Combe Martin History

the History of Combe Martin

the heritage of Combe Martin

Combe Martin industrial history

Welcome to Combe Martin History

Explore the history and heritage of this idyllic seaside resort in North Devon.

Combe Martin History Homepage 

Combe Martin History and Heritage website | 2024

Welcome to the history of Combe Martin ('Combmartin'), Devon, the idyllic seaside resort on the North Devon Coast Area of National Beauty, England.  

© Combe Martin History and Heritage Project 2023-2024 | Modified on 20 July 2024 | Created March 2023 | Privacy Policy | About Us

About Our Combe Martin History Project

Our independent, non-profit semi-academic project is community-driven, and celebrates and promotes the rich and characterful heritage of Combe Martin [Martin's Combe].

We explore its geology, Saxon origins, ancient mines and monuments, and its social and industrial legacy. Heritage pictures and a photo gallery are included for context. 

The stunning natural beauty of the #Exmoor National Park, which surrounds Combe Martin, has long been a source of inspiration for artists, writers, and outdoor enthusiasts alike.

This #NorthDevon landscape, with its rugged coastlines, rolling hills, and picturesque villages, has played a significant role in Combe Martin's #history and #heritage.

A starting point for learning about the story of Combe Martin and its silver mines, this ongoing project will grow and evolve over time with future additions and improvements.

The Origins of Combe Martin

Signs of pre-Roman Iron Age habitation have been found in Combe Martin, with nearby Newberry serving as a significant indicator. Furthermore, local archaeological discoveries suggest that North Devon, including Combe Martin, played a crucial role in the Roman economy between 43 AD and 410 AD.

The Exmoor Historic Environment Record indicates there are also silver-lead workings around Berrynarbor and Watermouth adjoining Combe MartinThe oldest of these workings is situated near the Iron Age univallate hillfort 'Newberry Castle', dated to c750 BC to AD43 on Newberry Hill.

Known as ‘Comba’ before the Norman Conquest, this Saxon settlement fell to the Norman invaders after 1066. The transition from Anglo-Saxon to Norman rule significantly affected local governance and all aspects of daily life in England.

The historic details can be found in Domesday, Britain’s earliest public record of land and landholding commissioned in 1085 by King William I (r. c1028 – 1087).

The toponym ‘Combe' is derived from the geographical feature it represents, and signifies a valley. 'Coombe' in Middle English, in Old English it would be ‘cumb’ or Latin 'cumba'. The term also has Old British origins, where it is called ‘kum’. It also has a Celtic connection with the Welsh term ‘Cwm’, denoting a valley.

The manorial affix "Martin" adjunct derives from one of William the Conqueror's Norman invader commanders, General Le Sieur [Lord] Martin de Turribus (knight). He was otherwise known as Martin de Tours, Martinus de Turon and also Martinus de Walis (knight, b. early 11th century - d. circa 1086).

In our village history, this man is referred to as Lord Martin de Tours, distinct from the 4th century Saint Martin of Tours. Under the medieval feudal system, Lord Martin's direct descendants were tenants-in-chief and overlords of Combe Martin until the 14th century.

Combe Martin's Literary Connections

A village with a distinctive identity, Combe Martin has several literary connections, including international bestselling author Marie Corelli, who set her "Mighty Atom" novel here in 1896.

In the 1850s, Charles Dickens reported the importance of the Combe Martin Silver Mines in the Hundred Years' War between England and France, during the 14th–15th century.

In Household Words magazine, Dickens wrote that "the Black Prince, Edward of Woodstock [1330-1376], obtained wealth sufficient to fund his wars in France".

For centuries, Combe Martin and local people have been celebrated in fiction, in gazettes, and in guide books. Devon, particularly our Exmoor region, features in several classic novels and in supernatural thrillers (see Visit Devon).

Exmoor is Lorna Doone country, and the Doone Valley is around five miles from LyntonIn Lorna Doone (1893), novelist R.D. Blackmore writes of "the silver cup from the mines at Combe-Martin, sent to the Queen Elizabeth in 1593" (Chpt. 58). 

Combe Martin: A Unique Blend of Heritage and Industrial History

Combe Martin's industrial activities, silver mining, lime-burning, and quarrying date back several hundred years. Yet the village's fortunes were transformed by the broader technological, transportation, and economic changes brought by the Industrial Revolution in the 18th and 19th centuries.

From the late 18th century through to the 20th century, the surge in industrial productivity and economic opportunities, generated by industrial modernisation, attracted new workers and residents to the village 

This influx of people seeking employment in Combe Martin's industrial and commercial sectors led to population growth. There were changes in the demographic makeup, and the development of new, industry-linked, residential and commercial areas.

Rising incomes and wealth from the industrial boom enabled investment in public infrastructure and social institutions, contributing to Combe Martin's progression. Yet Combe Martin is a story of boom and bust, and local silver mining with its peripheral business had significantly declined by 1880.

Mining was capital intensive; rising labour costs for finding depleted resources, the need to mine deeper, and expensive infrastructure, made investment prohibitive. Dividends to shareholders imposed extra pressure upon mining companies.

In one of many examples, the transition from traditional water and animal power to expensive steam-powered mining, increased the fuel and maintenance costs. By 1880 and despite calls for renewed efforts, local Journal and mining gazette reports show there was little interest in mining Combe Martin's silver deposits.

The quality of life improved for some in Combe Martin's growing population in this era. However, like the rest of Britain the impacts and benefits of industrialisation were not evenly distributed, especially in the 19th century.

The historical record suggests that wages, living conditions, and working conditions were often poor for industrial labourers and their families under the prevailing Edwardian and Victorian class systems. 

Scholars of the period (Robert Allen, 2009, and Chris A. Bayly, 2003) have observed that this pattern of uneven development, with a prosperous elite class coexisting alongside an impoverished working class, was a common feature of industrialisation across the British Empire during this period.

The village had completed its transition to a holiday resort by the early 20th century. Market gardening began a new epoch in Combe Martin's success story, yet its multi-industrial era was over.

The new age of tourism and holiday hostelries brought its own benefits, while the effects have not always been positive for sustainable community development.

In summary, the region's economic success was balanced against the need to address the social and economic disparities that emerged. Reflecting on these complex legacies can provide valuable insights into Combe Martin's distinctive heritage and development.

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Combe Martin Festivals and Customs

Join us on August 10, 2024 for our lively Combe Martin Carnival! The streets come alive with colourful floats, parades, and even a wheelbarrow race along the village’s long street. It’s a celebration you won’t want to miss. See Events 2024˃

Our historic Hunting of the Earl of 'Rone festival is unique to Combe Martin. We have included our own pictures and videos of this popular trad folk custom which draws crowds and journalists, over the four days of every Spring Bank Holiday.

Imagine a trad folk procession featuring the enigmatic Earl of Rone character, festive dancers, and a hobby horse. There's also the Fool, a band and drummers, and even a donkey. Our magical folklore and traditions connect us to our roots.

The Decline of Local Heritage and Housing

The proliferation of holiday rentals and second homes, catering to the seasonal influx of tourists, has driven up property prices beyond the reach of many longtime residents.

As the village's identity becomes increasingly commodified to serve the needs of visitors and the property market: Combe Martin is at risk of losing its authentic character, local heritage, social history and extraordinary industrial history.

Combe Martin Through the Ages

Anglo-Saxons Defeat the Vikings in 878 AD.
In 878 AD, just a few miles east of Combe Martin, a Viking force was defeated in a battle which changed English history. An army of some twelve-hundred Danes came from Dyfed, Cymru, and laid siege to a Devon hillfort at Countisbury on Exmoor. The Welsh chronicler Asser called the hillfort "Cynuit"/"Cynwit".

Early Silver Mining Records.
Thomas Westcote (c.1567 – c.1637), English historian and topographer of Devon, wrote that [Old Combmartin] "hath been rich and famous for her silver mines, of the first finding of which there are no certain records remaining".

Silver Mining Under the Plantagenets.
"In the time of Edward I, 1239-1307, [the mines] were wrought, but in the tumultuous reign of his son they might chance to be forgotten until Edward III [son of King John Lackland] who in his French conquest made good use of them".

"And so did Henry V. [1386-1482], of which there are divers monuments, their names to this time remaining; as the King's mine, storehouse, blowing-house, and refining-house." (Snell, F.J. [1911], The Blackmore Country, 2nd edition).

Silver Mining During the English Civil Wars.
During the 17th century English Civil Wars, the Combe Martin silver-lead mines were worked to support King Charles IThe Royal Silver Mines of Combe Martin were managed by the "devoted and indefatigable" Royalist Sir Thomas Bushell.

Combe Martin Harbour and Maritime Heritage.
As a long-established though remote harbour town, Combe Martin had longstanding maritime industries including fishing, shipping, and coastal trade.

When the railways arrived in the mid-19th century, Combe Martin was well-positioned to take advantage of improved transportation links to expand its coastal trade networks.

Combe Martin During the Industrial Revolution and Increased Trade.
By the 1800s and the expansion of the British Empire: North Devon quays, particularly Bideford, had become a bustling hub of commercial activity.

