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Ilfracombe, Devon

Historical Description

Ilfracombe, a seaport, a watering-place, a market-town, and a parish in Devonshire. The town has a station on the-L. & S.W.R., 225 miles from London. The Great Western Company have running powers over the line from Barn-staple, and the town thus possesses communication with all parts of the kingdom. Steamers also ply during the season to Lynmouth, Bristol, Swansea, Cardiff, and Weston-super-Mare. It has a post, money order, and telegraph office. Acreage of the civil parish, 5623 of land and 234 of tidal water and foreshore; population, 7692; of the ecclesiastical, 7463. The town stands on, the coast of the Bristol Channel, 11 miles NWN of Bamstaple. It was anciently called Alfrincombe, Ilfridscombe, and Ilfordcombe. It possesses some antiquity, and was important enough ire the time of Edward III. to contribute six ships and eighty-two manners to the fleet for the siege of Calais. It also, during the Civil Wars of Charles I., was garrisoned for the Parliament, and was taken in 1644 with twenty pieces of ordnance and 200 stand of arms by a royal force under Sir Francis Doddington. It occupies a peculiar kind of situation on the coast, and is noted for the romantic pictur-esqueness of the scenery around it. The coast for miles in its neighbourhood is a strikingly broken and diversified series of alternate crags, chasms, rocky saliences, and rocky recesses. " Here there are no ranges of lofty cliffs, descending to the gea in mural precipices, but a chain of unequal heights and depressions. At one spot a headland, some 500 feet high, rough with furze-clad projections at the top, and falling abruptly to a bay; then, perhaps, masses of a low dark rock, girding a basin of turf, as at Watermouth; again, a recess and a beach, with the mouth of a stream; a headland next in order; and so the dark coast runs whimsically eastward, passing from one shape to another like a Proteus, until it unites with the massive sea-front of Exmoor." Some of the rocky heights rise like tors, and serve as landmarks to mariners, and several near the town, besides being eminently picturesque in themselves, and forming grand features in close views, command a prospect across the channel to the Welsh mountains. The coast is remarkable also for its danger to navigators, and for plenteousness in interesting kinds of marine animals and plants, and it bears memorials of terrible shipwrecks, and has greatly attracted the attention of naturalists. Charming walks are in the vicinity of the town, suitable either for invalids who cannot scale the heights, or for the curious who are in search of striking objects and scenes. The chief are the Tor Walks, overlooking the Bristol Channel. The harbour itself, with a natural defence called Lantern Hill, is not a little interesting, and so are Capstone Hill, immediately W of the harbour, and crowned by a flagstaff; the famous Capstone Parade, extending from Wilders-mouth in the W to St James' Place on the E, round the hill; and the summit of Hillsborough, 447 feet high, crowned with an old earthwork of nearly 20 acres, defended on the land side by a double entrenchment.

The town formerly consisted chiefly of one street, about a mile long, irregularly built on the side of a hill parallel with the shore, remarkably clean, yet very far from handsome, but since rising into favour as a seaside resort a large number of well-built houses and elegant villas have been erected. As a watering-place it has been rising in importance for some years-its warmth, salubrity, and the equable character of its atmosphere rendering it a very favourite residence for invalids and other visitors. There are a large number of excellent hotels and boarding-houses. The town-hall was built in 1862, and -contains a public hall and the offices of the local board. The Victoria Promenade, situated at the foot of the Capstone Hill, was erected in 1888, and is a large building of iron and glass 200 feet long and 85 wide. The interior contains an orchestra, and is filled with palms and climbing plants. There are several good libraries, institutes, two musical societies, a good social club, science and art classes, and working-men's club. Three places are used as bathing-coves-Wildersmouth, Eaparee, and the Tunnels, and they have a pebbly beach and perfectly clear water, free from silt or sand-in addition to the handsome swimming bath at the Dfracombe Hotel. The parish church stands at the upper extremity of the town, is a very fine old edifice, has a massive square tower rising from the centre of an aisle, has also a large E memorial window put up in 1862; contains an old font, a sarcophagus of Captain Bowen, who fell in the disastrous attack on Teneriffe by Nelson, and several other interesting monuments, and was served by the historian Camden. The church of St Philip and St James was built in 1856, and is both chaste and elegant; in 1876 the church was well restored, and has a peal of six bells. The church abounds with marble, and has one of the most beautiful pulpits in England, built of marble and alabaster in columns, pillars, and arches. Another church, called the Free Church or Christ Church, in Portland Street, is a plain edifice, and was reseated and restored in 1878. A Wesleyan chapel, built in 1864, is in the Decorated English style, of Appledore stone, with dressings of Bath stone. There are also a seamen's chapel, and Roman Catholic, Congregational-ist. Baptist, and Plymouth Brethren chapels. A weekly market is held on Saturday. The harbour is a mixed work of nature and of art, is defended from the sea by a bold mass of rock stretching half-way across the entrance; has a pier, originally built by the Bouchiers, and enlarged at various times to an eventual length of 850 feet, and affords perfect shelter and good anchorage to vessels of 200 tons and upwards; a low-water jetty was constructed in 1873. A lighthouse stands on Lantern Hill 127 feet above sea-level; was originally an ancient chapel frequented by pilgrims; and presents a quaint appearance in its capacity of lighthouse. There is a coastguard station., The manor belonged formerly to the Champernownes, Sir Philip Sidney, the Martyns, the" Audleys, and the Bouchiers, and belongs now to the Wrey family. The parochial living is a vicarage, and the living of St Philip and St James is a vicarage in the diocese of Exeter; gross value of the former, £275 with residence; of the latter, £350 with residence. Patron of the former, the Bishop of Exeter. A section of the parish was assigned in 1859 to the church of St Philip and St James. St Matthew's, Lee, is also an ecclesiastical district.

Transcribed from The Comprehensive Gazetteer of England & Wales, 1894-5


The following is a list of the administrative units in which this place was either wholly or partly included.

Ancient CountyDevon 
Ecclesiastical parishIlfracombe Holy Trinity 
Poor Law unionBarnstaple 

Any dates in this table should be used as a guide only.

Church Records

Findmypast, in association with the South West Heritage Trust, Parochial Church Council, and Devon Family History Society have the Baptisms, Banns, Marriages, and Burials online for Ilfracombe

Directories & Gazetteers

We have transcribed the entry for Ilfracombe from the following:


Online maps of Ilfracombe are available from a number of sites:

Newspapers and Periodicals

The British Newspaper Archive have fully searchable digitised copies of the following newspapers covering Devon online:

Villages, Hamlets, &c

Slade (Ilfracombe)

Visitations Heraldic

The Visitation of the County of Devon in the year 1564, with additions from the earlier visitation of 1531, is online.

The Visitations of the County of Devon, comprising the Heralds' Visitations of 1531, 1564, & 1620, with additions by Lieutant-Colonel J.L. Vivian, published for the author by Henry S. Eland, Exeter 1895 is online.

DistrictNorth Devon
RegionSouth West
Postal districtEX34