Category Archives: Local History

Mortehoe Post Office

The Royal Mail can date it’s history as far back as 1516, however it would not be until 1635 that the postal service would be opened up to the public with a letter office being established in London, and a system developed to carry mail across the country.  It was at this time that letters would be carried from one ‘post’ to another ‘post’ by carriers on foot or horseback. 

A postage act was past by parliament in 1657 establishing fixed rates for the delivery of letters. The postal service continued to develop with mail being carried by coach.

It would not be until 1830 that the mail started to be carried by train, with the first route being between Liverpool and Manchester.

Mortehoe & Woolacombe on the record by Margaret Reed sheds some light on the start of the postal service in Mortehoe in her wonderful book:

“In 1836 George Tucker bought a cottage in Mortehoe, part of the tenement known as “Chantry’ at Mortehoe. He already owned the Barricane Inn (Barricane House) which he had inherited. The properties were altered over time, and eventually renamed post office cottages when George’s son, William became the first postmaster of the village. The house became known as ‘Tuckers House’

R.F.Bidgood in her book ‘Two Villages, the Story of Mortehoe and Woolacombe’ looks further at the history of the postal service in the area: 

“Stories are told of how the mail arrived in earlier times. The earliest known postman was a Mr. Hooper. He carried the mail from Ilfracombe through Lee, Warcombe, Mortehoe, Woolacombe, Westdown and back to Ilfracombe three times a week for 6d a day.

He had developed a steady trot on his long journey. At one farm en-route there was a small window through which he could toss a letter without stopping.  The next postman was a Mr. Connibear who had a little grey pony. He did the same journey three times a week.  From a post office directory dated 1866, mention is made of William Tucker, “receiver of letters” which came from Ilfracombe.

In 1896 Mortehoe Post Office hit the headlines of many of the UK’s newspapers, when a ‘sensation’ was reported. The police arrested Miss Adela Ford who worked at the post office, for the crime of stealing a registered letter containing two £6 notes. Miss Ford was described in many of the press features as being a ‘young and most respectably connected’ person.

On the 25th June 1896 the reported incident had taken place at the Post Office.  William Ashford, temporary postman, said “letters on which there was money to pay were usually handed to him the same as registered letters. On the day in question a letter bill was given to him, but he did not know that there was a letter with it.” 

The postman Conibear and Mr. Gammon the postmaster gave evidence on the practice of the Post Office, Mr Gammon stated that the prisoner did not take part in sorting the general correspondence. It was usual for the registered letters with the wrappers to be placed aside.  They continued to give evidence detailing procedures, however as the Judge summoned up the case, and the discrepancies  in the evidence he came to a verdict of Not Guilty and Miss Ford was released. The story hit many newspapers and caused quite a sensation at the time.

The post office as we see it today, has been unchanged for many, many years. Today serving the community as well as the many visitors that come to Mortehoe each year.


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 time living in Woolacombe and the Pandora Hotel. 

Ben recalls when war broke out in Woolacombe, “the start of the war was a strange time, September 1939 was the end of the summer season and the visitors had all gone home. They were long, sunny days and war seemed very distant. I remember going home from school one lunchtime I saw three army lorries full of soldiers; I ran all the way home to tell my father that I had seen the lorries and that they were full of German soldiers and that we were being invaded. My father reassured me that the were not Germans”.  It wouldn’t be long before 3 evacuees, girls came to stay with the family. 

They would not stay long as the hotel would soon be taken over by the American Army. He recalls during the second world war ‘The troops moved in. We had to remove all our property from the main part of the building into store in the garage. A small area was sectioned off for our private use. It was later used as a small military hospital for the troops stationed in Woolacombe. 

After the war the hotel slowly got back to normal.

An advert for the hotel in 1965 proudly says that the hotel was built and established in 1931, and the visitors book gives proof of genuine satisfaction 


Morthoe Bay, Morte Point, Rockham Bay, and Bull Point, have an evil repute in the sailors’s log. It has been buoyed with such warning as might serve to caution ships making for the Bristol Channel to give it wide berth and rather anchor at Lundy than risk too close an acquaintance with Morte Stone, or Woolacombe Sands, there is now to be stationed there a life-boat. 