In this era, the world was far more 'globalised' than is commonly thought.

Advancements in mining equipment, processing techniques, and steam power enabled more efficient and expanded operations in silver-lead and iron mining, shipbuilding, the lime industry, and quarrying operations in Combe Martin.

Mechanisation of industrial processes increased productivity and output. There was increased demand for raw materials, agricultural products, and consumer goods. Much of this was being supplied through expanded maritime trade networks.

Bideford's well-established import hub served as a source of valuable goods and raw materials for the surrounding regional economy, including Combe Martin. The growth in maritime trade stimulated the development of several Combe Martin industries, commercial businesses and trades.

The end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815 had a significant positive impact on British trade and commerce. The conclusion of the Anglo-French wars removed many of the barriers, and disruptions, that had constrained British trade during the preceding decades.

Commercial expansion and prosperity through restored maritime trade routes would define much of the 19th century. Large quantities of essential commodities were imported from various regions, including timber, hemp, and tallow from the Baltic and America.

Wines and fruits came from the Mediterranean and cattle came from Ireland. Coal, culm, iron, and flag-stones came from Wales; and marble and slate from Cornwall.

Moreover, the Newfoundland trade also experienced a resurgence in the early 19th century. This trade integrated Combe Martin into the broader merchant and shipping networks connecting the West Country to the North Atlantic.

Local merchants, ship owners and builders, and transport providers, would have benefited from the commercial activity generated by this international trade.

Combe Martin and the Village Market in the Early 1800s.
In 1801, the number of inhabitants in Combe Martin parish was 819. In 1811, only 732. The poor-house was on the site of Combe Martin Community Centre.

In 1822, a small covered space in front of the Combe Martin poor-house was still called 'the market' (Lysons, in Magna Britannia, "Devonshire", 1822). In 1822, for the Christian holy day of Pentecost there was a fair here on Whit-Monday.

The Smuggling Era | Smuggling in North Devon.
North Devon also has a history of smuggling during 'the Golden Age' in the 18th and 19th centuries. Freebooting was rife around Lundy Island, Lee Bay and Morte. Ilfracombe, Combe Martin, Heddon's Mouth, Watermouth Cove and Trentishoe were no exception.

The Manor of Old Combmartin and Landownership.
"The manor and barton-house [demesne farm, land and buildings] were sold to [William] Hancock [manor lord, d. 1587]".

"And having been afterwards in the Buller family, the manor passed by marriage to the late Admiral Watson. And [in 1822 it was] the property of his son Sir Charles Watson, Bart [Baronet]".

"The manor-house [the former administrative centre occupied by the manor lord] is occupied by a labourer [in 1822]" (Magna Britannica, vol. 6, Devonshire, "Parishes" [1822]).

The Impact of New Railways in North Devon.
The arrival of the railway in Barnstaple in 1854 did have a noticeable, though not necessarily transformative, impact on the local economy and development during the Industrial Revolution period.

Barnstaple railway station was known as Barnstaple Junction from 1874 until 1970. It served as the junction between lines to Ilfracombe, Bideford, Taunton and Exeter. Subsequently, Combe Martin became more integrated into the regional economy.

The Ilfracombe railway station was established in 1874 when the railway line connecting Ilfracombe to the broader national rail network was completed. This made Combe Martin more accessible to national industries, visitors and tourists.

In summary, the railways facilitated the movement of local products to wider markets, thereby supporting local industries. Improved rail access also made Ilfracombe and Exmoor more accessible to tourists, driving the growth of regional hospitality and leisure businesses. 

The 20th Century | The Impact of the World Wars.
In the twentieth-century, Combe Martin was affected by two world wars. Local people served in military and ancillary services. The many who gave their lives in both wars are commemorated on the village war memorials at Combe Martin St Peter ad Vincula Church.

Combe Martin Today | A Charming Coastal Settlement with a Long Street. 
Combe Martin's single long street runs for nearly two miles through the Umber Valley. People love this record-breaking resort for its beaches and old Devon customs. On Cross Street, our local heritage is on display at Combe Martin Museum and Information Point staffed by knowledgeable volunteers.

Modern Attractions and Events.
Nowadays we enjoy Trad folk, beach parties, music and water sports in Combe Martin. Our August Carnival is scheduled for August 10, 2024. Several local attractions are planned this year; see our updating list of Combe Martin Events.

Geology of Combe Martin

This area is renowned for its striking geological features. The town's scenic landscape is defined by a sheltered harbour cove and the towering sandstone Hangman sea cliffs.

The Combe Martin landmark Great Hangman stands c.1,043 feet (318 m) high, with a cliff face of 800 feet (244 m). It is the highest sea cliff in England. 

What's more, Combe Martin boasts a rich geological history and diverse rock formations ˃

The North Devon Coast Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty

Information on local walks, monuments and local heritage is available from the North Devon Coast National Landscape website.

The North Devon Coast Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), now called North Devon Coast National Landscape, covers 66 square miles of mainly coastal landscape, including Combe Martin

Orchards and Lime Kilns Galore

In Victorian times, extractive industries, orchards and allotments stretched all along Combe Martin's deep romantic glen scattered with cob cottages. Local families toiled on the fields, in nine quarries, and at numerous polymetallic mines.

The cob cottages were a vernacular building style prevalent throughout the rural areas of Devon and Cornwall. These cottages were constructed primarily using a mixture of earth, straw, and water; a material known as "cob."

The cob mixture would be packed and shaped by hand into thick walls, creating a sturdy and insulating building material. The use of locally-sourced, natural building materials like cob, thatch, and timber gave the Combe Martin cottages a strong sense of place and connection to the land. 

Combe Martin was also home to nineteen lime-kilns, the highest concentration of lime-burning furnaces in North Devon. This quintessential rural English village balanced an agrarian way of life with industrialisation through its extractive and ship-building operations.

Combe Martin's Strawberry Boat | The English Civil War| Medieval Church Hall

Experience Combe Martin

Situated along the Bristol Channel in the picturesque Exmoor region, the town boasts natural beauty and a wealth of rambling countryside trails for visitors to explore. Capture stunning sunsets on Combe Martin's popular beaches.

The village is surrounded by areas of ecological importance, harbouring rare plants and wildlife. Book a Sea Safari with Combe Martin Museum; great for kids and adults alike.

Combe Martin produced 'the world's finest strawberries' in the late 19th/early 20th centuries. Criticised for its industrial landscape during the Industrial Revolution, this self-sustaining village transformed its economy.

However, common perceptions of Combe Martin as only a former mining and farming community do not fully capture its industrial history. It had multiple trades and cottage industries, and it has an enviable seaside holiday heritage.

Art, Culture and a Holistic Destination

An artistic community has grown here and in the Ilfracombe area, with galleries showcasing local artisans. Combe Martin also boasts a vibrant musical scene, hosting festivals and shows celebrating folk, jazz and other genres. Don't miss the summer beach parties down at Combe Martin harbour on weekends.

For those seeking more than a reminder of its productive past, Combe Martin rewards exploration of its heritage and connections to the natural world. Residents and visitors now experience the village as a remote and holistic destination with a surprisingly eventful history.

A Haven for Wildlife and Nature Lovers

Combe Martin boasts a diverse range of ecological features, making it an ideal location for environmental research. A local highlight is the Combe Martin Wildlife and Dinosaur Park. This award-winning attraction is home to various species of animals, offering a unique experience for visitors.

Nestled in a wooded valley, Combe Martin is renowned for its unique coastal aspect, with towering cliffs, secluded coves, and picturesque beaches. 

The coastal environment provides habitats for a wide range of marine life, making it an interesting area for ecological exploration.

The Exmoor Historic Environment

Ancient Exmoor with its rolling hills, ancient woodlands, and diverse wildlife, further adds to the beauty and biodiversity of this region by the sea. The area boasts geological diversity, rivers and streams, archaeological sites, and richly wooded combes and farmland.

Summary of the key points from the Exmoor National Park web page:

  • Natural Beauty: Recognized for its stunning moorland, beauty, and tranquility

  • Cultural Landscape: Shaped by generations of farming, creating a unique mix of fields, moor, and woods

  • Biodiversity: Home to rare species in its special woodlands and clear, oxygen-rich rivers

  • Dramatic Coastline: Features towering cliffs along the Bristol Channel, explorable via the South West Coast Path

  • Iconic Wildlife: Inhabited by Britain’s largest land mammal, the Red deer, and the ancient Exmoor Pony

Read more about Exmoor's Nature and Landscape ˃ 

This region attracts a variety of bird species, including migratory birds, which make it a popular spot for birdwatching. The coastal cliffs, industrial heritage and surrounding countryside attract holidaymakers, ramblers and history hunters.

Combe Martin Flora and Fauna

Moreover, Combe Martin is situated near the South West Coast Path, a long-distance trail that stretches over 600 miles. This path offers breathtaking views of the coastline, allowing researchers and nature enthusiasts to explore the unique flora and fauna that thrive in this coastal environment.

