7 Things you Didn’t Know About Kingsbridge

The historic market town of Kingsbridge, with its bustling fore street, strolling promenade and flower-filled market square, lies in the heart of the South Hams. Surrounded by rolling green fields, wooded valleys and tranquil backwaters, this delightful corner of Devon is home to a long  list of Toad Hall holiday cottages.


Here are seven lesser-known things about Kingsbridge for you to chew over…

7 Things you Didn’t Know about Kingsbridge

1. What’s in a Name?

Not much is known about the true origins of the name Kingsbridge. Many believe it to be linked to a small bridge that once straddled a stream between medieval Kingsbridge and the former neighbouring town of Dodbrooke, but hardly fit for a king?

At one time, there were six bridges within the boundaries of the town crossing the waterways that helped to drive its numerous working mills, but it would seem these were humble footbridges built to replace stepping stones and nothing of ‘the grandeur’.

Another theory as to the etymology behind Kingsbridge points towards a possible corruption of the Saxon word Königsberg, meaning ‘King’s mountain’. However, a less regal origin can be found in the name Coney’s-town which can be linked to the startling number of rabbit warrens once seen around the then ancient settlement; ‘coney’ being an archaic word used to describe a rabbit.


2. Most Famous Former Resident?

There’s an impressive list of old Kingsbridgians to choose from, naturalist George Montagu and politician John Scoble to name but a few. Arguably, the most venerated of Kingsbridge’s leading lights was a prominent Quaker minister and successful pharmacist by the name of William Cookworthy. Born in the town, Cookworthy went on to discover English china clay and became the nation’s first producer of porcelain. Such is his celebrity, the town’s museum at the top of Fore Street was named after him.

3. Home of the World’s Tiniest Disco…

A red telephone box at the top of Kingsbridge Fore Street stole the headlines when it was transformed into a three-foot square nightclub – believed to be the world’s smallest.

Brainchild of former town mayor, Chris Povey, the ‘nano-nightspot’ comes complete with disco ball, dial-up DJ, dress code, doorman and a strict one-in-one-out entrance policy.

During its first summer season the dinky disco proved a real hit with both locals and visitors to the town. Reveller(s) are always on their best behaviour as the phone box stands directly outside the town’s police station!

4. Kingsbridge in Bloom…

Walk along the winding streets of Kingsbridge during the summer months and you’ll be treated to a feast of floral colours. Having scooped several awards along the way, the dedicated team that make up Kingsbridge in Bloom continue to fill the town with amazing horticultural displays. Kingsbridge is now a seasoned and highly-decorated entrant in the Royal Horticultural Society’s annual Britain in Bloom awards, having attained excellence in the categories of horticultural achievement, community participation and environmental responsibility. Bloomin’ marvellous!


5. The Tale of Kingsbridge White Ale…

‘A malt liquor with the appearance of egg-wine’, a rare description of the legendary Kingsbridge White Ale – the famous alcoholic drink that was once the talk of the West Country. During the 15th century, this native grog was in huge demand around the shire, its secret ingredient referred to as ‘grout’ by the brewers and innkeepers who concocted it. Rumour has it that one of the more clandestine flavourings was in fact pigeon droppings deployed from the rafters. The recipe is said to have been perfected by the old monks of Buckfast – themselves master brewers – although others maintain it was introduced by a roaming German regimental surgeon. This mysterious wort appears to have been an acquired taste, one indignant correspondent going as far as to say that the ale looked ‘white and thick, as pigs had wrestled in it.’ White ale made something of a comeback during the 19th century, poured by Plymouthian landlords for the tankards of drunken sailors, but this once illustrious brew hailing from the tap rooms of Old Kingsbridge has since drifted into folklore and obscurity.

6. From Kingsbridge to the Azores…

Take a stroll along Kingsbridge promenade and you might see the odd mallard waddling across the mud flats or the ripples of a surfacing mullet, a far cry from the very same setting 150 years ago, when Kingsbridge was a thriving centre for ship building. Date’s Yard, once the town’s largest employer, was responsible for constructing the schooners, barges and ‘fruit clippers’ that trimmed the Atlantic sea bound for the Azores and West Indies to pick up cargos of citrus fruit. A battalion of shipwrights, carpenters, riggers, sailmakers, ironmongers and rope makers were all kept busy right up until the early 20th century when these magnificent sailing ships finally made way for the paddle steamer.


7. All Aboard the Kingsbridge & District Light Railway Line…

The reintroduction of ‘the little train that runs along the estuary’ has been one of the town’s highlights in recent years. Many visitors returning to Kingsbridge had fond memories of the miniature steam railway that once chugged along the harbourside. Spurred on by the nostalgia of yesteryear, the Kingsbridge & District Light Railway Company set about raising funds for its return and were soon laying the first sections of track along the town’s iconic promenade. Now a popular tourist attraction, the miniature locomotive runs from the ‘Ria End’ station, just off the bustling town square, to the far end of the embankment, following the characterful sways of the old estuary wall to wind up opposite Kingsbridge Recreation Ground.

Come and have a look at Toad Hall’s selection of holiday cottages in and around the picturesque estuary town of Kingsbridge.