Combe Martin History and Heritage
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Combe Martin History Homepage 

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

Popular:  James Norman | Vikings | Combe Martin Museum | Pack o' Cards Inn (1690) | Smuggling | Translate Website

 

Modified on February 28, 2024. 

About Our Combe Martin History and Heritage Project

This non-profit project celebrates and promotes the rich and diverse history of Combe Martin, from its ancient mines and monuments to its social and industrial heritage.

Compiled and managed by local historians and launched in March 2023, this independent project has no connection or affiliation with any other website, charity or organisation.

About Combe Martin Village

Nestled in a scenic wooded valley on the edge of Exmoor National Park, Combe Martin has a unique heritage and industrial history. Combe Martin silver mining was first recorded in 1292 AD yet it started here much earlier than that.

Over many centuries, the ancient Vale and former fishing village of Combe Martin with its historic harbour cove overlooked by the towering Hangmen sea cliffs, has drawn entrepreneurs, holidaymakers, celebrities and literary tourists. 

View our photographs and illustrations, including our Combe Martin picture gallery on our page footers. If you have pictures to contribute or you would like to write for us: please contact us. And don't forget to visit our local Museum.

Deep Dive into Combe Martin History ˃ | Combe Martin's Annual Earl of Rone Festival ˃

People Ask: Why is Combe Martin Village Famous? 

Our popular seaside resort sits in a wooded coastal valley by Exmoor, on the scenic North Devon Bristol Channel Area of National Beauty (AONB). Combe Martin's single long street runs for about two miles through the Umber Valley.

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). 

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

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 Combe Martin Squire George Ley (gent, benefactor, school-master and landowner).

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 Tradfolk custom which draws crowds and journalists, over the four days of every Spring Bank Holiday.

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 

From the late 19th century into the 20th century: Combe Martin's fertile shale soil and market gardeners produced and exported hundreds of tons of the finest strawberries. Also a wide range of other fruits, vegetables, and flowers. 

The towering crags guarding Combe Martin Harbour are famously known as the Great and Little Hangman. Prominent local landmarks: the picturesque Hangman cliffs are formed from thick sandstone also known as the Hangman Grits. 

The silver mined in Combe Martin held significant importance for monarchs. Over seven centuries, many mining prospectors either struck it rich 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.

Industrial silver mining at Combe Martin ceased in the late 19th century, yet the Combe Martin Silver Mines Society still opens their tenement to visitors. You can learn about the history, and about the work the society carries out now.

Read how Combe Martin segued from silver mining to strawberries˃

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 manors, villagers, quarries and also mineworks. 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 the 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 Humber on Wet Lane is a good surviving example, and there were 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 Bowhay Lane and Knap Down. Farmers used the lanes, and perhaps smugglers used these more secluded tracks for moving contraband, undetected.

Notable People in Combe Martin

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 about ten years. More recently, the entertainer Bill Bailey and artist Damien Hirst have property and social links with the village.

Film star Terry Thomas took his holidays here. Terry was often seen around Combe Martin and his favourite landmark The Pack o' Cards Inn. Britain's  fictional flirty toff, real name Thomas Terry Hoar-Stevens, is interred in St Peter ad Vincula Church graveyard. His gravestone stands on the west side.

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. 898), 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 | The Strawberry Boat

Combe Martin's Historic Landmarks

Combe Martin has several listed buildings, monuments and landmarks of historical importance. These heritage assets are listed by Historic England and nominally protected by North Devon Council.

Just a few miles away at Wind Hill, Countisbury, it is thought 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).

Record-Breaking Combe Martin With Stunning Scenery

People love this record-breaking resort for its beaches, and for Combe Martin Museum and Information Point. Visitors can experience panoramic views of the Bristol Channel's rocky coast, and walk through an area steeped in history.

Exmoor’s coastline is home to some remarkable elevations and scenery. Boasting the highest coastline in England and Wales: Great Hangman rises to 1,044 feet (318 m) with a cliff face of 800 feet (244 m). Combe Martin has the highest sea cliff in England and Wales.

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

Our Heritage At Risk

Our semi-academic project aims to keep the written and anecdotal history of the village of Combe Martin alive and accessible. This includes Combe Martin's unique social history and heritage, its architectural character and its ancestral  stories.

The Annual Hunting of the Earl of Rone Festival 

Combe Martin has long been home to the historic Hunting of the Earl of 'Rone  trad/folk street pageantThis popular tourist attraction dates back to the 1800s or earlier, and features the 'Obby-Oss', mummers or guisers, and bands. For folklore and heritage, nothing much beats this village. 

Browse articles on this platform ˃

About Our Heritage Project

Our project aims to preserve the written and anecdotal history of Combe MartinOur curated content is packed with reliable data, original articles authored by local historians, and scores of pictures and photographs throughout.

We are not affiliated to any other website or organisation. For accuracy, we draw from primary sources, authoritative antiquaries, academics and records. While we strive for accuracy from reliable sources, our articles are not designed to meet stringent academic standards.

User Contributions

We welcome personal memories of Combe Martin, and relevant historical materials for inclusion on our website. Or write an article for us. To protect your privacy we can anonymise every contribution we use.