The boat itself, is the gift of the Bristol captains in the African Trade who have “ clubbed together,” for theirs and others’ lives imperilled on the rugged coast. On Saturday the presence of the boat at Bristol gave occasion for grand holiday, at which thousands of people turned out. The boat has been named the Jack-a-Jack, so called after the African station where the movement was first originated about four years ago. They have also contributed towards the boat-house that has been erected Morthoe for the life boat  . 

Agrand procession was formed of sailors, soldiers, and civilians. The lifeboat herself, hoisted on her transporting and launching carriage high above the many-headed crowd, formed the focus of the picture, with Union Jack, ensign, and National Institution flag flying, and crew with their cork life-jackets on, their “peaked oars,.”

The boat-carriage was horsed by a team of splendid draught horses, which drew the eight or ten tons weight up Parkstreet with comparative ease. The public “ reception “ given to the boat was certainly a most gratifying one. 

The procession arrived at the Zoological Gardens in Clifton, where the ceremony of launching took place in the artificial lake. Mr. W. P. King made a vigorous speech at the “giving away “ of the boat. The seamen from Bristol, he said, know full well of the dangers of the beach, and, anxious to rescue those wrecked, have been doing their utmost to collect for the lifeboat to be placed on Morte Bay. 

No doubt they would be glad to have such a boat as Jack-a-Jack, but the difficulty is that no such Christian spirited and self-devoted people could be found as we have on the coast of Devon to take their share in the work of benevolence. 

Captains sailing from Bristol to the coast of Africa, as none of them never hope and few expect to be placed in such circumstances as to need the assistance of the lifeboat Jack-a-Jack. They feel that it belongs to the position that the African trade holds in Bristol (more ships go out from Bristol to Africa than to any other part of the world) to place a lifeboat on the coast of Morte Bay. 

Amidst ringing cheers the ceremony was completed. Rockets were sent when the launch was completed, and a salute was fired from the guns of the Artillery Corps, the multitude which must have numbered many thousands, then left the Gardens. 

Friday, the 17th of March, must henceforth be reckoned one of the red letter days the history of the village of Morte. It is presumed that there has not been so large a number of persons there at one time for many years.

The gift of a lifeboat, presented shipmasters and merchants of Bristol to be stationed at Morthoe, has caused a great deal of  excitement, in the usually quiet hamlet and culminated on Friday as general holiday among the inhabitants, who flocked to the shores of Woolacombe to witness the first landing and launch of the Jack-a-Jack. 

Numbers of sightseers were observed wending their way westward causing one to fancy that it was ‘race-day ‘ somewhere. On arriving at the lifeboat station at Woolacombe, the transporting carriage for the boat was found ready on the launching ways front of the boat-house. This building is of a substantial nature, and is of the pattern now generally adopted at all stations under the control of the National Lifeboat Institution.

At about 2.30 p.m. the Morte and Ilfracombe rocket carriages, appeared on the scene, of Morte being manned by members of the Morte Volunteer Life Saving comapny, whilst the coastguard, command of Lieut Williams, worked the one of ‘Combe. 

The former came directly to the beach, whilst the latter took up ground on the grassy point to the right. Shortly after this the boat rapidly pulled towards the intended landing place, and at exactly 3.30 the new boat first touched what must henceforward be called her own ground.

When the boat was fairly rehomed,  the carriage Capt. Ward made a short address to the bystanders. He said that before re-launching the boat it would be as well to say a few words reference the origination of her presentation. 

At this the scene of her first landing they were assembled to witness. It is a matter of regret that at present there was not sufficient number of skilled boatmen living in Morte to form a crew, but that the llfracombe men were all times willing to come should their services be needed. Many vessels as they were doubtless aware had been lost in that locality.

The Bristol shipmasters had now therefore liberally defrayed the whole of the cost not only of the boat, but also of the building a boathouse amounting altogether to considerably over £700, thus leaving the locality responsible only for the future maintenance of the boat and he (Capt. Ward) did not doubt, that the inhabitants of Morte and the surrounding district would do their part. 

The somewhat strange name of Jack-a-Jack had been given to the boat at the request of the donors and was so given reason of its being the name of part of the African coast retorted to by traders chiefly of Bristol.

The National Lifeboat Institution now has boats within the neighbourhood, one at Ilfracombe and the one they had come to see. 

The photograph of the boat and crew, together with members of the committee and others was then taken by the Messrs. Catford after which the boat was launched and pulled a short distance seaward. 

