Combe Martin's Historic Landmarks

Modified on March 17, 2024

Combe Martin has several tourist attractions but also many listed buildings, monuments and landmarks of historical importance. These heritage assets are listed by Historic England and by North Devon Council.

Combe Martin's historic assets include manors, numerous monuments, chapels, churches, mines, and dwellings. The Old Mine Tenement on Bowhay Lane is a significant monument in the village. Hidden assets include mining tunnels and adits running underneath the village, at the harbour, and on the sea cliffs.

More articles on Combe Martin's monuments and places of historical interest will be added to this website, in due course. Find a list of Combe Martin's listed buildings and scheduled monuments at Historic England (opens a new tab).

Combe Martin Manorial Estates

The term Manor refers to an estate rather than just its farmhouse or Great Hall. In medieval times the manor house served as the communal centre of the manor, as well as the residence of the lord of the manor and his family. 

Records show there were several manor houses around Combe Martin at one time or another. We list most of them in this article, and we can include the Old Rectory on Rectory Road (Historic England LEN 1106806).

The Old Rectory was in effect an ecclesiastical manor for the cleric in charge of Combe Martin Parish, who also controlled the tithes. According to White's Directory published 1878-1879: the rectory benefice or living included a glebe of 72 acres for the rector's use, equivalent to 45 average football pitches.

The Norman aristocratic Martin family were Lords of Combmartin after the 1066 Conquest. And, later, there was a Squire of an Usticke Manor in the village. At the end of the feudal system in England (1660), the gentry - wealthy landowners and squires - lobbied to style themselves quasi-lords of manors. 

Feuds Concerning Lordly Titles and Rights

Owning rural land estates often brought with it the legal rights of lord of the manor or squires, whether they were noble-titled or not. By the 18th century: feuds over lordly rights were heard in court.

There are records of such feuds between landowners in old Combmartin. Yet with grand titles came noblesse-oblige: the unwritten obligation of people in a noble or otherwise privileged position to act honourably and generously to others.

West Challacombe Manor 

Combe Martin's West Challacombe Manor (Grade 2 Star listed) on West Challacombe Lane, EX34 0DS, is a small manor house and farm house. This significant historic building, originally called 'Orchard' in the records, dates to the 15th century.

The cruck barn -or crook frame of curved timber supporting the roof of a building- on the eastern side of the West Challacombe Manor house, dates to around the first half of the 14th century.

Higher Leigh Manor Combe Martin

The Higher Leigh Manor, Combe Martin EX34 0NGis steeped in history. It was constructed between 1851 and 1855 by Henry Keene Bowden, who was married to a Dovell girl.

Much of the following information is contained in Out of the World and Into Combe Martin (1989) and on the Combe Martin Wildlife and Dinosaur Park (CMWDP) website.

Initially a part of the expansive Lee Barton estate: Higher Leigh was under the ownership of John Bowden. Upon John Bowden’s death in 1851, the majority of his estate was bequeathed to his older son, while Henry, his younger son, received several parcels of land.

On his land, Henry constructed a grand dwelling which came to be known as Higher Leigh Manor. The initial structure of the building was not as impressive as it is today; it underwent extensions a few years later, adding turrets and intricate windows.

The property stayed within the Bowden/Snell lineage for approximately a century. The Snells were a prominent and generous Combe Martin family; Mrs M.F. Snell was still resident at Higher Leigh in 1922.

In 1944, ownership of Higher Leigh was transferred by Michael Snell, to four nuns from the Sacred Heart Convent, Honor Oak, London (still extant at Forest Hill).

Higher Leigh Manor was then repurposed into a convent, providing a home for children who were evacuated during the war. Additionally, the nuns took to educating many children from the locale.

Recorded in The Combe Martin Turnpike Road and Street (CMLHG 1992): a Combe Martin turnpike was sited at this old Victorian manor estate. In 1985, Robert Butcher acquired the derelict Higher Leigh Manor and restored it, also founding a wildlife park. It is now the Combe Martin Wildlife and Dinosaur Park (CMWDP).

