Combe Down before Ralph Allen

Monkton Combe

We know there was Roman occupation on Combe Down, as a Roman Villa was found below Belmont Road in 1852. On a stone coffin lid that was found there was the inscription:


This has been translated as:

"For the health of Imperator Caesar Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Pius Felix Invictus Augustus, Naevius the imperial freedman, helped to restore from its foundations the procurator's headquarters which had broken down in ruins."

It is thought to date from AD 212 – 222 or 218 – 222 in the reign of either the emperor Caracalla who ruled from January 212 until April 217, or emperor Elagabalus who ruled from June 218 to March 222. Whilst it is unproven, it’s possible that the Romans had open cast quarries too.

Another notable sign of occupation is the Wansdyke (Wodnes Dic). This is a linear boundary, a 2 – 3 metre high bank, above a 2 – 3 metre ditch, that is 4 – 5 metres wide and about 50 miles long, running from Bristol to Berkshire. It is thought to be prehistoric in origin but modified during the early medieval period (5th – 6th century), when it is believed to have been used as a frontier or boundary between Wessex and Mercia. The West Wansdyke runs from Monkton Combe via Horsecombe and past the Cross Keys, then over Odd Down to the ancient hill fort of Maes Knoll at Dundry Down, South of Bristol.

Monkton Combe was here well before Combe Down Village. It appears in the Domesday Book as “Cume”. Combe is related to the Gaelic Cwm and means a short valley or hollow on a hillside or coastline.

Domesday book entry for Cume

Domesday book entry for Cume

It had: 20 households, 9 geld units, and a value to the lord in 1086 of £8, 6 villagers, 8 smallholders, 6 slaves, 8 ploughlands, 3 lord’s plough teams, 5 men’s plough teams, 6.0 lord’s lands, 32 acres of meadow and 1 * 1 leagues of woodland, 2 mills, value 0.67, 1 cob, 12 pigs, 72 sheep. It belonged to the Bath Abbey.[1]

The down of Combe gets its name from the village of Combe, hence Combe Down. Combe means deep hollow or valley, especially on flank of a hill, probably a British word, from Celtic base – compare the Welsh cwm with the same sense. Down is from the Middle English dūn meaning a hill and then elevated rolling grassland from about 1300. Because it was owned by Bath Abbey (founded in 757) [2] it became known as ‘Monnken Combe’ [3] and then with the Combe either before or after Moncton, Monckton or Monkton. It was probably given to Bath Priory by King Edgar who is said to have brought the Benedictines to Bath Abbey [4]. According to Rev. D. Lee Pitcairn and Rev. Alfred Richardson no monastery existed in Monkton, it was farmed to supply food to the Abbey.[5]

The area of Combe Down Village was a part of Monkton Combe parish until 1839.

There is some evidence of medieval field systems on Combe Down and in Monkton Combe [6], but it was not heavily occupied and was described by John Leland in his visit in the 16th century [7]:

From Farley I ridde a mile of by woddy ground to a graung great and welle buildid, that longid to Henton-priorie of Chartusians. This priory stondith not far of from this graunge on the brow of an hille abouth a quarter of a mile from the farther ripe of Frome, and not far from this place Frome goith ynto Avon. I rodde by the space of a mile or more by woddes and mountaine grounde to a place, where I saw a rude stone waulle hard on the right hond by a great lenghte as it had beene a park waulle. One sins told me that Henton b priory first stode there, if it be so it is the lordship of Hethorpe that was gyven to them for their first habitation. And about a mile farther I cam to a village, 6 and passid over a ston bridge where ranne a litle broke there they caullid Mitford-water. This brooke risith in the rootes of Mendip-hilles a 7 miles or more by West South West from this bridge, and goith about a mile lower into Avon. From this bridge to Bath 2 good miles al by mountayne ground and quarre, and litle wood in syte. About a mile from Bath I left the way that ledith to Bristow for them that use from Saresbyri to Bristow.

