delicatessen and cinema, and enters a new stage in its long life.

Peter Christie.

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