HISTORY OF MILTON COMBE
Milton Combe in the parish of Buckland Monachorum is a village in a hollow, with steep hills on three sides.
An oil sketch by Turner when he stayed at Bickham in 1813 is thought to be of Milton Combe, called ‘Village in a Hollow’*. To the south the Milton Brook and the road go to Maristow and Lopwell, where the brook joins the River Tavy.
For many centuries the village name was Milton, but in 1885 this was changed to Milton Combe at the request of the Post Office, with the approval of principal landowners, to go on ordnance maps. Early records of individuals from the village include a reference in 1438 to John Lowde, Taster of Milton – ale taster and weights and measures man, and precursor to today’s Trading Standards Officer. A later reference in 1791 is to Roger White, who paid land tax for Milton Mills and is an ancestor of Parish Councillor, Richard White.
Whilst the oldest buildings date from the C17 it is still a small village, and in 1970 became a conservation area with six listed buildings. At the end of the C19 Milton Combe had a Church, a chapel, an infant school, a men’s reading room, two pubs, a Post Office and several shops. In 2005 it has a church, a very good village hall in the former school building, and a popular pub.
The Church, a daughter church to Buckland Monachorum was designed in 1878 by Edward Ashworth, built by Philip Blowey and paid for by the Vicar, Rev’d Richard Hayne and his wife. The present congregation averages 20-30 and the organist Miss Minnie Grainger has played for over 60 years. Church and Chapel got on well together. The Wesleyan Chapel that dates from the early 1840’s once offered social events, famous teas and popular outings. The Chapel was sold as a private house in 1980. Lady Elliot Drake rebuilt the Men’s Reading Room, established in 1896, in 1914. When she died in 1924 she left a trust for its upkeep and for the benefit of Milton Combe and neighbourhood. In 1970 no longer used it was sold to Devon County Council for £50 and demolished for road safety reasons but the Drake Trust still remains today.
The C. of E. Infantschool opened in 1893 for children aged 3-8 and in its heyday had 40 children and one teacher. Despite good reports from the inspectors, it closed in 1923 due to falling numbers. From then on the infants traveled in horse and cart, and the over 8’s walked to Buckland School .
The ‘Who’d Have Thought It ’ pub, on the other hand thrives and draws visitors from far and wide. The name is thought to have come from the landlord’s astonishment at being granted a license to sell wines and spirits instead of the more popular First and Last, then a beer house selling beer and cider; but it can also be a name for a pub in a very remote place. The First and Last became a shop and between 1946 and 1986 the shop and Post Office were combined in one building and run by the sub postmaster Mr Hodgeman and his wife. Prior to that it is noted in Kelly’s directory that small farmer and cider maker, Joseph Creber was also a shopkeeper and Mrs Creber had a sweet shop in her cottage. First established in 1914 by farmer Thomas Dockett, the Post Office, before 1946 had moved around the village wherever the postmaster/mistress had happened to live. From 1987 to 1992 the late Don Field ran the P.O in a converted garage. In October 1999 the mobile Post Office made its first weekly visit.
Electricity was brought to the village before World War 2, and mains water in the 1950’s. Parish Councillor, the late Leonard Grainger, had worked hard to get water to the village. Mains drainage was installed in 1959. Before that the pretty Milton Brook had served as a sewer.
In the late 1920’s or early 30’s a Devon Motor transport bus came to the top of Milton hill. For over 50 years villagers had walked up the long steep hill to catch the bus but in 1984 a minibus, ‘The Dartmoor Pony’, (later a Plymouth City bus) came down into the village itself, A smart new bus shelter is currently being installed, designed and partly built by people from the village. The village benefited from the 1978 road alterations for the never to be Milton Brook Reservoir Scheme (SWWA). However this has encouraged commuters to use this route to Plymouth.
Milton Combe is still a small community although 20 new houses have been built since 1968. Standards of living have risen enormously in the second half of the C20, but it still retains in the buildings and in village life the individual character of its past.
* Hollow Turner Sketches Vol9 No1 The Devonshire Oil Sketches 1813, Sam Smiles. The Tate Gallery.
Compiled by Tamsyn Blaikie