A History of the County of Hampshire: Volume 4. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1911.
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Cumbe (xi cent.); Cumba, Coumbe (xiii cent.).
Combe is a small parish covering an area of 2,212 acres of down country and situated 6 miles southeast from Hungerford station on the Great Western Railway. The general rise of the ground is from south to north, a height of 975 ft. above the ordnance datum being reached on Walbury Camp in the extreme north, but nowhere does it fall below a height of 500 ft. The village lies in the centre of the parish in a hollow of the downs at a height of about 600 ft. above the ordnance datum. Combe Wood takes up the whole of the south-western portion of the parish. The soil is rather heavy, the subsoil is chalk. The chief crops grown in the parish are wheat, barley, oats and turnips.
The manor of COMBE, which had been held of King Edward the Confessor by a certain Edric, at the time of the Domesday Survey was held by Ernulf de Hesding, who had come to England with the Conqueror and had been rewarded by the gift of large possessions. (fn. 1) After his death his widow Emmelina granted Combe to the abbey of Bec Hellouin in Normandy, and this gift was confirmed by King Henry II. (fn. 2) Towards the end of the 12th century the manor was attached to the convent of Benedictine monks from Bec established at Ogbourne (co. Wilts.), which became the richest cell in England to the Norman Abbey. (fn. 3) Although the manor was often seized into the king's hands with the property of the other alien priories during the wars with France, (fn. 4) it continued the property of the Prior and convent of Ogbourne until the reign of Henry IV, (fn. 5) who in 1404 granted all the possessions of the priory to his third son, John of Lancaster, constable of England, (fn. 6) afterwards Duke of Bedford. On the death of the duke without issue in 1435 it passed to his nephew and heir, Henry VI, (fn. 7) who the next year granted it for life, together with the manor of Monxton, to Ralph le Sage, lord of St. Pierre, in consideration of his services to Henry V and to himself. (fn. 8) Ralph le Sage died in 1437, and in the same'year the king granted Combe and Monxton to his chaplain, Guillaume Erard, and his clerk and secretary, John de Rinel, (fn. 9) 'in consideration of their long service whereby they had been drawn from their birthplace and had lost all their living, to wit: Guillaume his benefices and patrimony and John his inheritance and possessions.' (fn. 10) In 1439, shortly after the death of Guillaume Erard, John was confirmed in the possession of the manors, (fn. 11) and he was still seised of them in 1441, in which year Henry VI granted the reversion of them after his death in free alms to the king's college of St. Nicholas, Cambridge (fn. 12) —now known as King's College. The provost and scholars of the college continued in possession of Combe until February 1894, when they sold it to the present owner, Mr. Alfred Clayton Cole. (fn. 13)
The old manor-house, lying north of the church, is a simple rectangular building, now deserted and ruinous, and said to be haunted. It is chiefly of 18th-century date, with plaster panelling in some of the rooms. The main front faces east, and has had two gables, now hidden by plaster and the raising of the walls, and the staircase is of 17th-century work with heavy newels and turned balusters.
In 1253 the Abbot and convent of Bec obtained a grant of free warren in their demesne lands in the manor of Combe, provided that the lands were not within the royal forest. (fn. 14) The Prior of Ogbourne claimed pillory, tumbril and other liberties within the manor in 1280. (fn. 15)
The church of ST. SWITHUN consists of a chancel 20 ft. 2 in. by 14 ft. 4 in., nave 44 ft. 10 in. by 14 ft. 6 in., south porch and a timber west tower.
The nave dates from the second half of the 12th century, although it is possible that the north wall, which is thicker than the others, may be a later rebuilding. The chancel was rebuilt and widened in the 13 th century. None of the early windows in the nave have survived; the west doorway is of the 13 th century and the south doorway is doubtless contemporary with the porch, which is dated 1652, but has a ring of re-used 12th-century stones in its arch.
The nave was re-roofed early in the 16th century and the chancel early in the 17th, and in modern times the whole of the north side of the church has been refaced and the interior replastered.