Read more at the North Devon Coast National Landscape website ˃

Inherent Variations in Names, Interpretations and Dates

We've done our homework but we should point out that historical records, languages, and interpretations vary considerably. Inherent variations especially occur with older time periods.

We strive for accuracy, yet inevitably there are variations in the accounts, names, and dates mentioned in our articles.

The Industrial Legacy of Combe Martin

During the Industrial Revolution (1760-1840) in particular, local entrepreneurs like the Dovell family harnessed cutting-edge technologies to drive economic growth in the region.

This industrial development brought both benefits and challenges to Combe Martin. On one hand, the mining and smelting operations provided employment opportunities and economic prosperity for the community.

The introduction of new technologies also positioned Combe Martin as an innovative industrial centre. However, industrialisation brought some environmental impacts.

Local mining and smelting released pollutants into the air, soil and waterways.  The extensive extractive and quarrying activities also dramatically altered the local landscape.

Overall, Combe Martin's industrial legacy reflects the complex trade-offs between economic priorities and environmental considerations that often accompanied rapid industrialisation. 

Combe Martin's Major Shift to an Agrarian Society

When local silver mining operations dwindled in the mid 19th century, the village turned to its fertile loamy soil and transitioned to commercial market gardening.

In 1835, the North Devon Journal reported that the setting up of allotments in Combe Martin was very successful, and that 96 families were working them.

This shift not only preserved Combe Martin's livelihood but also transformed the landscape into verdant fields, securing a new era of prosperity for almost a century. In this era there were allotments scattered all along the valley.

Local families worked several industries, and grew and exported vast quantities of cash crops, fruits, vegetables and flowers. Lynton and Lynmouth also relied heavily upon fruits and vegetables from this locale.

Agricultural workers and travellers had to contend with steep and winding roads around and out of Combe Martin, especially the five miles to Ilfracombe. The situation was alleviated by Turnpike Trusts from 1838.

By the early twentieth century: hundreds of tons of the finest strawberries were shipped out from Combe Martin harbour at Lester Point.

Combe Martin's Slow Change from Gas to Electricity 

As an industrial centre, Combe Martin had a relatively inefficient gas-based street lighting system in place, right up until the mid-twentieth-century. In 1946, the local Journal reported that the transition from the Ilfracombe Gas Company to electric street lighting in the village was slow, owing to a shortage of materials.

Overall, the delayed transition to electric street lighting in Combe Martin, despite its industrial significance, created various problems including fires and explosions. The slow change impacted on the town's infrastructure, economy, quality of life, and technological development in the mid-20th century.

The Combe Martin Jam Factory

Shortly before the First World War, entrepreneurs capitalised on Combe Martin's burgeoning fresh produce. The Combe Martin Preserves and Co Ltd factory - 'Proprietors of Golden Shield' - was built by locals Matt Darch and Jim Baker. The business cooked and exported a wide range of fruit spreads and confitures.

The old factory still stands today on the former Pigs Lane, now called Kiln Lane after Combe Martin's lime kiln industry. Large quantities of fruits were received from the market gardeners at Combe Martin, as documented in the North Devon Journal dated July 27, 1916.

To meet demand, production was extended to Barnstaple. The business prospered for several years, but suffered when the price of sugar—sourced from the colonies and sugar plantations—soared after wartime price controls were relaxed. By 1924, the company had entered into receivership.

Read how Combe Martin segued from silver mining to strawberries˃

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The Norman Baronial Martin Family

Serving in the Norman army at the Battle of Hastings in 1066, General Martin de Tours was a man of much worth to William the Conqueror.

After seizing lands for King William in the 11th century, Martin was granted various titles including Marcher Lord of Cemais [Pembrokeshire]. He became the feudal overlord of Combe [Martin], mentioned in history as Martinshire.

Being granted a manor didn't just involve acquiring a piece of land; it brought economic power, social prestige, and a significant role in the feudal system. Land was the primary source of wealth and power during this period.

In Wales, Martin de Tours was called Kemys; "Martyn de Tours, General and 1st Baron of Kemys". He may have been called Cemais or Keymes in Pembroke circa 1077, and he founded a monastery for Benedictine Monks near Cardigan. Norman lords established religious institutions to consolidate their power.

Individuals with ample wealth and resources continued to establish and endow new monasteries during the High Middle Ages. In doing so, they created religious communities that would be dedicated in perpetuity to the spiritual well-being of the founders, and the preservation of their legacies.

The monastery was endowed with lands by his son and heir Baron Robert Fitz-Martin (born 1080) who founded St Dogmaels Abbey, Cardigan, during 1118-1120. The heirs were summoned to the King's council as Barons of Cemais or Keymes, and they continued to be Lords of the English Parliament.

The baronial Martin family played a key role in strengthening the power of the Normans in England, and parts of Wales. The dynasty had a big impact on the politics, architecture, Church, and history of these regions.

A feudal baron was the king's tenant-in-chief holding a heritable fief of specific lands called a barony, directly from the king. Granted legal jurisdiction over their territory, and court privileges, they were obligated to supply troops to the king’s feudal army whenever the king required.

The fitz Martins, sons of Martin de Tours, inherited the medieval feudal manor of Combe Martin and associated privileges from their progenitor. At some stage, the Martin barony adopted the surname FitzMartin (son of Martin) irrespective of their fathers’ names.

As feudal barons of Barnstaple, by the mid-13th century they used plain ‘Martin’ as their surname, and held lands in England and Wales until the 14th century. The title of Baron was brought to England by the Normans, many of whom already held this rank in Normandy prior to the Conquest.

This system granted the owner, whether through inheritance or acquisition, a collection of rights related to land, minerals, and other assets, including certain public justice rights and privileges.

Similar noble rights and privileges existed in Anglo-Saxon England and were further entrenched in the Anglo-Norman feudal baronial system. However, many of the manorial privileges associated with the title were abolished in the reign of Charles II.

Feudal tenures which included the system of manorial lords were not abolished in England, Ireland, and Wales until 1660. The Tenures Abolition Act was passed by the Convention Parliament, shortly after the English (Stuart) Restoration.

Victorian and Modern Lords of Manors

The title ‘Lord or Lady of the Manor', prevalent in 19th century England, was not a feudal tenure and it carried few if any feudal privileges. More related to independent estate rights and local influence, the title was held by individuals including peers of the realm, landed gentry, and religious orders.

The exact privileges could vary widely depending on the specific manor and the historical period. A revised system with legal property rights continues in modern England and Wales, but does not in itself confer nobility (The British Titles System, 2023).

The Ancient Parish of Combe Martin 

This Bristol Channel coastal settlement has been been given several names in its long history: Comba, Marhuscombe (Maryscombe), and Comer. It's also been called The Great North Combe, Martinscombe, and Shamwick.

In the ancient administrative union of Barnstaple, the village fell within the Braunton Hundred and the ecclesiastical parish was named St. Peter. It became part of the Barnstaple Poor Law Union which was formally established in 1835.

Located on the western boundary of Exmoor in the southwestern part of England: Combe Martin civil parish lies 5 miles east of Ilfracombe and 11 miles away from Barnstaple.

There is evidence of a Roman presence in Combe Martin. Archaeological findings include pottery dating back to the 4th century, along with traces of Roman strip mining or dragline excavation (open cast mining) in the eastern part of the parish.

Combe Martin Tourism

Exmoor, the area of hilly open moorland in west Somerset and north Devon in South West England, has the highest coastline in England and Wales, with coastal hills rising to 433m (1421ft).

An area of natural beauty, the North Devon National Landscape extends from Combe Martin featuring the highest sea cliff in England and Wales, to the wild and beautiful Hartland Peninsular and down to the border with Cornwall.

Our local area map will help you to navigate the area. Explore the local geography, and Combe Martin's landmarks. Among our articles is the widely reported story of a World War Two German U-boat visiting Combe Martin's Sherrycombe Waterfall, located at NGR SS6048.

Combe Martin St Peter ad Vincula Parish Church

Explore the history of Combe Martin's 13th century St Peter ad Vincula Church and its well-preserved 15th century roodscreen. Owing to medieval Combe Martin's status, and its wealth of valuable ores and minerals: our beautiful ornate Anglican parish church was afforded a larger than average size.

We have documentary evidence from 1135 AD, when there was a dispute or complaint (calumnia et querela) between the monks of St Pancras, possibly of Lewes Priory, England's premier Cluniac Monastery, and Lord Robert fitz Martin, regarding the chapel of Combe.

Essentially, it represents a legal conflict related to the ownership or rights associated with the chapel. This dispute was resolved before the Bishop of Exeter, William, and apparently in his synod (church council) held at the Church of St. Peter.

Documents and supporting evidence suggest our parish church of St Peter existed in 1135 CE, when Robert fitz Martin, son of Martin de Tours, was lord of the manor.

Visit Combe Martin St. Peter's during daytime opening hours to discover its many secrets. Guidebooks are available in the church for a small donation.