In 1791 Collinson said about Monkton Combe [8]:

“THIS place is generally called Monkton-Combe, the adjunct being placed first; but its simple proper name is Combe, the other having been added to signify its belonging to the monks of Bath, and to distinguish it from other places of a similar appellation. It is situated three miles South from Bath, and bounded, by a rivulet from Midford, which divides it from Limpley-Stoke in the county of Wilts. The number of houses is fifty-three, and of inhabitants about two hundred and eighty. The village stands near the bottom of the Southern declivity of a hill, called after its name Combe-down, which rises with a steep ascent to the North and cast. On the South side of the street is a narrow picturesque vale, watered by the stream above- mentioned, which after turning a corn-mill empties itself into the Avon. The opposite hill, which rises near five hundred feet from the bottom of the vale, is divided into fine inclosures, patched with beautiful hanging coppice woods, and highly cultivated. To the right as you enter the village, and about three hundred feet above the street, is an elegant mansion called Combe-Grove, belonging to Mrs. Simpson of Bath. This house stands on a natural terrace, a little below the Southern ridge of Combe-down hill. The back ground is a thick wood, which forms a small segment of a circle, in the centre of which the house is erected. The prospect from this spot, over the vale and the slope of the opposite range of hills, is very beautiful;”

However, he then went on to say:

“……….The manor of Combe is thus described in the Norman survey, among the estates of the church of Bath: "The church itself holds Cume. In the time of King Edward it gelded for "nine hides". The arable is eight carucates. Thereof in demesne are six hides, and there "are three carucates, and six servants, and six villanes, and eight cottagers, with five ploughs". There are two mills of thirteen shillings and sixpence rent, and "thirty-two acres of meadow, and one mile of coppice wood in length and breadth." It was worth seven pounds, now eight pounds." In 1293, the temporalities of the abbey here were valued at 4.1.b After the dissolution of monasteries, king Henry VIII by letters patent bearing date March 16, 1542, granted the manor of Combe to Humphrey Colles[9] who soon after sold it to Matthew Colthurst. Reverting to the crown, it was granted, 6 Eliz. to John Robinson, of Gravesend in Kent, esq; whose descendant John Robinson, esq; of Durston-hall in the county of Suffolk, sold it in the year 1706 to Mr. Francis Poole of this place, who bequeathed it to his son-in-law Thomas Shute, gent. In this family it continued till about the year 1772, when Mr. Thomas Whittenton purchased it of his brother-in-law Mr. Thomas Shute, and sold it immediately after to the rev. Richard Graves, A. M. rector of Claverton, who is the present owner.”

The ownership list after “dissolution of the monasteries” has been repeated numerous times since [10], though Pitcairn & Richardson say it was owned by a Thomas Poole (who was Francis Poole’s son) rather than Francis Poole:

“Combe was the property of Bath Abbey until the Dissolution, passing into the hands of Humfrey Colles in 1542 and then to Matthew Colthurst. The manor reverted to the crown until 1564 when Eliz ll granted it to John Robinson of Gravesend. His descendant John Robinson of Durston Hall Suffolk sold it in 1706 to Thomas Poole of Combe. He bequeathed it to his son-in-law Thomas Shute and in 1722 it was sold to Thomas Shute's brother-in-law Thomas Whittenden who immediately sold it to Rev Richard Graves, Rector of Claverton.”

The ownership of the manor by Richard Graves is repeated in the Dictionary of National Biography [11]:

“Through his preferments and scholars he gradually acquired considerable means, and among his purchases was the manor of Combe in Combe Monckton……”

However, a deed amongst the Vaughan-Jenkins family papers in the Bath Record Office dated 25th October 1706 actually shows that there was an assignment from: John Robinson Esquire of Denston Hall, Suffolk, son & heir of Sir John Robinson of Denston Hall, knight, deceased and Humphrey Saunders, gentleman, of Saint Margaret’s, Westminster, Middlesex and Francis Poole, yeoman, Thomas Shute, yeoman, both of Monkton Combe, William Wiltshire, yeoman, of Lyncombe & Widcombe, John Ward, yeoman, John Fisher, broadweaver, William Tibbott, yeoman, James Gracey, yeoman, William Merchant, broadweaver, Joseph Silcock, broadweaver, Mary & Ann Deverell, spinsters, Richard Silcock, broadweaver and Francis Charmbury, yeoman late tenants of the Manor of Monkton Combe to Andrew Innys, gentleman of Clements Inn, Middlesex and Martin Innys, gentleman, his son of the remainder of a 500 year lease of the Lordship and Manor of Monkton Combe for a consideration of £726 5s. [12]

John Robinson Esquire (1680 – 1734) of Denston Hall, Suffolk, son & heir of Sir John Robinson (1654 – 1704) of Denston Hall was indeed a descendant of John Robinson of Gravesend (1581-1674) [13] who was the son of John Robinson of London (1545 – 1609) who owned the manors of Monkton Combe and Wedmore. [14]

Other than that he was, obviously, a lawyer, all I have established about Andrew Innys is that on 29th April 1669 at Bath Abbey, an Andrew Innys (b.1645) married Joane Randall (b.1648), who was the daughter of Robert Randall, who was the son of Matthew Randall (1571 – 1641), who was a Mayor of Bath.

