West Challacombe Manor, Combe Martin

West Challacombe Manor, West Challacombe Lane, Combe Martin, North Devon, Devon, EX34 0DS

© Combe Martin History and Heritage Project 2023-2024 

This page is currently under revision

Posted by Admin on March 25, 2024

Modified on April 04, 2024

 

Introduction

The medieval West Challacombe Manor at Combe Martin is classified as Grade Two Star by Historic England, and is a remarkably fine example of a small manor house (British Listed Buildings, 2024). Around 5.8% of all such listed buildings fall into the Grade II* category (Historic England, Listed Buildings, 2024). This page is currently under revision.

Ownership

Now a farm house, West Challacombe Manor was probably built by the Challacombe family during the 14th and 15th centuries. According to English historian Thomas Westcote, in 1630 it was "the seat of Pruz [Prouz/Prouse]" (A View of Devonshire in MDCXXX).

During the medieval period, a family seat referred to the inherited residence or estate of an aristocratic family, which was often handed down through generations. This place was the hub of the family’s authority, wealth, and influence.

In the historical record, the term “family seat” made its first appearance in the Domesday Book of 1086, where it was referred to as “caput” meaning the principal manor of a lord.

The topographer Tristram Risdon (c.1580-1640) wrote in his lifelong chorography of Devon (c.1632) that "in this parish of Combmartin, is 'Orchard', the dwelling, in ancient time, of a family so named".

"The last of the [Orchard] line left his heritage to his only daughter and heir, Jane [or Joan], married unto John Prouse [also known as Prouz], of Chagford, whereby these lands were transplanted into that name, in which it remaineth" (Risdon, T., publ. 1811).

Risdon, Tristram. The Chorographical Description Or Survey of the County of Devon. Manuscript completed c. 1632. Published 1811 by Rees and Curtis, Plymouth.

The manor house itself bears a coat of arms which includes the arms of both the Prouz and Orchard families. This suggests that John Prouz did come to own West Challacombe Manor through his marriage to Jane Orchard.

In the 18th century, the house and holding was split and run by the Crang and Lerwill families (Reilly, R., Historic England, 2006).

Grade 2 Star Rating

Grade 2 Star rated monuments are usually distinguished by their outstanding craftsmanship, and according to Historic England they frequently stand in their original condition.  Moreover, they may have historical significance such as being the former residence of a person of note.

West Challacombe Manor faces south and has outbuildings in the same direction. It was first listed by Historic England in March 1953, although the listing might not represent the current condition of the site after modifications by contemporary owners.

See the National Trust Heritage Records: Farmstead, Farmhouse, West Challacombe˃

The Historic Environment Record for Exmoor National Park: MDE20391˃

West Challacombe Manor in Parish Records

It is believed the Challacombe family built the house during the 14th and 15th centuries, and it was subsequently transferred to the Orchard and Prouz families. The Challacombe family has a long history in Combe Martin, with over 157 entries in Combe Martin St. Peter ad Vincula Church registers beginning in 1747.

Parish registers were introduced on 5th Sept 1538 by Thomas Cromwell, advisor to Henry VIII (Pounds, N.J.G., 2000). The Orchard family also has a long history in Combe Martin, with seven confirmed entries in Combe Martin St. Peter ad Vincula Church registers beginning in 1782. 

Construction and Additions

West Challacombe Manor is built of painted rendered stone rubble and cob, with nineteenth-century extensions of coursed rubble. The cruck barn -or crook frame of curved timber supporting the roof of a building- on the eastern side of the house, dates to around the first half of the 14th century.

By c.1400 there was a house with a central hall and two wings, and the building was remodelled in the 17th and 19th centuries. When it was first listed in March 1953, the small manor house was little altered since the 19th century. 

According to the Historic England listing, the house has a 16th century porch and the rear stair turret is probably 17th century. The ground floor appears to be mainly 19th century, with surviving 15th century through-passage. 

The rear opening, approached by some steps, is ashlar, chamfered - a right-angled edge or corner - and with a rebate for the door. On the first floor, a plaster panel on the east gable wall bears the date 1732 (the reign of George II); this room was probably the first inserted into the open hall (Historic England, 2023). 

Architectural Features and History

The emblem displayed on the manor’s porch is divided into six sections, with the arms of both the prominent Prouz [Prouse, Prowse] and Orchard families included among them. Historic England states that Challacombe Manor is an "exceptionally significant survival", especially its roof.

According to the Historic Environment Record for Exmoor National Park, the manor's original layout featured a central hall flanked by cross ranges at both ends. During the 15th century, the existing hall was reconstructed between these cross ranges.

The east range no longer exists, while the modified west range remains. Subsequent additions include a mid-16th-century porch and 17th-century flooring and windows (Exmoor National Park HER MDE20391).

In 1900, Ward, Lock and Company, a successful London publishing house, claimed in their North Devon guidebook that "the farmstead was built partly inside an old abbey or church". While this is interesting, we found no evidence of any links with local churches or abbeys.