We Welcome Your Pictures and History Articles 

If you would like to contribute relevant photographs or submit a local history article on Combe Martin, please contact us (no business enquiries). If you prefer, your materials can be posted anonymously with no personal details.

Alongside our articles, we include a collection of photographs and illustrations, and a Combe Martin picture gallery can be found on our page footers.

Deep Dive into Combe Martin History ˃ | Combe Martin's Industrial Heritage ˃

People Ask: Why is Combe Martin Village Famous? 

Visitors can experience panoramic views of the Bristol Channel's rocky coast, and walk through an area steeped in history. Combe Martin once had the highest concentration of Lime-burning kilns in North Devon: nineteen in all. Some of these kilns can still be seen today, and the village is rich in limestone.

Combe Martin Silver Mines Society mentions a Civil War Royal Mint at Combe Martin. And that "in the 1640’s, King Charles I. clothed his army from the Combmartin mines" during the English Civil Wars (CMSMS, 2023). 

West Challacombe Manor (Grade 2 Star listed) on Combe Martin's West Challacombe Lane, is a small manor house and farm house. This significant historic monument, called 'Orchard' by antiquarians with some evidence, dates to the 15th century. See our article on West Challacombe Manor►

Combe Martin's 17th century Pack o’ Cards Inn is a rare Grade Two Star listed national monument, and a prominent historic landmark on the High Street. The inn was originally an ostentatious townhouse for local gentry.

If there are similar buildings anywhere else, they are not well-documented or as well-known as the Pack o' Cards. It was constructed in 1690 by local squire George Ley (gent, benefactor, school-master and landowner).

For Operation PLUTO: on December 29, 1942 the cable-laying vessel Londonrenamed HMS Holdfast—successfully laid the experimental wartime H.A.I.S. fuel pipeline, across open water from Swansea's Queen's Dock.

The prototype pipeline supplying fuel for the Normandy Invasion stretched 30 miles across the turbulent Bristol Channel, to Watermouth at Combe Martin.

Self-sustaining Combe Martin's celebrated hemp industry spanned the Middle Ages to the nineteenth-century. In its industrial heyday: Combe Martin also mined and exported thousands of tons of valuable ores, trading around the Bristol Channel ports.

During the early-modern era c.1500-1800: hemp was more versatile than has been supposed. Combe Martin's thriving hemp industry supplied the whole of Devon. It also sustained the local economy and provided local employment. 

New Tabs: PhotosCombe Martin's Industries | Combe Martin Hemp History | Local Landmarks 

The silver mined in Combe Martin held significant importance for monarchs. Over the centuries, many mining prospectors either struck it rich here or faced disappointment. Remnants of historic mining exploration can still be found throughout Combe Martin Valley. 

The author and antiquary William Camden (1551-1623) in his Britannia (2nd ed. publ. 1722), wrote that "the Combmarton [sic] silver mines were first discovered in the reign of King Edward I [r. 1272-1307]". 

Read a history of silver mining in Devon and Cornwall ►

The Old Combmartin Mine Tenement on Bowhay Lane, EX34 0JN, has a rich history. It was worked, deserted, and revived several times from the 13th century. Mining tunnels extend beneath the entire village of Combe Martin.

Visit the Old Combmartin Mine Tenement

Industrial silver mining at Combe Martin ceased in the late 19th century, yet the Combe Martin Silver Mines Society still opens the mine tenement to visitors on certain days. You can discover the history and the work the society carries out now. Leaflets are available from Combe Martin Museum.

Sunken Lanes and Packhorses in Combe Martin

The sunken lanes in Combe Martin, for instance Usticke at the top of Comers, were lines of communication for the local mineworks, villagers and fields. Commonly used by packhorses for transportation, sunken lanes have existed for hundreds of years.

Devon had a larger number of roads than most English counties. Until Turnpike Trusts were introduced, many local roads were undeveloped and muddy tracks, made worse by steep hills. In these times people mostly travelled on foot, often with carts, or on horseback.

Until the early 20th century in Devon, packhorses and ponies were the primary means of goods transportation. Their ability to navigate winding lanes and hilly terrains gave them an advantage over carts. This made them an indispensable part of the region’s transport system.

Industrial and agricultural villages such as Combe Martin depended on packhorse teams for all their transportation needs, whether for personal use or for delivering goods.

Packhorse bridges were built to carry packhorses across rivers and streams. Common across Exmoor, packhorses were in extensive use locally up until the early twentieth-century. 'Packhorse Bridge' over Combe Martin's River Umber on Wet Lane, is a well-preserved example among others in the village.

Along Combe Martin's many sunken lanes: local market gardeners wheeled barrows of produce down to the harbour. Miners transported loads between the Bowhay Lane and Knap Down setts. Farmers used the lanes, and smugglers trod the more secluded sunken lanes for moving contraband, undetected.

Notable People in Combe Martin

Sir Richard Pollard MP, of Putney (1505-1542), was granted the Cistercian Forde Abbey in Dorset. He was elected MP for Taunton in 1536, and then for Devon in 1540 and 1542 (The History of Parliament online, 2024).

A significant figure to both history and Combe Martin, Pollard was a royal surveyor and held the position of Sheriff of Devon during 1537-8. In recognition of Pollard's service, King Henry VIII granted him the manor of Combe Martin in 1537. 

A prominent figure during this period, Pollard played a significant role in assisting Thomas Cromwell in administering the Henrician Dissolution of the Monasteries between 1536 and 1541, during the English Reformation.

One of Pollard's most notorious acts was his supervision of the destruction and pillaging of the shrine to Saint Thomas Becket, in Canterbury Cathedral during September 1538 (Scully, 2000, The Unmaking of a Saint). Pollard's actions against numerous English abbeys were significant and had lasting impacts.

Clara Ethelinda Larter (1847 - 1936) was an English botanist who gained recognition for her research on Devon’s fauna. Clara moved to Combe Martin in 1899, and lived here for a decade. More recently, the entertainer Bill Bailey and artist Damien Hirst have property and social links with the village.

Film star Terry-Thomas—he added the hyphen in 1947—took his holidays in Combe Martin. Terry was often seen around the village and at his favourite  landmark The Pack o' Cards Inn.

Britain's fictional flirty toff, real name Thomas Terry Hoar-Stevens, is inurned in St Peter ad Vincula Church graveyard on the west side. You can find his engraved monument on the path near the west door of our Anglican church.

Combe Martin Sexton James Norman (Reuben Dale)

'Reuben Dale' was a main character in Corelli's novel The Mighty Atom (1896), written in Combe Martin. The fictional Reuben was in fact based on real-life local man James Norman (c1844 - 11.02. 1898), the sexton-cum-verger at Combe Martin St Peter ad Vincula Church. He lived in a cottage on the village High Street.

You can find James Norman's faded gravestone on the grass bank to the inside right of St Peter's Church Lych-gate, as you exit towards Rectory Road.

Video: Earl of Rone Festival 1998 | Combe Martin Museum | Snowflake the Strawberry Boat

Combe Martin's Historic Landmarks

Combe Martin has several listed buildings, monuments and landmarks of historical importance including the 17th century Pack o' Cards Inn. These heritage assets are listed by Historic England and nominally protected by North Devon Council.

Just a few miles away at Wind Hill, Countisbury, there is good evidence that in 878 CE a West Saxon fyrd militia led by Ealdorman Odda [Oddune] of Devon, defeated a large Viking army they called “the Danes” at a place called Cynwit (see this article).

Combe Martin in the Guinness World Book of Records (2002)

On the Queen's Diamond Jubilee in June 2002, Combe Martin entered the Guinness Book of World Records for holding the longest street party in Britain. 

One of the longest main streets in Britain: Combe Martin's trunk road was home to a record 1.5 miles of celebrations during the Queen's Diamond Jubilee. Seven hundred tables attracted 8,000 visitors.

The record was commemorated with brass plaques at both ends of the village.  One of those commemorative plaques is now displayed at Combe Martin Museum on Cross Street

Combe Martin in 1902 | Combe Martin's Medieval Rood Screen| Secrets of our Parish Church


Based on official reports, tourist guides, and trade publications, we discovered that the downturn of local silver mining in the late 19th century led to a remarkable transition towards high-quality industrial market gardening in Combe Martin.

Besides modern sources, older primary sources allow historians and students to gain a deeper understanding of key historical concepts and facts. However, it’s important to approach sources critically, and consider their context. They can also reflect the biases and limitations of their creators.

Texts, letters, drawings, and memoirs created by individuals who have directly experienced or observed historical events, provide insights that cannot be captured by even the most eloquently written articles or books.

Combe Martin in The Blackmore Country

While not an officially designated administrative region, the Blackmore Country is recognized as a distinct sub-regional identity. It lies within the broader county of Somerset and this part of Exmoor, and is defined by its unique geography, land use patterns, and cultural heritage.

The Lorna Doone romantic novel written by R.D. Blackmore was published in 1869, and set on Exmoor. Members of Blackmore's family are buried in Combe Martin Churchyard. According to the historian A.T. Hussell writing in 1901, a John Blackmore M.A. was rector of this parish in 1833 (North Devon Churches).

