Woolacombe is a special place to many people, either as the place they have called home, or as the place they love to visit on holiday. Woolacombe is steeped in history – a typical Edwardian/Victorian coastal resort town dominated by large villa style houses and grand hotels, it was first recorded in the Domesday book as Wolnecoma, literally meaning ‘Wolves Valley’. At the time the valley was thickly wooded and presumably wolves could be found. There were no inhabitants living in Woolacombe at the time of the Domesday survey in 1086.

Woolacombe Tracey, the medieval manor, is shown on the site of Woolacombe Farm on early ordinance survey maps, and medieval rubble has been found near this site supporting the possibility. Woolacombe Tracey was the seat of the Tracey family, Sir William de Tracey was said to have lived here after his involvement in the murder of Thomas a Becket in 1170.

The 1840’s Tithe map for Mortehoe Parish shows Woolacombe as a small cluster of buildings located around the Beach Road junction with Sandy Lane. Some distance to the east could be found two settlements of similar size, being east Woolacombe and Over Woolacombe. At this time there was no development along the shoreline and Woolacombe was only a modest village or large hamlet – having no church of its own.

In the 1880’s a Barnstaple architect, Arnold Thorne, laid out Woolacombe for development as a coastal resort. Plots of land were set out and leased to individual developers for periods of 99 years by the Chichester Estate. The development grew at a slow pace, the seafront along the Esplanade being mainly a row of Victorian and Edwardian villas, with a rapid period of building from 1890, when maps show the Esplanade devoid of buildings, to 1905 when the shoreline frontage is mainly as it is today.

The main landscape features are clearly the beach and the two headlands, Morte Point and Baggy Point, which frame its sands. The beach is visible from the vast majority of points in the village and an increasing number of people get their first look at Woolacombe from the various paths and trails (including the Tarka Trail and the South West Coast path) which runs through Woolacombe from north to south. As such views from Potters Hill out over Woolacombe are important from the south, and the path out to Morte Point at the north.

Several buildings within the conservation area were constructed by the Chichester Estate, Hartland house was used as an estate office for several years and the next door Parade House was built for Dame Rosalie Chichester as a summer residence in 1890.

One of the most significant and imposing buildings in the village is the Woolacombe Bay Hotel (above). The hotel was constructed in 1887 when it applied for its first license, and was initially called the “Shakespeare Hotel”, although this must have been short-lived as the building is labelled as the Woolacombe Bay Hotel on the 1904 Ordinance Survey mapping.

Like a number of British beaches Woolacombe Beach has always been privately owned, Stanley Parkin bought the beach and the Greensward in 1948. When Lady Chichester died in 1949, on her passing the Chichesters’ land in Woolacombe and Morethoe and the family estate at Arlington was willed to the National Trust. Parade House was left to her housekeeper, Rllan Smale. The land we know today as Marine Drive was left to Devon Country Council for them to construct a coast road.

Located on the North Devon coastline, Woolacombe has been a popular destination for holiday makers for many generations

Woolacombe History

Hotel Pandora

Pandora House Hotel was built in the 1930’s and is believed to have been the first purpose built boarding house in Woolacombe. It was built in the newly cut out Springfield Road, known as Well Field at the time.The hotel was built for the Fisher family, with their son Ben recalling many memories of his…

Woolacombe, Mortehoe and The Chichester Family

The Chichester family had a strong and important connection with Woolacombe and Mortehoe. The family owned much of the North Devon Coastline including their home at Arlington Estate. Woolacombe beach and the surrounding land was owned by the Chichester family for over 800 years and was later sold to family friends or donated to the…

The Woolacombe Bay Hotel

The Woolacombe Bay Hotel was constructed in 1887, and was initially called the “Shakespeare Hotel”, before it was renamed the Woolacombe Bay. Photographs of the Hotel under construction show, at the time, it was surrounded by empty fields for some distance, highlighting just how small Woolacombe was before the late 1800’s and how speculative these…

Woolacombe Weavers (1938)

The girl weavers of Woolacombe find their craft slimming.  “Weaving exercises so many muscles,” explained grey-eyed brunette Miss R. Woollan.  “You are always moving legs and arms. Glade here almost fades away when we are working at full winter pressure.”  She had nodded at her partner, Eton-cropped, curly haired Miss Glade. The partners met at Reading…

The Watersmeet Hotel

The Watersmeet Hotel by Sue Hill, Barricane Books Find this lovely, gracious hotel at the far end of Woolacombe’s Esplanade, facing due south, with its grounds running down to Combesgate Beach. It occupies an unrivalled location, open to the south to Baggy Point and Hartland Point beyond, with some views westwards to Lundy on the…

Mortehoe & Woolacombe As Seen by A Rambler (1886)

A wonderful depiction of Woolacombe & Mortehoe, as seen by a rambler travelling to the area in 1886. Arriving at Mortehoe Station, he tells of his journey down the hills to Woolacombe, through to Mortehoe and eventually to Lee Bay. A truly lovely way to see the area through somebody else’s eyes some 132 years…

Mortehoe & Woolacombe Station

The London and South Western railway line was extended from Barnstaple to Ilfracombe in July 1874, when the Mortehoe railway station was opened. On Tuesday 9th January 1894 the station saw a fire that very nearly destroyed it. The local newspaper reported it the following day: “Yesterday the officials were able to work the signals…

Parade House, Woolacombe

Once the home of Rosalie Chichester, Parade House has been turned into luxury self catering holiday lets, John and Briony who have a deep affinity with Woolacombe and all it has to offer, tell us more about the renovation of Parade House. Both John and Briony have been visiting Woolacombe for a combined 45 years….

Woolacombe Housing Estate – Arlington Place (1948)

1st January 1948 WOOLACOMBE HOUSING ESTATE Mrs. J. E. Pile Performs Opening Ceremony An interesting Christmastide ceremony was the formal opening of Woolacombe’s new housing estate. The ceremony was performed by Mrs. J. E. Pile, the wife of the senior representative of Morte-Hoe on Barnstaple Rural District Council. The estate has been named Arlington Place…

Bungalow Cafe Restaurant – known today as the Red Barn (1906)

North Devon Journal – Thursday 31 May 1906 Bungalow Café Restaurant at Woolacombe Under this title a new refreshment room was opened at Woolacombe on Monday by Mr G. Southcombe of Ilfracombe. The building is a fine detached block, right in the centre of the village, and fronting to the sea. The principal room is…

Gateway to Paradise Trickling stream that divides two world

Gateway to Paradise Trickling stream that divides two worlds Friday 25th Jan 1935 By S. P. B. Mains As I am for the greater part of the year moving rapidly about the English country – I always make it a rule to spend one month just pottering about the beach at Woolacombe. I choose Woolacombe…

Inauguration of Woolacombe’s Water Scheme (1905)

4th August 1905 Red Letter Day Morte Hoe and Woolacombe, two of the most popular watering places in the North Devon coast, were Tuesday given over to a public holiday, the occasion being the inauguration of the splendid new supply of water which, thanks to the public spirited action of the Ilfracombe Urban Council, is…

Woolacombe Tourist Information Centre

Woolacombe Tourist Information Centre is a fantastic local resource, Rachel and the team do a wonderful job, making it the perfect place to visit and find out more about local accommodation, attractions and much more. 

Woolacombe Tourist Information Centre has been in its’ current location for 20 years – opened in March 1999 by local MP at the time, Nick Harvey, it is situated in a prime spot, looking down the length of the award-winning beach, all the way to Putsborough.


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