Surprise discovery is ‘proof’ famous sea captain was born in Bideford

PUBLISHED: 16:30 14 June 2012 | UPDATED: 10:56 25 June 2012

David Carter, of Nimrod Research (left) and Andy Powell with the coat of arms discovered in Bridge Street

David Carter, of Nimrod Research (left) and Andy Powell with the coat of arms discovered in Bridge Street


The Gazette brings you an exclusive first look at the spot a local historian believes to be the birthplace of Sir Richard Grenville.

A COAT of arms discovered in a former pub has led to the remarkable discovery of the birthplace of a famous Bideford sea captain, according to local historians.

The exact birth place and date of the explorer Sir Richard Grenville, who died battling the Spanish Armada in 1591, has long been shrouded in mystery.

But now Grenville historian Andy Powell and historical researcher David Carter believe they have proved he was born in Bideford, and would be celebrating his 470th birthday tomorrow (Friday).

“Through months of painstaking research, we have proved beyond all reasonable doubt that Sir Richard Grenville was born in Bideford on June 15, 1542,” said former Bideford mayor Mr Powell.

"This could be the single most important discovery in Bideford’s history, and we will be launching a campaign to raise £1.2 million to save the building and open it as a Birthplace and Heritage Museum."

Andy Powell, Grenville historian

“Furthermore, we have also found the site where Sir Richard Grenville’s house once stood at what is now 1-3 Bridge Street, which we believe was his birthplace.

“This could be the single most important discovery in Bideford’s history, and we will be launching a campaign to raise £1.2 million to save the building and open it as a Birthplace and Heritage Museum.”

The revelation occurred after Bob and Teresa Prouse and their daughter and son-in-law Hazel and Stephen Rucki bought the former Tavern in the Port pub in Bridge Street.

Mrs Prouse said: “We knew there was a coat of arms in the property from the building’s listed status, but it wasn’t until Bob discovered some intricate plaster work in what used to be an upstairs kitchen that we released there was something special here.”

The couple called in historical researcher David Carter of Nimrod Research, to create a statement of significance for the Grade II listed building.

Mr Carter explained: “The coat of arms belonged to the Meredith family. Jane Meredith was the mother of Jane Wyche who married John Grenville, one of Sir Richard Grenville’s descendants, in 1652.

“We believe the original house that Sir Grenville was born in was destroyed either by fire or some sort of major rebuild around 1630, leaving little of the original house remaining.”

But the report complied by Mr Carter claimed the profile and foundations of far older walls have been found, and the location has been referred to in documents from as early as the 13th century.

Who was Sir Richard Grenville?

-Sir Richard Grenville was the cousin of Sir Francis Drake and Sir Walter Raleigh

-He has remained largely unknown despite his significance in Elizabethan times

-He led one of England’s first attempts to settle America

-He married Mary St Leger in 1565, who outlived him until 1623. Her body is buried in St Mary’s Church, Bideford.

-He died in the Battle of Flores fighting the Spanish Armada in 1591.

Mr Powell said: “We knew there were three possibilities where he was born.

“We managed to discount Stowe in Cornwall which left Bideford or Buckland Abbey.

“Although Richard Grenville’s parents bought the property before his birth, no money exchanged hands until 1542, which we now know was after he was born.

“This means we can now happily say by the process of elimination that Sir Richard Grenville was born in Bideford.”

In the inquisition post mortem of Sir Richard’s grandfather written in July 1550, it states Sir Richard Grenville was the rightful heir to his grandfather’s estate, reading: “on the 15th June last the aforesaid same Richard Grenyfield [sic] was aged eight years and no more.”

Mr Carter said: “We believe this is proof this was the birth date of Sir Richard Grenville, and the fact the Buckland property was being built at the time is further proof he must have been born in Bideford.”

Mrs Prouse, who with her family intends to sell the house to Bideford 500’s heritage group to restore, added: “It’s been an absolutely wonderful journey. We were going to convert the property into five new shops or residential properties, but now we have to do the right thing and it should be preserved for the town.”

Mr Carter and Mr Powell also believe they have located within reasonable probability Grenville’s second manor house built on the Quay in Bideford.

The ‘grand mansion’ is believed to have been constructed on the riverfront by Spanish prisoners of war in 1585, but the last remaining relics were destroyed in 1937.

The Grenville family have long played an important role in Bideford’s history, with a former Richard Grenville being granted a charter and creating the town’s first council in 1272, and Sir Richard Grenville creating the first port of Bideford in 1575.

Anyone interested in reading a full copy of the report detailing Mr Carter and Mr Powell’s findings can click on the link in the top-right corner of the page.

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