Watermouth Castle

Watermouth Castle, a castellated former residence, lies about half-way between Ilfracombe and Combe Martin. It  belonged to the Bassett family, and by the early 1930s its gardens were described as "among the finest in North Devon".

The Bassetts were recorded in the Domesday Book; the family line was extinct by 1802 but continued by matrimonial relationship. Watermouth Castle was built in 1825, as a country residence for Arthur Davie Bassett and his new wife Harriet Bassett.

After Arthur Davie Bassett's death, his son Joseph Davie Bassett inherited Watermouth Castle which he remodelled twice. It was intended to be the centre of his scattered estates yet the interiors seem to have been left unfinished.

The Monmouthshire Merlin, 30 Apr 1880, reported a "Fatal Accident To A Devonshire Gentleman". The fatal accident occurred to Arthur Crawford Bassett, Esq., of Watermouth Castle, near Ilfracombe.

He was riding a horse in the road near his residence. The horse stumbled and Mr. Bassett was thrown, pitching on his head and breaking his neck. Death was

Mr. Bassett represented an old Devonshire family. It is reported that he has left a property worth half a million. Mr. Bassett was aged about 50, and unmarried.

Read more about the Bassett family at The Bassett Family Newsletter.

Combe Martin's Hangmen Sea Cliffs

The imposing natural sea cliffs, 'the Hangmen' sandstone formations, loom large over Combe Martin in the North Devon Coast Areas of National Beauty (AONB). Great Hangman is 1,043 feet (318 m) high with a cliff face of 800 feet (244 m).

Little Hangman is 716 feet (218 m) high and overlooks the village of Combe Martin at the western boundary of Exmoor National Park. Both hills looming over the Combe Martin valley were used for mineral exploration and extraction.

In legend, Great Hangman and Little Hangman derive their ominous names from an incident reported by English scholar Thomas Fuller, in 1662. It concerns the  Bronze Age Hangman's Stone at Knap Down.

In local folklore, a thief tied his stolen sheep about his neck to carry it on his back, and rested on the Hanging Stone. The sheep slid over the stone on the other side and strangled the thief (Exmoor National Park HER MDE1034). 

Hanging Stones from Druidical Remains

Mr Polwhele of Cornwall wrote in 1793 that "the ancient pillars at Combe-Martin were called the Hanging Stones from Druidical remains of a temple; and the Hanging Stone is the Stonehenge or Balanced-Stone" (Historical Views of Devonshire, London, 1793).

Dismissing the sheep-stealing tale, Polwhele states "the one remaining pillar served as a boundary between Combe-Martin and the adjoining parish". 

Evidence of Mining on The Hangman Sea Cliffs

Along the Hangmen Hills and above the beaches there is evidence of mining adits and pits. At about half the designated height of a mountain, the Exmoor National Park authority states that Great Hangman is the highest sheer sea cliff in England and Wales.

Read about the geology around Combe Martin.

Combe Martin's Protected Heritage

Locally important historic buildings are nominally protected so that all of our architectural heritage, whether a stately home or a humble cottage, can be preserved. 

Buildings of special interest and heritage can be seen along Combe Martin's Woodlands and Newberry Road, overlooking the beaches. Heritage assets continue from the Seaside to the High Street, up to the Parish Church, and further up the A399 as far as Buzzacott Manor, c1800 with late C19 alterations.

Combe Martin's Historic Buildings and Heritage At Risk

An unprecedented surge in holiday properties and second homes has caused concern in Combe Martin. Features, antique glass and window frames in local houses are being destroyed. Whatever the reason for this damage, a lot of Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian heritage, and perhaps more, is lost forever.

Listed Places of Special Interest 

Our oldest building, Combe Martin Parish Church, still has its 15th century Roodscreen as well as its contemporary parclose screen dividing the chapel.

The Combe Martin Silver Mines

Combe Martin Silver Mines can be visited on certain days, and online. We have an in-depth referenced summary of Combe Martin mining, here. 

