A beautiful morning at Ilfracombe Harbour, with St Nicholas's Chapel in the background.
|Ilfracombe has been settled since the Iron Age, when the Dumnonii Celts established a hill fort on the dominant hill, Hillsborough (formerly Hele's Barrow). The town's name is a derivative of the Anglo-Saxon Alfreinscoma - by which name it was noted in the Exon or Exeter Domesday Book of 1086. The translation of this name (from Walter William Skeat of the department of Anglo Saxon at Cambridge University) means the "Valley of the sons of Alfred". The manor house at Chambercombe in east Ilfracombe, was recorded in the 1086 Domesday Book as being built by a Norman knight Champernon (from Chambernon in France) who landed with William of Normandy. It is also said to be haunted. Ilfracombe was two distinct communities; a farming community around the parish church called Holy Trinity, parts of which date from the 12th century, and a fishing community around the natural harbour formed between Capstone, Compass and Lantern Torrs. It is recorded that the lands by the church were part of the estate owned by Champernowne family those by the harbour to the Bouchiers, Earls of Bath.Ilfracombe was a significant port on the Bristol Channel. In 1208 it was listed as having provided King John with ships and men to invade Ireland; in 1247 it supplied a ship to the fleet that was sent to conquer the Western Isles of Scotland; ships were sent to support the siege of Calais, and it was the disembarkation point for two large forces sent to subdue the Irish. The building which sits on Lantern Hill by the harbour, known as St Nicholas's Chapel (built 1361) is reputed to be the oldest working lighthouse in the UK; a light/beacon has been there for over 650 years.In 1911, the Irish nationalist Anna Catherine Parnell (sister of Charles Stewart Parnell) drowned at Ilfracombe.The song Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, it is claimed, was written by Jane Taylor whilst staying in the town in very early 19th century at Clyffe House.The actor Peter Sellers first set foot on stage here, and the Collins sisters (Joan and Jackie) went to school in the town whilst evacuees from The Blitz.||
The view from St. Nicholas's Chapel in the 1890s
Until the mid 19th century the economy was based around sea trade and fishing. The town gradually developed into a tourist resort served by ferries along the Bristol Channel. The provision of the railway accelerated this development. The population grew until the First World War, then stabilised at 9,200, now 11,000. The economy suffered throughout the 1960s as UK holiday patterns changed, and suffered further through the closure of the railway line in 1970.
Employment Research[ conducted by MORI in 2005 for the Transform (UK government neighbourhood management project), and by Roger Tym & Partners for the Ilfracombe Community Alliance showed :-The service sector (includes hotel and catering) at 76% is 2 x higher than the North Devon (40.1%) or Devon average (33.7%). 51% of businesses by number are within the distribution, hotels and restaurants sector.12.8% are within the banking, finance and insurance sector.11.9% are within public administration, health and education.
In the last twenty-five years, investment by private 'light engineering' companies has added to the economy. Light engineering firms have factories within a couple of miles of the town centre at Mullacott Cross. Local manufacturing industry is dominated by Pall ( Europe ) owned by Pall Corp. USA (filtration manufacturers) with 700 employees on site. Ilfracombe is European HQ of Lambda UK with 200 employees.
Ilfracombe overlies slates formed from sedimentary rock that underwent geological stress (creating faults and folds), towards the end of the Carboniferous era, around 300 million years ago. These are known as the Ilfracombe slates.
The town lies within the Parliamentary onstituency of North Devon, and the European Region of South West England.
The three councils which govern activities in the town are Devon County Council (statutory), North Devon District Council (statutory), and Ilfracombe Town Council (parish). The councils cover different areas of responsibility:
North Devon District Council offices are in the town council's offices in High Street. Northern Area Group District Councillors meet several times a year in The Lantern Community Centre to discuss current proposals for redevelopment and grievances of the local population toward these.
As with most communities with high density housing, the largest issue is car parking and the lack of spaces. The problem of inconsiderate dog owners is another concern, for which the council has to mount advertising campaigns to remind owners of their resposibilities. A third issue is the growth in the seagull population. The town council is to erect more signs warning visitors not to feed them.
When the tourism market faltered at the end of the Victorian era hoteliers invited people living in major urban areas to the town with the prospect of seasonal employment. Later, as unemployment levels rose, this 'inward migration' caused social problems and friction between these people and those with a long history of residence. In 2001, Ilfracombe Central Ward was designated the most deprived super output area in Devon
These problems are now being addressed by the implementation of local government schemes e.g Sure Start Ilfracombe, Berrynarbor and Combe Martin - a project to help the families with young children - and, since 2004, the Neighbourhood Management Transform programme: both were the first such government sponsored social development schemes covering rural areas in England. Better policing, the use of neighbourhood wardens and CTV have led to a reduction in crime rates as reported monthly to the town council by the police toward the North Devon regional average (a fraction of those nationally).