A new hall with a magnificent roof was built between the two wings. The manor's false-hammer-beam timber roof structure is an important feature, and it has been dendrochronogically (tree-ring) dated to between 1449 and 1474 (Baylock, S. R., 2004).

The Prouz Family

Genealogy records state that John Prouz [Prowse] was born about 1456 at Chagford. He was Lord of Chagford, and was married 1472/1475 to Joan Orchard, daughter of John Orchard (d. 1480). The aristocratic marriage may account for the manor's grand false-hammer-beam roof.

The Prouz family had influence in the ancient town and civil parish of Chagford, demonstrated by the memorials dedicated to the Prouse family in Chagford St Michael’s Church (GENUK). Chagford Local History Society (2024) states that the Prouz family were connected by marriage to William the Conqueror.

In the Lady Chapel is a wooden model of an Esquire's helmet, used in funeral processions by members of the Prouz family of Waye Barton (Chagford Local History Society, 2024). The Prouz family monument stands in St Michael's Church south aisle. It is decorated with the coats of arms to which the family claimed an affiliation (St Michael's Church, Chagford).

West Challacombe Manor's False-Hammer-Beam Roof

West Challacombe Manor's crowning glory false-hammer-beam roof, an exceptional survival from the fifteenth-century, is similar in design to Westminster Hall's true hammer-beam roof commissioned in 1393 by Richard II.

In the case of false-hammer-beam roofs, the hammer post is not present on the hammer beam, a characteristic often seen in a type of arch-brace truss. Alternatively, the design may feature the hammer beam connecting into the hammer post, rather than the hammer post resting on the hammer beam (Wood, Margaret: The English Mediaeval House, 1980, 1965).

Medieval aristocrats in England are known to have adorned structures of various purposes with expensive hammer-beam roofs, which showcased not only their architectural practicalities but also the craftsmanship of contemporary carpenters (Parliament UKBrittanica, 2024).

Research Report from 2006

For Historic England in 2016, Hazel Riley reported: "In 1475 Joan or Jane Orchard of West Challacombe married John Prouz of Chagford, the new hall and its roof perhaps commemorating this propitious marriage: certainly the Prouz family were of some substance at this time".

"West Challacombe remained in the Prouz family until the mid 17th century. In the 18th century the house and holding was subdivided and run by the Crang and Lerwill families. It remained so until the late 19th century (Berry 2002, 2-3)" (Riley R., 2006. Research Report).

See Historic England Research Report Series no. 6-2016Little Hangman and Challacombe Common, Exmoor National Park: Two possible earlier Neolithic enclosures on western Exmoor. 

The lavish roof style is linked to the period, since another example is the Great Hall of Eltham Palace (1470s, Edward IV), where Henry VIII spent much of his boyhood. 

West Challacombe Manor in Old Texts

Victorian author and Dartmoor expert John Lloyd Warden Page visited West Challacombe Manor. Knowing nothing of its history, Page commented in his guidebook dated 1895:

"Look at the deep porch, pierced with loopholes for musketry, that must be as old as the days of Queen Bess at any rate ! And look at the weathered escutcheon of six quarterings in the gable overhead."

"It bears the arms of more than one family of note. Round it runs a motto, but, beyond one word which appears to be "Prouz" (the name, by the way, of a race that once held Gidleigh Castle [manor house] on the borders of Dartmoor), it is too worn to be legible."

[According to antiquary Sir William Pole (1561–1635), the Prouz family held the manor of Gidleigh from at least the later half of the 12th century. Today, only part of Gidleigh Castle's small keep survives on private land, about two miles from Chagford.]

Warden Page continues: "[West Challacombe Manor's] inner arch, opening into the hall, dates, it would seem, from the sixteenth century, and the dark oaken door is ornamented with carvings in high relief, representing a male and a female figure, on their heads [are] queer coronets full of fruit and flowers."

"These carvings are evidently of later date than the door, to which they have been attached, and look like specimens of the debased art of the next century. The back of the door is strengthened with cross-pieces, and the sockets for the great wooden bar still remain in the walls on either side" (John L. Warden Page, The Coasts of Devon and Lundy Island, 1895).

In 1900, Ward, Lock and Company Ltd published A pictorial and descriptive guide to Bideford, Clovelly, Hartland, Barnstaple, Ilfracombe and North-West Devon : eight maps and plans, sixty illustrations. Of West Challacombe Manor, Ward and Lock wrote:

"There is a farmstead. West Challacombe, close to the village, built partly inside an old abbey or church [allegedly], the oak roof of which may be seen in the passage at the back of the living-rooms."

"The front door is of worm-eaten oak, and on the panels are figures of a gentleman and a lady, apparently of the Stuart period. West Challacombe is now a private residence." (Ward Lock & Company, London, 1900).

West Challacombe Manor is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

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British Listed Buildings ID 101306692˃ | See the Historic England Official List Entry˃