Historic Monuments

For buildings of interest and historic monuments; refer to British Listed Buildings online: Listed Buildings in Combe Martin

St Peter ad Vincular Church

The Grade I listed ancient St Peter ad Vincula Church tops the list and dates back to the 1200s. To discover its medieval secrets you can visit during daytime opening hours, or see our webpage here. Pamphlets and printed guides are available in the church which is often open during the day.

Historic England has a listing for the Parish Church here; the north aisle and north chancel chapel, north porch and west tower were added in the early C15, along with the north aisle and north chancel chapel, north porch and west tower.

In late C15 or early C16 a north transept; south porch rebuilt 1725. Details from Historic England record LEN 1106799. 

St Peter's has a clock, and eight bells recast by Taylor of Oxford in 1827, and by Mears and Stainbank of Whitechapel in 1922. Taylors (now at Loughborough) cast Great Paul in 1881, and were once located in Buckland Brewer.

Combe Martin Museum and Information point (Cross Street) should have information and leaflets on Combe Martin parish church. The church tower is one of a trio, with Berrynarbor and Hartland, and is almost 100ft high.

The Combe Martin Pack o' Cards Inn 

The special Grade Two Star listed Pack o' Cards Inn stands on Combe Martin High Street. Built of rendered stone rubble and cob material, this inn represents a full pack of playing cards and dates to around 1690. Shammickite folklore maintains the inn was built by Squire George Ley after his spectacular win at cards. 

Formerly The King's Arms Family and Commercial Hotel until June 1933, this classic William III townhouse features several entrances, a small front courtyard lawn, outbuildings and a large garden. 

Popular writer Marie Corelli's novel The Mighty Atom (1896) is set in this village, and Marie lived for some time at 'Waverly' near the SeasideCorelli stayed at the landmark Kings Arms ('Pack of Cards') whilst writing her book. The authority for this is Exmoor National Park (27 April 2015): "Marie Corelli"

The Pack o' Cards has a Corelli Room, with a desk at which Marie is said to have written her unusual story about the conflict between science and religion. 

The monument was originally erected as a manor house for Combe Martin squire and middle-class principle landowner George Ley - a man of considerable status - following his win at cards.

The first and second floors at this inn are reportedly unspoilt. According to Historic England, Grade II* buildings are particularly important buildings of more than special interest. Only 5.8% of listed buildings are Grade 2 Star; Grade II buildings are of special interest warranting every effort to preserve them

Historic England reports 20th century spoiling to the ground floor, while most of the interior joinery and moulded cornices have been retained. The inn retains its outer courtyard wall bee bole cavities and many other original features. 

The ancestors of George Ley, Esq. were in Combe Martin for nearly two centuries. George Ley had The Pack o' Cards built to represent a pack of playing cards including the Joker. For a long while after it became an inn, it was called The King's Arms.

George Ley is recorded in the North Devon Record Office as being a school-master in 1703. A charitable gent and benefactor, also landlord of Beers Tenement in Combe Martin: Ley had connections in court circles and was ranked above Yeoman.

In 1703 George Ley married Grace Cutcliffe, from a prominent local land-owning family. During the early 18th century, George Ley founded a charity school and -as a parish landowner and gent - he served as a statutory 'overseer of the poor'.

The Old Rectory - Combe Martin

The Old Rectory is a Grade II listed house, formerly the Rectory Manor, located on Rectory Road, Combe Martin. It was built in 1847 and is constructed of local stone rubble with Bath stone dressings (Historic England LEN 1106806).

The slate roofs have stone coped gable ends and the stone rubble stacks have weathered caps. The house features decorative moulded string at first floor level, and a chamfered plinth moulding.

In 1878, the rector's ecclesiastical benefice or living was in the patronage and incumbency of the Rev. Toms. According to White's Directory published 1878-1879: "rector Humphry William Toms had a good residence situated in a romantic combe, and 72 acres of glebe [for their own use and support]".

Combe Martin War Memorial

The stone granite Grade II listed monument stands in a walled garden with wrought iron gates, by the Parish Church of St Peter ad Vincula on Church Street. Historic England listed LEN 1391933. OS Grid Ref: SS 58626 46306.