There was some difficulty experienced with the horses as they objected to the water, and the crew had eventually to jump out and launch her themselves, assisted by the bystanders. The water, with the exception of a small breaker, was perfectly smooth. 

Whilst the boat was afloat the crews the rocket apparatus under the command Lieut. Williams, fired several rockets with the line attached seaward, and the whole process, showing the means by which life is saved with this excellent invention, was practically illustratad, several youngsters making an ariel voyage from the cliff to the beach, very much to their own delight and the amusement of the spectators. 

The boat was now replaced on her carriage and conveyed to the boathouse, after which cheers and were given for the boat, the donors, Capt. Ward, Local Committee and Sir Bruce Chichester who had most geuerously presented land for site for the house, and material for its construction. 


In 1887 an event took place in Mortehoe that would be later reported in the press as ‘The Strange Proceedings at Mortehoe’, it would be a case that would end at the House of Commons and receive national press.

On the land where Ada’s Terrace now stands, opposite the Methodist Church, there used to be a small chapel and burial ground. This was owned at one time by Mr. T. Smith of Duckpool Farm, Mortehoe, the land having been given to his sister Mrs. M. Irwin of Dukes Cottage. It was she who had the chapel built, with the ground later being used for family graves. These can be seen in the far corner of the opposite picture. The land and chapel would later go on to be inherited by Mrs Irwin’s daughter, Mrs Agnes Coad, on the death of her mother.

Whilst in the ownership of Mrs Coad, it was discovered that the leasehold to the land was actually held by the Chichester Estate, and duly Mr and Mrs Coad tried to buy the land on which their chapel and graveyard were located.

In what became a very nasty dispute, the Chichester’s bailiffs decided that the Chichester Estate should have total possession of the land and what stood upon it, which in turn meant the chapel and the graves would have to removed. The shocking events that followed this, resulted in a case being taken to the House of Commons and later reported in the national press:

“It was reported by Mr and Mrs Coad that on the discovery that the leasehold belonged to the Chichester’s, that an agreement had been made many years previously between Mr. T. Smith and Sir Bruce Chichester, whereby Mr Smith exchanged some of his land for some of that belonging to Sir Chichester.

This land included that which the chapel and burial ground were sited, however as no paperwork verified this, Mr and Mrs Coad who had since inherited the chapel made attempt to buy or rent it from Miss Chichester.  The bailiffs for the Chichester’s refused these offers, and concluded that ‘the chapel must be pulled down for aesthetic reasons, and the buried must be dug up.”

A few days before Christmas an undertaker left Barnstaple at midnight with three coffins, arriving at the burial ground at two o’clock in the morning.When opening one of the graves, where a son and daughter lay, they found one of the new coffins was not large enough and after taking up the corpse, it had to be put back again into the existing grave. The other two bodies were carried to the parish churchyard, and left, above ground for two days before being buried.

In a report prepared for the House of Commons, Mr Coad’s statement read as follows:

“This is how it was done ; the bones of my dear wife’s mother were picked up and put into a bucket, and thus brought from the tomb. The coffins of my dear son and daughter were taken up, and then was found that one of the new coffins brought in at midnight from Barnstaple was not large enough, and the dear girl’s corpse was put back into the grave again.”

The House of Commons ruled that permission had been given to do this, in what was a heated argument, the disagreement was played out in the National Press for some time afterwards

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 National Trust. Whislt the Manor of Mortehoe was bought by the Chichester’s on the 20th April 1618 from Hugh and Arthur Pollard for £600.

The family had many links to Woolaombe and Mortehoe, including their ‘Mortehoe Clothing Club’ set up Lady Chichester, the development and opening of Woolacombe School, the building of St Sabinus Church and the donation of Potters Hill and Morte Point to name just a few.

Annual Distribution of Clothes

Mortehoe Clothing Club was set up by Lady Chichester. On being asked about the club a local villager said “It is like this, if me or any of us poor folks put in a shilling a month and then the lady put in a sixpence to our shilling.  Yes ‘tis a great help for us that have got families and never could have any clothes otherwise. I have bought up nine of my twelve and I can assure you I have had enough to do.

The village treated it as a festival. “As Lady Chichester’s carriage approached, cannon were fired and the church bell set ringing. All the women belonging to the club and all the village school children met the carriage about a mile outside of Mortehoe and followed the procession, carrying evergreen branches along with flags and banners. Twenty sturdy mechanics then took the carriage horses out of their harnesses and physically hauled the carriage to the Chichester Arms public house in the village, on the way the passed under four arches stretched across the road, profusely decorated with evergreens and banners bearing suitable inscriptions.