In 2004, Blackmore's novel Lorna Doone: A Romance of Exmoor appeared on the BBC survey The Big Read. Set in 17th century Exmoor and Devon: the book ranked in the Top 200 of the nation's best-loved books.

Historian Frederick J. Snell authored The Blackmore Country histories (1911) which includes early histories of Combe Martin. The Blackmores were Rectors of Combe Martin and Oare; their sons' weddings were conducted by family parsons at Combe Martin Parish Church in the 1840s.

Read an excerpt from F.J. Snell's The Blackmore Country (1911) ˃

A Long Main Street Scattered With Cob Cottages 

According to Lady Rosalind Northcote in 1908: the village was "unique in its layout, stretching over a mile in length". The majority of the homes were situated along the main street: "a mix of cob-walled cottages with thatched roofs, shops, small houses with slate roofs, and villas nestled within their own gardens".

There are several buildings made of rubble and cob in Combe Martin, including its former manor houses, West Challacombe Manor, and the Pack o' Cards Inn. In Devon, rubble and cob were sourced directly from the local soil, farms and rocks.

According to the Historic Buildings Trust (The Cob Buildings of Devon, 1992) the most suitable cob soil and straw, and stone rubble, were easily obtainable. Therefore, Devon's natural building materials were cost-effective in vernacular architecture.

In 1908, the cottages all appeared to be scattered haphazardly, as if placed there by chance. Northcote described "the banks adorned with clusters of red valerian, and the walls were draped with the vibrant rose-bay willow-herb, adding a splash of colour to the surroundings" (Devon, its Moorlands, Streams and Coasts, 1908).

Historically, North Devon and the Exmoor coastline are heavily influenced by the Dumnonii Celts, and Wales; the latter having strong trade links with Combe Martin including shipments of limestone, metal ores, fruit and veg, and coal.

During the 17th to 19th centuries, Combe Martin imported staple food cereals, and bark for tanning leather. Between the late 1600s and early 1800s, the production of leather and leather-related products was central to English industry. Leather was commonly tanned with oak bark, in one of many crafts.

White's History of Combmartin (1878) | Combmartin by Samuel Lewis (1831)

Bronze Age and Iron Age Exmoor 

There is scant evidence of Bronze Age iron works in Combe Martin. However, there are some possible connections; clues suggest ancient mining activities around Combe Martin and up to the Somerset border.

The British Bronze Age spanned from around 2500–2000 BC until c.800 BC. The British Iron Age lasted from around 800 BC to the Roman invasion in AD43.

Some iron ore may have come from Combe Martin where there are traces of silver-lead and ironworks. Local historian John H. Moore (online) discusses this subject, in a broad academic history of Hele Bay and our local area. 

The Exmoor Historic Environment Record indicates there are silver-lead workings around Berrynarbor and Watermouth near Combe Martin. The oldest of these workings is situated near the Iron Age univallate hillfort 'Newberry Castle' - c. 750 BC to AD43 - on Newberry Hill at Combe Martin (q.v. Historic England). 

North Devon on the western margins of Exmoor had mineral resources that interested the Romans. Archaeologists suspect that iron production from Exmoor's ores was at its greatest during the Roman period (Exmoor National Park: The Exmoor Iron Project).

Thousands of years ago, people were interacting with Exmoor iron ore deposits.  Excavations at the Roman Lode openwork at Burcombe on Exmoor (Exmoor  Heritage Environment Record MSO6804), revealed a hearth dating to the Early Bronze Age (c. 2500 to 1200 BC). 

Smelting sites were established at Clatworthy Reservoir, Sherracombe Ford (Exmoor Heritage MDE13172) and at Brayford near South Molton, during the 2nd century AD when the Roman Empire was at its height.

These sites likely produced several thousand tonnes of refined iron. Transporting the heavy extracted ore from the Romano-British iron workings on Exmoor, and at Brayford, would have required accessible routes. 

The primary markets for iron tools were farming throughout the area. For Roman military purposes: the iron was likely transported to Exeter or South Wales (Exmoor National Park MSO6804 [Roman Lode Ironworkings] Monument).

Combe Martin Mines | Rood Screen | Buzzacott Manor| The Pack O' Cards Inn

Out of the World and Into Combe Martin

The old local adage Out of the World and into Combe Martin stems from times when public transport to this remote village was limited to just a few horse-drawn carriages a week. Out of the World and into Combe Martin also titles our most valued local history book.

Charabancs came infrequently from Ilfracombe, and only twice a week from Barnstaple. More to the point: much of Combe Martin parish lies in a secluded and distant location. 

Not Tonight, Josephine

A comical court case was reported in 1928, when the Rector of Combe Martin Parish Church: Rev R.A. Seymour, met a French mother and daughter who'd been told by a spirit that he should marry the daughter (see this article).

Accessible, Reliable and Referenced 

With special emphasis on Combe Martin's history and heritage: our articles are formatted in accessible language and large font. Besides clear and enlargeable pictures, we've also tried our best to make our articles easy to find.

Our original and factual articles are compiled from reliable history books, journals and records. Citations are included, and authoritative historical sources are included at the end of our articles.

Combe Martin Museum

Combe Martin Museum and Information Point includes a Gift Shop with tourist information, area maps and local history books. This accessible museum curates a large collection of historical artefacts and documents. You can view the heritage and social history of Combe Martin including silver and local geology.

The Prehistoric 'Hanging Stone'

Near Combe Martin is the Hangman's Stone, one of the boundary stones parting Combe Martin from the next parish. In local legend, it received this name from a thief who stole a sheep, and tied it around his neck to carry it on his back.

In local legend, the man rested himself for a time upon this menhir, which is roughly 1.5 metres high, until the sheep slid over the stone on the other side and strangled him.

This incident - after which the Hangman Hills are supposedly named, was reported in 1662 by English scholar and author Thomas Fuller. His History of the Worthies of England is regarded as the first Dictionary of National Biography. 

More correctly, the prehistoric standing stone is attributed to Knap Down. There appears to be no reason to suspect that there was ever anything other than a single, unnamed prehistoric standing stone at this location (Exmoor National Park HER MDE1034).

Shammickites, Strawberries and Smugglers' Tales

For a long while, Combe Martin locals have proudly called themselves 'shammickites'. In local vernacular, the term shammick might be an archaic reference to Combe Martin's grimy industrial heritage

According to E.D. Parsons and Norah Gregory in Devon Historian (1979): Combe Martin's locals called this village 'Shamwick' until the end of the 19th century.  Shammick and shammickite might also be colloquialisms of Shamwick.

Discover our industrial history and the Combe Martin 'Strawberry Boat'. Combe Martin was famous for growing hundreds tons of first-class fruits, during the Victorian era and the first part of the 20th century.

Smuggling activities once operated not far from Combe Martin harbour. Until the early nineteenth-century: Ilfracombe, Clovelly, Bideford, Combe Martin, and Porlock were especially affected by the contraband trade.

Berrynarbor and Watermouth Castle

Berrynarbor, a historic village and former manor, and the 19th century landmark Watermouth Castle, now a family attraction, are two miles west of Combe Martin and within four miles of Ilfracombe. Both are accessible by using the South West Coast Path.

According to Hussell in 1909: in 1887, the fiftieth year of Victoria's reign, Berrynarbor St. Peter's Church underwent extensive renovations. The work was entirely paid for by local benefactor and Lady of the Manor Mrs Basset of Watermouth Castle (built in 1825 by Arthur Davie Basset for his bride Harriet). 

The late C16 or early C17 Grade 2 rated 'Bowden' farmhouse at Berrynarbor was the birthplace of controversial churchman John JewelBishop of Salisbury.

Combe Martin was Internationally Famous

During its Late Modern period heyday, circa 1800s -1940s, Combe Martin featured in fiction and in gazetteers. Combe Martin's celebrated strawberries and wealth of minerals and metalliferous mines featured in trade and industry magazines; and in newspapers across the contemporary British Empire. 

Get Outside in Combe Martin

Combe Martin is a popular destination for those who like to explore nature and history, so you'll likely meet other people on the trail. Our local walking and National Trail routes range from easy to challenging.

On Exmoor, a line of irregular lenticular deposits of limestone trends from Combe Martin by Challacombe, through the middle of Exmoor National Park. Combe Martin is characterized by rugged headlands that house small bays filled with grey sand and shingle, all made up of Devonian sandstone and slate.

"Silver, Smoke and Strawberries"

The book titled Silver, Smoke and Strawberries, from the North Devon Coast AONB, offers a brief history of Combe Martin and includes a walking guide. You can acquire it by making a donation at Combe Martin Museum, conveniently situated near the main beach car park.

Combe Martin's Main Beaches

Combe Martin’s pebbly beach harbour cove transforms into a beautiful sandy beach at low tide. Once a busy sea port, it’s now popular for its sunsets and the superb rock pools among the rocky formations at Lester Point. 

