Crowcombe lies at the foot of the steep south-western slopes of the Quantocks - a small village lying off the A358 that runs between Taunton and Williton on the way to Minehead. The present population is about 500 and the parish covers the hamlets of Crowcombe Heathfield, Flaxpool, Halsway, Lawford and Triscombe. It has one shop, a seventeenth-century inn, the Carew Arms, a local first school and a wine merchant as well as a number of small businesses. Despite the lack of shopping facilities it is certainly worth stopping here to view the architecture and take in the ambience of this ancient village. There is a free public car park behind the church house.
Crowcombe was one of the first villages in the country to have a by-pass built. This was organised by the then Lady of the Manor, Mrs Trollope, who did not like the heavy quarry lorries thundering past the gates of Crowcombe Court, from the quarries at Halsway and Triscombe. So Mrs Trollope managed to persuade the County Council to construct the By-pass on land she donated. A ghost is sometimes seen wandering by the edge of the by-pass who is thought to be that of a old lady whose cottage was demolished to make way for it, the cottage was on the edge of the village just where the old road (now closed) meets the bypass, just pasted the new village hall. All that remains is a patch of brambles which were once part of her cottage garden. Although the old lady was re-housed she never recovered from the lost of her beloved cottage and so died of a broken heart not long after. So if you do happen to see her ghostly figure, holding flowers, you now know why she wanders on the bypass.
The first written mention of Crowcombe was in 854, in a document of King Ethelwulf who was father of Alfred the Great, where it was spelt 'Cerawicombe'. Fifty years later some land at 'Crawncombe' was granted to Alfred's son, King Edward the Elder, and appears to have remained in the possession of the Saxon kings, It probably passed to the Earl Godwin and then on to his death to his widow Gytha. Gytha granted the estate to Winchester to atone for her husband’s sins. The Doomsday Book of 1086 gives the name as 'Crawcombe', and the manor as being held by Robert of Mortain. In the 13th century the manor was given the right to hold a market(1227) and the first recorded fair was held in 1234. It was not long after this that the manor was split when part of the estate was willed to the Prioress of Studley, and was held by the Priory until the time of the dissolution 1534. The other half remain in the family and was known as Crowcombe-Biccombe, it was this half that came into the ownership of the Carew’s who were related to the family.
Collinson on a visit in 1781 noted that there used to be more houses but by the time of his visit the market was no longer held and the fair was a poor example.
Crowcombe like the estate of East Quantoxhead has passed to the descendants of the original owners from the de Crowcombe's and Bickhams through a long line of Carews to the Trollope-Bellews of the present. The Carew family has certainly had a great influence over the village, in the early part of the 18th century Sir Thomas Carew who came into his inheritance at the age of 17 decided to rebuild the manor house, the older property was completely demolished, it was slightly higher up on the slope of the hill but no record now remains. Sir Thomas replaced it with a lovely example of 18th century building using brick and golden Ham stone; he ended up selling 6 manors to accomplish it. The house was begun by Thomas Parker of Gittisham, Parker was fired after he took a pot of money from the remains of the old hall; the house was then completed by Nathaniel Ireson of Wincanton.
Sir Thomas also had planted the woods which curves round the house. Together with formal terraced gardens with a couple of rustic follies in the woods, today all that remains of the follies is a fragment of stone arches known as “Cardinal Beaufort’s Chapel” of which part was supposed to have been taken from Halsway Manor.
The house was completed about 1725 , this is the date on the wind vane of the stable court. Sir Thomas’s architect is also thought to have designed Ven House near Sherborne. Sir Thomas married and had 3 daughters but no son. He was a member of parliament for Minhead and enjoyed hunting he had the Stable court built just to the west of the house these contained a host of rooms, the stables were magnificent with great pillared archways forming a stately arcade, a celebration to the time when the horse was king. Over the stable court entrance is a room known as the Harpsichord room (because of its shape) this room was known as being special to Sir Thomas. Today the stable court has been converted into a number of private dwellings.
Crowcombe Court has been a nursing home and today the Court is hired out for weddings and other functions.
The Church of the Holy Ghost
The earliest record of 'The Church of The Holy Ghost' dates from 1226, although there was probably an earlier church dating from Saxon times, and it is believed to be the only church in the country to have this unusual dedication. The first parts to be built were the north wall and the tower, complete with steeple - possibly these were additions to an earlier church. With the exception of the north chapel, the rest of the church is thought to have been built in the early 15th century. The carved bench-ends depict such pagan subjects as the Green Man and the legend of the men of Crowcombe fighting a two-headed dragon are the work of 16th century woodcarvers as is the font which is made from Yellow sandstone. The bowl is beautifully sculptured, and worth a closer examination, on one of the panels is a mitred bishop,an early father of the church holding a church in one hand as well as a nun and a knight in prayer, another panel depicts St Anne reading to the young Virgin Mary and another shows the Virgin Mary crowned. The workers of the 16th century worked with simple tools but they had an artist’s imagination which can still be appreciated.