Here we should differentiate between a feudal ‘Lordship and Manor’ and a house called a manor. Lord Denning described the feudal manor thus [15]:

“In mediaeval times the manor was the nucleus of English rural life. It was an administrative unit of an extensive area of land. The whole of it was owned originally by the lord of the manor. He lived in the big house called the manor house. Attached to it were many acres of grassland and woodlands called the park. These were the “demesne lands” which were for the personal use of the lord of the manor. Dotted all round were the enclosed homes and land occupied by the “tenants of the manor”.

The manor of Combe referred to as being granted by Henry VIII is the feudal manor derived from the crown which, even in the 18th and 19th centuries, would have had value. Lordship of a manor carried rights over land within the manor, even land that was in the hands of tenants, such as the right to:

  • hunt wild animals on the demesne and wastes of the manor.
  • require tenants to grind their grain at the Lord’s mill for payment.
  • the minerals under copyhold land.
  • the unenclosed manorial waste or common land which remained in its semi-natural state and not assigned to any individual. Uses such as pasture, turbary (cutting turf or peat) and estovers (use of wood) were allowed on manorial waste but other uses incurred payment of rent to the Lord.
  • wild fish in rivers and lakes and payment from people fishing.
  • Woodland where there was a distinction between timber (wood generally over 24″ round) and underwood (the scrub and bushes). Tenants usually had the right to take underwood growing on their lands but lords retained the right to timber growing on copyhold land, as well as the rights to woodland.

So, it seems Andrew Innys bought the feudal manor in 1706. What happened to it after that I have not established.

The feudal manor did, of course, have a manor house. The original manor was likely to have been what is now known as Monk’s Retreat. [16] It is possible Francis or Thomas Poole bought the feudal manor from Andrew Innys. If it was Thomas (rather than Francis) Poole, then his will [17] in 1765 mentions Shute House which Pitcairn & Richardson suggest [18] became The Manor House at Monkton Combe.

It is also clear, from the same Vaughan-Jenkins papers at Bath Record Office, that John Robinson sold other property to Thomas Shute on 14th / 15th June 1706 namely:

"a messuage, 2 orchards, 2 gardens, another messuage with a shop orchard and garden and several plots of ground called the Backside, Elm Mead adjoining the malthouse, Pittlands, Hither Binmeade, Father Binmeade, The Croft, Townesend Close, Gidmeade, Tucking Mill Leaze with decayed house formerly a fulling mill, Motley Hill, New Leaze, The Horsecombes, Charmeade, Millham, Hurlihgham and arable lands in East and West fields for a consideration of £388 10s".[19]

On the same date he sold to Francis Poole:

a messuage with backside, stable, barn, oxhouse and wainhouse, 2 orchards, 2 gardens, a water grist mill and a cottage with several plots of ground called the Barne with orchard adjoining the Croft, The Ham, Charmeade, Didfords, Grove Forest, The Horsecombes, Damsk aly, Croft Acre, Binmeade and arable lands in East and West fields for a consideration of £338.[20]

So, before Ralph Allen’s arrival Monkton Combe was an agricultural area with some important local houses whilst Combe Down itself had some quarries and probably some grazing.

Combe Grove Manor

Combe Grove Manor

Combe Grove Manor has existed from about 1700, though it is possible that there was a house on the site before that. Pitcairn & Richardson say about Combe Grove Manor [21]:

“….The House which commands fine views to the South was built about the year 1707……..Combe Grove was purchased in 1783 by Mr William Davis, who three years later married Elizabeth Jenkyns, daughter and heiress of William Jenkyns, lord of the manor of Priston and at his death he bequeathed it with the Priston estate to his nephew William Vaughan…………….The name and armorial bearings of Vaughan and Jenkins were subsequently combined by Royal license in 1814.”

