Bideford is one of North Devon’s largest towns. It is a town on the water, which was at one time England’s third largest port.

Predictably, it has longstanding links with the rest of the world through trade, travel, and colonialism. Connections to the Americas are particularly significant. In the 16th to 18th centuries, Bideford would have received and exchanged many things, and many people. These included tobacco, cod and ceramics – but also indentured labourers and servants.

Explore the timeline below to learn more about the town’s multicultural heritage.

For further information, read Peter Christie’s summary of diversity in Bideford’s history here.

Romans camp near Bideford

1st January 0409

A “foreign” presence in Bideford goes back to at least Roman times, when the Roman army set up camp near Bideford. 

Grenville family ancestors (future Lords of the Manor) arrive from Normandy

14th October 1066

The Grenville family, future Lords of the Manor of Bideford, arrived from Normandy in France in 1066. 

First Native American in Britain brought to Bideford by Richard Grenville

26th March 1588

Sir Richard Grenville, naval commander, coloniser and treasure seeker, brought a Native American to Bideford in 1588.

Huguenot congregation set up in Chapel Lane

16th July 1695

In the 17th century, Protestant settlers, fleeing from persecution, arrived in Bideford from France and Holland.

Bideford merchants involved in the slave trade

1st January 1700

Wealthy merchants operating from Bideford Quay were involved in the slave trade. 

Europeans arriving and settling in Bideford: German sailors, musicians and a prominent tailor

1st January 1891

As Bideford’s population expanded in the nineteenth century, residents from several European countries arrived and settled in Bideford. Some were from a German background and were involved in local industry […]

Italian ice cream vendors & a local tobacconist

1st January 1901

Individuals from an Italian background can also be found in Bideford in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, becoming prominent in local ice cream manufacture as well as music.  

French nuns in Ursuline Convent, Northdown Hall

1st January 1904

There were also residents from France, including over 30 nuns of French origin living in the Ursuline Convent in Northdown Hall. 

Belgian refugees in Bideford during the First World War

1st February 1915

Bideford, like many towns in Devon, provided a temporary home for refugees from Belgium during the First World War.  

More settlers to Bideford

1st January 1920

The twentieth century brought more settlers. Before the Second World War, there are settlers recorded from a range of countries, including: Denmark, Norway and Belgium, as well as Germany. 

Maurice Prince, Jewish entrepreneur, opens the Strand Cinema on the Pill in Bideford

1st January 1938

Maurice Myer Greenside Prince founded the Strand Cinema on the Pill in Bideford in 1938, where he later sheltered Jewish refugees fleeing persecution in Nazi Germany. 

Pullman & Chensil Singh, travelling drapers

1st January 1939

The 1939 Register indicates the presence of Pullman and Chensil Singh, from India, working as travelling Drapers. 

Czech refugees and WE Glove Factory, Bideford

29th September 1939

Several refugees from the Nazi advance came to live in Bideford.  The Fischer family from Czechoslovakia became well-known glove manufacturers in Bideford.  

Arrivals from behind the Iron Curtain

1st January 1946

In the 1940s and 1950s, Italians, Spanish and residents of several countries in Eastern Europe arrived in Bideford, possibly refugees from the advance of Communism in the post-war period.

The Capital Chinese Restaurant

1st January 1964

The Chinese presence in Bideford goes back to the 1960s

The Ugandan crisis of the 1970s

1st October 1972

The Ugandan Asian crisis of the 1970s led to several families settling in the North Devon region.

Vietnamese refugees find a home in North Devon

1st January 1980

 In the 1980s, Vietnamese refugees came to the wider Bideford / Barnstaple area.