Combe Martin War Memorial was erected in 1921 and opened by the Bishop of Exeter. Made of light grey dressed granite with bronze relief plaques, the War Memorial honours the memory of the men of this parish who gave their lives for their country in the Great War 1914 -1919 (35 names). They died that we might live.

The memorial garden gates were installed in 1950, by the Royal British Legion Women's Branch. A plaque commemorates the installation. 

A further bronze plaque on the steps, added in the late 1940s, records the names of the fallen of WWII: Also to the honoured memory of the men of this parish who gave their lives for their country in the World War 1939-45 (24 names).

Combe Martin Village Hall

The Village Hall which was built as a Drill Hall in 1909 and hosted local events for over 100 years, was rescued by villagers from redevelopment a few years ago. Ever since it was built, that vital community asset has been holding concerts, parties and meetings (newspaper archives). 

First used by G. Coy, 6th Battalion Devonshire Regiment (Territorials), the Village Hall is now the beating heart of the village. It stands across from Combe Martin's Fire Station on the High Street. 

Knap Down Mine Sett or Nap Down

Major sources for our knowledge of Combe Martin mining are local archaeologists and historians, some of them specialising in the extractive industries and particularly non-ferrous metal mining.

Combe Martin's ruined Engine House and Chimney, at the Knap Down Silvermines site with protected status, is designated Group Value 2 (GV II) and dates to the mid C19. Heritage Number: MDV789.

Unlike some of the Cornish engine houses, clearly these monuments were not safe from scavengers and very little of this mine has survived.

Knap Down has the remains of a silver lead mine, at the east end of Corner Lane EX34 0PG, including an infilled shaft and spoil heaps. Much like the original buildings at Mine Tenement, the stonework was 'taken to repair local houses'. 

Also known as the North Devon Mine, only the plinths of the side walls survive. The site could well date back earlier than C19.  

Knap Down was reopened 1836 by Combmartin and North Devon Mining Co. and abandoned in 1846. It was re-opened again in 1848 as North Devon Wheal Rose (wheal being old Cornish for work/working).

The iconic engine houses sit near mine shafts. In Dec. 1850 the site was worked by 'Nap Down Consols'. In 1859 the North Devon Silver-lead Mining Co. Ltd was formed and worked the mine until 1873. There was some prospecting in the 1890s and again in 1927. 

Knap Down Engine and Engine House (Nap Down)

Historic England estimates the Knap Down engine-house was built in 1859, for the engine erected by James Sims of Redruth, a 'well-respected engine erector and mining engineer'.

This was a Cornish steam engine, and might have been the one recorded as installed by The Combe Martin and North Devon Mining Company in 1835. Or perhaps that engine was installed at Mine Tenement nearby (Christie, P. A North Devon Chronology, 1824).

James Sims lived in the time of the 'last great Cornish engineer', William West of Tredenham, who took the beam engine to its peak performance. Knap Down Silver mine was worked by the North Devon Silver Lead Mining Company (Vale of Girt and Knap Down). They opened Knap Down Mine in 1859.

More information is contained in Douglas Stuckey's Adventurers Slopes. The Story of The Silver and other mines of Combe Martin in Devon (1965). Devon & Dartmoor HER has a listing here.

Combe Martin Silver Mine Tenement on Bowhay Lane

Combe Martin Silver Mines at EX34 0JN were first recorded in the late 13th century, and they were worked intermittently until the beginning of the 20th century. Combe Martin Silver Mines Society (CMSMS) now owns the mines.

We have more in-depth information on Combe Martin Silver Mines here. The Mine powder house - Historic England LEN 1350386 - was built in 1837 of stone rubble. 

The Mine Tenement was possibly known as Fayes Mine at some time in its history (Claughton, P. F., 1989). Visit Combe Martin Silver Mines website.