Please do not submit personal details, photographs or videos that you do not want to be publicly accessible. 

Sourcing

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.

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You can also access our articles, and other information, from our page footer. Please contact us if you would like to post a local history blog or share Combe Martin historical materials. We are not currently processing business enquiries.

If you use our original articles authored for this platform, we'd appreciate a mention. You can translate this website into several languages with Google or Microsoft, and other translation tools are available. 

Enjoy exploring our website. We’d appreciate it if you could take a moment to rate us, and share this non-profit website on social media. 

Combe Martin in The Blackmore Country

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.

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.

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".

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).

The Origins of Combe Martin

The toponym Combe in the village name comes from Middle English coombe for valley, or of Celtic origin such as Welsh Cwm. The Martin adjunct derives from one of William the Conqueror's aristocratic military commanders. 

Norman army general officer Le Sieur Martin de Tours (knight, b. Abt 1025 - d. before 1086) came to England with William the Conqueror, the first Norman king of England. Baron Martin was a man of much worth to King William.

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.

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| Earl of Rone 2023

Out of the World and Into Combe Martin

The old local adage Out of the World and into Combe Martin stems from the 1800s or early 1900s, when local public transport was limited to a few horse-drawn carriages.

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. 

Explore Combe Martin With Us

This non-profit website went online at the end of March 2023, with dozens of historical articles about Combe Martin (see our Mission Statement). Our local area map will help you to find our popular beaches. Explore the local geography, and view our beautiful North Devon coastline. 

Take a deep dive into Combe Martin's history. Among our articles is the widely reported story of a World War Two German U-boat, visiting Combe Martin's Sherrycombe Waterfallunder the Hangman cliffs on Exmoor at NGR SS6048.

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.

Connect With Social Media

Links to our articles and our terms of use can be found on our page footers, where you can also connect with social media and share this website.

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 about his neck to carry it on his back.

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

This incident - after which the Hangmen 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. 

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.

Read about 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.

Our Most Popular Content

Explore the history of Combe Martin St Peter ad Vincula Church and its medieval roodscreen. Or see our article on Combe Martin during the English Civil War.

To discover several medieval and modern secrets at our Parish Church, you can visit during daytime opening hours. Photographs of Combe Martin St Peter ad Vincula, and the history, are included in our articles.

We have also included a site index and a Combe Martin weather forecast for you.

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.

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. 

Where is Combe Martin?

Located on the western boundary of Exmoor in the southwestern part of England: Combe Martin lies 4 miles east of Ilfracombe and 11 miles away from Barnstaple, Devon. This civil parish is a historic Bristol Channel settlement and former medieval manor, in the union of Barnstaple. 

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 North Devon Coast AONB book: Silver, Smoke and Strawberries contains a short history of Combe Martin, and a walking guide. It's available from Combe Martin Museum which is located near the main beach car park.

You can get the Combe Martin Circular Walk book with a small donation to help the Museum, or download it from the North Devon AONB website. Useful links can be found at the bottom of our pages.

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 famous 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 - used for boat building in the early 19th century - and the promenade.

Newberry rock and shingle beach shelters below sea walls and cliffs. Look for 'the ancient Phoenician steps' in the rocks. Over a century ago: 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.

The Highest Sea Cliff in England and Wales

Exmoor has the highest coastline in England and Wales with coastal hills rising to 433m (1421ft). The North Devon AONB 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. 

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. 

Combe Martin's Unique Customs

Unique village customs: our August Carnival, the Earl of Rone Festival, and monthly Farmers' Markets continue in the scenic seaside village of 'Combmartin' today. 

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.

 

There is Nowhere Else Quite Like Combe Martin

The village of Combe Martin has been been given several names in its history: Comba, Marhuscombe or Maryscombe, and Comer. Also Combe, Combmartin, and Coomb Martin. It's also been called The Great North Combe, Martinscombe, and Shamwick. 

The First World War Combe Martin 'Jam Factory'

For one example of the village heritage from 1914: The Combe Martin Preserves and Co Ltd factory - 'Proprietors of Golden Shield' - was built by Matt Darch and Jim Baker. It was equipped in time for the 1914 season and the building has somehow survived on Kiln Lane (Pig's Lane). 

By 1914, fruits and vegetables, jams and preserves, were exported to Wales and the Bristol Channel ports. 

The North Devon Coast Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty

Information about local walks, monuments and local heritage is available from the North Devon Coast AONB website. The North Devon Coast Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) covers 66 square miles of mainly coastal landscape, including Combe Martin.

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, the Manor of Combe [Martin] was a  medieval manor estate, and a settlement, in the hundred of Braunton, Devon. 

William [Guillaume] de Falaise

In 1086 the Tenant-in-chief (holding land directly from the Crown), and Lord of Combe [Martin] - “the valley” with manorial affix - was William of Falaise, a feudal baron from the Duchy of Normandy. 

Manorial affixes carry the names of seigneurial families, meaning those who owned land tenures or fiefdoms. 

