Mortehoe is a pretty village, standing proud at the top of Chapel Hill, overlooking Woolacombe and the Bristol Channel in one direction, and Lundy Island in the other.
First mentioned in the Doomsday book it was little more than a farm, however the 13th Century saw the establishment of a Parish Church and the Hamlet of Mortehoe started to develop.
The name Mortehoe comes from the Latin word meaning death, and it is certainly true that in this village’s history the name would have been apt. Perhaps best known for numerous shipwrecks and the notorious ‘Mortemen wreckers’ this now popular place has a slightly grizzlier history. In the years when wreckers and smugglers ruled much of this coastline, the ones from Mortehoe were considered the most fearsome by sailors. It was illegal to take cargo from a shipwreck if any of the crew were alive on boat. Wreckers would lure ships onto the dangerous rocks around the coast, specically Morte Stone, and ensure that there were ‘no survivors’ left on board, they would then strip the ship of it’s cargo. One of Mortehoe’s most feared wreckers is believed to be that of Elizabeth Berry, she is said to have used her pitchfork to drown sailors, she was eventually arrested in 1850 and given 21 days hard labour as a punishment.
Today a much calmer Mortehoe is a popular place, with many enjoying it’s rich history and beautiful coastal walks that the area has to offer.
At the heart of the village, is St Mary Magdalene Church. A Grade 1 listed building dating back to 1170, where evidence of a stone built church has been found. Many additions have been made over time and, of particular interest to visitors are the forty eight pew ends which are carved into chestnut and demonstrate some beautiful craftsmanship and interesting subjects. They are thought to have been completed during the regin of Henry VIII.
The chancel arch mosaic, designed by Selwyn Image can be seen at the east end of the nave. It was installed in 1903 and depicts four angels and a mystic lamb all set into a back drop of gold. It was made and installed by the same artisans responsible for the mosaics in St Pauls Cathedral. Much is made of the churches links to William de Tracey, however it
is believed that it is not the same de Tracey connected with Beckets murder, but that of William de Tracey who was a Rector of Mortehoe and dates to 1322.
The museum is the perfect way to find out more about the area’s heritage. The Mortehoe Heritage Museum is located in a Grade II listed barn owned by the National Trust. Standing at the entrance of the upper oor is the gurine of a well-known Mortehoe resident, Eliza Yeo. Born in 1840 to Samuel and Mary Ashford she would marry John Yeo when she was just sixteen. John was reputed to be a fugitive from the law following the murder of a man with a pitchfork in a neighbouring county. The newly married couple lived in a cottage at Warcombe Farm, where they went onto have a large family of their own. Eliza was a strong and determined character, turning her hand at anything. Many local legends and stories exsist about Eliza.
Mortehoe benefits from its location along some spectacular coastline, those who enjoy to walk, can enjoy some stunning coastal paths. A nice walk is to Bull Point Lighthouse.
The lighthouse, constructed in 1879 is on the headland and provides a lovely walk from the village. On the 18th September 1972 the lighthouse keeper reported ground movement, in the early hours of 24th September the cliff face crashed into the sea. The lighthouse had to be closed. In 1974 Trinity House opened Bull Point Lighthouse, which remained in operation until automaotion in 1995.
Mortehoe has a good selection of pubs and cafes to enjoy a drink and refreshments. The Chichester Arms and Ship Aground (pictured above) are a perfect watering hole following a long day walking along the beautiful coastal paths, whilst Miss Fea’s Café and
the Town House tea rooms offer a place to enjoy a cream tea or slice of cake. For those camping, who fancy some home cooked food, Rockleigh take away offer a scrumptious menu of excellent food to take away and enjoy… they even have sticky toffee pudding and clotted cream (a personal favourite!).
The history of Mortehoe is revealed in the Mortehoe Museum which is well worth a visit whilst in the area, more details can be found at www.mortehoemuseum.org.uk