Combe Down

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Combe Down
Combe Down is located in Somerset
Combe Down
Combe Down
 Combe Down shown within Somerset
Population 5,419 (2011)[1]
OS grid reference ST761625
Unitary authority Bath and North East Somerset
Ceremonial county Somerset
Region South West
Country England
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Post town BATH
Postcode district BA2
Dialling code 01225
Police Avon and Somerset
Fire Avon
Ambulance South Western
EU Parliament South West England
UK Parliament Bath
List of places

Coordinates: 51°21′40″N 2°20′33″W / 51.3610°N 2.3425°W / 51.3610; -2.3425

Combe Down is a village suburb of Bath, England in the Bath and North East Somerset unitary authority within the ceremonial county of Somerset. Combe Down sits on a ridge above Bath approximately 1.5 miles to the south of the city centre. "Combe" or "coombe" is a West Country word meaning a steep-sided valley. The area encompassing present-day Combe Down includes the original village consisting predominantly of 18th and 19th century Bath stone-built villas, terraces and workers' cottages; the post-World War II Foxhill estate of former council houses; and a range of Georgian, Victorian and 20th century properties along both sides of North Road and Bradford Road. Formerly part of the Parish of Monkton Combe, Combe Down village was incorporated into the city of Bath in the 1950s.[2]

Combe Down village sits above an area of redundant 18th and 19th century stone quarries. These quarries were fully infilled and stabilised during a central government-funded project which took place between 2005 and 2010.[3]

Local amenities[edit]

Combe Down is a thriving community with many local amenities including schools, churches, shops, local societies and pubs.

The local state primary school is Combe Down CEVC (Church of England Voluntary Controlled) Primary School, housed partly in a unique log cabin imported from Finland.[4] The nearest state secondary school with sixth form is Ralph Allen School. A private school for children aged between 2 and 18, Prior Park College is located on Ralph Allen Drive, a short walk away from the village centre. Other schools nearby include the private Monkton Combe School which is located in the local village of Monkton Combe.

Shops in the centre of the village include a Co-op, a newsagent, a delicatessen with coffee shop, an estate agency and a pharmacy, together with a barber, two hair salons, a beautician, a crockery hire business and an art gallery. There is a small branch of Barclays Bank on North Road, adjacent to a second-hand children's clothes shop, and there is a fish and chip shop on Bradford Road. The village post office closed in 2006 despite much public opposition and the nearest post office branch is now located inside a grocery store in a row of shops serving the Foxhill community on the Bradford Road. A car repair garage and an undertaker's are both close to the centre of the village.

There are three local pubs, an Anglican church (Holy Trinity) and an evangelical chapel within walking distance for most residents, while a Roman Catholic church (Saint Peter and Saint Paul) is on the edge of the village, adjacent to the Foxhill estate. The Church Rooms in the centre of the village are available for hire by local groups. Combe Down village also includes two flourishing rugby union clubs and a cricket club, a children's nursery, a doctors' surgery and a dentist as well as an active Cub and Scout Group (10th Bath) with its own Scouts' Hut. There are several societies, including an active local history group (the Combe Down Heritage Society), a branch of the Women's Institute and the Combe Down Art Group.

A large public open space (Firs Field) incorporates the village war memorial and a play area with children's play equipment. Three parcels of land make up the Firs Field open space, two of which are under the control of the local Council. The deeds state that the Field is intended for the recreation of the residents of Combe Down in perpetuity. Firs Field was restored to meadowland status following the successful completion of the stabilisation works in 2010. A residents' group (The Friends of Firs Field) exists to ensure the appropriate representation of local residents' interests with regard to the management of the field.

The village pubs are the King William,[5] the Hadley Arms[6] and the Foresters', renamed the Forester and Flower in 2006.

There are half-hourly daily bus services direct to the village from Bath city centre (service number 1). In the evenings these services are less frequent. The privately owned Bath 'circular tour' bus route passes along the outskirts of the village and down Ralph Allen Drive. The Bath Circular bus (service number 20A) operates along the main road and into the city centre, catering for students travelling to the University of Bath.

Combe Down village is immediately to the north of large areas of natural woodland (Rainbow Woods) with many public footpaths offering magnificent views overlooking the City of Bath. The woods are managed by the National Trust and incorporate the famous Bath Skyline Walk. To the south of the village are spectacular views overlooking Midford Valley.

Stone mines and quarries[edit]

See also Combe Down and Bathampton Down Mines.

The mines at Combe Down were Oolitic (oolite) limestone mines, mainly worked in the 18th and 19th century. Stone was extracted by the "room and pillar" method, by which chambers were mined out, leaving pillars of stone to support the roof. The Bath stone used for many of the buildings in Bath - as well as for other important buildings around the United Kingdom including Buckingham Palace - was mined from beneath and around Combe Down. Many of these workings were once owned by the eighteenth century Postmaster General Ralph Allen (1694–1764). The mines were closed in the 19th century but building work continued above ground, with some roads and houses eventually resting on only a thin crust — in places between only one and two metres deep — above large underground cavities with inadequate support.[7]

A five-year central government-funded project began in late 2005 to stabilise and fill the abandoned mine workings. The Council approved the planning application in June 2003 and approximately 760 village properties were included within its boundary. All mine workings inside the boundary of the planning application were stabilised using foamed concrete to satisfy a 100-year design life while ensuring archaeologically important areas and bat habitats were protected. In some hydrologically sensitive areas, "stowing" - an infill with aggregate limestone — was undertaken. Archaeologically important areas were filled with sand, and new bat caves and tunnels were created.[3]

The £154.6 million grant for the works came from the Land Stabilisation Programme which was set up by the government in 1999 to deal with "abandoned non-coal mine workings which are likely to collapse and threaten life and property" and managed by English Partnerships — the national regeneration agency. The total amount included £22.7m which had already been used for emergency stabilisation work before the approval of the main project.[3]

Several public art projects celebrated the completion of the stabilisation works.

One working quarry (Upper Lawn Quarry) remains on the edge of the village, located off Shaft Road. This supplies high quality Bath stone to the city and more widely across the UK.[8]

Combe Down Railway Tunnel[edit]

Opened in 1874, this mile-long disused railway tunnel (Combe Down Tunnel) emerges below the southern slopes of the village. It was once the UK’s longest railway tunnel (1,829 yards) without intermediate ventilation.[9] The tunnel now forms part of the £1.8 million Two Tunnels Greenway walking and cycling path which opened on 6 April 2013. At over a mile long, the Combe Down tunnel is the longest cycling tunnel in Britain and features an interactive light and sound installation as well as mobile phone coverage.[10] Its custodian is Wessex Water.

Site of Roman villa[edit]

It is believed that a Roman villa was situated on the southern slopes of the village somewhere below Belmont Road,[11] the site of which was discovered in the 1850s.[12] An inscription on a stone recovered from the area reads "PRO SALVTE IMP CES M AVR ANTONINI PII FELICIS INVICTI AVG NAEVIVS AVG LIB ADIVT PROC PRINCIPIA RVINA OPRESS A SOLO RESTITVIT". This can be translated as: "For the health of Imperator Caesar Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Pius Felix Invictus Augustus, Naevius the imperial freedman, helped to restore from its foundations the procurator's headquarters which had broken down in ruins." It is thought to date from AD 212-222.[13] Finds from the site were taken to the Somerset County Museum at Taunton.

Jewish burial ground[edit]

The Jewish burial ground is a site of historic value on Bradford Road and is one of only fifteen in the country to survive from the Georgian period.[14] While the burial ground has suffered a period of neglect since its closure in the early 20th century, much remains intact to serve as an important reminder of Bath’s historic Jewish community.[14] Dating from 1812, the last recorded burial was in 1946. The Prayer House (Ohel) which dates from around 1836 is of particular interest as there are few such examples still standing. English Heritage gave it a Grade II listing in 2006.[15] The site contains two chest tombs and some fifty gravestones, dating from between 1842 to 1921, with both Hebrew and English inscriptions. Funds to restore the Prayer House, conserve the grave stones, repair the boundary wall, replace the gates and develop interpretation of the site have been sought in partnership with the Combe Down Heritage Society and the World Heritage Enhancement Fund.

