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Combe-Martin (St. Peter)

COMBE-MARTIN (St. Peter), a market-town and parish, in the union of Barnstaple, hundred of Braunton, Braunton and N. divisions of Devon, 5 miles (E.) from Ilfracombe, and 176 (W. by S.) from London; containing 1399 inhabitants. This place derives its name from its situation in a valley, and its adjunct from its proprietor at the time of the Conquest. In the reign of Edward I., some mines of lead, containing a considerable portion of silver, were discovered, and 377 men from the Peak in Derbyshire were brought to work them: in the reign of Edward III. they produced such a quantity of that metal as to assist the king materially in defraying the expense of carrying on the war with France. These mines, after remaining in a neglected state for many years, were re-opened in the reign of Elizabeth, and worked with considerable advantage under the direction of Sir Bevis Bulmer. They were unsuccessfully explored in 1790: in 1813 a more profitable attempt was made, which, after four years, however, was discontinued: the works have been since renewed, and the mines are at present in operation. Some iron and copper are also found; and limestone is quarried and burnt for agricultural use to a great extent. There is a variety of geological productions in one of the hills, as well as numerous fossils.

The town is situated in a deep romantic glen, extending in a north-west direction, and opening into a small cove on the Bristol Channel, which is capable of being converted into a good harbour, and which formed a convenient port for shipping the mineral produce, and still affords the inhabitants the means of conveying coal and lime to other towns, whence they receive corn and bark in return. The houses, many of which are in ruins, and overgrown with ivy, extend for nearly a mile, in an irregular line, along the side of the vale: the surrounding scenery is strikingly magnificent. The market has been discontinued; but the charter, granted to Nicholas Fitz-Martin by Henry III., in 1264, is still retained by the exposure of some trifling articles for sale on the market-days: the market-house is rapidly falling to decay. Fairs are held on Whit-Monday and Lammas feast; and the county magistrates hold a petty-session for the division, on the first Monday in every month, at a small inn. The parish comprises 3600 acres, of which 1837 are common or waste. The living is a rectory, valued in the king's books at £39. 8. 9., and in the gift of the family of Toms: the tithes amount to about £400 per annum, and the glebe contains 60 acres, with a glebe-house. The church is a handsome structure with a tower, built about the time of Henry III.; the nave is separated from the chancel by a screen. Here are places of worship for Wesleyans and Independents. A school was endowed in 1733, by George Ley, Esq., with land producing £25 per annum: the premises were rebuilt a few years since, by George Ley, Esq., grandson of the founder. There are three rings of stone on the summit of one of the hills in the parish, called Hangman Hill, the height of which is 1189 feet. Dr. Thomas Harding, a learned Roman Catholic divine and controversialist, was born here in 1512.


Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of England, by Samuel Lewis, seventh edition, published 1858.