The ‘Way of the Wharves’ project.

‘Way of the Wharves’.

The Torridge Estuary and Bideford have a long and fascinating maritime history with boat building documented back to Elizabethan times. On the east bank of the Torridge, opposite Bideford town, East-the-Water was an industrial and transport hub connecting the medieval bridge, port and railway. From the mid 1800s the deep-water channel started migrating west across the river, leading to the slow decline of the port on the east bank. In addition to the important transport links East-the-Water was a centre for ship and boat building, clay export and potteries, coal mining, lime burning, timber, agricultural suppliers, energy distribution and even a first world war munitions factory.

New Book from Way of the Wharves.

If covid helped the Way of the Wharves Project at all it was in giving time to pull together the research of the last years and write a book: A History of East-the-Water, Bideford. Published in December 2021, with line drawings by Lou Boulter, it includes chapters on timber, shipbuilding, mining, transport and pottery as well as the origins and traditions of Shamwickshire. You can order a copy on the Way of the Wharves website:

Also available at Walter Henry’s and The Burton.

One of the stories uncovered is that of local hero George Parkin. He started building boats on the site of the East the Water School, in Torrington Street, in about 1847. He operated from here until 1858, when he moved to Appledore. His boats were carvel built, with hull planks, fastened to a robust frame, laid edge to edge to form a smooth surface. By 1852, his pilot boat True Blue had won many accolades competing in local regattas, both under canvas and oars and this helped his business develop.

But Parkin also has a much more precious claim to fame. In July 1852, when he saw a seven-year-old local boy in danger of being swept away by the tide, he leapt from the rear wall of his house and rescued him. Everywhere he went there seemed to be people in need of rescuing. In 1871, after his twenty-ninth rescue, he was recognised by the Royal Humane Society. So, if you’ve local links and your family tree includes the surnames Reed, Rudd, Isaac, Cawell, Stanbury, Johns, Jenkins, Berry, Dannell, Fisher, Dunn, Colwill, or Lewis, then Parkin may just possibly have played his part in keeping that branch of your family alive.

‘Way of the Wharves’ CIO.

The Way of the Wharves charity (WOTW) was established in 2020 to advance information and education about the industrial and maritime heritage of the Wharves at East the Water and the Torridge Estuary. The project commenced four years earlier, when a group of volunteers started to research and promote the history of the wharves on Barnstaple Street.

This had not previously been researched in any detail and the imminent planning application for re-development of the site gave this great local interest. Torridge District Council have now granted planning approval for Red Earth to start work on a £20million development of commercial and residential units. The sea wall will be raised against flood risk and land that has always been an industrial site will in future have public access. A pathway through the bridge gardens will lead onto a riverside walkway along the wharf’s seawall and an open square, conserving the view between Bideford and the Grade 1 listed Royal Hotel.

Demolition, clearance and archaeological surveys started on the Barnstaple Street wharves site in November 2021. Archaeological work is being carried out by AC Archaeology, Exeter. They have uncovered walls and the edge of a dock on Brunswick Wharf. Work on another trench on Clarence Wharf car park will be undertaken later. At the time of writing, we have not heard that any important artefacts have been discovered. The next work on site will be the repairs to the seawall starting early in the new year. The main contractors are expected to start work in summer 2022 with completion anticipated in spring 2025.

Another time of rapid change for East-the-Water.

Above – blue lines mark planned trenches on wharves site (on 1886 base map).

Adopting the phone box in Torrington Street.

Working together with East the Water in Bloom, Way of the Wharves have adopted the phone box on Torrington Street, next to the Bethel Chapel. This iconic K6 phone box will be conserved and used by the two local groups as a community resource – promoting history and horticulture. Way of the Wharves will install information about local heritage whilst the box will look a bit different as a result of the planned floral exhibits from East the Water in Bloom. Local ‘history and horticulture’ links include the many lime kilns along the estuary, Fulfords agricultural and seed merchants (for many years headquartered on Queens Wharf) and Old Pottery Works, Torrington Lane which produced flower pots.

This phone box is in such a key position, just close to the Bideford station entrance, that there must be many stories connected with it. Happy news, sad news, calling for assistance, long distance romances. WOTW are working with Bideford library to collect phone box stories. These social and family history anecdotes will be turned into a digital archive, in the form of answer machine messages. Please let us know your phone box story.

More about ‘Way of the Wharves’.

If you’d like more information, check out the website You can follow and like our Facebook page @Brunswick Wharf. Get more information and sign up for our email newsletter updates by mailing [email protected]

Michael Teare, Chair, Way of the Wharves, 14/12/2021.

New from Way of the Wharves.

A History of East-the-Water, Bideford “. £10.00

By Michael Teare, Bob Kirby, Anthony Burt with line drawings by Lou Boulter.

Much that has been written about Bideford’s past has touched upon the story of East- the-Water, despite the long history of the wharves and their commercial importance to the local area, this is the first book to focus on their history.

After introducing East-the-Water and the wharves, the book concentrates on the important strands that make up the history of the local community: timber, emigration, shipbuilding, tobacco and pottery, coal mining and gravel extraction, fisheries, agriculture, energy and enterprise as well as the changes brought about by steamships and railways.

Profit from the sale of this book supports the work of the Way of the Wharves Charity – researching and promoting the maritime history of the Torridge Estuary and the wharves at East-the-Water.

Product Details.

A History of East the Water, Bideford”.

By Michael Teare, Bob Kirby, Anthony Burt with line drawings by Lou Boulter. Published: Peterhouse Press. December 2021.

ISBN: 978-0-946312-20-7.  Paperback: 154 pages.  Size: 240 x 170mm, spine 9mm.


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