At the top of the main beach, you’ll find ample parking, restrooms and local hospitality. A short walk away on the western side is Newberry Beach and the promenade.

Newberry Beach Phoenician Steps

Newberry rock and shingle beach shelters below sea walls and cliffs. On this western beach, look for 'the ancient Phoenician steps' in the rocks, a slippery gully that resembles an ancient walkway.

Named after ancient Eastern-Mediterranean peoples, they lead from one cove to the next, and should only be explored with extreme care at low tide.

Over a century ago: visiting topographers speculated that pre-Roman Phoenician galleys passed along these coasts on their way to Cornwall, and came into Combe Martin to collect silver and lead.

Combe Martin's Industrial Heritage

Heritage - our rich legacy from the past is a vital and indispensable element of our regional tourism and historic environment.

Many families, aristocrats and entrepreneurs helped develop this village, leaving legacies and monuments which must be protected. Today, Combe Martin is popular with history hunters besides holidaymakers and walkers.

Intermittent mining for silver-lead and iron continued in old Combmartin over many centuries. A large quarrying and lime-burning industry operated on the south side of the village.

From medieval times: agribusiness, horticulture, imports and exports, mining, fishing, and cottage industries were the lifeblood of Combe Martin's community. 

The Southwest Coast Path 

The South West Coastal Path affords stunning scenery and runs through Combe Martin, westward to Ilfracombe and beyond. Walking the National Trail eastward will take you to Lynton and Lynmouth, and onwards to Somerset.

Originally a historic coastguard patrol route to restrict smuggling, and a practical defence system, today's South West Coast Path is England's longest way-pointed footpath. It runs for 630 miles, from Minehead down to Poole in Dorset.


|For clarity, use the arrows to enlarge the pictures|

Combe Martin at The Conquest 1066

Before the Norman Conquest, Lords of Combe [Martin] in 1066 were Brictric and  Edwy. In the Domesday Book of 1086, Combe [Martin] was a medieval estate, and a settlement, in the hundred of Braunton, Devon. 

In the wake of the 1066 Norman Conquest, English architecture underwent a substantial transformation with the advent of the Romanesque style, coming before Gothic architecture and popular on the continent at the time.

The proliferation of Romanesque architecture in Britain during the 11th and 12th centuries should be viewed in the context of the feudal Anglo-Norman society.

This period saw a diverse population made up of Normans, French, Flemings, Bretons, and Anglo-Saxons, as the Norman rulers consolidated their control over the region.

The Norman nobility and clergy played a crucial role in commissioning and financing Romanesque architectural projects, often in the context of religious reforms and the establishment of new monastic orders, such as the Benedictines and Cluniacs.

A new epoch arose from both Normandy and its newfound English territory, significantly influencing the course of history (Richard Gem; Studies in English Pre-Romanesque and Romanesque Architecture [2003], q .v.).

Early Rectors of Combe Martin Parish

According to parish records: the rector in 1309—Sir William Tracy—held the Living for six months, and is probably the same William Tracey of Morthoe who lived in this time. Receiving a Living virtually guaranteed a home, land and income for life.

In the year 1329, "Sir Lodowick de Kemmeys" [Camois and many versions of the name] is listed as rector until 1353, when he was succeeded by Sir Simon Hervey.

Camois may be Welsh and located to Kemeys in the former county of Monmouthshire. However, it is possible that the original spelling of Kemeys was the Norman-French Camois, introduced at or after the Conquest of England in 1066.

Read more in our article about Combe Martin Parish Church˃

Sir Lodowic is said to have belonged to a branch of the great Norman baronial house of Camois, also members of the British aristocracy. The lineage is traceable back to Henry III (1207-1272), son of King John of Norman Plantagenet descent.

The Martins were sometimes seated at the manor of Dartington, and Martinhoe near Combe Martin seems to have been another Martin family seat. History records that in the fourteenth-century, about 1326, the last of the Martins left Combe Martin and the estate passed to the Lords Audley.

Combe Martin afterwards reverted to the Crown or escheated to the state, and was granted by Henry VIII to Sir Richard Pollard, Member of Parliament for Taunton in 1536, and for Devon in 1540 and 1542. Pollard's descendants eventually dismembered the manor.

Combe Martin in White's Directory and Gazetteer of Devon (1878-1879)

During the 1870s COMBE MARTIN, or Combmartin, parish was in Barnstaple union, county court district. Northern division of the county, Braunton petty sessional division and hundred, Barnstaple archdeaconry and Sherwell rural deanery.

Combe Martin had 1418 inhabitants (692 males and 726 females) in 1871, living in 337 houses, on 3815 acres of land. 

Combe Martin in the Seventeenth-Century

The Combe Martin silver mines were active during the English Civil War, when Royalist Thomas Bushell mined silver for King Charles I

There is extant King Charles I. coinage, dated 1644, attributed to Combe Martin. Bushell - who provided finance to Charles I. - was a friend and protégé of the English philosopher and statesman Francis Bacon.

The Industrial Revolution 

During the industrial revolution c. 1760-1840, Combe Martin's industry was immortalised on canvas by English artists including landscapist J.M.W. Turner (1755-1851).

Norfolk artist John Middleton (1827-1856) painted pictures of old Combmartin's lime quarries

Combe Martin Ores and Smelting | Combe Martin Industrial History | Lime Burning 

Ships were built in Combe Martin during the 1800s, and fishing smacks, coastal traders and pleasure boats were everyday sights here. 

Combe Martin's Strawberry Boat

Combe Martin harbour cove was busy with cargo ships, coalers, and pilot boats. Combe Martin's own Clyde Cutter SS Snowflake transported tons of soft fruits and vegetables to Welsh ports at Barry and Cardiff, over decades.

From Combe Martin harbour at Lester Point, several bulk cargo vessels transported ores and minerals to and from Bristol, and South Wales. 

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Combe Martin Today

Combe Martin was once filled with shops running the entire length of the village, recorded by Combe Martin Museum. Besides beaches, seaside retailers and gift shops: modern Combe Martin has a Wildlife and Dinosaur Park, cafes, and pubs. 

Visit Combe Martin for ice-cream parlours, kayak hire, bakeries, stores and takeaways. Moreover, there is a thriving community of professional trades in Combe Martin and several active local councillors.

Combe Martin Football Club plays in the North Devon Football League and has a thousand followers on Facebook. With a full-sized football pitch, the club's recently renovated Chapel Lane Ground and Pavilion have first class facilities.

Our Village Hall is a vital and vibrant community asset along with Combe Martin's Community Shop and Combe Martin Community Centre

Combe Martin's Live Webcam

The live webcam located at Combe Martin Seaside is operated by the Combe Martin Business Association. You can view the harbour cove and coastline; and it's handy for knowing whether the tide is in or out.

Photo Gallery | Local Beach Guide | Featured Villager | Local Weather 

Combe Martin Motorcycle Museum (Defunct)

The Combe Martin Motorcycle Collection was based on Cross Street. Closed around 2004, the popular collection housed rows of some sixty motorbikes and single-seater Invacar micro vehicles.

The collection included mannequins dressed in old motorcycling clothes; and the memorabilia displayed in the mock-up garage included old pumps, lamps and signs. Photographs can be found on Flickr.

Combe Martin Silver | Combe Martin Smelting | Combe Martin Quarries 

'The World's Finest Strawberries'

Combe Martin was famous for growing and exporting hundreds of tons of top-class strawberries in the early twentieth-century, and industrial hemp over hundreds of years. Since the sixteenth-century, the village has featured heavily in journals, in official county surveys, and in guidebooks. 

Found in the Alberta Redcliff Review vol. 6 of Sept 7, 1937 - quote: The old North Devon town Combe Martin grows strawberries that are strawberries. The winning entry at a recent strawberry competition comprised four berries to the pound and seven bites were required to eat each berry. 

A History of Combe Martin's Mines

In 1630, the antiquarian and topographer Tristram Risdon casually referred to tin mining in Combe Martin, but records show that Combe Martin's history of profitable silver mining spans seven centuries from the 1290s to the early 1900s.

Combe Martin silver features in war coinage over several centuries; and it's in London treasure collections. In fact, antique items made from Combe Martin silver are still in circulation.

First worked under Edward Longshanks (r. 1232-1307), the Combe Martin silver mines were worked under Henry IV (Henry Bolingbroke) (1367 – 1413). His son, Henry V (1386 – 1422), exploited Combe Martin silver to finance his wars in France.

Silver production from the Devon mines ceased during the Black Death in England, 1348-9, and resumed at Combe Martin in 1359 (Edward III) when England was one of the most formidable military powers in Europe.

Historic Combe Martin Silver Coinage

In one of several examples, hammered coins made from silver mined at Combe Martin during The Hundred Years War (1337–1453) - i.e. the Henry V Silver Penny - displayed the king's head.

In 1911, English historian and artist Frederick J. Snell B.A. recalled reading that 'a Combmartin half-crown of 1645 [English Civil War] was sold in an auction room in London, for the sum of £5. 12s. 6d' (The Blackmore Country, pp. 272-275).

