Place:Ilfracombe, Devon, England

Alt namesAlfreincomasource: Domesday Book (1985) p 82
Alfreincomesource: Domesday Book (1985) p 82
TypeTown, Urban district
Coordinates51.208°N 4.12°W
Located inDevon, England
See alsoBraunton Hundred, Devon, Englandhundred in which Ilfracombe was located
North Devon District, Devon, Englandmodern district of which Ilfracombe is a part
source: Getty Thesaurus of Geographic Names
source: Family History Library Catalog

the text in this section is copied from an article in Wikipedia

Ilfracombe is a seaside resort and civil parish on the North Devon coast, England with a small harbour, surrounded by cliffs.

The parish stretches along the coast from 'The Coastguard Cottages' in Hele Bay toward the east and 4 miles along The Torrs to Lee Bay toward the west. The resort is hilly and the highest point within the parish boundary is at 'Hore Down Gate', 2 miles inland and 860 feet (270 m) above sea level.

The landmark of Hillsborough Hill dominates the harbour and is the site of an Iron Age fortified settlement. In the built environment, the architectural-award-winning Landmark Theatre is either loved or hated for its unusual double-conical design. The 13th-century parish church, Trinity, and the St Nicholas's Chapel (a lighthouse) on Lantern Hill, have been joined by the Damien Hirst owned statue, Verity, as points of interest.

Ilfracombe was originally in Braunton Hundred. It was an urban district from 1894 until 1974. Since 1974 it has been part of the district municipality known as the North Devon District.


the text in this section is copied from an article in Wikipedia

Ilfracombe has been settled since the Iron Age, when the Dumnonii Celts established a hill fort on the dominant hill, Hillsborough (formerly Hele's Barrow). The origin of the town's name has two possible sources. The first is that it is a derivative of the Anglo-Saxon Alfreinscoma - by which name it was noted in the Liber Exoniensis of 1086. The translation of this name (from Walter William Skeat of the department of Anglo Saxon at Cambridge University) means the "Valley of the sons of Alfred". The second origin is that the name Ilfracombe was derived from Norse illf (bad), Anglo-Saxon yfel (evil ford) and Anglo-Saxon cumb (valley) perhaps from a Celtic source (compare Welsh cwm), thus 'The valley with the bad ford'.

The manor house at Chambercombe in east Ilfracombe was recorded in the 1086 Domesday Book as being built by a Norman knight Champernon (from Chambernon in France) who landed with William of Normandy. It is also said to be haunted.

Ilfracombe comprised two distinct communities; a farming community around the parish church called Holy Trinity, parts of which date from the 12th century, and a fishing community around the natural harbour formed between Capstone, Compass and Lantern Torrs. It is recorded that the lands by the church were part of the estate owned by Champernowne family, while those by the harbour belonged to the Bouchier family: Earls of Bath.

Because of the natural layout of the harbour, Ilfracombe became a significant safe port (registered port of refuge) on the Bristol Channel. It also had trade routes between Kinsale and Tenby, which made the port stronger. In 1208 it was listed as having provided King John with ships and men to invade Ireland; in 1247 it supplied a ship to the fleet that was sent to conquer the Western Isles of Scotland; 6 ships, with 79 men were sent to support the siege of Calais. Ilfracombe was the last disembarkation point for two large forces sent to subdue the Irish. The building which sits on Lantern Hill by the harbour, known as St Nicholas's Chapel (built 1361) is reputed to be the oldest working lighthouse in the UK; a light/beacon has been there for over 650 years. The town was also home to the Bowen family. James Bowen was master of the HMS Queen Charlotte, the flagship of Richard, Earl Howe at the 1794 "Glorious First of June" battle. James Bowen was commissioned by Howe for his leadership in the battle, he rose through the levels - commander of the Argot, the Dreadnought, and in Georgian England titled "defender of Madeira", led the fleet which rescued the British army at Corunna in the Peninsula war, and retired as a Rear Admiral, Commissioner of the Royal Navy. Captain Richard Bowen (1761–1797) James Bowen's younger brother, a British naval commander on the ship HMS Terpsichore, served under Lord Nelson, and was killed at the battle of Santa Cruz de Tenerife. John Bowen (1780–1827), son of James Bowen, a naval officer and colonial administrator founded the first settlement of Tasmania at Risdon Cove in 1803 - the settlement which later became known as Hobart. Lieutenant A E Down, was initially posted to Ilfracombe to lead a protection ship for the customs and excise, he married a local girl, rose through the levels to retire as vice Admiral, his son joined the navy aged 14 (his first navy kit is on display at National Maritime Museum Greenwich). In 1802 James Meek married Down's daughter and settled in the town, James Meek was appointed the Comptroller of Victuals to the Royal Navy in 1832, he was knighted, and died in Ilfracombe 1852. (gentlemen's gazette)

There was a wooden fortress overlooking the harbour, of this nothing remains except contemporary records and the area designated Castle Hill off Portland Street/Montepellier Terrace.

