With thanks to Tamsyn Blaikie for allowing the use of information extracted from her booklet entitled “Milton Combe” on this page. The booklet was published in 2001, by Yelverton Local History Society, as part 1 of their Millennium Chronicles series. With thanks to them and Richard White for their help with the information.
The name Milton Combe is derived from it’s ancient name, first mentioned in 1249, of ‘Mile Cumbe’ meaning Middle Valley. The present name was given in 1890 at the wish of the Post Office, to distinguish it from the many other ‘Miltons’ in the area. At different times the valley was also known as Milton Granville or Milton Drake, to correspond with the family at Buckland Abbey.
The village lies in a hollow surrounded on three sides by steep hills. To the South, the Milton brook and the road go down the valley to Lillipit and then on to Maristow and Lopwell by the River Tavy.
An aerial view of the Church and Village beyond.
At the beginning of the twentieth century the Village boasted a Church, a Wesleyan Chapel, an Infant School, a Men’s Reading Room, a Post Office, several shops and two pubs. Today, all that remains are the Church, a Village Hall (in the old school building) and a well-known Pub with an unusual name. It is still a small Village, although since 1968, 20 new homes have been built.
The Village was quite industrialised, with a soup factory, sugar refinery, mill and cider press. The mill closed in1886. The Village once had a Plymouth Brethren Chapel, situated on the site of the old Men’s Reading Room. This had been formed in 1903, in premises given by Hannah Radford Phillips.
A Wesleyan Chapel was built at the lower end of the village previous to 1842; this was closed in the 1970’s and is now a cottage and the present Church of the Holy Spirit was built in 1878.
There used to be two Inns in the Village but now there is only one. The ‘Welcome Inn’, (now the ‘Who’d Have Thought It’) and the ‘First and Last’, which later became the village Post Office until that closed too in 1986.
In 1719 Sir Francis Drake left three pounds ten shillings to a school at Milton for infants. The choice of children to be instructed was to remain with the owner of the Drake Estate. The village school opened in 1893, and closed in 1923. This building is now the village hall.
The village of Milton Combe has been associated with smuggling connected with a secret place in one of the old houses, possibly ‘Sanguines’ has been mentioned.
The presence of ‘pixys’ is well known and a man declared he had been pixy led while crossing Oxted Park, and only recovered his wits by turning his jacket inside out.
During the 1939-45 war, the village was the centre for the inhabitants of the Naval Hospital at Maristow, the American Camp at Bickham, Harrowbeer Air Station and later Germans from a prisoner of War camp. The village has its own small Memorial, to the men of Milton Combe who never returned from two World Wars.
Prior to 1936 no new houses were constructed in the Village but in the period from 1936 to 1986 there have been sixteen new houses built. However, during this time four old cottages have been demolished. The Conservation Order put on the village in the 1970’s will restrict any growth in the future. Sadly, because of this Order, properties have increased in value and so are beyond the reach of the young people who would like to remain in the village.
In 1970, the Village was declared a Conservation Area, thus restricting some development. The steep hills, the old cottages, the narrow streets and green, wooded valley evoke the words ‘romantic’ and ‘quaint’, especially when journalists are describing Milton Combe. Today it is a well-kept village, most people being homeowners and keen gardeners. Some of the dwellings such as Drake Cottages are owned by the Maristow estate, which acquired them on the break-up of the Buckland Abbey estate in 1981.
There is a good social mix and strong community spirit. During this century, mostly in the second half, standards of living have risen enormously. Someone born in the village said, “when I was young, everything was for use, nothing was wasted.” He longed for something that was for pleasure, he longed for a lawn in the garden and now he has one.
The village is becoming more enclosed by trees on its western slope and some people complain of the light going very early in the day in winter. In the days of ‘everything for use’, any possible scrap of land on the steep slopes would have been cultivated and used. Mr. Charles White of Gladisford grew vegetables on his hillside, toiling up and down in spite of his lame leg.
