Gittisham village - "the ideal English village" - HRH Prince Charles
A heard of cows in Gittisham village Award winning staff at Combe House Country Hotel in the Southwest of England Link to Ken and Ruth Hunt Horse riding in the grounds of Combe House The Reception at Combe House Hotel, Devon The bell tower at Combe House Hotel in the village of Gittisham The Great Hall at Combe Hotel in Gittisham The bell tower at Combe House, near Honiton An old picture of Gittisham village

‘Gittisham - the ideal English village’

- HRH Prince Charles


The History of Combe House
and Gittisham Village

Bronze Age to Domesday (1066)
It is, perhaps, appropriate to start the history of our village way back in the Bronze Age, about 1400 years before Christ. Although no village could have existed at that time, the inhabitants of the district, who were of Celtic stock, came from far and wide to bury their dead on Gittisham Hill which, together with Farway Hill, forms one of the largest Bronze Age burial grounds in Devon.

We are fairly sure that there was no village at Gittisham, because the people of that time invariably made their camps and settlements on higher ground, and even their paths and tracks tended to follow the line of the hilltops rather than the valleys. They had good reason for this as the valleys were swampy and heavily overgrown with trees and scrub in which bears and wolves had their lairs, so any attempt to penetrate the low lying ground must have been both difficult and dangerous.

About sixty years after the birth of Christ, the Romans, completing their occupation of the country, extended their great Fosse Way into Devon and, caring nothing for swamps, forests, wolves and bears, they came along the valley of the Otter and built what we now know as the Honiton-Exeter Road.

Some 600 years later, they left the country, and the Celtic inhabitants, still clinging to their hilltops but disorganised and accustomed to being ruled by the Romans, could put little effective opposition to our next invaders, the fierce and formidable Saxons.

The Saxons, like the Romans, were not afraid of hard work or wolves and started to develop the richer, low-lying ground. Their occupation of East Devon was completed about the year 670 AD and at some time between this date and the Norman Conquest, some Saxon, prospecting down the Fosse Way, looking for a likely site at which to settle, must have come to Gittisham, built himself a hut, and started to drain and clear the land. Shortly, no doubt, his friends joined him, and so our village was born.

We shall never know for certain why it was called Gittisham, but the most probable theory advanced is that it comes from three Saxon words, Guidh (a wood), Ys (water) and Ham (a place), which would give the meaning 'the place in the wood by the water' which is perhaps not inappropriate. The theory possibly gains some support from the fact that in the first written reference of our village, which occurs in the Domesday Book, it is spelt Gidesham with a 'D'.

 

 

Bishop Odo 1086 - 1100 circa
Gittisham after the Norman Conquest was owned by someone called Gosceline, while Combe belonged to Bishop Odo - half brother to William the Conqueror & Bishop of Bayeux.

After the Battle of Hastings he was gifted a great deal of land including Combe. He was also thought to be responsible for the creation of the Bayeux Tapestries.

In the Domesday Book 'Combe' was spelt 'Cwm' in the Welsh way. Combe means 'wooded valley'.
The De Lumine 1100 - early 1300s
(De Lowman)

Soon after the Conquest, Gittisham, including Combe House and its estate, came into the possession of the De Lumine family who seem to have been considerable landowners at that time. Their principal estate appears to have been Uplowman, on the banks of the river Lowman, from which the family presumably derived their name. We do not know whether the De Lumines inherited Combe or whether it was a gift from Bishop Odo.

Around 1300 there was a name change to De Lowman. Towards the end of the 14th century all the De Lowman property passed by inheritance to the Willington family. The name of Lowman lives on to this day in Lowman's farm in the Honiton valley.

 

 

The Willingtons 1300s - 1424
Sir Henry Willington, who lived in the parish (presumably at Combe) in Edward II's reign, did not long enjoy his inheritance for, in company with many other barons and landowners of the time, he took up arms against the King and was killed in the year 1324.

His family, however, retained possession of Gittisham through some four descendants until, there being no male heir, it passed through an heiress to the family of Beaumont.

Combe, at this date, was probably comprised of one large room (the Great Hall) built of oak timber and cob with ash wattles (as it still is in part) with a kitchen and buttery. Above there were probably two rooms for the use of the owner and his family.

Gittisham Church, which had recently been re-built of stone, must have looked very large and new and was probably the only stone building in the village. Inside, it was empty of pews or seats of any kind, save that in the chancel, beyond the rood screen, there was a chair for the use of the Rector, Sir John de Borastone, and also perhaps a bench on which the Willington family were privileged to sit.

The congregation stood during the service, or leaned against the walls and pillars, except during the infrequent sermons when they sat on the rush-strewn floor.
The Beaumonts from Devon
1424 - 1453

Combe and Gittisham were the inheritance of the Beaumont family who lived in Yolstone in the Parish of Shirwell near Barnstaple. Whether or not they lived at Combe at all is unknown. They had extensive possessions in Devon and other counties and it seems probable that they would have visited their Gittisham property from time to time, when they would certainly have stayed at Combe. It also seems likely that while the head of the family lived at Yolstone, some other member of the family may have lived at Combe.