William de Falaise alt. Sire de Falaise, Lord of Moulins-la-Marche, was closely related to Duke William of Normandy. He held 29 lordships in Devon, his chief domain being at Dartington.

The family took two surnames in England - Molines and Falaise - as well as many other locative names. They also held lands in Flanders.

The Falaise manors included Luscombe (Rattery), Rattery Stoke (Holne), Washford PyneWorth, Churchill, Combe Martin, Dartington, Dean Prior, Furze (West Buckland), Harbourneford, Holne, Parracombe, and Cockington.

In 1086 Combe Martin had a recorded population of 37 households, putting it in the largest 20% of settlements recorded in Domesday.

The Devon lands of William of Falaise passed to the [Fitz]Martin family, feudal barons of Blagdon, from whom derives the 'Martin' suffix on the place name.

In 1909, ecclesiologist John Stabb stated "the list of rectors commences March 1309. The registers date: baptisms, 1671; marriages, 1680; burials, 1679."

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. In the fourteenth-century, about 1326, the last of the Martins left Combe Martin and the manor 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.

The Norman Baronial Martyn Family

The Norman baronial Martin alt. Martyn family acquired the manor of Combe and left their name on Combe Martin. Martin de Tours was enobled Lord of Combe Martin of Martinshire.

A Norman with The Conqueror, Baron Martyn de Tours was reportedly born during the 1020s. He came over from Normandy with William the Conqueror and was a General in William's army. He was at the Battle of Hastings in 1066 and is said to have died before 1086.

In Wales, Martin de Tours was called Camais or Kemys; Martyn de Tours, Gen. and 1st Baron of Kemys. He may have been called Cemais or Keymes in Pembroke about 1077. Martin de Tours founded a monastery for Benedictine Monks near Cardigan.

The institution was endowed with lands by his son and successor Baron Robert Fitz-Martin (born 1080). His successors were summoned to the King's council as Barons of Cammaes and continued to be Lords of the English Parliament.

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 

Combe Martin was made famous in 1896 by Queen Victoria's favourite novelist, Marie Corelli. Our village was the setting for her novel The Mighty Atom.

Ships were built here on Newberry Beach from 1837. And fishing smacks, coastal traders and pleasure boats were everyday sights in old Combmartin. These histories are presented and conserved by Combe Martin Museum.

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 shipped 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 and nautical retailers and gift shops: new Combe Martin has a wildlife and dinosaur park, cafes, and pubs. 

We have 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 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, Combe Martin Museum, 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 

In this village once full of orchards and allotments, local families toiled in fields, in quarries and at numerous mining sites. Combe Martin was also home to eighteen or nineteen lime-kilns, the highest concentration of lime-burning kilns in North Devon.

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

'The World's Finest Strawberries'

This former manor 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, Combe Martin 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 about 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, about 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.

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. The former town hall building is now a barn.

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

Acknowledgements

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, to Combe Martin Museum, 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.

Combe Martin History Logo combemartinvillage.co.uk

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

There is much more to learn about this borough, and Exmoor is steeped in myth, legend and folklore. Moreover, Combe Martin became world famous in art and literature particularly around the former British Empire.

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.”

Combe Martin in Famous Landscape Art

Famous artists including J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851) and John Middleton (1827-1856) painted landscapes of Combe Martin, its lime kilns and quarries.

These artworks are still sold, and easily found on the internet. Read on, or go straight to our Combe Martin industrial history page► (opens a new tab).

A 'Medieval Combe Martin Castle'

It was rumoured in the 1800s that a medieval Combe Martin castle, a manor house or Hall, once stood near to St Peter ad Vincula Church.  Jump to Combe Martin's history ►. 

There is reference to a Hall in Combe Martin in 1316, and an accidental drowning in the moat during 1326, the year the last of the Martins left Combe Martin.

Incidentally, Ilfracombe also had a castle, probably a Tudor restoration of an older fort. It probably occupied the site of the old Quayfield House or the 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.

Returning to the subject of Combe Martin: The recorded death of the last of the Martins is 1326, when the "extent" of an "inquisition post mortem" says "and there are two water mills [in the manor] and they are worth 70 shillings per annum."

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.

More information can be found in the mineral resources map for North Devon (British Geological Survey, 2006, Crown Copyright).

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.

Read more about Combe Martin's history and heritage. Our Privacy Policy can be found hereFor more on the local heritage, visit Combe Martin Library, or Combe Martin Museum and Information Point, on Cross Street near the beach.

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

Combe Martin people grew soft fruits and tons of their famous strawberries.  Orchards and vegetable plots were leased, planted, and worked here. During peak production in the twentieth-century: Combe Martin strawberry businesses were exporting five tons of fresh fruits per day from the harbour at Lester Point,

Lynton and Lynmouth also relied heavily upon fruits and vegetables from this locale. Traders and travellers had to contend with steep and winding roads around old Combe Martin, especially the five miles to Ilfracombe. 

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.

If you would like to learn more about Combe Martin from 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 about 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 6.5 million views and you can view our photos at North Devon Pictures.

Information on this homepage is a consolidation of this website's content; references and attributions can be found in our articles.

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