HISTORY OF THE VILLAGE
All facts contained within this section of the website have been obtained from the records held by a local historian and from various reliable websites. Thanks are due in particular to the late Barbara Doidge, who did much work in researching the history of the village and compiling these records.
The Early Years
Combe Raleigh has probably existed as a community since before the 11th century, and has had numerous changes of name. (see below). However, archaeological excavations at Little Silver, near Hutchinghayes, in the late 1950’s revealed ancient hearths and burial mounds, possibly from the Bronze Age period, so human habitation would seem to have existed here long before the first known records were made. There are also traces of an Iron Age settlement on St. Cyres Hill and Roman coins have been found, although there are no signs of any permanent occupation.
Crook Farm is believed to be the oldest existing homestead in the parish. According to a renowned academic the name is believed to be of Celtic origin, pre-dating the Saxon conquest, which could place its founding as being as early as the 7th Century.
However, one Nicholas Fil Elys de Cruke was recorded as living in the village in 1244, so the name may derive from him. (As would the name Ellishayes?)
The earliest actual available record of a settlement was shown in the ‘inventory of lands’ drawn up during the reign of Edward the Confessor. This records a large estate on the banks of the River Otter, held by one Hubert, including three ‘hides’ (a ‘hide’ comprised around 120 acres and was sufficient to support one family). He had five tenant farmers, known as ‘villeins’, six bordars (villeins who held their hut at their lord’s pleasure), four serfs and one ‘rouncey’, which was a horse for a bailiff to ride around his estate. The tenant farmers may each have lived at Stonehayes, Ellishayes, Crook Farm, Hutchinghayes and Ramelhayes, although clearly the current residences were built much later.
In the Domesday Book, dated 1086, the village is known as ‘Otri’, and consisted of 24 acres of meadow, 50 acres of woodland and 1 ‘hide’ of pasture. It still records ‘Hubert from Walter de Douai’ as the owner, who apparently owned 38 cattle, 28 pigs, 200 sheep, 50 goats and 4 wild mares.
During the reign of Henry II, (1133-1189), the parish is recorded as having been held by Colinus de Cumba. However, the land seems to have passed on by 1200, when a man by the name of Adam de Marisco made a grant of all his land in Combe St. Nicholas to St. Nicholas Priory, Exeter. He did this by placing a sod of the land on the altar of the church on condition that he and his brothers and the souls of his father and mother should be partakers in all benefits of the said church forever. We know that in the late 15th century one John Packer was still paying rent of £5/6/8d to St Nicholas Priory. The Marisco family were apparently pirates at one point in their history and together with various other tracts of land they also owned Lundy Island.The next available record is the register of Parish Rectors, which dates from 1260 and can still be seen at the Devon Records Office. Richard Polwhele in his ‘History of Devonshire’ reported that in 1261 Combe Raleigh was a parish lying within the Axminster Hundred. It had first been named Comb Singley, but the name Raleigh was initiated after Sir John Ralegh of Beaudeport (now known as Bridport), who moved into the area in 1284 and seemingly named the village after himself. The word Combe derives from ‘coomb’ or ‘comb’, which means a deep little wooded valley or a hollow in a hillside. However, the village has had many names during its history, some of which are listed below. The first known record of the current name of the village is in the accounts of the church in 1844, although it may actually date back to 1838.
In 1291 the ‘living’ of the parish (presumably its annual income) was recorded as being £4, but by 1524 the community of Combe Raleigh was valued by the lay subsidy at £9/1s /4d. Whether there is any connection between these two figures is not clear, but if there is then the inflation rate between the 13th and 16th centuries would appear to have been very low!
Around 1350 the plague arrived in East Devon, and local records show that two unnamed rectors of the parish died of the Black Death.
From the account of ancient records referred to by Roy Blackmore on his website about Cullompton, Combe Raleigh came under the control of the Moore family (who were yeoman farmers from the Cullompton area) during the reign of Henry VI (1422-1461), when one Maurice Moore married into the Bonville family, who were then Lords of the Manor. However, it was not long before Maurice’s son, Humphrey Moore, had to sell the estate due to his ‘luxurious way of life’. It was bought by Edward Drewe, who was Serjeant at Law to Queen Elizabeth I.
Archive records show that at this time ’13 men, armed and trained’ from the village were available to hold arms for use in the Queen’s service (presumably Elizabeth I). They each held some form of body corselet, almain rivets and a weapon, either a pike or a longbow. The parish also held a spare pike and corselet.
The present church was mainly built in the 15th century, although parts of it date back to the 14th century; however, as there is a list of Rectors dating back to 1261 it is a distinct possibility that a church existed as far back as the 13th century, if not before. Whilst there are one Grade I and a number of Grade II listed buildings in the village (see list below) you may not have realised that 5 chest tombs and one headstone in the churchyard, as well as the lychgate at the entrance to the church, are also Grade II listed.
