Modified on February 22, 2024
Combe Martin Community Centre
Originally a Medieval Church House and Poorhouse (15th Century)
Combe Martin Community Centre on Castle Street up at High Cross, is a local landmark, designated at Grade I and Grade II by Historic England. The historic group value includes the iconic red George V Jubilee K6 box, standing outside.
A 'High Cross' typically refers to a free-standing Christian cross made of stone and often richly decorated. These crosses were common in the medieval period, particularly in Devon. They were often found in prominent locations in the center of a village or at a crossroads.
Combe Martin Community Centre's Historic Significance
Originally a Church House and brewery erected between 1450 and 1550, our Community Centre is designated “of special architectural or historic interest". There is a visual and functional relationship between the former Church House and the Grade I, 13th century Combe Martin Church of St Peter Ad Vincula.
Combe Martin's King George V K6 Jubilee Phone Box
The red K6 King George V Jubilee Box designated GV 2, standing outside the Community Centre on Church Street, is still used as a public call box today. Made by various contractors in the 1930s, the kiosk is cast iron with a domed roof. Its features include unperforated crowns to the top panels, and margin glazing.
In 1935, the General Post Office commissioned the K6 Kiosk to celebrate King George V’s Silver Jubilee. The design aimed for universal usability, avoiding the problems with previous kiosks. These K6 boxes weighed 3/4 of a tonne.
While the K2 and K3 had appealing designs, the K2 was too large and costly, and the K3 too fragile. Renowned architect Sir Giles Gilbert Scott stepped in, and his successful new kiosk, the K6, made its debut in 1936.
Combe Martin Community Centre's 15th Century Origins
Originally a Church House and brewery erected between 1450 and 1550, for good reasons the Community Centre is near the parish church. It is the second oldest building in Combe Martin.
The building is on Historic England's extensive List for Combe Martin, and it is now occupied by Combe Martin Parish Council using the oldest part.
Early Modern History
Typically between the mid-C15 and the early C17, parish church houses or cottages -tied with and sited close to churches– contained breweries and public houses funding the church.
During the reign of Queen Elizabeth I (1553-1602), parishes were designated as areas of taxation, partly to generate funds for the relief of the poor. From 1834, with an aim to improve care for the impoverished, parishes were organized into Poor Law Unions under Boards of Guardians.
In Devonshire, such unions were each equipped with a workhouse originally intended as places where able-bodied poor individuals could find employment.
Probably, Combe Martin's Community Centre originally had a large hall with an upper floor reached by a staircase. Early in its life the building was an almshouse, a pre-1664 poorhouse or 'pogey', and a workhouse
The Community Centre has pre-C17 origins, but it was extensively altered and extended in the 19th century. It was once a market place; and it has quadrupled in size during its life. Between the 19th and 20th centuries the building served as a village school.
A School House for Boys
Kelly's Directory (1902) reported that In 1716, the National Boys School was founded here, and endowed by George Ley esq. It was rebuilt and enlarged in 1820 and enlarged in 1854, for 70 boys. The old school house was sold in 1876, and the proceeds were applied to a school for 120 girls and infants.
The exterior has a number of infilled doorways and window openings to the left-hand range. There is evidence of the roof line of a former attached building. All of these features relate to the building’s previous uses.
Further to this, Combe Martin archaeologist Trevor Dunkerley wrote a treatise of the old Community Centre. Trevor suggests the medieval structure was once connected to what is now the Ye Olde George and Dragon Sports Bar, next door.
Mr Dunkerley's thoroughly recommended book is available to read from the computer area bookshelf at Combe Martin Museum and Information Point.
Barnstaple Poor Law Union
A parliamentary report dated 1777 recorded two parish workhouses in Combe Martin. These became part of Barnstaple Poor Law Union which seems to have been inaugurated in early December 1835.
A Brewery, Church House and Community Hub
Your points of reference for Combe Martin Community Centre’s history are Historic England’s Archive ref: 97047 and List entry No. 1106803 (online).
According to the Combe Martin Local History Group (1997), in 1668 the Church House lost its brewing facility to a fire. It then became a Market House, where pork and mutton were sold under a thatched roof supported on oak posts.
From 1751 the Church House became a Poor House where poor villagers and families received care under one roof. They earned their keep by making thread from locally grown hemp (CMLHG, 1997).
Functioning as community hubs, charities and markets: medieval church houses were particularly prevalent in Devon. Historic England probably designated the oldest part - the old Church Hall - as Grade I, separate to the rest of the building.
From 1662-1800 it was used a poorhouse, and from 1800-1834 as a workhouse. Then it became a national school in 1856 for boys only.
The Education Act was passed in England in 1870, the very first piece of legislation setting out provisions for education in England and Wales. Thereafter, males and females were required to undergo elementary education.
The school was taken over by the local education authority in 1906. Since around 1970, that which began as Combmartin's medieval Church House has been our Community Centre.
During the Middle ages, charitable housing provided people with accommodation and employment. Early almshouses were intended as a 'ticket to salvation' for the donor, requiring the alms people to regularly attend church to pray for their charitable landlord's soul.
In the Carolean era, the reign of Charles II, our old church house converted to an almshouse (charitable housing). It also served as a Georgian workhouse between 1800 and 1834 (says Historic England).
An 1882 photograph shows a bell-turret (this has been moved) to the west gable of the Community Centre, although a bell is mounted on the gable end apex. Further alterations were carried out in 1936.
The bell on the gable end apex of the right-hand range can be seen further down Church Street. The gable end of the inner range has a three-light transomed mullion window, set within a two-centred arch surround with ashlar dressed stonework impost band.
The End of Church Houses in England
Religious didactics and injunctions impacted on church breweries, 'imbibery', and religious houses. Church houses ceased to be built in England after the Reformation, and they declined during Cromwell’s Commonwealth.
Church houses and their breweries gradually disappeared under successive taxes and sobriety laws. 17th century Acts of Repression on drunkenness (including “restraint on haunting ale houses”) were other nails in the coffin.
An early documented reference to the demise of Combe Martin’s former medieval church house is in the will of Richard Harding, dated 1640. Money was bequeathed for its conversion to an almshouse and this detail can be found at Historic England online.
The Community Centre and its telephone kiosk represent our heritage from the fifteenth to twentieth centuries. Combe Martin Parish Council now occupies its oldest part, and alterations to doors and windows over the centuries can still be seen in the outer stonework.
For more local histories and old photographs researched and published by Combmartin's local historians, visit Combe Martin Museum and Information Point on Cross Street EX34 0DH, near Combe Martin beach.
The Community Centre has pre-C17 origins, and it was extensively altered and extended in the 19th century.
On this site in 1856, a national school was established initially for boys only.
Combe Martin Local History Group (1997), Combe Martin Yesterday. Rotapress Combe Martin.
Kelly's Directory of Devon (1902): kellysdirectoryo00londuoft.pdf (archive.org) (2023).