Risdon's Survey of the County of Devon

Tristram Risdon (1580-1640), English antiquarian and topographer, described Combe Martin: "...near the sea, having a cove for boats to land: a place noted for yielding the best hemp in all this country, and that in great abundance".

"But, in former times, famous for mines of tin; and (that which is better merchandise) silver, hath been there found since our remembrance, though Cicero denieth there is any in Great Britain." Survey of the County of Devon; finished around 1628.

Discover Old Combmartin's silver mines, here.

Shammickite Legends

Explore the Shammickite legend of a medieval Combmartin castle. And decide whether the Combmartin silver mines and Sir Thomas Bushell produced Royalist coinage, during the 17th century civil wars of the three kingdoms.

Westcote's Devonshire

Thomas Westcote (1567 – c. 1637), English historian and topographer of Devon (A View of Devonshire, c. 1630), gives us a lot of detail.

After a short boom in the sixteenth-century and seventeenth-century, the Combmartin lodes were worked sporadically up until the early twentieth-century.

The Longest Street in Britain?

Combe Martin's very long A399 trunk road that runs through several streets in the village, is not really the longest street in England, or Britain.

Stewkley High Street, Buckinghamshire, is two miles long. King Street, Aberdeen, is just over two miles long. Sorry. However, we still have the Guinness World Record.

Combe Martin's 'Strawberry Boat'

In June 1904, the North Devon Journal reported the 'first departure of the steamer Snowflake', from Combe Martin to Swansea direct, some 27 miles, carrying crates of strawberries. 'The voyage across the Bristol Channel was a good one'.

Sailing up and down the Bristol Channelthe SS Snowflake transported bulk cargo, vegetables and soft fruit. Mainly ‘the world’s most delicious strawberries. She often came back carrying coal and was essentially a Tramp Steamer.

A Self-Sufficient Rural Economy with a Magistrates' Court (1902)

Combe Martin on the edge of Exmoor was for centuries a vibrant, self-sufficient rural industrial economy and harbour. According to Kelly's Directory (1902), petty sessions with a local magistrates court took place at the Town Hall. However, coroners' courts and inquiries had long been held in local public houses.

The practice of holding magistrates’ courts and enquiries in public houses was common in England during the 18th and 19th centuries. Such magistrates’ courts in England and Wales adjudicated cases related to summary offences, and 'either-way' offences that could be tried in either a lower or a higher court.

Reported in The Illustrated Times (October 1869), at the Combmartin Petty Sessions the Rector of Brendon, and the Vicar of Arlington, were each fined 37s.6d including costs, for keeping dogs without a licence.

In the grounds of the Pack o' Cards Inn during the 19th century, the Combe Martin petty sessions panel tried and ruled on minor criminal offences and summary conviction offences. 

There was also a money order and telegraph office in Combe Martin during 1902 (Kelly's Directory).


A great deal of information can be found in the local history book Out Of The World and Into Combe Martin (1989), compiled and published by the now defunct Combe Martin Local History Group (CMLHG). This rare book was printed by Combe Martin Rotapress Printers on Chapel Lane.

Thanks, and credits are due to Combe Martin's many historians past and present. Also to Sue at Combe Martin Village Library, and to the many archaeologists and authors mentioned in these pages.

Combe Martin's Listed Buildings

Combe Martin contains many British Listed Buildings and historic landmarks, including the Grade 2 Star fifteenth-century West Challacombe Manor. Also the Grade 2 Buzzacott Manor, built of stuccoed stone rubble and dated to circa 1800 in the reign of George III. Download our Buzzacott Manor article.

Grade 2 Star Rated Monuments

Less than 6% of listed buildings are given Grade 2 Star rating (Historic England), described by the government as being 'particularly important buildings of more than special interest'.

View Historic England's Listings for Combe Martin.

Historical Documents for Combe Martin

A brief history of Combe Martin was printed in White's Gazetteer of 1878-1879, which states that "the scenery is magnificent, and the mines in the parish and neighbourhood have long been celebrated for their argentiferous lead ore."

According to Tristram Risdon (c. 1580 – 1640) in his Survey of the County of Devon, "the Combmartin mines were first found in the 22nd year of Edward I (1294), at which time 337 men were brought from the Peak of Derbyshire to work them."

There is much more historical detail to draw from, contained in a wealth of reliable sources. We have crammed in as many sources and citations as possible.

Combmartin Was Once a Busy Sea Port

The former port of Combe Martin forged a mini industrial revolution. Until the beginning of the 20th century, the harbour was filled with coastal vessels, fishing smacks, coalers, steamers, merchants, ketches and pilots.

Click the picture below to watch our Hunting of the Earl of Rone video, 2023.

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Mining in Devon and Cornwall

Devon and Cornwall are rich in a variety of metal ores, and they are the UK’s only source of tin. Within polymetallic Combe Martin, silver mining became a major industry alongside the Tamar valley around Bere Ferrers in Devon.

Crown prerogative over silver was introduced in England during the late 13th century, and the Crown's direct management of silver mining in Devon lasted for over 50 years.

Anglican Controversialist John Jewel, Bishop of Salisbury 

Anglican Church literary campaigner and controversialist John Jewel, Bishop of Salisbury c.1559 to 1571, is widely reported as born near Combe Martin on 24 May 1522. Jewel died at Louvain, Sept., 1572.

In 1609 during the reign of James I, the Archbishop of Canterbury Richard Bancroft published Jewel's influential works in folio.

Professor A.F. Pollard (Encyclopaedia Brittanica, 1901) places Jewel's birth at 'Bowden', Berrynarbor. Jewel was said to be 'a decided and open friend to the Protestant cause'.

Renowned for his arguments with Thomas Harding, Jewel remains a significant figure in the Anglican Church.

Archbishop Bancroft ordered Jewel's greatest work, his "Apology" (Apologia ecclesiae Anglicanae), to be placed in churches throughout England. The work is now internationally available from booksellers.

Thomas Harding (1516-1572)

Jesuit Thomas Harding was born in Combe Martin, and is known for his controversy with Bishop Jewel, over Roman Catholic doctrines. Educated at Barnstaple school and Winchester, he eventually became a College Fellow at New College, Oxford, in 1536. 

He was among the English refugees - Jesuits, Catholic priests and English Catholics - who escaped from persecution early in the reign of Elizabeth I, finding shelter in the Studium Generale of Louvain a.k.a. the Old University of Leuven, Brabant.

Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Harding, Thomas (1516-1572)

He achieved his M.A. in 1542, and, 'being esteemed a knowing person in the tongues' was selected by Henry VIII for the Hebrew professorship.

A celebrity in gazetteers of Devon during the 19th century, Harding died at Louvain in 1572, and was buried in the church of St. Gertrude.

Exmoor Culture, Legend and Folklore

Exmoor is steeped in myth, legend and folklore. Moreover, Combe Martin became world famous in art and literature particularly around the former British Empire.

The Hangman Hills

In The Coasts of Devon and Lundy Island (1895, p. 53), visiting author John Lloyd Warden Page wrote of Great Hangman: "The strange name of the hill is due, say the inhabitants of Combe Martin, to a strange accident. A sheep stealer passed over the hill, with his prey slung round his shoulders."

"He paused to rest on a rock, when the sheep, in its struggles, tightened the cord, which, slipping round the man's neck, strangled him."

"The etymologist says that Hangman is simply a corruption of the Celtic An maen, the stone, and treats the legend with scorn. Standing by the cairn of stones placed on the very top, we look round on the widest view in North Devon."

"East and south-east Exmoor heaves in long swells. Over the cliffs is seen the summit of the Foreland. Nearer is High Veer, the beautiful sweep of the Trentishoe Cliffs, and the dark mass of Holdstone Down."

"Southwards the country undulates away to Dartmoor, which on a clear day is distinctly visible. In a westerly direction the coast may be traced to the Torrs, beneath which we catch a glimpse of Ilfracombe."

"Beyond, on the horizon, lies Lundy. In the immediate foreground a hill rises from the sea into a conical summit: the Little Hangman."

Mining Monuments in Combe Martin Spanning Seven Hundred Years

Evidence of underground and overground mining operations - trenches, tunnels and mines - in Combe Martin have been found at numerous locations along both sides of the valley. Lime quarries are ranged along the southside of Combmartin.

Evidence and relics of Combmartin mining range from Combe Martin beach and the Hangman Hills, up to Combe Martin Knap DownHoldstone Down, and two miles east near Trentishoe. In Old English, the suffix hoe means hill-spur; a heel or a sharply projecting piece of ground.

Little Hangman, Hangman Hill and Girt Down in 1531

Hazel Riley (Historic England, 2023) states that in 1531, Little Hangman, Hangman Hill and Girt Down, were the subject of an inquiry held at Combe Martin. 

Documentary evidence shows that Little Hangman was part of the Manor of Combe Martin in the late 5th to the late 15th centuries. That ground was then public commons, with common rights for the townspeople (ibid).

First enshrined in law in the Magna Carta in 1215, Common Land traditionally sustained the poorest people in rural communities who owned no land of their own. 