Before William Davies bought Combe Grove Manor it went through a number of hands as the same Vaughan-Jenkins papers at Bath Record Office make clear.

The deed selling Combe Grove Manor to William Davies of 2nd February 1786 tells us that:

“…formerly called The Grove, Grove Hill, Gruddy Bottom, Pittlands Tyning, Woodwards Tyning or Morris’s, Sheppard’s Piece, Quarry Sands, 2 messuages a barn and street adjoining, The Tyning with oxhouse and stable, Keymead, Shute Croft Tyning, a tyning at Woodwards Corner adjoining Claverton Gate, Woodwards and Crab Tree Tyning but now known as Combe Grove House…”[22]

was sold to William Davies (abt 1725 – abt 1798). This allows us, assuming that The Grove is the area where the house is located, to piece together who owned it previously, even if not all the land mentioned is exactly the same.

Thus, on 14th and 15th June 1706 John Robinson Esquire of Denston Hall, Suffolk sold for £299 10s, by lease and release to William Tibbott, yeoman:

“… a messuage with yard, garden 2 orchards and lands called the Grove with orchard adjoining.”[23]

On 26th August 1706 William Tibbot and Edward Bird of Bristol, mariner sold it on a 1,000 year lease, for £400 by bargain and sale to Johanna Jefferies of Bath, widow and security of title was granted on 11th May 1710 for £220. [24]

On 30th September 1712 Johanna Jefferies and William Tibbot sold a share to William Robbins for £100. [25]

On 31st March 1716 William Tibbot and William Robbins made an assignment, presumably of their share to Francis Charmbury, yeoman of Monkton Combe for £140. [26]

On 18th April 1720 William Tibbot, Francis Charmbury made an assignment with bond to Richard Clement, yeoman of Stowford for £220.

On 22nd March 1725 William Tibbot, Richard Clement and Samuel Clement of yeoman of Southstoke, made an assignment to Samuel Charmbury yeoman of Monkton Combe and Richard Dike, gentleman, of Waterhouse for £500 and on 23rd and 24th March 1725 William Tibbott leased and released it to Samuel Charmbury for £500. He in turn seems to have taken a mortgage of £300 from Thomas Dicke for this. [27]

On 7th September 1733 Samuel Charmbury and Thomas Dicke assigned it, for £337 10s to William Battell of Foscote, Wiltshire, clerk with Dorothy Dame Hesilrige of Bath, widow, as trustee. [28]

In August 1743 there was a bargain and sale and mortgage on the marriage of the Reverend William Battell to Elizabeth Davies with William Battell placing it in trust for his wife with John Davies, gentleman (and brother of Elizabeth Davies) of the New House, Herefordshire, the Reverend James Poole of Stretton Grantham, Hereforshire and the Reverend John Davies of Much Cowan, Herefordshire.

On 1st November 1770 there was a bargain and sale from William Battell, of the Hay in the county of Brecon, only son and heir of William Battell, of the parish of Monkton Combe, to Christopher Hull, gentleman, of Hare Court in the Inner Temple and then on 12th and 13th April 1771 a lease and release, for £1,590, by William Battell to Charles Simpson, gentleman of Bath. [29]

Combe Grove Manor from the Bath Chronicle, Thursday 17 February 1780

Combe Grove Manor from the Bath Chronicle, Thursday 17 February 1780

Combe Grove Manor was for lease in 1780 and for sale in 1781 and remained unsold for some time, appearing regularly in the Bath Chronicle.

On 26th March 1782 there was a lease for 6 years for £97 from Ann Simpson of Bath, widow to William Davies Esquire of Priston, Somerset of a messuage known as Combe Grove and…..

On 21st and 22nd November 1783 there was a conveyance agreement with declaration, for £1,900 consideration and £87 rent between Ann Simpson and Richard and William Turner, both merchants of Bristol for Combe Grove and several plots of ground.

On 2nd February 1786 there was a conveyance between Charles Simpson Esquire of Madras, India eldest son and heir of Charles Simpson Esquire of Bath, deceased, Ann Simpson and William Davies of Combe Grove for the conveyance of the house and lands for £1,900. [30]

It’s a complicated story and is in fact more complex as there are a range of mortgages and other documents not mentioned above.