It is likely that most, if not all, the houses in the village were thatched, certainly until the late 19th century. In Polwhele’s ‘History of Devonshire’, which was written between 1793 and 1806, he records that the houses and cottages in the parish were thatched and built with stone and cob.
‘The Chantry’ is the only Grade I listed building in the village, and was built in c.1498 to accommodate the chanter priest, who sang masses in the Chantry Chapel in the Parish Church ‘for the repose of the souls of the Bonville family’ (who were owners of the estate around the late 14th century). It is reputed that a secret tunnel exists between the Chantry and the church, but this has never been uncovered. Other myths report tunnels at various locations in the village, possibly connected with smuggling, but again these have never been found.
Another old building is Ellishayes, which was built in 1625 by Francis, the son of Hugh Crossinge, the then Alderman of Exeter, and was originally called ‘Ellis’s’. It was described as ‘fit for a free heart to entertain friends’.The name seems to derive from the family of Roger Elys who lived in a former house on the site in 1333. There is also mention of a man named Nicholas Fil Elys de Cruke living in the area in records dating back to 1244, so his name could also be the origin of Ellishayes and an alternative derivation for Crook Farm. Indeed the first mention of Crook Farm is in that very year, so the two seem to coincide.
Hutchinhayes was probably named after John Hutchin, who lived there in 1481, and Stonehayes is mentioned in the Court Rolls for 1330.
The former rectory, Worfield House, which overlooks the valley of the River Otter, also has early origins, and is first mentioned as being in the 16th century and may even date back to the construction of the present church in the 15th century. The house was used as the Rectory until as recently as 1956. In 1653 the first existing Parish Register was started and is now stored in the archives in Exeter. It was inscribed on its first pages as belonging to ‘Combrawleigh’.
The house now known as Abbots was built in 1790 by the local rector, and was used during the First World War as a prison camp to house German officers as prisoners of war. Abbots had one other celebrated resident, Lt. Lifton James of the Royal Army Pay Corps, who was reputed to have acted as Field Marshal Montgomery’s double during the period leading up to D Day.
In 1792, during the reign of George III, the entire Manor of Combe Raleigh was sold by the then Lord of the Manor to the Bernards of Stogumber and Crowcombe for a sum of £18,500. The Bernards remained Lords of the Manor for an astonishing 128 years, until 1920, when the estate was broken up and sold in lots for a total sum of £67,411/2/6d; as a consequence of the sale no manorial rights are now lodged with any of the village properties. The advertisement at the time was for the sale of 1700 acres, a ‘charming, medium-sized country residence’ and 12 valuable dairy farms.
The country residence may have been Combe Raleigh Manor, of which there are many reports, but nobody is sure exactly which residence comprised the Manor House, or indeed whether it still exists. The only clues seem to be in the sale particulars from 1920 and the particulars for its Grade II listing.
The sale particulars state “Abbotts is a superior country residence of medium size with artistic features and situate in a beautiful position and, as it is sold with vacant possession and has about 10 acres of land attached to it, with cottages and farming, it forms an ideal country property”. The whole estate was divided into lots and Abbotts was sold separately, as Lot No. 1. The grading details describe it as ”an attractive villa, at one time the centre of the Combe Raleigh Estate”, so these two pieces of evidence do seem to resolve the uncertainty.
In 1805, as a result of the Napoleonic wars, a system of telegraphic signals was set up throughout the country using a form of semaphore, and a telegraph station was sited on St. Cyres Hill, as part of the chain that connected Plymouth with the Admiralty in London. A dwelling called Telegraph Cottage once existed (presumably to house the person responsible for passing on messages, who would use a telescope to keep a watch on the neighbouring stations), but that no longer survives.
The earliest indication that the village used to have its own school is back in 1810, when ‘the parochial schoolhouse (which catered for 38 children) was enlarged’, so we can assume one existed even prior to that date. The next evidence is from 1840, when the building was again enlarged by the construction of a new first floor. This new construction appears to have been called the ‘Penny School’, which may derive from its warrant as a school for ‘the education of children and adults of the labouring, manufacturing and other poorer classes of the Parish’. It seems to have been intended for 70 pupils, but in 1870 records show that the average attendance was just 29. The school was eventually closed in 1946 as a result of the 1944 Education Act, when all pupils were transferred to Honiton. Residents of the house have reported that it is now haunted by ghosts of school children, who play and dance in the sitting room (site of the original classroom) and on the drive outside.
