Combe Martin Community Centre is ‘300 years older’

Joseph Bulmer

English Heritage upgrades historic building listing after villager proves its true age.

A COMBE Martin historian has been able to prove the village Community Centre is more than 300 years older than anyone thought.

Trevor Dunkerley has successfully applied to English Heritage for the Grade II Listed building’s official description to be updated from late 18th or early 19th century workhouse to mid 15th century church house.

Last year there were fears the centre would be lost to the village after Devon County Council declared it “surplus to requirements” and a number of community groups were anxious about their future.

The Parish Council has since agreed to take the building over from the county and the formalities are expected to be completed within the next few months.

“I was very concerned when the county was looking at selling it off because it has always been the property of the village,” said Mr Dunkerley, who felt proving its age and historical value would give the centre greater protection.

“When I looked up the English Heritage listing it said it was a 19th century building but I knew it was older. I went through all the historical evidence I had and produced a paper which gave the full background.”

The official custodians of the nation’s heritage agreed with Mr Dunkerley’s “substantial documentary research” and has said the listing will be amended.

The earliest document he found was a will by a Mr Harding of Buzzacott, who left money in 1640 for “the church house” to be converted into an almshouse.

Church houses were the community centres of their day, where parishioners would gather for a variety of events. It appears in Combe Martin’s case the Community Centre was built before 1640 and subsequently became a “poorhouse,” a workhouse and a school.

“The building has been in continuous use by parishioners from at least the early 16th century. Combe Martin has lost so much of its old heritage and this is a building that needs absolute protection,” added Mr Dunkerley.

“No one would consider selling the church and yet here we have a building that is almost as old.”

Copies of Mr Dunkerley’s paper can be viewed at Combe Martin Library, Combe Martin Museum and Barnstaple Record Office.