However, in simple terms, Combe Grove Manor was owned in about 1700 by the Robinsons of Denston Hall, Suffolk. Clearly when Sir John Robinson (1654 – 1704) died his son determined to sell off some properties. How long they had the land in Monkton I have not established.

Over the next 30 years it was sold and resold until the Rev William Batell (abt 1692 – 1750) took possession in 1733. He was first married to Dorothy Hesilrige (d.1741) a daughter of Sir Robert Hesilrige, 5th Baronet, of Noseley Hall, Leicester whose father had married Dorothy Greville, sister of Robert Greville (1607 – 1643), 2nd Baron Brooke. The Reverend Battell came from a clerical family. His grandfather, father, son (by Elizabeth Davies his second wife), two uncles and a cousin were all parsons. The Reverend Battell was curate of Combe Hay and then rector of both Camerton and Kilve from 1735/6 to his death.

Combe Grove from the Bath Chronicle, Thursday 22 November 1781

Combe Grove from the Bath Chronicle, Thursday 22 November 1781

During his ownership of Combe Grove John Wesley (1703 – 1791), co founder of the Methodist movement, preached there several times [31].

William Davies (abt 1725 – abt 1798) took possession in 1786 and continued acquiring land in Monkton Combe. His death at Combe Grove is mentioned in the Bath Chronicle of Thursday 6th September 1798, as are the facts that he was made a Sheriff of Somersetshire in the edition of Thursday 19th November 1795, a governor of Bath General Hospital in the edition of Thursday 9th May 1793 and that he had made his payment for his game duty certificate in the edition of Thursday 11th October 1787.

In his will [32] William Davies leaves:

“…my Capital Mansion House, Farm and Lands called Coombe Grove situate in the Parish of Monkton Coombe in the said County of Somerset”

to his wife for the term of her life and then to his nephew William Vaughan (abt 1752 – 1818) the son of his sister Elizabeth [33]. In 1811 William Vaughan married Caroline Elizabeth Golding (1791 – 1857). In 1814 William Vaughan was granted a royal license to change his name to Vaughan-Jenkins. After he died his wife remarried to Humphrey May Freestun (1790 – 1863) who had served in the Royal Navy reaching the rank of Commander.

The Vaughan-Jenkins family owned Combe Grove Manor until 1968 rarely living in the house but letting it to tenants. They also owned Priston Manor as William Davies had married Elizabeth Jenkyns, whose father owned Priston Manor having bought it in about 1756. [34]

St. Michael and All Angels Church

St. Michael and All Angels Church

Rebuilding Monkton Combe church from the Bath Chronicle, Thursday 1 September 1864

Rebuilding Monkton Combe church from the Bath Chronicle, Thursday 1 September 1864

St. Michael and All Angels Church is probably the longest occupied site in Monkton Combe. Collinson in 1791 says:

“The church is a small structure, fifty feet in length, and sixteen in breadth, covered with tiles; at the West end, in a little open stone turret, hang two small bells. It is dedicated to St. Michael.”[35]

This church was replaced in 1814, but when the Reverend Francis Pocock arrived in 1863 he soon determined that the replacement was too small and to build a larger church. He launched a rebuilding fund that soon had people arranging lectures, [36] bazaars [37] and other events. Tenders to build the church were requested in 1864 [38] and it was opened on Tuesday 4th July 1865 with £350 still to be subscribed. [39] The total cost was £1,533 [40] and the architect was Charles Edmund Giles (1822 – 1881) of Frome. On 5th July 1868 an anniversary service was held and a sale of work was arranged after it to help pay off the debt of £250 on the new school house. [41]

In 1880 – 1882 a new North aisle was added, designed by Edwin Henry Lingen Barker (1838-1917) of Hereford [42] In 1885 £350 was spent on replacing the old organ with a new one from Henry Jones & Sons. [43] 

In 1902 proposals were made to enlarge the burial ground, as Holy Trinity on Combe Down had never had one. [44]

By 1904 land had been purchased to extend the graveyard in Monkton Combe. [45] Eight bells by John Taylor & Co were added to the tower at St. Michael in 1927. [46]

N. B. You can find out who is buried at St. Michael and All Angels Church on the BRO Monkton Combe burials page.