There are churches in the town serving denominations of the Christian faith. The main Anglican church is the parish church 'Holy Trinity' which is the mother church to St Peter's on Highfield Road. Several other churches identify themselves as Evangelical but differ in denominational background, these include: St Philip and St James Church (known locally as 'Pip & Jims') whose background is Anglican; two Free churches - Brookdale Evangelical Churchand Ilfracombe Christian Fellowship Church, of which the latter is the more charismatic; and Ilfracombe Baptist Church of the Baptist tradition. There is also a Roman Catholic church, Stella Maris, (in Runnacleave Road), the Methodist/United Reformed Emmanuel Church (on Wilder Road) and a Salvation Army Corps (church) (on Torrs Park, by Bath Place).
Other faiths are represented by a Jehovah's Witness meeting place (in Belvedere Road).
The town's educational needs are served by three schools: the Infants, the Junior and the Comprehensive school - Ilfracombe College. Each of these schools is amongst the largest of their type in Devon. The college serves the needs of Ilfracombe residents and those across the coastal North Devon area as far as Lynton and Lynmouth on the Somerset county border. It is a nationally recognised centre for Media Studies and was in 2004 awarded Media Arts Status. Further educational courses and vocational courses are run by Ilfracombe College, IT skills are taught at Pathfinder centres sited within the Candar development. During the summer months, the town has an influx of foreign students who study English at the Channel School of English.
Ilfracombe Museum was opened in 1932 in Ilfracombe Hotel's Victorian laundry and contains attractions from around the world including pickled bats and the two-headed kitten.] It also contains items and photographs of local railway interest including one of the concrete name boards from the now closed Ilfracombe railway station, which can be seen on the front wall of the museum.
Ilfracombe also has a library located on the Residential Candar Retirement Development.
Ilfracombe is at the southern end of the A361, the longest 3 digit 'A road' in England. The A361 finishes on the A5 at Kilsby on the Northamptonshire-Warwickshire border near Rugby. This road is the town's main connection with the South West England motorway the M5.
Regular bus services to Barnstaple are operated by First Bus and Stagecoach Groups. There are several smaller routes around the town run by Roy Filer Coaches.
A twice-daily national coach service operated by National Express route 502 connects Ilfracombe to London Victoria via Heathrow Airport.
Seasonal route 300 operated by Filers connects at Ilfracombe to Lynton and there connects with a bus operated by Quantock to Minehead and Taunton in Somerset.
Ilfracombe was served by a railway that ran from Barnstaple but this closed in 1970. Now, the nearest National Rail railway station is in Barnstaple and buses provide the public transport link from there to Ilfracombe.
Ilfracombe High Street
Despite the arrival of supermarket stores by large retailers such as Tesco and the Co-operative Retail Society, the High Street still thrives. The usual national chains like Lloyds Chemist, Somerfield Stores and Superdrug are present, but Ilfracombe has fortunately retained many local businesses, maintaining its traditional Victorian character.
Since 2001 there has been an economic regeneration programme led by the Ilfracombe & District Community Alliance MCTI, a community interest company designed to encourage social entrepreneurship. After community consultation this programme developed a community economic strategy for the next twenty years.The South West of England Regional Development Agency is working with the Alliance and North Devon District Council formulating plans for the town's economic and physical structures. Proposed developments are: the enhancement of the harbour area; the implementation of regular all year foot passenger ferry service to the Mumbles near Swansea which is only 21 miles away across the Bristol Channel; the re-development of the derelict bus station site based on plans developed by Terence O'Rourke ; and the creation of better youth support and recreation facilities at the Larkstone Brimland area on the eastern side of the harbour area.
The town council - working with GOSW, SWRDA and NDDC, supported by the Alliance and Transform - has proposed the development of the council offices into a community training resource in the town centre: 'The OneStop@Ilfracombe'.
In 2006, major leisure industry developments by John Fowler, a local holiday camp operator, are expected to help shift the local economy back to tourism. This combined with investment by patrons such as Damien Hirst (who with his partner Mia recently funded a restaurant owned by Simon Brown, No 11 The Quay, on Harbour Quay Road) and the introduction of high quality accommodation should make Ilfracombe a more attractive proposition for food lovers and tourists.
Each year, the residents and school children of Ilfracombe celebrate their heritage. These celebrations include six carnivals - a May Day walking celebration (dating from 2000, this is sometimes confused with an earlier tradition suppressed by the church in the 19th century); Ilfracombe Victorian Celebration, a week-long programme of events held annually in June to celebrate the time of the town's greatest prosperity; a large street carnival procession during August, organised by the St John's Ambulance service; the Lighting of the Lights held during November; and at Christmas, a Christingle.