In December of 1724 the spire was struck by lightning causing extensive damage. The top section of the spire is now planted in the churchyard and stone from the spire was used in the flooring of the church. The south aisle is a fine example of Perpendicular style it is named Sir Godfrey Crowcombe’s aisle. The North aisle houses the private chapel of the Carew's, the entrance from the church is locked and the family has its own entrance into the chapel from the drive of Crowcombe Court. There is a story that if the vicar talked too much then he would get a nudge to get him to stop, this was in the 1990’s!! The chapel has a number of the families’ funeral hatchments displayed on the walls. The chapel was rebuilt in 1665 and the private entrance was added. The Trollope family lost two of their heirs in the world wars of the 20th century, Thomas Carew Trollope died from wounds in the military hospital at Oran in 1915 and his body together with a wreath of French “immortelles”s sent by a French General was interred in the chapel. The Second World War claimed the life of Anthony Trollope-Bellew at El Alamein who was heir to the court.
The Church House
Close to the church is the church house, one of only two in the country still in use as first intended. Originally used for parish functions, it was later used to house the poor of the village on the lower floor, a school on the upper. Having consulted several secondary sources I believe that the church house was built in the early 1500's as a single storey building - any definitive information would be appreciated!
One story goes that the Church house was owned by two separate families the Crowcombe –Studley and the Cowcombe-Biccombe’s one owned the ground floor and the other, the upper storey. The building desperately need a new roof but the owner of the ground floor was not interested and even threatened to demolish his half!! The building survived in the 18th Century the top storey served as a charity school for the “children of Carew’s charity” and the lower half was used as alms houses for the old. Next door to the church house there were built two additional alms houses but these were demolished, but the church house was saved by the hard work of the community and now serves the local community, often holding art exhibitions and other social events.
Crowcombe Village Hall
The village has recently had built a new village hall which is next to the recreation grounds. This building is available to hire for village functions and private parties.
The Carew Arms
Originally known as The Three Lions, the pub owes its name and signboard to the Carew family who became lords of the manor in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. The first Carew to become lord of the manor was Thomas. His great uncle, Vice Admiral George Carew, was captaining the Mary Rose when she sank in Portsmouth harbour during the reign of Henry VIII. The Inn has been under going renovations to improve the accommodation but still retains much of it rural charm. The Inn was for a number of years run by the Lock Family; Mrs Lock ran the pub with her son Cyril, Cyril was a bit of a character, who left most of the work to his mother whilst he did his bit of farming. One story told about Cyril was that he would drive his Hay cart down from the fields at Harvest time and unbeknown to him other harvesters would attach to the bottom of the cart all the dead rats, killed during the cause of the harvesting of the hay. Cyril would be seen driving quickly along looking for the source of the noise as the rats dangled beneath hitting the floor of the wagon and then the road. It was a sight of great amusement to all the villagers.
Crowcombe Church of England First School
The school was built in 1870, until this time the children were housed
in the old church house. The old school was started
as a charity school by the Carew family in the 18th century, "The
children of Carew's Charity" the school used the top floor of the
building. The present school has about 30 pupils aged from 4years to
9 years. The Carew family are still represented on the board of governors
by Mr A Trollope-Bellew, a descendent of The Carew's, who started
the Charity School in the 18th century.
Crowcombe Heathfield West Somerset Railway Station
The first sod of the West Somerset Railway was cut at the site of Crowcombe Heathfield station on 7/4/1859 by Lady Isabel Acland-Hood, the daughter of Sir Peregrine Fuller Palmer Acland, a local landowner. (See ST Audries West Quantoxhead) The station was opened on 31/3/1862 as Crowcombe Heathfield, with one platform. A second platform was added when a passing loop and signal box were built in 1879. When the line was completed, it was operated by the Bristol and Exeter Railway until this in turn was absorbed into the Great Western Railway and eventually nationalised as part of British Rail.
The station, like many, was effected by the ‘rationalisation’ made by BR, which included taking out the passing loop and therefore the signal box too, and generally allowing the station to decline into a very neglected state, until the line was finally closed on 4/1/1971.
The present West Somerset Railway Company has re-opened the line in stages, from its inception in 1976. The section from Stogumber to Bishops Lydeard, including Crowcombe, was re-opened for passenger use on 9/6/1979, (it had had occasional use for filming purposes before then). Crowcombe station buildings and platforms have been restored by a dedicated band of volunteers since 1974 and the passing loop and signal box were re-instated being passed for use in 1994.