The novelist Fanny Burney stayed in Ilfracombe in 1817. Her diary entries (31 July – 5 October) record early 19th century life in Ilfracombe: a captured Spanish ship; two ships in distress in a storm; the visit of Thomas Bowdler; and her lucky escape after being cut off by the tide. A few years later in the 1820s a set of four tunnels were hand carved by Welsh miners to permit access to the beaches by horse-drawn carriage as well as by foot. Previously access was gained by climbing the cliffs, rounding the point by boat, swimming or at the lowest tides clambering around the rocks of the point. These tunnels led to a pair of tidal pools, which in accordance with Victorian morals, were used for segregated male and female bathing. Whereas women were constrained to a strict dress code covering up the whole body, men generally swam naked. The tunnels are still viewable and are signposted as Tunnels Beaches.

In 1856 writer Mary Ann Evans (pen-name George Eliot) accompanied George Henry Lewes to Ilfracombe to gather materials for his work Seaside Studies published in 1858.

The town's first lifeboat was bought in 1828 but a permanent service was not available until the Royal National Lifeboat Institution built a lifeboat station at the bottom of Lantern Hill near the pier in 1866. The present station at Broad Street dates from 1996.

In 1911, the Irish nationalist Anna Catherine Parnell (sister of Charles Stewart Parnell) drowned at Ilfracombe.

Miss Alice Frances Louisa Phillips (b. 26 January 1891 at 85 High Street, Ilfracombe) and her father Mr Escott Robert Phillips (b. 1869 Cardiff) held 2nd Class Ticket #2 on RMS Titanic, and set sail from Southampton on 10 April 1912 heading for New Brighton, Pennsylvania. Alice was rescued in boat 12, her father was lost in the disaster.

Registration Districts

Research Tips

  • Ordnance Survey Maps of England and Wales - Revised: Devonshire Northand Devonshire South illustrate the parish boundaries of Devon when rural districts were still in existence. The maps publication year is 1931. The maps blow up to show all the parishes and many of the small villages and hamlets. These maps are now downloadable for personal use.
  • GENUKI has a new map feature on its individual Devon parish pages. Each parish page includes an outline map of parishes in the region of the one under inspection. By clicking on this map the user is taken to a blow-up of Historic Parishes of England and Wales: an Electronic Map of Boundaries before 1850 with a Gazetteer and Metadata [computer file] provided by R. J. P. Kain and R. R. Oliver of the History Data Service of Colchester, Essex (distributed by UK Data Archive).
  • Devon County Council's Record Offices and Local Studies Libraries are being reorganized and amalgamated to form the Devon Heritage Services, comprising the Devon Heritage Centre (Exeter) and the North Devon Record Office (Barnstaple). These developments, which are described in Historical Records: A New Future for Devon's Heritage, do not affect the other major Devon archive, the Plymouth & West Devon Record Office, or the Local Studies Library, which are located in Plymouth and come under the Plymouth City Council. (Devon FHS report that Plymouth Record Office has just aquired new premises.) There is a guide entitled Which heritage centre or record office should I visit? which is provided to explain the organization further.
  • Devon Family History Society Mailing address: PO Box 9, Exeter, EX2 6YP, United Kingdom. Specialized contacts for membership, publications, queries, etc. The society has branches in various parts of the county. It is the largest Family History Society in the United Kingdom.
  • Devon has a Online Parish Clerk (OPC) Project. Only about half of the parishes have a volunteer contributing local data. For more information, consult the website, especially the list at the bottom of the homepage.
  • GENUKI makes a great many suggestions as to other websites with worthwhile information about Devon as well as leading to a collection of 19th century descriptions of each of the ecclesiastical parishes. Devon is one of the counties on the GENUKI website that has recently (summer 2015) been updated. The maps described above are just one of the innovations.
  • The FamilySearch Wiki provides a similar information service to GENUKI which may be more up-to-date. An index of parishes leads to notes and references for each parish.
  • A Vision of Britain through Time has
  1. organization charts of the hierarchies of parishes within hundreds, registration districts and rural and urban districts of the 20th century
  2. excerpts from a gazetteer of circa 1870 outlining individual towns and parishes
  3. reviews of population through the time period 1800-1960
  • More local sources can often be found by referring to "What Links Here" in the column on the left.
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