Commons in England were always private property, over which a variety of rights  - to food, fuel, building material &c - were held by a defined group of people. Therefore they were never in public hands (The Magna Carta Trust, 2023).

Common land provided people with a source of wood, bracken for bedding and pasture for livestock. Over one-third of England's moorland is common land.

In 1531 it was established that the people of Combe Martin had, for as long as anyone could remember, held the right to graze their sheep and cattle on Little Hangman and Hangman Hill (Riley, R., Historic England 2023).

Riley notes that "the attempts of successive owners of West Challacombe Manor to fence off and enclose the area were an offence" (Research Report Series no. 6-2016).

Combe Martin in Lewis's Topographical Dictionary of England (1831)

Between 1831 and 1845, prolific topographer and publisher Samuel Lewis wrote a factual history of Combe Martin, in his seminal Dictionary of England ►

" The town is situated in a deep romantic glen, extending in a north-west direction, and opening into a small cove on the Bristol channel, which formed a convenient port for shipping the mineral produce.

It still affords the inhabitants the means of conveying coal and lime to other towns, from which they receive corn and bark in return." 

Read the 1878-1879 White's Directory entry for Combe Martin► 

Combe Martin Reported in Philadephia Newspapers (USA)

Combe Martin appeared in the Philadelphia Saturday Evening Post, 1898-02-05: Vol 170 Iss 32. The paper reported that after the publication of Marie Corelli's The Mighty Atom novel (1896), many strangers visited Combe Martin where the story is set.

Some visitors urged Ms. Corelli to send an autographed copy of her book to the Combe Martin sexton, James Norman, from whose outward personal appearance she drew her admired character of Reuben Dale. See James Norman's photo►

Corelli sent the book, with a personal dedication and a letter. It was said that the sexton at Combe Martin received any number of tips from strangers interested in this new literary shrine, because he was “one of Marie Corelli's characters.”

A 'Medieval Combe Martin Castle'

Victorian literary tourists reported that a medieval Combe Martin castle or Manor Hall once stood near to St Peter ad Vincula Church.  Jump to Combe Martin's history 

There was a manor house, and a barton — farm, land and farm buildings — in Old Combe Martin during 1822. According to Magna Britannia (1822), the manor-house [the former administrative centre occupied by the manor lord] was occupied by a labourer (Magna Britannica, vol. 6, Devonshire, "Parishes" [1822]).

In England before the Conquest, castles were practically unheard of and could only be constructed with the king’s consent. Norman castles and Manor halls served as administrative centres and military hubs; they played a crucial role in the Normans’ colonisation of England (Cartwright, 2019).

Historical References to a Combe Martin Manor Hall

There are historical references to a Hall in Combe Martin during 1316. And an accidental drowning in the moat during 1326, the year the last of the Lords Martin left Combe Martin. Over the following centuries, local manor lords certainly had a manor-house administrative centre with a demesne.

Demesne land was the portion of the manor's lands that was directly controlled and farmed by the lord for their own benefit, rather than being worked by tenant farmers.

The death of the last of the Lords Martin is recorded to 1326, when the "extent" of an "inquisition post mortem" says "and there are two water mills and they are worth 70 shillings per annum."

A Castle in Ilfracombe

Incidentally, Ilfracombe also had a castle, apparently a Tudor restoration of an older fort. It probably occupied the site of the old Quayfield House aptly named Castle House and grounds.

The site is the steep upward slope which rises above the harbour directly opposite the Quayside. A drawing by Mr. Tippetts, engraved in 1774, represents on this spot a castellated building.

During the English Civil War, Royalist Sir Francis Doddington and his force took the road from Exmoor through Combmartin in 1644, approaching Ilfracombe which was held by the Parliamentarians (August to September 1644: Siege of Ilfracombe).

Doddington passed under the walls of the castle, on its landward side, before entering the town. The battle is reputed to have taken place in a field at the junction of the East and West Wilder brooks, traditionally known as Bloody Meadow (Devon & Dartmoor HER MDV78901). 

Doddington attempted to seize the castle and was repelled, whereupon he entered the town and set it on fire, actually burning twenty-seven houses.

His troopers were ultimately beaten off, however, by the townsmen and sailors, after a fight in which many of the assailants were killed. Considering the odds against them, this feat of arms was a credit to the staunch defenders.

The town’s fort surrendered and was held by the Royalists until 1656 when it was stormed and re-taken by the Parliamentarians.

Combe Martin's Medieval Deer Park and Hunting Lodge

A medieval Hunting Lodge and Deer Park stood in the area of Park Avenue, GR SS 58184 46535, near to Rectory Lane EX34 0LP and Combe Martin Parish ChurchIn the 1300s, Sir William Coffin was the Deer Park Keeper. 

After the Norman conquest of England in 1066, William the Conqueror seized Anglo-Saxon game reserves. Deer parks boomed under the Normans, beginning the popular trend among England's landed gentry.

The Domesday Book of 1086 records thirty-six Deer Parks in England.

Combe Martin Lead and Iron Mining

Local iron ores are widely distributed and include hematite veins in the Combe Martin Devonian rocks, the oldest rocks found in Devon. Hematite constitutes the most important iron ore because of its high iron content (70 percent) and its profusion.

Historically, lead has been used for ammunition and shot, cathode ray tubes, fishing weights, fuel additives, and paint pigments. Other uses were pipes and solder, and wheel weights.

A History of Smuggling 

Like many coastal areas in Britain, smuggling was rife around these North Devon shores. Between the 16th and early 19th centuries, gangs of smugglers and their customers of all classes operated along the southwest coast. Combe Martin was especially notorious in the North Devon smuggling industry.

Combe Martin's Old Industries and Skills

Among many old industries here, there were smelters, tanneries, quarries, corn mills and blacksmiths, and lime-burners. The range of old skillsets is extraordinary, and more Combe Martin trades and businesses can be found on these pages.

Novelist Marie Corelli | Combe Martin Ores and Smelting | Combe Martin Hemp

We aim to keep the history and heritage of Combe Martin alive and easily accessible.

Twelfth-Century Monastic Mills in Combe Martin

In Combe Martin during 2008, volunteer archaeologists uncovered what they thought were the foundations of a 12th century monastic grange. The industrial complex appeared to re-write local history, and the claims appear plausible.

The find was significant because it suggested early hemp cultivation and textile workings in Combe Martin. Read our article on Combe Martin Hemp.

Old Combmartin Antique Sterling Silver  

Combe Martin vintage sterling silver objects including charms, are still for sale on the market today. 'Combmartin' antique silver thimbles are in circulation, many of them tourist souvenirs dated to the reign of Queen Victoria. 

Taylor and Perry (T & P) of Birmingham also made souvenir silver thimbles from Combmartin silver in the 1840s. They have "Comb Martin Silver" inscribed around their rim. 

Combe Martin Turnpike Roads in the 19th Century

During the C18 to early C19 across Britain and before the railways, a comprehensive network of turnpike roads - usually with toll houses or lodges - was created by local enterprise.

From 1838, according to the Combe Martin Local History Group (1992), the village had two turnpike trusts with several sections. In 1838, tenders were invited by the Combe Martin Turnpike Trust to run its tollgates. 

According to Mrs E.D. Parsons in the Devon Historian (1978) there were eventually three turnpike roads in Combe Martin. 

Read on ↓ or jump to next article  >>

Smoke, Lime and Decadence

From the early nineteenth-century, lime was in high demand across the district  and Exmoor. It was dirty work and the people were relatively poor.

A clean and well-kept seaside resort today, in 1850 the gazetteer William White called the remote village of Combmartin a 'decayed town'. 

Clouds of smoke bellowed from Combe Martin's mines and chimneys; and from up to nineteen constantly burning lime kilns making quicklime and slaked lime for builders, farmers and market gardeners.

The land in Combe Martin was once chiefly manured with lime. Spreading lime on a field helps balance its pH by reducing acidity levels; this helps plants to absorb nutrients and increases the efficiency of fertilizers. 

Learning from Combe Martin Historians and Miners

Many of our village historians and Combe Martin Local History Group members are unfortunately no longer with us. Yet they can still speak to us from the past.

We are helped and supported by knowledgeable village locals, by patient church wardens, and especially by local archaeologist Trevor Dunkerley. We are thankful to mining specialists including the Combe Martin Silver Mine Tenement team.

If you would like to learn more about Combe Martin from the late Mike Warburton and Gerald Walters, you can watch The Great North Combe video here.

Please consider supporting the Combe Martin Silver Mining Society, and you can find their Silver Mine videos on Youtube.

Regular Local Features

We regularly feature a Combe Martin villager, currently Greenpete who grows his own organic foods and lives almost entirely off-grid. Greenpete's World is a series of Youtube workshops for sustainable living, DIY and organic gardening.

Our Photos on Google Maps

Over the years our team has created over 430 photos for Google Maps, mainly of Combe Martin and Ilfracombe. Our popular profile currently has over 7 million views and you can view our photos at North Devon Pictures.

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