Yarcombe History




Yarcombe History

The Yarcombe Story

by F T Orchard


The history of Yarcombe was researched in great detail by Ruth Everitt, the results of which are  reflected in her very comprehensive book From Monks To The Millennium - A History Of Yarcombe*.  The book chronicles in great depth the changes to the Parish through its people and the development of many well known farms and houses and is recommended reading to anyone wanting historical knowledge about our village.   The notes that follow have been based in the main from this book.

* If you would like a digital copy of  this book, please contact Miranda Gudenian

From the remains of earth fortresses at Stockland, Membury and Howley, there is evidence of settlements around the Parish of Yarcombe going back to Iron Age times.

The earliest reference to the area is from a charter in 854 AD describing county boundaries around the  Yarty in the vicinity of what we now call Yarcombe. There were however  other names used in the past, including Erticoma, Herticombe, Artecumbe and Zertecome, all of  which relate to alternative names for Yarcombe.

At the time of Edward the Confessor (1042 - 1066) the Parish was owned by a Benedictine monastery from St Michaels in France and administered from one of their monasteries in Cornwall.  References to properties in Yarcombe are noted in  11th C records.

In 1264 Yarcombe had a church on the St John's site and a mill. The Parish was administered largely by Otterton priory - an offshoot of St Michaels in France.

During the 14 & 15th centuries the Parish belonged to different priories including one in France, and Yarcombe like other English parishes was forced to repatriate funds to the French to fight the English armies in France.

As a consequence Henry VI transferred French ownership of parishes to English bodies and Yarcombe found itself owned by King's College Cambridge and subsequently Syon Abbey at Isleworth.  Ownership remained here until Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries and it then became crown property.

Elizabeth I in 1581 bestowed Yarcombe estate to the Earl of Leicester and shortly after it was purchased for 5000 by Sir Francis Drake.  From the 16th - 21st centuries the Drake family have played a major part in the history and destiny of Yarcombe.  Sheafhayne Manor did not become the property of the Drake family until 1705. 

When the Civil War broke out during Charles I 's reign Yarcombe and the Drake family were on the side of the Roundheads.  This was against the general trend of the south west which in the main sided with the Royalists.  The Drakes estates were impounded until 1646 when the Royalists were defeated.  Skirmishes took place at Membury but there are no records of activities around Yarcombe.

During the reign of James II the Duke of Monmouth landed in Dorset and set in motion the Monmouth rebellion against the King.  Some locals from the Yarcombe area joined the rebels but the rebellion was quickly put down at the Battle of Sedgemore.  Severe retribution was meted out under the courts of Judge Jeffreys.

By the mid 18 th century agricultural improvements and enclosure acts led farming into more prosperous times, and more wealth was available to yeoman and landed gentry to improve  and enlarge farms and properties.  Many of today's oldest houses in Yarcombe can be seen to reflect this effect.

At the end of the 18th century  improvements in transport and greater road travel was taking place: Marsh  became  a staging post on the main London Exeter road and benefited from passing travellers.  Yarcombe on the other hand was bypassed by the main route from Chard to Honiton, which went via Stockland and Cotleigh, did not benefit from these road developments and remained a bit of a  back water.   However in 1811 this changed with a new turnpike road to Honiton which was routed through Yarcombe, perhaps persuaded by the 2 inns in the village.  The Angel, now the Yarcombe Inn and the Castle believed to be next to the Old School House.

Enclosure Acts continued up to 1814 around the Parish and in the process the wealthier farms and estates became larger and more prosperous.  Major drainage schemes for the land were executed and farm productivity would have increased.  During the early part of the 19th century the landscape would have started to change as more fields were enclosed, hedges planted  and marsh areas drained to form pasture land.

Through the 19th century the gulf between rich and poor became greater and social unrest broke out.  The Corn Laws inflated prices and brought much hardship and a small riot at Upottery required intervention from the military.

Yarcombe and Marsh faired better than many villages  with a fair minded landlord - Sir Thomas Drake who treated his tenants well  and ensured schooling was available to those in the Parish.  The first village school  in Yarcombe open in 1818 and was extended in 1833.  This building became The Old School House.  In 1870 a larger school was built sponsored by the Drake family again and was the village school until 1965.  In 1970 it had been converted into the Belfry Hotel.

During the 1800's and up to 1930 the Yarcombe Estate continued to expand and covered areas outside of Yarcombe and Marsh.  With the introduction of death duties this did not last and as the financial burdens became more acute land and farms had to be sold. This started in 1931 and continued to the middle of the 1900's.

The oldest industries of the area are probably farming and iron smelting which can be dated back to Roman times. There are smelter sites at Emmets Farm and Woodhayne.  Iron making did not develop beyond very small scale production, and unlike farming has not been an important industry to this area.  Other industries which have existed or still exist today, include, timber production, lime making, brick and tile production, cider making and agricultural engineering.