An old postcard shows a clear view from the Who’d Have Thought It up to Blowiscombe Cottages on Alley Hill. Now the cottages are hidden from below by trees and tall hedges. Mrs. Virginia Leonard Williams, (of Tavistock) remembers Milton Combe in the 1930s. She came down from Crapstone in a horse and cart with her mother Mrs. Scott, bringing things for the play which Mrs. Scott was producing in the village. “It was like coming into another world”, she says. Even people in Buckland spoke of ‘they down there’!
There was once a Church of England Infant School in the Village. It opened in 1893 and lasted for almost 30 years, closing in March 1923, because of falling numbers. In its heyday at the beginning of the century there were some 40 children from the age of 3 to 8 or 9 years old. There was only one teacher.
1900 H.M.I, recommended ‘the provision of a monitress’.
1910 The gallery upstairs where the older children sat was considered unsafe and taken down.
1912 Miss Lydia Dingle, the last schoolmistress, took up her post with 25 children on the books. In 1915 she married, becoming Mrs. Howells. She lived in the village for a time at Lindsay Cottage.
1923 At the end there were only 7 children.
The school always had good reports from diocesan inspectors and H.M.Is. Only once was there a bad report in 1919 when the schoolmistress was ill. The last years must have been discouraging for Mrs Howells, numbers were falling and there was reluctance to spend any money on equipment and improvements.
Following closure of the School, it was converted to use as the Village Hall, and consequently is still in use to this day. To celebrate the centenary of the old School, a dinner was held in the Hall on September 4th 1993, to mark the founding of the school. Honoured guests were former pupils Mrs. Vera Coombs, (nee Cook) Charles Stansbury and Mrs. Norah Boniface (nee White). Mrs. Boniface gave a delightful talk about her happy memories of the school and her teacher Mrs. Howells. There was also an exhibition of school records in the church, arranged by Tamsyn Blaikie.
The Village Hall
As mentioned above, after the school closed, the building was used as a Church run Village Hall. In the early 1930s Miss Grainger remembers church socials and plays produced by Mrs Scott of Crapstone. Major Moore of The Leys, also gave an annual Christmas party for the children, in which “…there would be a beautifully decorated Christmas tree and each child was given a shilling.’ Mr. Saunders of Lindsay Cottage was caretaker and used to light coal fires in the Hall in cold weather.
An undated view, looking down past the Village Hall, (left).
The brook runs in the culvert between the Hall and the road.
Courtesy Tamsyn Blakie
1939-45 WWII. The hall was used as a store.
1941 March/April. After the Blitz first on Plymouth followed by Devonport a month later, refugees used the hall as a dormitory.
1957 Buckland Monachorum Parochial Church Council (P.C.C.) bought the hall and the ground outside, from the Exeter Diocesan Board of Education for a few hundred pounds.
1969 The Hall’s facilities had to be upgraded to meet the regulations for playgroups.
1977 The P.C.C. decided to dispose of the Hall, which needed a great deal doing to it. As a Queen’s Silver Jubilee project, (encouraged by Mr. Frank Downing, a Church Warden) local residents raised £3,600 through fund raising and grants, to buy the Hall and its grounds from the P.C.C. Since then, the Hall has been run by a Management Committee. During the fund raising, some people walked from the Village to County Hall in Exeter, to gain publicity for the enterprise. They were met there by the late Mrs. Mary Crane, the then local County Councillor
Also at this time, the actor David Soul, (of Starsky & Hutch fame) was filming in the neighbourhood, and when he and his girlfriend heard about the hall project, they donated $400, (about £250) to the project!
Much of the renovation work was done by village people both old and new. The late Mr Thais Mauve, a Dutch artist living at Lillipit cottage, painted a watercolour, and a beautiful dish was made for the newly renovated Village Hall. The formal opening of the Hall took place in September 1979. Present that day were; the Chairman of West Devon District Council, Mr. Roy Reynolds and his wife; the Clerk to Buckland Monachorum Parish Council, Mrs. Margaret Garton, (who had been a great help throughout); the new Village Hall Management Committee and Tamsyn Blaikie, who performed the opening. Since then the hall has had an extension with a new kitchen and indoor toilets.