A little later the actual distribution of the clothing took place ‘when all the demonstrations of rejoicing were renewed with still great hilarity. The village cannons were again discharged with ‘seven musketeers’ adding their well sustained volleys to the heavier metal, and a brass band from Braunton marched around the village playing as they went. 

The clothing was given out in a room in the public house along with tea and cake for all the club members. Lady Chichester, also gave every woman half a pound of tea ‘to keep Christmas at home’. 

The distribution of clothes over, the members of the club formed into sets of four and began dancing the ‘Brixham Reel’. This was an impromptu forerunner of what was to come later the same day. Over the door of the club house had been hung a notice ‘Lady Chichester invited the members of Mortehoe Clothing Club to meet her at Woolacombe this evening at eight o’clock at the ball’ The ball was held in the manor house which had been tastefully decorated and was lit by several chandelier’s.

St Sabinus Church


The original church of St Sabinus, was located where the current  Church car park is now situated and was known as the Iron Church. Prior to the building of the new church, worshippers attended services in a club room lent to them by the late Dowager, Lady Chichester of Arlington. 

The Iron Church was considered cold in the winter and insufferably hot in the summer, it soon became too crowded, and overflowed during the busier months as many visitors to the area would use the church. It was deemed time to build a new church on this site.

The new church was funded by Lady Chichester who gave the land for the building of the church. The foundation stone of the the new church was laid by Miss Chichester, the event was attended by a large number of residents, visitors and church goers. 

Woolacombe School

In 1916 the key to the school was presented to Miss Rosalie Chichester during the grand opening ceremony. The event was reported locally:

“The new County Council School, which was opened amid general rejoicings. It was quite in accordance with the fitness of things that the ceremony should have been performed by Miss Chichester, of Arlington Court, inasmuch as it is to this noble hearted lady that Woolacombe is indebted for the magnificent site on which the School stands. To the generosity of Miss Chichester, indeed beautiful Woolacombe owes largely the facts of its rapid development of late years; and it was only natural that in recognition thereof the warmest of tributes should have been paid to her in Saturday’s proceedings.”

Amid rousing cheers Miss Chichester proceed to unlock the main door at the Woolacombe end of the School, and the company they adjourned to the adjoining large classroom.

Potters Hill and Morte Point


Miss Rosalie Chichester gifted Potters Hill to the National Trust to commemorate the Silver Jubilee of King George V. The gift of some 30 acres of land was given in 1935 and has only been revealed by the placing at the entrance to the ground of a granite block bearing an inscription recording that the land had been handed over as a gift. No official ceremony marked the placing of the stone.

Previously Lady Chichester gifted the headland of Morte Point to the National Trust, totalling some 180 acres of land.

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 developments were.

In 1894 one guest of the hotel describes it as a “handsome commodious hotel, run on first-class lines, with water certified by Dr. Blyth, the famous Devonshire analyst, now residing in London; all the latest sanitary arrangements, designed by Barlow, of London, and carried out by Hubber, of Exeter ; and appointments making it a fit home for a prince.” 

 Early pictures show that many parts of the existing building have retained their original features. The hotel has enjoyed a long and colourful history, and much of its traditional charm still remains today. In 1895, Rosalie Chichester of Arlington Court granted tenancy of The Woolacombe Bay Hotel to Arnold Perret, who bought the tenancy in 1899.

The Woolacombe Bay Hotel was sold to Cheltenham Brewery in 1932, and over the following nine years an extensive programme of renovation transformed the building. The original core of the building is of four storeys, with wings of three storeys. Constructed in a Tudor Revival style, the upper sections have mock timber framing while the lower portions are of exposed red brick. Balconies and bays, alongside a cupola and, on the older portions, chimney stacks add to the character of the building.

This work resulted in the Hotel appearing much as it does today and added several notable features – including the ballroom, which showcased the first sprung floor in the West Country. The hotel also retains large grounds facing towards the beach, with its own swimming pool and tennis courts, as well as a private path leading down towards the beach near the old Lifeboat House. In 2013 the swimming pool was renovated creating the Bay Lido 

John Phillips was a young boy living behind the hotel in the 1930’s. He remembers the waiters in their long tailed morning suits and the chefs in their hats of varying heights according to their status! The Hotel had a Boiler House which housed four huge boilers – one was for central heating, two for the hot water and the other provided steam to the kitchen. Supervised by three men, they were not always attentive and consequently guests often went without hot water and the kitchen steam!