De Montalt mill[edit]

The De Montalt paper mill stood on the southern slopes of the village during the 19th century; it gradually fell into picturesque ruin until it was converted into housing during 2007. The mill was probably built by the second Baron De Montalt, Viscount Hawarden in the early 19th century and was owned by John Bally, (a bookseller in Milsom Street in Bath), William Allan or Ellan and George Steart (d.1837), all trading as paper-makers under the name of John Bally & Co.

A print dating from the 1820s shows the mill which then possessed the largest water wheel in England, measuring 56 feet in diameter. It has subsequently been discovered that most of the coloured papers used by J.M.W. Turner (1775–1851) for a good number of his approximately twenty thousand drawings and watercolours were made at De Montalt Mill. The collection is now housed in The Turner Bequest at the Tate Gallery, London. The paper was of a very high standard and the watercolour boards were made without being pasted together which ensured they remained free from mildew; however, despite the early success of the business, it failed in 1834. The premises were later used for a variety of purposes including the possible (but unconfirmed) manufacture of Gutta-percha (a natural rubber-based material used in picture frames and golf balls); market gardening (1871); and cabinet making from (1875) until the lease expired in 1905 and it closed.[16] In the 20th century cows and pigs were being reared on the site.[17]

Various parts of the mill have Grade II listed building status, including the southern range which consisted of the apprentice shops and stores,[18] the main east block which was the printing works where notes were printed for the Bank of England - later converted to cabinet manufacturing,[19] and the chimney.[20] An Italianate villa set in the grounds is also grade II listed.[21]

The mill and its associated buildings were converted to residential use during 2007, with the main mill building being converted into four apartments.[22] Elements of the conversion featured in the Channel 4 television programme Grand Designs.

Local flora[edit]

A local woodland wild flower is the Bath Asparagus, also known as the Spiked Star of Bethlehem (Ornithogalum pyrenaicum).[23] The flowers appear in June after the leaves die; the leaves resemble bluebell leaves but are a softer green and not as glossy. The flowering spike is up to one metre high.[24] At the unopened stage the flowers used to be gathered in small quantities as a fresh vegetable by local people; it was also occasionally sold in local markets.[25] However, picking the flowers today is not encouraged as wild asparagus is becoming rare. According to research carried out by Avon Wildlife Trust the plant is found throughout Europe but has only a limited UK distribution. It is possible that the flower was first brought to the Bath area as seeds carried on the wheels and hooves of Roman vehicles and animals.

Allium ursinum, also known as Ramsons or wild garlic, is abundant in the National Trust woodlands adjacent to Combe Down during the spring.

Grade II listed buildings in Combe Down village[edit]

Notable residents[edit]

Henry John Patch (better known as Harry Patch) was born in Combe Down in 1898; both his father and grandfather were local stonemasons. His family home is still in existence in Gladstone Road. Patch was briefly the third oldest man in the world[85] and the last trench veteran of World War I. He died in July 2009, aged 111, by which time he was the last soldier to have fought in the trenches, the second last surviving British war veteran and one of four surviving soldiers from the conflict worldwide. His memoir, The Last Surviving Tommy, records his Combe Down childhood in some detail. His funeral cortege passed through Combe Down village on its way to his burial in Monkton Combe churchyard.

Herbert Lambert FRPS, 1881–1936, Bath portrait photographer and harpsichord and clavichord maker.[86]

Frederic Weatherly, the composer of the song Danny Boy, lived at Grosvenor Lodge (now re-named St Christopher's) in Belmont Road during the second decade of the 20th century.[87]

Charlie McDonnell, the most subscribed YouTube vlogger in the United Kingdom, grew up in Combe Down before moving to London in 2010.[88]


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External links[edit]