The village has had a fluctuating population over the years. In 1792, 267 people were recorded as living in the parish, and this rose to 289 by 1851. But by 1901 this had fallen to 223, by 1931 to 188, by 1949 to 173 and in 1973 it was only 144. However, the most recent census, in 2011, shows a population of 227, so clearly the decline has now been arrested. The early high levels of population were probably due to the fact that many of the larger houses in the village had servants, in some cases quite a few. These would include cooks, parlour maids, nurses, housemaids, coachmen, labourers and ‘general servants’.
The tithe map of 1842 is interesting in that it shows the extent of residential housing in the village at that time, which is actually quite sparse. For example, the centre of the village is shown as just having Barton Farm, the church, Fiddlers Cottage, the schoolhouse, the Chantry, a building where Whitefriars now stands, Abbots and Abbots Mews, Thatchers Cottages, Sextons Cottage and what seems to be the Newtons.It shows how much the village has expanded just since that time. The accompanying documentation estimates the amount of land within the parish to be approximately 1477 acres, on which ‘tithes’ were to be charged. 377 acres were said to be arable land, 943 meadow and pasture, 42 acres of orchard and 75 acres of woodland. It seems that the remaining 40 acres of land belonged to the Rectory.
Many of the houses in the village owe their names to the functions that their residents undertook or indeed their own function. For example, many names relate to their connection with the church, the Chantry being where the Chantry Priest resided, Fiddlers Cottage housed the church musicians and Sexton’s Cottage would have been the residence of the gravedigger / bell ringer / keeper of the church silver. Thatchers Cottage, Mill House, Old School and School House need no explanation and Keepers Cottage was the dwelling for the gamekeeper; presumably the Pheasantry nearby also has its origins in gamekeeping. Others, such as Ellishayes, take their name from the person who originally built them.
The Parish Meeting was formed as a result of legislation in 1894. Those interested in its history can find an abridged version of the Parish Meeting records or even peruse the five Minute Books which cover the entire period to date. The Chairman in the early days of the Meeting was usually the Rector, possibly a hangover from the Vestry Committee, which until then had previously administered the needs of the parish. An oak tree was planted in the roadside border of Oak Tree Cottage to celebrate the centenary of the Parish Meeting in 1994.
It seems the earliest concerns of the meeting were the condition of the footpaths, which would of course been very important in those days, and also the activities of the Overseers of the Poor of the Parish, who existed until 1926. These were appointed individuals who set the rateable values of properties in the parish and then collected the dues. The Meeting also decided on corn quotas for each farm. Interestingly there are several mentions of free instruction to be given in local trades, such as dressmaking, fruit culture, cheese-making, use of manure and the rearing of poultry. Cheese making was important, with much of the produce being sold in Bristol.
The postal service in the U.K. was established in 1517, but our first post box was not installed in the village until 1893, with a second placed at Hill House in 1910. However, the very first ‘mail bus’ in England was introduced in 1971 and villagers were fortunate enough to have it pass regularly through Combe Raleigh; in fact the very first ticket for the bus was issued to Mrs White from the village. The first telephone box appeared in the village opposite Thatchers in 1948, but moved to its present position in 1965.
In 1935 a proposal to bring mains water to the village was rejected due to ‘insufficient number of applicants for water’, thought to be due mainly to the potential cost of installation. The proposal was resurrected in 1939, but interrupted by the war, with mains water finally reaching the village in 1948. Previously water could be obtained through from two pumps, one at Newtons (opposite the village hall), which was a cavity in the wall known as the White Lion, and one pump at the Chantry, or from local supply; in fact, in 1984, there were still 28 households using their own water supply. Mains electricity and sewerage came even later, with reports of the use of oil lamps as late as the 1950’s; however, mains electricity was certainly being used in the village hall in 1936. A new mains sewerage scheme was installed in 1955.
There are two bridges leading into the village, Langford Bridge and one in Clapper Lane. Both were stone built and it would appear that Langford Bridge was originally used as a turnpike, as repair was the responsibility of the trustees of the Honiton turnpike. The original Clapper Lane bridge had three arches, but the stone version was washed away in the flood of 1968 and replaced with its current iron construction, much to the consternation of local parishioners.
We all appreciate the news we receive through the Raleigh Rag, but did you know that the first issue was published in July, 1991? This was enhanced with the introduction of a website in 2010 to publicise the village and provide information to anyone interested in its history and events.
It is of interest that the number of footpaths around the village varied considerably during the 20th century. In 1913 there were just 8, by 1956 these had increased to 15, but in 1975 there were just four, all the others having been ‘given up’.
It seems that the village has never had a village shop, pub or post office. However, it is likely that the residents of certain houses, for example Abbotts Mews, may have brewed beer for the local community and that people would have gone there to drink on the premises or to ‘take away’ in their own containers. There is also reference to an unlicensed alehouse in Diocesan records, which state that one of the Rectors was accused of spending too much time there and often having to be called out to take prayers to ‘prevent the peoples’ departure thence’.It is quite possible this was Glebe Cottage. Whilst there has never been a shop per se, we know that the occupiers of The Newtons sold cigarettes, milk, sweets and various other groceries from a shed in the garden.