The gardens of the hotel were completely enclosed and supplied a lot of produce and flowers for the hotel, it was also where the young local boys ended up playing football, much to the annoyance of the gardener, Mr Tom Sollis!

In 1935 Miss Crowhurst was the new manager of the hotel and by 1939 the hotel had been enlarged to accommodate up to 180 residents, reflecting the increased number of tourists wishing to stay in Woolacombe in the heyday of British seaside resorts.  It was at this time that war was announced and the British army commandeered the hotel. It became home to the 4th County of London Yeomanry, who were based in Woolacombe to protect from invasion.

When the London Yeomanry arrived at the hotel John remembers three tanks rumbling past their house in Rosalie Terrace en route to Cowlers garage, which was located just behind the hotel. 

 In 1943 the British Army left Woolacombe to make way for the American Army where they set up their Assault Training Centre Headquarters. Woolacombe Beach was used for amphibious infantry landing practice involving hundreds of small boats, the long flat beach and the surrounding landscape were thought to sufficiently resemble Normandy as to make this realistic training environment.

The training for the Normandy landings on D-Day saw Woolacombe taken over by the Americans with huge camps, and those who were in the area at the time will remember how much better off the Americans were, as the British had been short of the good things in life for some time. 

 Some Americans and locals are still in touch today and a stone memorial was erected on Greensward in Woolacombe in 1992 to commemorate those who were here during the war. The soldiers remained in residence until the end of the war in May 1945 and the Woolacombe Bay Hotel was bought by Mr Bertie Johnson.

The hotel was bought by the Lancaster family in 1978 and ran successfully by Roy and Rosemary until the year 2000, when their daughter Sally returned and took over the reins. Over the last 18 years Sally has taken the hotel to a new dimension, combining old world grandeur with new cutting edge design. In 2010 the hotel was awarded four stars by the AA which is reflected by its outstanding bedrooms, bathrooms, spa, food, facilities and of course the most personal service in the area!

In 2017  the hotel was Winner of ‘Best Hotel’ at the North Devon Food, Drink & Tourism Awards 2017 offering a timelessly elegant yet friendly and relaxed place to stay. 

If you want more infomration abut the hotel or to make a booking please visit their website”

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The Grange, Mortehoe

Mr Thomas founded the Grange as a Ministers Seaside Home, he would be the first warden of the home, visiting The Grange whenever he could, but leaving the day to day running to a husband and wife team of housekeepers. 

The aim of The Grange, was to provide rest and recreation for ministers and their wives of all denominations, who with their stipends so very low, could not possibly have afforded it themselves. 

In The Grange’s visitor’ book are many interesting comments by ministers of numerous denominations. Loud is their praise of the comfort and friendly atmosphere offered at Th Grange. This is a typical entry written in 1885 by a Mr Kick: “I came to The Grange broken in health with nervous prostration, so that I could walk scarcely any distance.

I return to my home comparatively well. It has been the privilege of me and my dear wife to have the company of the generous and loving founder of the house with us, whose genial presence has contributed largely to my restoration. The home comforts of The Grange, together with the grandly wild scenery, the bracing air, and last but not least the religious association make The Grange a very land of Beulah.”

In 1901 Rev. Thomas sadly passed away, the friends from the Church at Redland Park decided that the best memorial would be to form a more secure financial system for the ministers who stayed at The Grange.

They noted that The Grange had been the outcome of Mr. Thomas’s loving desire to help and serve his brethren, and was the object of his unceasing care as a warden. 

A memorial window was also added to the Wesleyan Church in Mortehoe. 

The Grange during it’s time was also famed for it hydrangeas, which were frequently documented in the press. In September 1912, it is said that “The Grange, Mortehoe, has an exceptionally fine specimen of hydrangea, declared by visitors to be the finest in England. This year it has been one mass of blooms, over fifteen hundred having been counted on it. 

Visitors wishing to visit them were asked to contact Mr Fred Miles, the head gardener.

More recently The Grange became a large holiday let, catering for large groups, now up for sale it is described as an imposing detached Victorian property with sea views.

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