But be that as it may, we know for certain what happened later. To quote the Reverend John Prince, writing in about the year 1700...

“William, the eldest son of Sir Thomas Beaumont, having first passionately courted, and at length married, a young Lady of an Honourable House in this County, for which reason I shall conceal her Name. After a while, some other Fancy possessing him, he estranged himself both as to her Bed and Board, and went away to London, where he lived from her two years, then died. His Lady took this, at first, very unkindly, and for a while lived very retiredly. Until, at length, she began to admit the visits of her Friends, among which one, doing more familiarity than became him, she proved with child, and in due time her Son was born, and bred up secretly, and without suspicion.”

By the time this son John was grown up, the Beaumonts were dying out in the male line, and finally when his Uncle Hugh died, there was no apparent heir. Both the Basset and the Chichester families laid claim to the Beaumont inheritance, but meanwhile John, whose existence wasn't even suspected, entered upon the Beaumont lands and claimed them as being the lawful son of William Beaumont.

Then there began an endless series of lawsuits, and finally the case came before Parliament itself during the reign of Henry VII, and it decided that John was a bastard, and was to be proclaimed as such from every pulpit in the Kingdom, and that he should take the name of Bodrugan, his actual father. However, all parties agreed that as a sort of consolation prize, he was to be given Combe and quite a lot of land, including Gittisham.

Accordingly he settled down here, and his son, Henry (who had presumably not been included in the decree of Parliament) took to himself the name of Beaumont and his family, to quote once more, “lived at Combe in great Splendour and Esteem, which continued for three generations down”.

 

 

The Beaumont / Bodrugens 1453 - 1591
It is pleasant to relate that, whether they were Beaumonts or Bodrugens, the family were greatly liked and respected and that the last of the line, Henry Beaumont, whose effigy, together with that of his wife Elizabeth, forms part of the Beaumonts' monument in the Church, did much for the people of Gittisham, Honiton, Ottery and Sidbury, in all of which places he endowed charities as well as rebuilding and beautifying the Church and more importantly Combe House - the original Elizabethan Great Hall and rooms above that we see today.
The Beaumonts from Leicester
1591 - 1614

Henry Beaumont, having no issue, left all his estate which was very considerable to Sir Thomas Beaumont of Leicestershire, “for his name's sake”, although the families were in no way connected.

This Sir Thomas did not care much for Devon, and although he appointed his son Glidd Beaumont as Rector, shortly sold the property to Nicholas Putt.

 

 

The Putt Family 1614 - 1846
Nicholas Putt, whose father and grandfather had lived at Berry Pomeroy, was a very wealthy man. He was trained as a Barrister but did not practice his profession. He bought Combe in 1614, and much other land in Devon, Dorset, Somerset and Cornwall as well. He must have been fairly prominent in local affairs for in 1644, he was made Sheriff of Devon.

He was clearly an active Royalist, for in 1644 a party of Cromwell's soldiers were sent to arrest him. Although he was ill in bed at the time, the house was ransacked and set on fire, and he himself carried off en route for London. He was never brought to trial however, for this treatment proved too much for him and he died at Axminster.

He was succeeded by his son, William Putt (1644 to 1662). The Putts owned the Estate for 232 years, and I don't propose to weary you with a detailed account of individuals but it is interesting to note that Thomas (1662-1686), the grandson of Nicholas, was created a Baronet in 1666 and that his wife Ursula Cholmondeley, was a lady-in-waiting to Charles II's Queen, Catherine of Braganza. Their tomb in Gittisham Church is a very fine one, with probably the best pair of urns in the country.

“Black” Tom Putt (1757-1787) studied at Queens College, Middle Temple, Oxford, and was called to the bar. He planted Beech Walk, Bellevue and the terraced gardens at Combe. He won prizes at the Honiton Horticultural Shows for his fruit trees, which leads one to believe it was this Tom Putt who gave his name to the “Tom Putt Apple Tree”. He had a ferocious temper which is why he was called “Black” Tom Putt. Locals believed that when the church bells rang at Gittisham, they were repeating “Hang Tom Putt”.

He was undertaking major building works here at Combe, including the Orangery and the Georgian Kitchen, the Orangery building was going to be about three times the size it is now. When he died in 1787, he had no issue so his brother (William) inherited and with the death duties, could not afford to complete the works, so it was finished in the shape it is today.

The last Thomas Putt (1832-1844) died unmarried and left the estate to his sister Margaretta. Two years later she married Rev Henry Marker and so began the present line of the Marker Family.
The Marker Family 1846 -
In 1846, Henry Marker inherited the property from his wife, who had been Margaretta Putt, sister of Thomas.

Henry William, his son, spent money recklessly and, amongst other extravagances, kept a private pack of hounds. However, his creditors caught up with him and he was forced to leave the country. He died in 1865 and was succeeded by his nephew, Richard J Marker (1865-1916).