Combe Martin Fayes Mine Sett

Fayes Mine went down to a depth of 32 fathoms or 58.5 metres. During the nineteenth-century, Mine Tenement on Bowhay Lane was a hive of mining operations, with an engine house and chimney, an associated shaft, a powder house and a forge. 

Combe Martin Silver Mine is of historical importance as a documented medieval mine; the working Mine Tenement is open on certain days for visitors, and the staff accept donations. Leaflets are available from Combe Martin Museum and Information Point on Cross Street.

'Forty Silver Sixpences' for the Deserving Poor in Old Combmartin

Several local histories report that at one time - most likely during the reign of George III - the parish rector, acting for the governors of the National School which was established by George Ley in 1733, entrusted the master with forty silver sixpences to be allotted to the deserving poor folk.

This was done in accordance with a bequest from Mr George Ley. With the forty silver sixpences - each 'tanner' a welcome and valuable gift - jingling in his pocket, the "skulmaister" [schoolmaster] went about his alms duties.

People might have stood anxiously waiting at their cottage doors on either side of the long street. In those days, silver sixpences were 92.5% silver (being debased from 1920).

Perhaps the silver came from Combe Martin's own mines. The high office of Almoner eventually passed to the clerk of the Parish Council; and the forty sixpences were distributed not on St George's Day but at Christmas.

The first George III British sixpence was minted in 1787, and the last in 1820.

More on Combe Martin's The Pack o' Cards Inn

The Pack o' Cards has four floors, thirteen rooms, and 52 windows and stairs. The third storey central gable has a polygonal sundial. There are also outhouses and a walled garden, with original Bee Boles - for skeps of honey -  on the north-west garden wall.

The adjacent barn was used as the town hall. The date the Pack o' Cards became a Pub is not known, however such town houses were commonly public licensed premises in the 18th century.

The Pack o' Cards really was designed to represent a stack of cards, such as children would construct in parlour games. It was built on an area of fifty-two square feet, and the Squire's Library window, over the front door on High Street, has thirteen panes of glass.

Records show that the inn has been known colloquially since the 18th century as the Pack o' Cards, but its original title was The King's Arms.

The courtyard wall on the north-west side garden incorporates 2 tiers of 6 straight-headed bee-boles. These are cavities for bee-keeping, with slightly rounded ornamental pilastered niches. 

Bee boles are rows of recesses in walls. South-facing, they were used for sheltering straw skeps from the elements in Britain, before the invention of bee-hives in the 19th century. They would get the morning sunlight keeping the stones warm, and protect the skeps against bad weather.

A Combe Martin 'press gang table' is said to survive in the inn. It was a hiding place for sailors avoiding the press gangs. At one time, Combe Martin and the Pack o' Cards Inn were home to sailors between ships.

Until window tax (1700s -1800s), the panes in all the Inn's windows added up to the total value of a pack of cards. Before June 1, 1933 it was The King's Arms, and in 1822 Jane Huxtable was the landlady.

The Inn is on the National Heritage List for England. Grade 2 Star buildings are particularly important buildings of more than special interest, and only 5.8% of listed buildings are Grade 2 Star (II*) (Historic England).

Combe Martin Community Centre and 15th Century Church Hall

Combe Martin’s Grade I listed Community Centre stands on Church Street at High Cross. The rubble stone building is designated at Grade II by Historic England, and it was a medieval Church Hall.

The red K6 King George V Jubilee Box, designated Grade 2, standing outside the Community Centre on Church Street, is still used as a public call box today.

The former medieval Church House is listed as being “of special architectural or historic interest, for its visual and functional relationship between the former church house and the Grade I 13th century Church of St Peter Ad Vincula”.

The building is occupied by Combe Martin Parish Council. Your points of reference for Combe Martin Community Centre’s history are Historic England’s Archive ref: 97047 and List entry No. 1106803 (online). For good reasons it was built near the Parish Church.

Combe Martin Community Centre almost certainly began as a typical English 15th century “church house” or hall (Historic England, 2023). And it likely had an upper floor reached by a staircase.

Early in its life the building was an alms-house, a pre-1664 poorhouse or 'pogey', and a workhouse. In Britain, such early alms-houses existed for people in certain circumstances.

