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St Mary's Church Thorncombe - - 410088.jpg
St Mary's Church, Thorncombe
Dorset UK location map.svg
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Location within Dorset
Population687  [1]
OS grid reference ST376033
Unitary authority
Shire county
Country England
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Post town CHARD
Postcode district TA20
Dialling code 01460
Police Dorset
Fire Dorset and Wiltshire
Ambulance South Western
EU Parliament South West England
UK Parliament
List of places
50°49′33″N2°53′07″W / 50.8257°N 2.8853°W / 50.8257; -2.8853 Coordinates: 50°49′33″N2°53′07″W / 50.8257°N 2.8853°W / 50.8257; -2.8853
River Synderford River Synderford - - 478843.jpg
River Synderford

Thorncombe /ˈθɔːrnkəm/ is a village and civil parish now in the English county of Dorset but historically until 1844 in Devon. It lies five miles (8 km) south east of the town of Chard in neighbouring Somerset. Thorncombe is situated close to the borders of both Somerset and Devon. In the 2011 census the population of the civil parish was 687. [1]

Dorset County of England

Dorset is a county in South West England on the English Channel coast. The ceremonial county comprises the unitary authority areas of Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole and Dorset. Covering an area of 2,653 square kilometres (1,024 sq mi), Dorset borders Devon to the west, Somerset to the north-west, Wiltshire to the north-east, and Hampshire to the east. The county town is Dorchester which is in the south. After the reorganisation of local government in 1974 the county's border was extended eastward to incorporate the Hampshire towns of Bournemouth and Christchurch. Around half of the population lives in the South East Dorset conurbation, while the rest of the county is largely rural with a low population density.

Chard, Somerset town in Somerset

Chard is a town and a civil parish in the English county of Somerset. It lies on the A30 road near the Devon border, 15 miles (24 km) south west of Yeovil. The parish has a population of approximately 13,000 and, at an elevation of 121 metres (397 ft), Chard is the southernmost and one of the highest towns in Somerset. Administratively Chard forms part of the district of South Somerset.

Somerset County of England

Somerset is a county in South West England which borders Gloucestershire and Bristol to the north, Wiltshire to the east, Dorset to the south-east and Devon to the south-west. It is bounded to the north and west by the Severn Estuary and the Bristol Channel, its coastline facing southeastern Wales. Its traditional border with Gloucestershire is the River Avon. Somerset's county town is Taunton.



Approximately half of the population of the parish live in the village of Thorncombe, the rest are divided between the hamlets of Holditch, Hewood and Synderford, and outlying farms and houses. The layout of Thorncombe village consists of three roads which meet at a "T" in the middle of the village. These roads are Chard Street, Fore Street and High Street.

Chard Street heads north to the Somerset town of Chard. Chard Street is probably the busiest road with the Village Hall, St Mary's Primary School and the housing estates of Gribb View and Tansee Hill. Gribb View breaks from the tradition of most of the village in being mostly brick or rendered buildings, the traditional build of the village being flint-faced cottages, as this stone was readily available from the local area. Tansee Hill, of more recent build, is more in keeping with the village as it consists of both flint-faced and rendered buildings.

Flint Cryptocrystalline form of the mineral quartz

Flint is a hard, sedimentary cryptocrystalline form of the mineral quartz, categorized as the variety of chert that occurs in chalk or marly limestone. Flint was widely used historically to make stone tools and start fires.

Fore Street heads to the east towards Venn and is a more traditional looking part of the village with flint-faced cottages and terraced housing down its length. Along Fore Street are many of the buildings which previously housed village amenities and services such as the village store, a bakery and two pubs; these are all now used for housing.

High Street heads west and towards Sadborrow and Holditch. The housing in High Street presents a traditional appearance. Halfway along High Street is the recent development of Orchard Lane. This development, like Tansee Hill, is in keeping with the look of the village with traditional-looking buildings, some of which are thatched.

Thatching type of roof

Thatching is the craft of building a roof with dry vegetation such as straw, water reed, sedge, rushes, heather, or palm branches, layering the vegetation so as to shed water away from the inner roof. Since the bulk of the vegetation stays dry and is densely packed—trapping air—thatching also functions as insulation. It is a very old roofing method and has been used in both tropical and temperate climates. Thatch is still employed by builders in developing countries, usually with low-cost local vegetation. By contrast, in some developed countries it is the choice of some affluent people who desire a rustic look for their home, would like a more ecologically friendly roof, or who have purchased an originally thatched abode.


The parish of Thorncombe lies within the Dorset Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It is over 5,200 acres (21 km2) in extent and is principally agricultural land. To the east, across the valley of the River Synderford, is the ridge of Blackdown Hill (215 m), traversed by the Jubilee Trail, from which there are extensive views of the village and the area. About 4 kilometres to the southeast is Pilsdon Pen (277 m), formerly thought to be Dorset's highest point but now recognised as its second highest.

Blackdown Hill, Dorset

Blackdown Hill is a prominent elevation, 215 metres (705 ft) high, 5 miles (8.0 km) south west of the town of Crewkerne, in the county of Dorset in the south west of England. Its prominence of 34 metres (112 ft) means it is listed as one of the Tumps. It runs parallel to the B3165 towering over the village of Blackdown and hamlet of Kittwhistle at the foot of the eastern flanks of the ridge.

Pilsdon Pen mountain in United Kingdom

Pilsdon Pen is a 277-metre (909 ft) hill in Dorset in South West England, situated at the north end of the Marshwood Vale, approximately 4.5 miles (7.2 km) west of Beaminster. It is Dorset's second highest point and has panoramic views extending for many miles. It was bequeathed to the National Trust by the Pinney family in 1982. For many years it was thought to be Dorset's highest hill, until modern survey revealed that nearby Lewesdon Hill was 2 metres higher.