Village residents get ready to depart on their fund-raising walk to County Hall in Exeter
The Wesleyan Chapel
The Wesleyan Chapel dates from 1847 (White’s 1850 directory) and was the first religious building in the village.
In this century, Chapel and Church seem to have worked well together, (unlike some places). Church children even went to Chapel Sunday School. The Chapel was also famous for its excellent teas! An entry in the school log book for January 5th, 1913, says ‘afternoon attendance poor – several children went to a tea at the Wesleyan Chapel.’ It also ran a popular outings.
By the 1960s, the Chapel’s congregation was very small and the mainstays were the Hodgmans from the Post Office, and Mr. & Mrs. Smale of Victoria Cottage. Like many other rural Chapels, it was closed in the 1970s and was eventually sold in 1980 and converted to a private house. Although it looks as if the brook goes underneath the building, it in fact just runs very close beside it and a gap has been cut in the low wall at the front, to allow any flood water to escape.
On September 17th 1978, the Church of the Holy Spirit celebrated its centenary with a special evensong, at which the Bishop of Plymouth, Dr. Richard Cartwright preached.
A view from the Southern end of the Church, showing the Bell Tower. The Village Hall is behind the photographer.
The Church is a ‘daughter church’ or ‘chapel of ease’ of the Parish Church at Buckland Monachorum. From the beginning lay readers have been a great help in maintaining services and still are. A reader takes a monthly Matins service.
The second half of the twentieth century has seen Holy Communion become a weekly service instead of a monthly one. Evensong has disappeared except for Harvest Festival and Whitsunday, the Patronal festival. Modem liturgies were introduced in the early 1960s with modern translations of the Bible. A modem hymn book, ‘Mission Praise’, appeared in the 1980s and is used with the traditional ‘Hymns Ancient & Modem’:
Organists: In the first 3 decades of the twentieth century Mrs. Jackson (Jessie Blanche Horn), Miss Braund of Yelverton and Mrs. Creber of Buckland have all played at various times. Since 1937, Miss Minnie Grainger, (starting at the age of 17) has played the organ and is still going strong! Being an accomplished sight reader she has no difficulty with modem hymns and is popular also at local musical evenings. The organ was changed from a reed organ to an electronic one in 1972. This was purchased with a donation from Mr. & Mrs. Gerald Whitmarsh, with an equal contribution from village fundraising, helped by Captain Charles Keys of Lovecombe.
There used to be a choir and Sunday School at the Church but this has now ceased. They were started In 1931 by Mr. Rogers, a lay reader from Crapstone. After he left, his neighbour, Mrs. Lesbia Scott, along with Mrs. Betty Stevens of Yeolands Lane, took on the Sunday School. Mrs. Scott was also helped with local drama productions.
In the 1990s, drama in the Church was revived with two productions of ‘The Gift’, a Christmas musical by Graham Kendrick, the first of these was produced by Andrew Steven and the second by Melanie Pierce, of North Lodge, Buckland Abbey.
In 1980, a long-standing problem with damp in the west wall was cured by a repair to the bell turret. There had been a move to pull down the turret,but this was strongly resisted by the local residents as it is such a feature of the Church and important in the village scene, especially when looking down on the Village from above. Although not licensed for weddings, Jeremy & Elizabeth Rickeard were married there on July 8th, 1995, by special licence.
The Church congregation come from the Village, Crapstone, Buckland, Lopwell and Maristow. An average of some 20 people are in church at 9.15am on Sunday morning. In a small church like Milton Combe a few people joining or leaving can make a big difference.
New gates to the churchyard have been given in memory of Mr. & Mrs. Frank Downing and Admiral Vernon Magniac of Cumerew and wrought iron gates to the church porch were given by Mrs. Keys in memory of Captain Keys.
