Journal 22. Downloaded from the Council for British Archaeology (South-West) website. http://www.britarch.ac.

uk/cbasw/

THE HIDDEN AND LOST INDUSTRIES OF COMBE MARTIN
Trevor Dunkerley
The topography of the Combe Martin valley in 2008 offers little insight into its past industrial heritage other than a medieval agricultural background of well preserved fossilized medieval strip fields and burgage plots 1 . This North Devon landscape has healed from the scars of past industrial activity. From the 17th to the 20th century, the south side of the valley slopes were dotted with

Figure 8-1: Combe Martin valley looking approximately north-east. Photograph: Trevor Dunkerley

limestone quarries and 19 lime kilns 2 , whilst the north side, on the slates, the valley slopes bore evidence of intermittent silver/lead mining and smelting from the 13th to the 19th century 3 . This latter industry was very much of a ‘boom and bust’ nature 4 . Unlike other villages around Exmoor 5 , there was no documentary evidence to suggest the presence of fulling mills in Combe Martin, although research on early field names told another story. The names ‘Hemp Hay’, ‘Flax Hay’ and ‘Rack Park’ were discovered, the
1 2

Dunkerley T, 2005 Devon Historic Environment Record 3 Paynter, S, Dunkerley, T, and Claughton, P, 2003 4 Claughton, P, 1989 5 Gillard, J M, 2002

Journal 22. Downloaded from the Council for British Archaeology (South-West) website. http://www.britarch.ac.uk/cbasw/

Journal 22. Downloaded from the Council for British Archaeology (South-West) website. http://www.britarch.ac.uk/cbasw/

former two being in much abundance 6 . This raised the question of whether major industries of rope, sailcloth and wool production in the village had been overshadowed during the medieval and post medieval periods by the ‘romance’ of silver production, with knowledge of these former industries lost to memory and record. Archaeological excavation has suggested this to be the case. Excavation commenced in 2003 on a site which had purported to be the mill pond of a silver/lead mining complex. Documentary evidence revealed the purchase of an iron waterwheel at the beginning of the 19th century to pump water from the mines being driven by

water from the mill pond 7 . A newspaper report advised of the drowning in the mill pond of the
Figure 8-2: Composite of Combe Martin activities: Main Picture (centre): The hemp pool west wall. 6 Clockwise from top Tithe Apportionment M 1842 Combe Martin left: Contexts of water-borne sediments; The Excavators; Inclusive and 7 accessible; Visitors try 1816 hand – National Archaeology Week, 2008. All photographs: Trevor The Woolmers Gazette their Dunkerley. Journal 22. Downloaded from the Council for British Archaeology (South-West) website. http://www.britarch.ac.uk/cbasw/

Journal 22. Downloaded from the Council for British Archaeology (South-West) website. http://www.britarch.ac.uk/cbasw/

son of the blacksmith of the silver/lead mining complex 8 . Five years of excavation in a most unlikely topography, and considerable documentary research has determined 9 , that the mill pond of a mining complex started its industrial beginnings as a purpose stone built hemp retting pool 10 . It was of massive proportions, probably of monastic origin, with an associated hemp processing mill 11 , and dating from the early 12th century with pottery sherds of this date discovered in the lower context silts of the pool 12 . Sometime during the 15th century the mill converted to the fulling of cloth and the retting pool probably became redundant. In the early 19th century the mill converted again to the pumping of water from the mines, but this venture quickly failed, and the mill pond was used for a period to provide water for hydraulic pumps on the lower slopes of the valley. By the late 19th century, the pond became a convenient dumping ground for mining wastes and was returned to agricultural use by 1890. Archaeology CMSMRPS (Combe Martin Silver Mine Research and Preservation Society) is a Community Archaeology Initiative and is inclusive and accessible to any person who has an interest in archaeology. Archaeology CMSMRPS commenced in 2002 in order to assist with the professional recording of the archaeology of the Mine Tenement site. Further details can be found on its website at http://www.cmsmrps.org.uk . Bibliography:
Allan, J., 1998, The Medieval Pottery from Leyhill, RAM Exeter Claughton P., 1989, ‘The Combe Martin Mines’, in Out of this World and into Combe Martin, Combe Martin Local History Group, Combe Martin, Rotapress Devon Historic Environment Record, Devon County Council Devon Record Office: The Woolmers Gazette 1816: Archives Dunkerley T., 2005, An Early Metalliferous Landscape Set Among Fossilized Medieval Field Strip Systems in Combe Martin, North Devon: A Parish Landscape Study, - Exeter University, Archaeology Department Dunkerley T., 2008, Burgage Plots and Medieval Fossilized Field Strips in Combe Martin, North Devon, forthcoming Gillard J. M., 2002, The Medieval Landscape of the Exmoor Region: Enclosure and Settlement in an Upland Fringe, Thesis (Ph.D) - Exeter University, Archaeology Department North Devon Record Office: 1842 Combe Martin Tithe Apportionment Map B109/1 North Devon Record Office: North Devon Journal 1845: Archives North Devon Record Office: ref: B9/5/31 Paynter, S, Dunkerley, T, and Claughton P, 2003 Lead Smelting Waste from the 2001-2002 Excavations at Combe Martin, Devon, Report 79/2003, Portsmouth Centre for Archaeology, English Heritage

TD
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North Devon Journal 1845 Courtesy of Mrs. Margaret Reed, Researcher, Pilton, Barnstaple 10 Dunkerley T., 2008 11 North Devon Record Office: ref: B9/5/31 12 Allan, J, 1998

Journal 22. Downloaded from the Council for British Archaeology (South-West) website. http://www.britarch.ac.uk/cbasw/