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Ilfracombe has a long history. It has been settled in since the iron age and its name is a derivative of the Anglo-Saxon Alfreincoma - by which name it was noted in the Exeter Domesday Book. 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’.

Ilfracombe was made up of two 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 beneath the dominant hill, Hillsborough (formerly Hele’s barrow).

The Manor House lands by the church were given to the Champernon family in 11th Century, those by the harbour the Bouchiers, Earls of Bath. Ilfracombe was a significant port on the Bristol Channel, 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 is reputed to be the oldest lighthouse in the UK, a light/beacon has been there for nearly 600 years.

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.

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.

 

 

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Ilfracombe History

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