The Men’s Reading Room
The Men’s Reading Room was begun by Mrs Hannah Phillips, a tenant of Buckland Abbey and later of Bickham. In 1903, she bought the premises, having previously rented them from Miss Emma Lakeman. In 1907, she left Devon and sold the Reading Room, together with its contents, to Lady Eliott Drake of Buckland Abbey. (The late Mr. Dick White recalled that Mrs. Phillips provided an annual New Year dinner in the Reading Room, when some 50 men sat down to roast beef and plum pudding)
In 1914, Lady Eliott Drake had the the Reading Room rebuilt. Old people remember that newspapers were supplied when people could not afford their own. In fact Mrs Phillips continued to send magazines and books, even after she had moved to Oxfordshire.
In 1924, Lady Eliott Drake died and in her will, left money on trust for the upkeep of the Reading Room and for ‘the benefit of the population of Milton Combe and neighbourhood’. The Trust still exists, producing a small income, administered by the Trustees, who are at present Richard White and Gordon Stansbury, together with the Vicar of the Parish.
When no longer needed as a Men’s Reading Room, the building was used by Milton Combe Football Club. During WWII, Minnie Grainger remembered that gas masks and emergency rations were stored there. By 1972 however, no one used it and as it was thought to make a dangerous corner at the bottom of the hill, it was sold to Devon County Council for £50 and subsequently demolished. Nevertheless, people were sad to see it go, but glad that the slates and roof timbers could be re-used in some way. In its place there is a wall with the Parish Council notice board and other notices. In front is the village WWII memorial.
The War Memorial
It was realised that the only memorial to the seven men of Milton Combe who lost their lives in the war was a list of names in the pub. In 1977, in honour of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee, a small granite pillar with the names inscribed on the top was placed on the Reading Room site.
On Remembrance Sunday a growing number of people gather with the Vicar to sing a hymn, say some prayers and lay a wreath. Of the men who died, five were in the Royal Navy.
Electricity reached the village before WWII but mains water did not come until the 1950s, when there were 5 standpipes around the village. Some houses had wells. Minnie Grainger, living in Victoria Terrace, remembered their drinking water coming from a spring in the hillside. Other water had to be fetched and carried. She said that her brother Leonard Grainger, a Parish Councillor, was influential in getting a water supply to the village.
Mains drainage came in the summer of 1959. A field at the south end of the-village, now known as the Sewer Field, contains the treatment works. Before mains drainage, the brook, which runs so merrily through the village, was the sewer. If houses near the brook had drains, they went straight into it, as did the contents of the buckets from the outdoor privies. It is recalled that fish and eels flourished on the organic matter.
When the brook was running fast with plenty of oxygen, it may have been alright, but when the water was low, the weather hot and flies plentiful, it cannot have been very pleasant. Miss Brenda Partridge, then a health visitor, used to worry about watercress gatherers downstream, but no case of typhoid or serious illness is known to have occurred. The brook is now used for more salubrious purposes, like the Duck Race and the Brook Race.
Feet, bicycle or horse & cart were the early options for transport to and from the Village! Children aged 8 and over, walked to School in Buckland Monachorum during the early years of the twentieth century. Bad weather or poor health meant that they did not go. Later they went in a horse & cart driven by Mrs. Oxenham. The horse was stabled near to Mill Cottages.
An excerpt from the Buckland School log book on June 8th 1923, states that ‘the infants from Milton Combe arrived in a very agitated state. The horse behaved so badly that the children got out and walked. At one point the cart almost overturned’.
In the late 1920s or early 1930s, a Devon Motor Transport bus came to the top of the hill. This went on for over 50 years, with people walking up the steep hill to catch the bus.
In 1984, a transport revolution arrived in the form of a minibus called the ‘Dartmoor Pony’, which used to come down the hill into the village. This service continues today although several different bus companies have run the service over the years. Most people have a car these days, but the bus is invaluable to those without one. A survey carried out in summer 1999 by Buckland, Crapstone and Milton Combe Residents’ Association, found that 92.7% of Milton Combe people had at least one car!