As was customary in those days, he was welcomed by the villagers with considerable ceremony. His carriage was met at the turning off the main road by Gittisham Farm by most of the inhabitants of the Parish, led by the Rector, the Rev Richard Kirwan.

Welcoming speeches were made and replied to, and then the horses, having been removed from the shafts, his carriage was pulled part of the way to Gittisham, after which refreshment was provided for all.

 

 

The Last Hundred Years 1916-2010
Richard J Marker died a natural death and was succeeded by his son, Major Raymond Marker who never really had an opportunity to enjoy Combe because he was fighting in the First World War.

He departed to France in 1914, joining the Coldstream Guards and was DAAQMG (Deputy Assistant Adjutant and Quartermaster General) to the 1st Army Corps. He was wounded when a shell burst on their billet near Ypres, had his leg amputated and subsequently died on 13th November 1918 (two days after the end of the War). His widow, who had been to France to nurse him, brought his body back to Combe to be buried in Gittisham. (Painting in sitting room in uniform with moustache)

He was succeeded by his young son, (the author of this history) Richard R K Marker (1918-1961). He married Rosemary Fairholme but had no children. After his death, the estate was inherited by his first cousin once removed (he had no brothers or sisters). This was Ruth Gertrude Trelawney (née Marker), born 1923.

During the Second World War Ruth met John Trelawny of nearby Cotleigh. He trained at Sandhurst and after fighting in the War, when he lost a leg, he moved to Vancouver Island, Canada. In 1946 Ruth joined him. They married and had five children, their eldest son being Richard (born 1953).

John had an interesting career. He set up a bulb farm, took a degree in botany & biology and became head laboratory instructor at the University of Victoria. In late 2006, John passed away but Ruth still lives on Vancouver Island.
Richard J T Marker 1961 -
Meanwhile in 1961 at the age of eight, their eldest son, Richard, inherited Combe. It was held in trust until he was 21 when he also took on his mother's name, Marker.

Richard had a successful business building timber framed houses on the West Coast of Canada. In 1978 he married Petronela ('Nellie') also of Vancouver Island. In 1980 the first of their four daughters, Karissa, was born. Two years later in 1982 they moved to England to take over the running of Combe Estate and Gittisham.

They decided to live in Beech Walk. Richard & Nellie have updated and extended the property over the years but continue to live there with their four daughters.

In 2004 Richard sold part of the village of Gittisham, fifteen homes were sold to the property company Northumberland & Durham and eight to private owners. This decision was not taken lightly, but since the upkeep and maintenance of a complete village had always been unviable, it was time for the Estate to move on.

The village has a very active community life centred around the church and village hall, and is considered to be one of the prettiest, picture-postcard villages in the West Country. So it is not surprising that HRH Prince Charles referred to Gittisham as “the ideal English village”.

 

 

Combe - one of the UK's
first Country House Hotels

Meanwhile in the 1960s, Combe House had become too expensive to run as a family home. In 1968 it was leased to Mr Gomel and became one of England's first Country House Hotels.

In 1969 it was taken over by John and Thérèse Boswell who operated the hotel until 1998, when the lease was bought by Ken & Ruth Hunt.

Ken and Ruth are proud to be the custodians of Combe House Devon, a wonderful property full of history and heritage dating back to Domesday.

They have restored and enhanced many areas of the House including the Georgian Kitchen with its scullery and pantry, which is now used for special celebrations, lunches and dinners - and the original Victorian laundry, now the Linen Suite, one of the best rooms in the House.

Period features have been retained, including the former drying rack in the Victorian laundry, suspended from the ceiling, which takes up the width and breadth of the Linen Suite's drawing room. A stylish bedroom has custom-made painted furniture while the stunning bathroom features an amazing 6ft diameter copper wash tub, reminiscent of wash days from a bygone era.
Combe - One of the UK's
First Country House Hotels

The restoration work continues with the gardens, especially the Victorian kitchen gardens, potting sheds and glasshouses, one of which houses a 100 year old Muscat grape vine.

A stable block and courtyard has been converted into staff accommodation, and there are plans to restore the Georgian pediment glasshouse, known as the Orangery, so that it can be used for civil wedding ceremonies and celebrations.

The six acres of Arboretum and woodland gardens have been rejuvenated and feature many unique species of shrubs and trees, including a 1,500 year old bay tree, a handkerchief tree, and a large, rare, variegated oak tree.

A thatched folly with its own thatch bath house has been created by Ken and Ruth in the woodland gardens for guests to escape in search of peace and relaxation.

Additionally, Ken and Ruth have restored a beautiful cob and thatch cottage with secluded walled garden, hidden in the woods at the entrance of the drive close to Gittisham village. The style of the cottage building is said to be reminiscent of Combe House in the 1400's.

Life at Combe in the 21st century continues to evolve, adapt and move forward.

The History of this English Country House
Combe House Hotel, Gittisham, nr Exeter, Devon


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