The original church at Thorncombe was dedicated to St Mary by William Brewer, Bishop of Exeter, in 1239. The building of the church, as well as nearby Forde Abbey (founded in 1136), was superintended by Cistercian monks from Waverley, Surrey. Thomas Chard, alias Tyblis, the last Abbot, was Suffragan Bishop to the Bishop of Exeter from 1508 and was appointed Vicar of Thorncombe in 1529, 10 years before he left Forde Abbey at the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1539.

William Briwere was a medieval Bishop of Exeter.

Bishop of Exeter Diocesan bishop in the Church of England

The Bishop of Exeter is the Ordinary of the Church of England Diocese of Exeter in the Province of Canterbury. The current incumbent, since 30 April 2014, is Robert Atwell. The incumbent signs his name as his Christian name or forename followed by Exon., abbreviated from the Latin Episcopus Exoniensis.

Forde Abbey Grade I listed historic house museum in West Dorset, United Kingdom

Forde Abbey is a privately owned former Cistercian monastery in Dorset, England, with a postal address in Chard, Somerset. The house and gardens are run as a tourist attraction while the 1,600-acre (650 ha) estate is farmed to provide additional revenue. Forde Abbey is a Grade I listed building.

Local legend has it that Rev. John Bragge, Vicar of Thorncombe from 1644 to 1647, was deprived of his living, probably because he was involved in a royalist plot against Cromwell, and was transported to Barbados. Although this statement appears on several websites, it is incorrect. The truth is less dramatic: Thorncombe’s parish register records John Bragge's burial in the churchyard on 5 April 1647. The Journal of the House of Lords for 3 November 1647 records the presentation of a ‘Petition of the Inhabitants of Thornecombe’. Now in Lambeth Palace Library, it confirms the date of John Bragge's demise. Signed by 62 parishioners, it states that parishioners 'have suffered above these twelve months last past their want of a preaching minister of the Gospel, by reason that John Bragge the last Incumbent by his delinquency agt State was sequestrated unto the time of his death which happened about half a year since'.

Oliver Cromwell 17th-century English military and political leader

Oliver Cromwell was an English military and political leader. He served as Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland, and Ireland "and of the dominions thereto belonging" from 1653 until his death, acting simultaneously as head of state and head of government of the new republic.

The old church stood about 50 yards (46 m) to the south of the present church, where the Wellingtonia tree now stands. In 1770, the church at Thorncombe was not large enough to contain 'the fourth part of the inhabitants'. [2] The present church dedicated to St Mary the Virgin, was built in 1866 to seat 400. This suggests that 200 years ago the population was over 1,600.[ dubious ] At that time, the village was a centre for the wool trade and had a thriving lace-making industry. The population was 1,308 in 1851 and 1,189 in 1871.

In 1689 Robert French registered his home as a "Protestant Dissenting Meeting Place" and by 1723 there is known to have been a Quaker Meeting House and burial ground in Thorncombe. [3]

Until recently the main industry in and around Thorncombe has been agriculture, but this has decreased in recent times. There are still a few farms which survive around the village but most residents work in the local towns of Chard, Crewkerne and Bridport.

Famous past inhabitants of Thorncombe include the Puritan Sir Henry Rosewell; the poet, dramatist and Royalist sermoniser Robert Gomersall; the Commonwealth Attorney General, Edmund Prideaux; Queen Anne's Secretary of War Francis Gwyn; the artist Lucien Pissarro; the ethnologist Sir Raymond Firth; the anthropologist Rosemary, Lady Firth; and the art-historian Cecil Gould.

Boundary changes

Until 1844, the parish of Thorncombe was an exclave of Devon, at which time it was transferred under the Counties (Detached Parts) Act 1844, to Dorset. It was part of Axminster Hundred.

In 1836 the parish, which had been part of the Deanery of Honiton, was transferred ecclesiastically from the Diocese of Exeter to the Diocese of Salisbury. In 1982, the ecclesiastical parish was transferred to the Diocese of Bath and Wells, at which time it became a 'united benefice' sharing a vicar with the neighbouring (Somerset) parishes of Winsham and Cricket St Thomas. In 1999, the parishes joined with others to form the Chard and District Team Ministry. In 2006 Thorncombe together with Winsham was linked with Tatworth, Chaffcombe and Cricket Malherbie with Knowle St Giles to form the Two Shires Benefice.


The present church, incorporating a number of items from the old church, was built in 1866–1867 at a cost of £4,000. The foundation stone was laid on 26 April 1866 by Margaret Bragge, widow of Colonel Bragge of Sadborow, and was dedicated by the Bishop of Salisbury on 15 October 1867. It was built in Perpendicular style, the windows being modelled on those of the cloisters of Forde Abbey. Inside the church is a memorial brass commemorating Sir Thomas (died 1419) and Lady Brook (died 1437) of Holditch Manor. This is one of 500 brass memorials recorded in the Lancastrian period 1400–1453.

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  1. 1 2 "Area: Thorncombe (Parish), Key Figures for 2011 Census: Key Statistics". Neighbourhood Statistics. Office for National Statistics . Retrieved 16 May 2014.
  2. George Philip Rigney Pulman, The Book of the Axe (1875)
  3. Friends of Devon Archives, "Who in Thorncombe did not sign the 1723 Devon Loyalty Oaths and why?"

Another interesting fact about Thorncombe is that it has the world's best James May impersonater. Commonly know around the village as 'Captain' Rebecca Doxat, Thorncombe resident, proudly holds this coveted title. Rebecca is said to run around the village screaming "i am el Capitan" as she wears a shirt saying Thursday on a Saturday night. Rebecca has little contact with the villagers yet like to think of herself as a philanthropic part of the village communtiy.

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