A farmers' market is held regularly in The Lantern Community Centre on High Street. By the Landmark Theatre there is a small museum, housed in the buildings of the laundry of the former Ilfracombe Hotel. For those of literary intent there is an Ilfracombe authors'/writers' group.
The town hosts 8 small galleries, including the exhibitions displayed by the Art Society in the crypt of Emmanual Church on the seafront, the foyer of the Landmark Theatre, The Quay and in "Number Eleven, The Quay" there are many Damien Hirst works, butterflies, pharmacy etc including small statues and wallpaper designs.
Two charitable events are organised each summer by Ilfracombe Round Table. Both make use of Ilfracombe Pier as a display area. The first of these is the annual "South West Birdman" contest which involves entrants seeking to 'fly' from the pier in home-made flying machines and silly costumes. The second event is "Rescue Day", an opportunity for members of the public to learn about the activities of the emergency services. The highlight of the day is a simulated air-sea rescue involving the launch of the Ilfracombe RNLI lifeboat, a Sea King helicopter from RAF 22 Squadron, Exmoor Search and Rescue team and local Fire, Ambulance and HM Coastguard services
o, situated near Mullacott on the approach toward Ilfracombe, provides recording facilities and practice rooms for local musicians. The marching band s (one of several in the town), came third at the year 2000 World Marching Band Championships in Calgary, Alberta, Canada and 2nd the following year in Germany.
The Studio Theatre is a community theatre group which performs throughout the year at Ilfracombe College, The Landmark Theatre and other venues. Through the 1990s, the town was also host to the now defunct National Youth Arts Festival.
Ilfracombe Town Football Club near Ilfracombe College, compete in Division One of the Western Football League.
There is a High Street gym, however, the rural and hilly nature of the local terrain provide plenty of opportunities to exercise. A tennis club is based at Bicclescombe Park which contains several tennis courts, bookable for a small fee by both tourists and locals.
Ilfracombe Golf Club (located just beyond Hele Bay) was founded in 1892. Other active sport facilities include: a rugby club, cricket club (including the best player from the county Tim Bird (Fact|date=May 2007) and swimming club in the suburb of Chambercombe. There are, by the harbour, a yacht club , a sub-aqua club and a kayak and canoeing club. Other sports teams in the town include Hash Harriers Running Club and many skittles and darts teams operated by the numerous licensed premises in the town . There is also a flat green bowling club located in the town.
Jonathan Edwards the World and Olympic Champion triple jump athlete lived in the town whilst his father was the vicar of St Philip & St James Church. He is commemorated in a mosaic on the seafront near the Landmark Theatre, which demonstrates the length of his record-breaking jump. Jason Twist, twice World Champion at 7-ball pool still lives in the town.
Despite the hilly terrain, Ilfracombe is at the northern end of National Cycle Network route 27, known as the Devon Coast to Coast Cycle Route, which starts from the pier (clock-in station at the Pier Tavern) and ends in Plymouth. There is another coastal trail suitable for cycling which starts at the pier which heads eastwards towards Minehead (defined as 'arduous').
The South West Coast Path connecting Minehead (Somerset) to Dorset, via Land's End, passes through the town from Hele Bay to Lee Bay via Ilfracombe Harbour.
During the early 1990s, the team of the popular English reality TV show Challe ge Anneka relocated the redundant old wooden library from the Hermitage site, to 'Burnside' in the heart of the Slade Valley estate for use as a community owned centre.
The bi-weekly Ilfracombe farmers market
The Landmark theatre. Emmanuel Church is on the left and the Parish church is in the background
Locals enjoying 'Victorian Week' at the farmers market whilst dressed in traditional Victorian attire
The Montebello Hotel fire
A little before 19:00 BST, on Wednesday the 8th of August 2006, a fire broke out at the derelict Montebello Hotel in Fore Street, Ilfracombe. Twenty fire engines were required to put out the blaze including a number rushed to the scene from Woolacombe, Barnstaple and the bordering county of Somerset. Specialist equipment was brought in from as far afield as Exeter, and according to the local radio news, 85 firemen were involved at the fire.
The fire spread to three neighbouring properties and showered combustion debris over a wide area. The six-storey hotel was completely gutted, with only the front wall, chimney stacks and remains of the lift shaft frame surviving the blaze, which was still being damped-down the following day. Fore Street was closed for some period due to the difficulties of demolition.
Unfortunately, the Victorian building will have to be demolished, as the fire has left it structurally unsound. This caused additional headaches for the emergency services as curious members of the public ignored safety barriers in an attempt to see the remains more clearly.
An investigation into the cause of the blaze is in progress, and as to whether connections can be made to the previous fires at the Cliffe Hydro Hotel, the amusement arcade on Wilder Road and the historic fires at The Castle, The Mount and the original Candar.
Ilfracombe is twinned with: