The first known reference to Coombe is in 1520, but the mile of sheltered valley running inland from Duckpool has been lived in continuously from very early times. A decayed earthwork in Stowe Woods at the head of the valley is an Iron Age fort and the hidden site of the hamlet is typical of ancient habitations in Cornwall. Although the earliest of the existing houses date only from the 17th century, they are likely to stand on older sites. The hamlet stands lies on the southern edge of the parish of Morwenstow. It was until recently divided between two landowners. The land west of the stream belonged from the 1540s until 1922 to the Duchy of Cornwall, as part of the manor of Eastway. The land east of the stream was originally part of the manor of Northleigh, or Lee, which until the Elizabethan period was owned by the Coplestone family, but soon afterwards passed to the Grenvilles of Stowe on the hillside above. It remained part of the Stowe estate until 1949.
Coombe is listed as one of the ‘principal villages’ of the parish of Morwenstow by Daniel Lysons in Magna Britannia Vol. III, published in 1814. This makes it sound quite big and indeed it was once much larger. In the middle of the 19th century there were between 12 and 15 households here, but by 1891 these had shrunk to just three. By the beginning of the 20th century Coombe had become a favourite stopping place for walkers, gaining a mention in most Cornish guidebooks from the 1890s onwards. Official recognition of its landscape came in 1930 when the Council for the Protection of Rural England recommended that the whole Coombe Valley, along with the coastal path, should be preserved as a place of outstanding natural beauty. It was another 30 years before this hope was realised, but in 1960 the National Trust acquired the first of several holdings, on the south side of the valley. Between 1966 and 1969, the hamlet itself was bought by the Landmark Trust, as part of a joint scheme with the National Trust to preserve it and its exceptional setting.
Coombe Mill features in Charles Kingsley’s Westward Ho, whose heroine, Rose of Torridge is sent there to stay with her uncle. There has been a mill at Coombe since at least 1694 and probably long before that, although the present one dates from 1842. Most of Mill House is earlier, the thatched part predating 1700, while the slate roofed part is an addition from around 1800. The plan is typical of small farmhouses in remote areas, from the Tudor period onwards: one room deep, with two ground floor rooms. The main room has a wide fireplace on the backroom (now No. 1) while the inner room has its fireplace on the end gable (now in No. 2).
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