More about the Bridge Trust.

Having talked about how the Trust came to be set up and its involvement with property in the town I will now discuss the very wide range of things the Trust has funded.


Trustees have always been interested in education, having set up a Commercial School in 1762 and paying the teacher’s salary of £12.50 per year. This taught useful subjects to ready young Bidefordians for a merchant’s life – it continuing until well into the nineteenth century. In 1823 the Church of England set up a ‘National’ School in Old Town on the site now occupied by the Fire Station – with the Trust paying the teacher’s salary of £35 per year.


Some 15 years later local nonconformists established the ‘British’ School in Higher Gunstone (the building is still there) and the Trust, in a wonderful example of non-sectarianism, paid the £35 per annum salary of the school’s teacher. In 1844 an infant school was built at the top of Honestone Street (today’s Angling Club) and the Trust became a generous benefactor to this – as it did when the School of Art on the Quay was built in 1896.


When the new Bideford College first became a solid project I, as chairman of the Trust, was approached by the College head Veronica Matthews wondering whether we would like to ‘buy some computers’ for the new school. Veronica is an ex-tutee of mine (so is Katie Hopkins but the less I say about her the better I think!) and I was glad that the Trust gave £1/2 million (its largest ever grant) to the scheme.


Today any student living within the parish of Bideford is automatically eligible for £400 worth of book grants if they enter higher education. We also offer bursaries of £500 per annum and even ‘hardship grants’ to all students in the area. We also fund youngsters going on school trips where teachers wish us to help students from poorer backgrounds.


The Trust also gives backing to a lot of the local sports clubs including rowing, football and rugby – and in the 1720s we even set up a ‘Bowling Green’ somewhere near the top of High Street – which for me always conjures up a picture of errant bowls rolling down the hill to the river!


One group has always been high up on our list of those we help – the poor. In the eighteenth century we gave £12 annually to help the poor of Bideford, as well as one-off payments such as giving £20 in 1766 to buy food and sell it at subsidised prices to the poor ‘at this time of dearness of Corn’. In 1831 there was very high unemployment in the town and the Trust put aside two acres of land in Northdown Lane (as it then was) for use as allotments – the first established in Bideford. Again in 1797 William Richards ‘a poor Aged Man’ was given 3 guineas (£3.15) ‘to buy him a Horse to carry Coals in lieu of his Horse which lately broke his Thigh.’ Today we still deal with cases passed on to us by Social Services and various other charities.


The Trust regularly helps with medical issues having put funds towards hospital minibuses, the ‘Chestnut Appeal’, electric wheelchairs and specialist medical equipment for our local hospital. Back in 1787 (and on two other occasions) we even paid for the town’s poor to be inoculated against smallpox – and paid for one poor individual to be treated for his mental illness at ‘Bedlam’ hospital on London.


Other funding has been directed to fire fighting – in the 1770s we bought the town’s first fire engine – really a large pump, and also its second in 1803 when the town council refused to spend the money. More recently we paid for the new toilets in Victoria Park, the Queen’s Jubilee fountains on the Quay and helped fund the Jubilee Square scheme.


Finally we have had a long tradition of paying for apprenticeship indentures and the tools needed by these young people. Today such traditional apprenticeships have gone and so we now fund ‘Business Start-Ups’ where people on low incomes or who are unemployed and who wish to start in business are given a two part grant of £5000 to help them on their way. This scheme has been running for 16 years now and although not every one has been successful many people are now running their own business and employing others.


You may have been surprised at what the Trust does – certainly, without its benign presence in the town, Bideford and its surrounding area would be by far the poorer. If you wish to know more about the Trust and its history there is a small booklet entitled ‘The Long Bridge of Bideford through the centuries’ available from Walter Henry’s in High Street or the Burton Art Gallery and museum.

Peter Christie


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