The Village Hall
The Village Hall was built in 1926 and opened by the Viscountess Sidmouth. The site was donated by Esau Hellier Coombe and built by a man from a nearby village, Robert Pulman. Amazingly the first meeting to discuss the possibility of building a village hall occurred on 31st July, when an appeal was launched to raise funds; it was opened just four months later, on 25th November that year. However, it was soon realised that the accommodation was not big enough and extensions were added shortly after.
World War II
During the second World War the village hosted 40 evacuees from the Heygate Street Jewish School in South London. The children were housed around the village and used the school building initially in the afternoons, until the village hall was made ready for them. It is of some interest that preparations for the possibility of war were under way in October, 1938, as the children in the village were already being fitted for gas masks.
The village had its own branch of the Women’s Guild, instituted in 1954 out of the Combe Raleigh Mother’s Union. They arranged for every new baby in the parish to receive a bank book and 5/-d, and at every meeting a collecting box for ‘waifs and strays’ was handed round. The Guild finally closed in 2000 due to falling numbers.
Farming has clearly been the main business in the parish ever since records began, but other businesses have thrived here. Honiton is renowned mainly for its lacemaking and in 1698 it was recorded that a considerable 65 people in Combe Raleigh were known to be engaged in this cottage industry.
There was once also a blacksmith’s forge in the village, together with a wheelwright’s shop. The blacksmith is known to have lived in the Chantry.
Plant Nurseries have also formed a mainstay of the community in modern times. In 1947 Jackson’s Nursery was started, followed in 1973 by the Don Hatch Nursery, which exclusively grew and sold conifers.
Trim’s Nursery started in …
1989 Hill House became Abbeyfield Extra Care Home.
Quite a few of the major houses in the village have been subject to fires in the recent past. In 1966 the owners of Abbots Mews, who were refurbishing the house and had not yet moved in, returned from a gliding weekend to find the barn and other outbuildings gutted, together with all their new furniture. In October 1977 there was also a major fire at School House. This had also just been refurbished and had been subject to a service of blessing held in the September by the Rector – divine intervention did not seem to work on this occasion.
Another fire due to renovation occurred in November 2008 at Combe House, when 100 firefighters attended a fire that gutted much of the first floor and roof, and stopped the family from moving in for Christmas that year.
A major flood occurred on 10th July, 1968, during which waist-high water covered many parts of the village and floodwater destroyed Clapper Bridge.More details through personal accounts can be found on the link.
In May, 1981, the village suffered another flood, not as severe as that in 1968, but the rivulet running through the village burst its banks and several of the houses in the vicinity were overcome. As a result a flood alleviation scheme to provide a deeper course for the rivulet through the village was completed in 1984, at a final cost of £73,000.
Beating the Bounds
On the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday before Ascension Day, known as Rogationtide, it has been common practice to Beat the Bounds, in effect walk around the parish boundary and to bless the boundary posts where the parish meets others. Before the Reformation this was a time of fasting and supplication for the coming harvest. The perambulations have traditionally been led by the Rector and are still conducted today, usually in early June, parishioners meeting at a point on the boundary and walking the entire route around its perimeters. The Rector would say prayers at each boundary post, for example for the church, for the farming community and for the community in general.
Recorded names of the village
(all dates are approximate, based on local records)
Cumb Sancti Nicholai
Combe St. Nicholas
1200 Comb Baunton, after Sir Matthew de Baunton, during the reign of Henry III
Combe Cofyn 1498
Combe Coffe 1603
Combe Raleigh 1838
Owners of the Manor of Combe Raleigh
(Most estimated dates are based on the reign of the monarch during which the Lord of the Manor owned the village)
c. 1066-1068 Hubert, from Walter de Douai
c. 1133-1189 Colinus de Cumba
c. 1200 Adam de Marisco
c. 1207-1272 Sir Matthew de Baunton
c. 1272-1284 John de Baunton
Walter de Sutton
1284- Sir John Raleigh of Bridport
William and Joan Denys
c. 1312-1377 Joan Bonville
Lord Bonville and Alice
c. 1488-1500 Maurice Moor and Cecily Bonville
1500- c.1533 Humphrey Moor
c. 1533-1603 Edward Drewe
Sir Thomas Drewe
Descendants of Sir Thomas Drewe, together with the Luttrell Family
1792 John Fownes Luttrell of Dunster
1792 – 1920 Family of Bernard / Bernard D’Oyley
Church of St Nicholas
1 & 2 Thatchers
Crook Dairy Farmhouse
2 ranges of shippons south of Crook Dairy Farmhouse
Oak Tree Cottage
1 & 2 Sextons Cottages