The east window of the chancel is of mid-13th-century date altered early in the 14th century. In the head are the remains of a circular 13th-century opening with a beaded edge, partly cut into by the ogee trefoiled heads of the two lights: the whole appears to have been clumsily reset, and the moulded label runs in a broken curve. Below the window is a moulded string, and at the east angles are pairs of short buttresses.
In the north wall are two lancet windows with widely-splayed inner jambs and chamfered external jambs; they are partly restored. In the south wall is a similar lancet to the east and to the west a doorway with a two-centred chamfered arch and a hollow moulded label, both being contemporary with the wall. On the doorway is a sundial.
The chancel arch is built of chalk in large blocks and has a plain pointed arch of a single order with square-edged hollow-chamfered abaci which look like late 12th-century work.
In the wall on either side of the arch are plain rectangular recesses probably for images over the nave altars, or they may be blocked squints. The face of the wall to the south of the chancel arch has been cut back. In this jamb is set a chamfered slab of Purbeck marble looking like part of an altar-stone.
The first and second of the north windows of the nave are modern and similar in design to the first south window, which is a 15th-century insertion of three cinquefoiled lights under a square head. The north doorway is now blocked up and has been wholly restored outside; it is similar to that south of the chancel. The third north window is also a modern one of two plain square-headed lights; the second south window west of the porch looks like a 13th-century light to which a second light has been added. The south doorway dates from 1652; it has brick jambs and a head of re-used 12th-century stones; the porch is of red brick and has a round-headed outer doorway with the date (1652) in lead figures on a panel above it. The west doorway now opens into the tower; it has a flat four-centred head and chamfered jambs. The tower is of wood on a flint and stone foundation of the width of the nave but setting back on both north and south sides with tiles to form the bell chamber above, which is covered with oak shingles and has a pyramidal roof.
The roof of the chancel is of flat pitch, all the timbers having simple ovolo mouldings with carved bosses at the middle of the tie-beams. The work is probably of c. 1600. The nave has a low-pitched roof of late Gothic detail with moulded ties, ridge and purlins.
Some 16th-century linen pattern panels are worked into the reading desk, and the altar rails are 18th-century balusters, but otherwise the furniture is modern, except the font, which is of very good proportions, with a plain round bowl on an octagonal stem with moulded necking. The base has broach stops bringing it to a square. Its date is probably c. 1350.
In the chancel floor are three black marble gravestones to John Rawlinson, 1680; his son John, 1724; and Anne Whistler, 1681.
The bells are three in number; the tenor is inscribed 'Give thankes to God. I. W. 1616' (by John Wallis of Salisbury), the second by T. Mears, 1831, and the treble is of pre-Reformation date and is inscribed ' Sancte Laurenti.'
This church has a Sheffield-plated chalice inscribed 'John Newton, churchwarden 1837,'and a Sheffield plated alms dish.
There are three books of registers. The first contains baptisms, marriages and burials 1560 to 1728, with gaps in the marriages 1630 to 1639 and 1643 to 1682. The second contains baptisms and burials 1729 to 1812 and marriages 1729 to 1741. The third contains marriages only, 175 5 to 1812, not the ordinary printed form, but with a printed margin. There are no entries of marriages 1741 to 1755. There are also churchwardens' accounts from 1738 and various loose papers, including affidavits for burials in woollen.
A church existed in Combe at the time of the Domesday Survey. (fn. 16) The advowson was probably included in the grant of the manor to the Abbot and convent of Bee Hellouin, and soon afterwards the rectory was appropriated to the abbey. (fn. 17) The advowson of the vicarage was granted to John of Lancaster at the same time as the manor, and by him was granted, together with other spiritualities formerly belonging to the Prior and convent of Ogbourne, to the Dean and canons of St. George's Chapel, Windsor, (fn. 18) who have presented the vicars up to the present day. (fn. 19)
The National school was restored and reopened in 1894 at the expense of Mr. Alfred Clayton Cole.
In 1859 Robert Skinner by will bequeathed to the minister and churchwardens a legacy represented by £33 6s. 8d. consols with the official trustees, the income to be distributed on Christmas Eve amongst the most needy and deserving poor in bread and money.