From 1662-1800 it was used a poorhouse, and from 1800-1834 as a workhouse. A small covered place in front of the old poorhouse was still called 'the market' in 1822. 

In 1834 the building became an endowed free school, becoming a national school in 1856 until it was taken over by the local education authority in 1906. From 1969 the former church house has been our village community centre.

The building has pre-C17 origins, but it was extensively altered and extended in the 19th century, and has quadrupled in size. During the 19th-20th centuries the building served as a school.

Combe Martin's Castle Inn

Standing on Castle Street - likely named after a medieval castle near the church - the Grade II listed Castle Inn (LEN 1111867) is early nineteenth-century and built of imperial Gault brick, painted.

Gault brick is made from a mixture of a heavy thick clay soil and sand, forming a colour between white and pale yellow.

The Combe Martin Castle Inn featured in Victorian and Edwardian guidebooks, and was a favourite haunt of Combe Martin's celebrity sexton James Norman.

James was the model for Reuben Dale in Marie Corelli's The Mighty Atom (1896). He lived in a thatched cottage across from Corelli House close to the Castle Inn. Read about St Peter ad Vincula Church where James is buried in the graveyard.

The Inn is a three-story, C19 public house with a frontage with 2 windows and 3 windows above, sashes with glazing bars. Slate and tiled roof. 

Few wonder about it, but the Castle Inn is a short walk from the Park Hills where, it was said, a castle or a moated manor house stood in the fourteenth-century.

Lime Kiln (Grade II) - Kiln Field Combe Martin

This Lime Kiln (Grade 2) stands in Kiln field about 100 metres North of Park Lane, in the area of postcode EX34 0LL. Map: NGR SS5781346757. Built into an earth bank, this kiln is built of unrendered stone rubble, and has traces of lime on the outer wall.

The kiln has been recently repaired (2023) and is a treasured local heritage asset. Visitors are asked to take care not to damage this British Listed Monument

The Old Combmartin Customs House

The Grade 2 listed, mid C19 Seacroft Cottage near Combmartin harbour, was once a Customs House and part of a C19 complex on the site of the former Culmhay. People walk past this building every day without looking at it.

The quaint Seaside Gothic building has been used as a gift shop, and its characterful segmental pointed arched windows and corbelled hoodmoulds (arched, protruding drip stones) are highly unusual.

The fenestration is mostly original, and it's worth noting the three tall and oddly arranged windows on the gable. The building is now a shop and ice-cream parlour.

Community Landmarks

Combe Martin may not have the longest street in Britain, yet the village was awarded the Guinness world record for the longest street party in 2002.

The Hunting of The Earl of Rone continues every year over the Spring Bank Holiday, and a Carnival and Parade is held in the village every August.

Many of our historic homes and sites are extant - many altered and purchased for holiday lets destroying original features-  and the social and industrial history of the village can be seen in local photographs and village history books.

Visit Combe Martin's local Library, and the Museum and Information Point near the Seaside quarter. 

Combe Martin Local History Books

A great deal of historical detail, and dozens of old photographs, can be found in several locally published history books. With contributions from over 300 local subscribers, these histories were produced by Combe Martin Local History Group during the 1980s and 1990s.

Out of The World and Into Combe Martin

Several books are available from the village library, and from Combe Martin Museum which also has an extensive archive. The best of these books is Out of the World and Into Combe Martin (1989) containing several old photographs.

In October 2023, copies of Out of The World and Into Combe Martin were available from the public libraries at Combe Martin and Ilfracombe. It is an extremely rare and sought-after publication.

More information is gradually being added to this website, and will include other sites and landmarks in Combe Martin. 


© Author 2023

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Our photographs and illustrations of Combe Martin's landmarks (copyright 2023)

Property sales, acquisitions and unauthorised alterations to properties, have impacted on Combe Martin's heritage and its unprotected dwellings. There is a growing proliferation of bed and breakfasts and second homes here, gradually replacing a sustainable community and reflecting developments across Devon.