The Milton Brook Reservoir Scheme brought new roads into the neighbourhood and closed one old one. A giant underground pumping station for South West Water Authority was constructed at Lopwell, but the dam and reservoir proposed for the Milton Brook valley was never to be.
Work began in the Spring of 1978. The contractors, E. Thomas, had their base in front of Lillipit farmhouse, (now demolished). The track above the village to the west, leading to Gnatts Farm, was widened to make a public highway, which continued down into the valley by a new steep hill carved through woodland. The lane from the village joins it at the bottom. From there on to Lillipit the lane was widened and a further stretch of new road constructed to connect with Watery Lane and Maristow Cross. By 1982, the old road to Lopwell was closed near Pilgrim Cottage.
Milton Combe has benefited from the new road, which takes through traffic away from the village, but it has also encouraged commuters from Bere Alston, Buckland, Crapstone and Milton Combe to use that route. At rush hour times beware!
At the beginning of the twentieth century there was a licensed house and a beerhouse in the Village. In fact older people can quote a rhyme;
Who’d Have Thought It, Abraham Beer
First And Last, John Spear
The strange name, “Who’d Have Thought It”, is said to have come from the landlord’s amazement at being granted a full licence. In the 1891 census, Abraham Beer is described as ‘licensed victualler’ and John Spear of the First and Last as ‘beerhouse keeper and grocer’.
An undated view of the Who’d Have Thought It.
The steep hill is the main route into and out of the Village
The ‘First And Last’ was very close to the ‘Who’d Have Thought It’, being on the opposite side of the brook from it. After the First and Last closed as a pub, it became a shop and then in 1946, it became a shop and Post Office combined. Sadly, it eventually closed completely in 1986. Recently, it has been renovated and is now a private house. It has considerably altered in appearance whilst still apparently complying with listed building rules.
The ‘Who’d Have Thought It’ today, is a popular country pub in a pretty village, attracting visitors from far and wide. Extensions to the building and a car park have been made in the later part of this century. It is a listed building, and is thought to have originally been a farm.
The Post Office
A sub-Post Office is first mentioned in Kelly’s Directory of 1914, when Thomas Dockett, a farmer, was sub-Post Master. In 1923, Mrs Louisa Dockett was Post Mistress. After her death, her daughter, Mrs. Florrie Sims took on the job. The Post Office was then at her house, No. 1 Leys Villas.
In 1946, Mr. & Mrs. Hodgman settled in the village in order to run the Shop and Post Office under the same roof, (where they also lived). They were not Devonians, but became very much part of the village and were members of the Methodist Chapel. Mr Hodgman died in the 1970s and his wife carried on alone, until retiring in 1986.
In 1987, Mr Don Field, (also new to the village) opened a Post Office in an adapted garage at the South end of the Village, where he also stocked a few shop items as well. When he reached retirement age in 1992, that was the end of the Post Office – and any kind of shop in the village.
Footnote: in the very last weeks of the twentieth century, an innovation appeared in the village. A Mobile Post Office comes to the Village once a week for half an hour or so. This is much appreciated by those without a car.
Within living memory, there have been 3 shops and 1 Tea Room in Milton Combe. In the late 1920s and 1930s, ‘Auntie’ Reddicliffe kept a shop and Richard White remembers the paraffin-flavoured sweets! Apparently George Reddicliffe would plunge a hand into the sweet jar to serve a child, having just measured out paraffin for another customer! After them came Mr. & Mrs. Bray.
Mrs. Ellen Kirby had a shop and ‘Valley Tea Rooms’ in her house and garden in the Village street. Richard White remembers his mother sending him up to Valley Tea Rooms for ham to make a sandwich for any unexpected visitor!
In the early 1950s, a Mrs. Kirby was selling small toys, crayons, notebooks and drawing books etc, but she gave up in the late 1950s.
Finally, Mrs. Creber had a sweet shop in her cottage next to the barn of ‘Hams & Waters’ and Kelly’s Directory of 1923 lists Joseph Creber as a shopkeeper in Milton Combe.