Luccombe is a small Exmoor village in a sheltered situation at the foot of open moorland to the south, and at the edge of the vale framed by Bossington Hill and Selworthy Beacon to the north. Although Luccombe has a strong sense of isolation and is largely enclosed within a narrow valley, the village is less than 2 km. from the A39, with Porlock some 4 km. to the north-west and Minehead about 7 km. to the northeast.
The village and land surrounding it, is within the Holnicote Estate, owned by the National Trust since 1944. Holnicote was formerly the Exmoor seat of the historic Acland family, whose ancestors date back to Hugh de Accalen in the 12th century. Like other villages on the Estate, Luccombe contains many examples of characteristic vernacular detail in cottage and farmhouse groups, and some, such as Wychanger, have medieval origins. As might be expected, the National Trust takes great care to maintain the traditional features of its buildings, which accentuates a timeless and homogenous character.
During the 1990’s the Trust carried out a detailed historic survey of its buildings, including agricultural and other outbuildings, which is kept at the Holnicote estate office.
Luccombe is Locumbe in the Domesday Book, and the manor was held by Ralph de Limesi, who is thought to have accompanied William in the Norman invasion, and was granted six other lordships in Somerset. The name probably derives from “Lufa’s CUMB”, but the Oxford Dictionary of English Place Names suggests that the derivation may be the Old English lufu “love” and may refer to a “valley where courting was done.” The manor came into the possession of the Pynkeny family in the 13th century, but for some reason, possibly as reparation for a crime, Henry the younger made over the manor to Edward I. Robert de Luccombe is mentioned in 1301, and was probably administrator, and the manor continued under the Crown “as of the honour of Pynkeny,” until abolition of the feudal tenures in 1660. In the meantime, it passed, through marriage to the St. John family in 1333, and for the same reason to the Arundell family in 1477. the early 14th century, and it is thought the family had become administrators.
Wychanger, to the south of the village centre appears to have been a separate manor. An early mention is a return made after the death of Hugh de Luccombe in the 13th century, when it was held by Peter de Bratton of Bratton Court in 1383. The Harrisons are recorded as owning Wychanger from 1547, followed by the Worths until the mid 19th century.
The Parish Church has an Early English chancel, otherwise it is mainly Perpendicular, Including the nave and tower, characteristic of the area, which date from c.1450 . The brass is to William Harrison who died in 1615. A former rector, Henry Byam, who was born in 1580 and succeeded his father in 1612 was with Charles II in Jersey and the Scilly Isles during the Civil War, in which his four sons served the Royalist cause. When the Royalists were defeated, Byam’s wife and daughter were drowned whilst fleeing to the Continent, but Byam himself lived beyond the Restoration until 1669 and is buried in the chancel.
Collinson (1791) describes Luccombe as having 38 houses, which “form a straggling street by the church.” A Kelly’s Directory of c.1880 gives an indication of later 19th century life, when the village formed part of the estate of Sir Thomas Dyke Acland , who improved many of the cottages, and supported the provision of a Day and Sunday School assisted by the Rector and a local voluntary rate.
Shortly after the Second World War, Luccombe became the focus of a detailed study by Mass Observation Ltd., which led to publication of “Exmoor Village.” This gave an insight of the social history of the period, and is probably responsible for occasional subsequent media interest.
The parish population reached a peak of 558 in 1831, and in 1891 was 512. It is currently less than half this total. The reduction is partly explained by the removal of Doverhay, part of Porlock from the parish in 1930.