The Yarcombe Inn, close to the church on the A30  
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Historical and Archaeological Significance

To villagers and passing travellers alike, The Yarcombe Inn may look like just another attractive thatched Devon pub but few realise that it is a building of national heritage status – a veritable treasure both historically and archaeologically which, arguably, is the key reason we must fight to save it.

Embedded in its earliest foundations is an ancient architectural feature which very few people throughout the Parish know anything about but which distinguishes the building as a landmark in medieval church building.

For in its earliest incarnation, over 800 years ago, The Yarcombe Inn was anything but a pub – it was a guest house for monks from the 12th Century Otterton Priory, and called a Church House.   The monks, in turn, provided refreshment and shelter at the Church House for pilgrims who paused at Yarcombe on their long journey across the country to Canterbury.

However, the discovery in the mid 1990s of a decorative corbel stone just beneath the pub cellar in a foundation course on the building’s eastern flank jutting into the adjacent churchyard puts a whole new perspective on The Yarcombe Inn’s true heritage and gives its origins a unique and greatly enhanced status.

The stone, bearing the head of a horse, has been unquestionably dated to the Norman era by experts from the Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter who believe it to be the earliest recorded use of Ham stone in medieval Devon.

Furthermore, such a carved and sculptured stone – its portrayal of the horse’s halter provides a rare detailed depiction of Norman equestrian headgear – would almost certainly not have been used to ornament a secular building but a religious structure of significance.

Further weight is added to this argument with the discovery of traces of a lime-wash skin on the underside of the corbel stone, indicating it was not an exterior feature.   And, given that the top of the corbel is flat with the horse’s head looking downwards it had to project from a wall face, looking inwards.

All of which leads the experts to one, irrefutable interpretation – the corbel stone, known as The Yarcombe Horse, is the only surviving vestige of the original  Norman parish church of Yarcombe, replaced in the Middle Ages by the church which stands today. 

Today’s church is largely 14th Century, as recorded by the inimitable Ruth Everitt in her definitive book on Yarcombe, From Monks to the Millennium.   Further evidence of an earlier church structure, however, is detailed by her with the disclosures that in 1228 the then vicar of Yarcombe parish received a stipend of 26s 8d per annum and how in 1311 Bishop Stapleton travelled from Exeter to consecrate the high altar and dedicate the new church, thus marking the end of the first phase of re-building the  earlier church.

Not until 1672 did The Yarcombe Inn building revert from ecclesiastical use to that of a hostelry with a John Northam becoming its first publican under the sponsorship of a descendant of Sir Francis Drake.   By 1754 it was listed and named in Quarter Session records as The Angel Inn, the name probably reflecting the building’s religious origins.

Its name change to The Yarcombe Inn came in 1818 after the building was extended down the hill to accommodate more stabling and accommodation as a result of the construction of the Chard-Honiton turnpike in 1811 through Yarcombe which transformed the fortunes of the village.

Previously, all traffic between London and Exeter had passed through Stockland but with the turnpike Yarcombe was catapulted out of its sleepy existence and turned into a busy staging post for travellers to and from the West Country.  

Evidence of these heady and busy days can still be seen today alongside the post box at the lych-gate where the original mounting block for coaches and horses remains largely intact – but, alas, no longer in use.