History and Landscape

Parracombe Village

Holwell Castle
Holwell Castle

Dating from at least Anglo-Saxon times Parracombe has a wealth of history and archaeological remains.  Most spectacular is Holwell Castle the massive remains of the Norman Motte and Bailey Castle which can be best viewed from the entrance to Christchurch.  No buildings remain but there would have been a wooden tower on top of the Motte (mound) and buildings such as barns, stable and a chapel in the wide flat area known as the bailey,  A massive ditch surrounds the site.

Moorland Archaeology

Challacombe Common
Challacombe Common

The moorland on the boundary between the Parishes of Challacombe and Parracombe is recognised as one of the most important archaeological landscapes in the South West of England.  It is known as Chapman Barrows and Challacombe Common.   Dominated by the Longstone, a tall slab of slate some 3m high and possibly erected up to 6000 years ago, this area commands spectacular views of Bideford Bay and is littered with prehistoric and more recent earthworks.

On top of one of the Chapman Barrows - Bronze Age Burial Mounds

The most substantial remains are the Chapman Barrows comprising at least eleven large Bronze Age burial mounds forming a cemetery along the Parish Boundary.   The Reverend Chanter  and others opened some of the barrows over  a hundred years agoThe easternmost barrow was found to have a central burnt patch, a large pottery vessel and some bones at the time thought to be mutton but very likely human.  These were surrounded by a low stone wall and covered with turves to build a sizeable mound.  Chapman Barrows

The possible Neolithic Mortuary Platform
The possible Neolithic Mortuary Platform

Close by and relatively recently discovered is a low large rectangular platform some 25 long by 10 metres wide. It is enclosed by a low bank with a slight ditch.  This is an intriguing site and recent theories suggest that it could be the remains of a Neolithic mortuary enclosure, which is a place where human beings were placed after death as part of some unknown ritual or religious practices.

Elsewhere on the moor are prehistoric stone settings and one of especial interest above Challacombe is known as a Quincunx.  These are five stones, under a metre in height set in the pattern of the five dots on a domino piece of that value, covering an area of about 6 metres by 7 metres.

Just above Challacombe is the deserted farmstead and field systems of Radworthy.  This area was mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086 which is a certain indication that it was

Radworthy deserted Farm holding
Radworthy deserted Farm holding

occupied in Anglo-Saxon times.  However the farm ruins are much more recent and a complex system of field boundaries indicates many hundreds of years of farming on the site.  A recent LIDAR survey has shown up two circular platforms which might possibly be Iron Age hut circles.


Voley Castle
Voley Castle

There are several prehistoric settlements  around the village of platform.  These are known locally as “castles”  but by archaeologists as hillslope enclosures. They are usually a roughly oval areas surrounded by a low bank which were probably farmsteads dating from the Bronze and the Iron Ages. Excavations at Holworthy Castle brought to light a large Bronze Age pot, and masses of charred grain.  Other similar sites in Parracombe are Beacon and Voley Castles and South Common hut circles.



  1. Yes we have several Rawle’s in the village – we are unable to give out personal information but I am sure they will be listed in the phone book. Or we could pass on your contact details.

    Where are you from and do you have any stories of Parracombe for our archive?

  2. Hi i lived at break brook in the forties and fifties.went to parracombe primary with freddie and david rawl. I was wondering if you could give me any history of break brook ie when it was built..i should imagine at one time may have been a small holding.

    Many thanks if you can help. Regards.mike

  3. The reason for my request is that an ancestor of mine is recorded to have died at “Holwell Castle” in Devon, even tho’ his name was Sir Thomas de Halighwell. The surname subsequently mutated to Holwell and a number of his descendants are recorded as having died at Holwell Castle.

  4. Hi Do you have history of Fox and Goose Inn? I believe my ancestor Henry had a role. I’ll be visiting in October….. is there regular daily (incl. weekend) bus service from Lynton?

  5. Apologies for the late response, There is no history of the Fox and Goose, however plenty of mentions of the pub and Henry Blackmore in Parracombe and the Heddon Valley an Unfinished History on sale at the Lynmouth Pavilion

  6. re, brake brook, about ten years ago i was driving to lynton and stopped to take a couple of photos of the old house before the new one was there. i would think the old house would have been a small holding at one time,as when we lived there it had a barn next door to it which butted up to the house the walls not brick but stone walls same as the barn. our scullery tust had a stone trough for the sink which was fed from a small field up the back. we had friends who lived in a simalar one,off the main road coming from blackmore gate,it was situated between the parracombe turn off and big bank,almost looking down on the holwell castle,they were called leworthy[bert] his brother was washed down the river in the floods[1952].we left brake brook about 1948/50.many thanks for your reply,i now live in torquay,but have some memories from that time.

  7. Hello, We are in the process of Purchasing the house ‘Evenlode’ the Georgian house next door to the Parracombe primary school. Just wondered if anyone had any interesting facts about the house? thank you

  8. I am afraid I don’t have any information about the history of this house. The present owners are very clued up on the local history and they would be your best source of information. If you wish I can ping on this request to them or you may wish to speak directly with them. We usually try to make sure that new residents get a copy of our Parracombe history. I look forward to meeting you when you move in.

  9. Thanks for the information. We would be very interested in any more memories of your time in the village if you would care to email more stories

  10. Regarding Brakebrook.
    My husband’s great-great-great grandparents William and Mary Moore were married in Martinhoe had some children baptised there, and then moved to Parracombe, and they had more children and took these children to Parracombe Church to be baptised in 1807, 08 and 10.
    William was a “day labourer” and his abode was Brakebrook in Parracombe.
    Until I found this site I didn’t know it was an actual building. I thought it was another place in Parracombe. Now I will have to try and find a picture of it!!
    By 1841 they had moved to “Hill” in Parracombe., and then, when they died, they were buried in Parracombe Church yard.

  11. Thanks for this I will pass it on to the History Group who have been recording some of the graves. Did you know that Brakebrook has been rebuild in recent years?

  12. RE Diarmuid 14.4.16 It seems logical that a castle would have its own water source. I believe from work I have done in Devon that Holwell, like Halwell and maybe the surname Halighwell, and other similar place names might derive from ‘holy well’- Churches and sacred places are often sited on springs which are incorporated into foundations or lie buried beneath. These are often very ancient like the hot springs at Bath- clearly known and used long before the Romans arrived.

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