The main street and Bybrook River
|Population||344 (in 2011)|
|OS grid reference|
|Sovereign state||United Kingdom|
|Fire||Dorset and Wiltshire|
Castle Combe is a village and civil parish within the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in Wiltshire, England. The village lies about 5 miles (8 km) northwest of the town of Chippenham. There was a castle in the area, built in the 1100s, but it was demolished centuries ago.
The village has two parts: one is in the narrow valley of the By Brook, while Upper Castle Combe is on higher ground to the east, on the B4039 road which links Chippenham with Chipping Sodbury. No new homes have been built in the historic area since about 1600. Castle Combe was named the prettiest village in England in 1961. Castle Combe motor racing circuit is south of the upper village.
The village takes its name from the 12th-century castle which stood about 1⁄3 mile (500 m) to the north. Only the earthworks are still visible since the castle was abandoned in the late 1300s. The castle is believed to have been built by the first Baron, Reginald de Dunstanville, circa 1140; "Castell of Cumbe" stood on an ancient site used by the Britons.
Centuries earlier, a Roman villa stood about three miles from the village, indicating Roman occupation of the area. The site has been excavated on at least three occasions, the first by Scrope in 1852 and the most recent in 2010. Some reports refer to the site as the North Wraxall or the Truckle Hill villa. Evidence of a bath house and corn drying ovens were found, the latter from the 4th century. The villa itself apparently contained 16 rooms, and there were additional buildings and a cemetery. Neolithic flint tools and Iron Age brooches were also discovered not far from the villa, in 1985.
The 14th-century market cross, erected when the privilege to hold a weekly market in Castle Combe was granted, stands where the three principal streets of the lower village converge. The Market Cross, a Scheduled Monument, reflects "the significance of the cloth industry in this area". Next to the cross is one of Castle Combe's two village pumps. Small stone steps near the cross were for horse riders to mount and dismount, and close by are the remains of the buttercross, built in the late 19th century from old masonry. This structure, "also known as Weavers’ Steps and ‘the stone’", is another Scheduled Monument.
The market town prospered during the 15th century when it belonged to Millicent, the wife of Sir Stephen Le Scrope and then of Sir John Fastolf (1380–1459), a Norfolk knight who was the effective lord of the manor for fifty years. By 1340, the village had a fulling mill, confirming the importance of wool by that time. Scrope promoted the woollen industry, supplying his own troops and others for Henry V's war in France. The parish was in the ancient hundred of Chippenham.
At some time in the late 1700s, the level of the Bybrook River fell, so it could no longer be used to power mills. The cloth industry began leaving the area during that century; "industrial prosperity was over and the population decreased".
The village was owned by the Scrope family for over five centuries, until 1866 when it was sold to the Gorst family and Edward Chaddock Lowndes (who was previously also known as Gorst). The latter spent a great deal of money on improving the manor house and the estate.
Notable houses include the Dower House, from the late 17th century and now Grade II* listed.
A National School was built in 1826, on a site between the upper and lower villages. The school was taken over by the county council in 1909, and educated children of all ages until 1956 when older pupils were transferred to secondary schools in Chippenham. It closed in 1998 on the opening of a new primary school at Yatton Keynell.
During the Second World War, the RAF Castle Combe airfield was built east of the village, with runways, hangars and a control tower. Between 1946 and 1948 the airfield buildings were used as temporary housing for former military from Poland. The property was sold in 1948, and was later modified for motor racing; the tower is still used during races at Castle Combe Circuit. Also during the war, the Manor was used as a hospital; some time after the war, the manor was converted to a hotel and continues in this use.
For decades the village had a number of gristmills and sawmills but all went out of business; Nettleton Mill closed before 1916 and Gatcombe Mill closed circa 1925; both are Grade II listed. The Long Dean Mill shut down in 1956; the Lower mill is now Grade II listed; Colham Mill was demolished in 1962. The last remaining stone tower of the castle stood for centuries, but it too was demolished, in 1950.
The Church of England parish church of St Andrew is a Grade I listed building. Part of the chancel is 13th-century; in 1850–51 nearly all of the building, except the 15th-century tower, was taken down and reconstructed to the same plan.
The first chapel was built in 1757 and extended with a schoolroom in 1846. The current church, opened in 1914, is in the upper part of the village on what is now the B4039 road. The building is a former malt house and is attached to an 18th-century house which became the manse. The church continues in use.
The village has twice held the Combe Sunday event, a music festival which attracted 4,000 visitors to the village in 2006.
In popular culture
The village was a location for the 1967 film musical Doctor Dolittle. Its frequently rainy summer climate frustrated production, as did attempted sabotage – including by British Army officer (and future explorer) Sir Ranulph Fiennes - because of residents' irritation at the producers' modifications of the area for shooting. Other productions include "The Murder of Roger Ackroyd", an episode of Agatha Christie's Poirot, and the films Stardust and The Wolfman. Throughout September 2010, the village was a filming location for Steven Spielberg's production of War Horse.
Raymond Austin set the action of his book Find me a Spy, Catch me a Traitor in the village and at the Manor. The house of Alice Cartalet in the manga and anime series Kiniro Mosaic was based on Fosse Farmhouse, a guesthouse near Castle Combe.
Castle Combe has a car park at the top of the hill, and toilet facilities over the bridge at the bottom of the village. There was a small museum but it closed in 2012.
The Manor House was built in the 17th century and rebuilt in the 19th. It has 48 rooms and 365 acres (1.5 km2) of gardens. During World War II, the New Zealand Forestry Officers had the Manor House as their headquarters. In 1947, the owner of the Castle Combe estate sold the houses of the estate and the Manor House became a country club. After 18 months the club left the premises, and the house was shortly thereafter sold to Bobbie Allen, an amateur hotelier, and her husband. Mrs. Allen wrote a book of her experiences, From Claridge's to Castle Combe. The manor house and estate were sold in 1947. The property was owned by the Allen family for some time and they sold the Manor House to Mr. and Mrs. Oliver Clegg who, (some time after 1976), sold it to the corporation which now owns the property. By the time it was listed as a Grade II property in 1960, it was already operating as a hotel.
The 5-star Manor House Hotel is located in the west end of the village and features 21 rooms including a suite and 29 cottages. In addition to the golf course (which opened in 1992), the grounds include "a glorious Italianate garden" and [the] River Bybrook.
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