Ilfracombe Devon Family History Guide

Ilfracombe is an Ancient Parish and a market town in the county of Devon.

Other places in the parish include: Lee.

Parish church: Holy Trinity

Parish registers begin:

  • Parish registers: 1567
  • Bishop’s Transcripts: 1607

Nonconformists include: Baptist, Christians, Independent/Congregational, Presbyterian, Protestant Dissenters, Society of Friends/Quaker, and Wesleyan Methodist. 

Adjacent Parishes

Historical Descriptions

The Imperial Gazetteer of England & Wales 1870

ILFRACOMBE, a town, a parish, and a sub-district, in Barnstaple district, Devon. The town stands on the coast of the Bristol channel, 11 miles NNW of Barnstaple. It is a watering place, a coast guard station, and a sub port to Barnstaple. A railway to it was authorised in 1864, but continued doubtful in 1867. It was anciently called Alfrincombe, Ilfridscombe, and Ilfordcombe. It possesses some antiquity; and was important enough, in the time of Edward III., to contribute six ships and eighty two mariners to the fleet for the siege of Calais. It also, during the civil wars of Charles I., was garrisoned for the parliament, and was taken, in 1644, with twenty pieces of ordnance and 200 stand of arms, by a royal force under Sir Francis Doddington. It occupies a peculiar kind of situation, on a peculiar piece of coast; and is noted for the romantic picturesqueness of the scenery around it. The coast, for miles in its neighbourhood, is a strikingly broken and diversified series of alternate crags, chasms, rocky saliences, and rocky recesses. "Here there are no ranges of lofty cliffs, descending to the sea in mural precipices; but a chain of unequal heights and depressions. At one spot a headland, some 500 feet high, rough with furze clad projections at the top, and falling abruptly to a bay; then, perhaps, masses of a low dark rock, girding a basin of turf, as at Watermouth; again, a recess and beach, with the mouth of a stream; a headland next in order; and so the dark coast runs whimsically eastward, passing from one shape to another like a Proteus, until it unites with the massive sea front of Exmoor.'' Some of the rocky heights rise like tors, and serve as landmarks to mariners; and several near the town, besides being eminently picturesque in themselves, and forming grand features in close views, command a prospect, across the channel, to the Welsh mountains. The coast is remarkable also for dangerousness to navigators, and for plenteousness in interesting kinds of marine animals and plants; and it bears memorials of terrible shipwrecks, and has greatly attracted the attention of naturalists. Charming walks are in the vicinity of the town, suitable either for invalids who cannot scale the heights, or for the curious who are in search of striking objects and scenes. The harbour itself, with a natural defence called Lantern hill, is not a little interesting; and so are Capstone hill, immediately W of the harbour, and crowned by a flag staff; the Sea walk, round Capstone hill, to a cove called Wildersmouth; and the summit of Helesborough, 447 feet high, crowned with an old earthwork of nearly 20 acres, defended on the land side by a double entrenchment.

The town consists chiefly of one street, about a mile long, irregularly built, on the side of a hill, parallel with the shore, remarkably clean, yet very far from handsome; but, since rising into note as a watering place, about 1820, it has acquired some good extensions, and many well built houses and elegant villas. A row of good houses runs along the side of the harbour; and many handsome recent erections are in Coronation terrace and at the east end. A hotel, in the modern or Victoria style, at an estimated cost of £14, 944, with about 150 feet of frontage and upwards of 166 rooms, was built in 1866. The public rooms are in the centre of Coronation terrace; comprise reading, ball, and billiard rooms; and are used for public meetings, amusements, and other purposes. The town hall is a recent erection, and has shops below, and a large hall above. The Baths are situated in a largely cavernous spot called Crewkhorne; comprise a Doric building of 1836, with hot and cold sea water baths; and communicate, by a tunnel, with a part of the shore which formerly was inaccessible by land except at low water. Three places are used as bathing coves, Wildersmouth, Rapparee, and the Tunnels; and they have a pebbly beach, and perfectly clear water, free from silt or sand. The parish church stands at the upper extremity of the town, on the road to the Tunnels; is a very fine old edifice; has a massive square tower, rising from the centre of an aisle; has also a large E memorial window, put up in 1862; contains an old font, a sarcophagus of Capt. Bowen, who fell in the disastrous attack on Teneriffe by Nelson, and several other interesting monuments; and was served by the historian Camden. The church of St. Philip and St. James was built in 1856, and is both chaste and elegant. Another church, called the Free church or Christ church, in Portland street, is a plain edifice. A Wesleyan chapel, built in 1864, is in the decorated English style, of Appledore stone, with dressings of Bath stone. There are also a seamen's chapel, and chapels for Independents, Baptists, and Plymouth Brethren; and there are national schools, a British school, and charities £21. The town has a post office, a banking office, and three good hotels; is a seat of petty sessions and a polling place; and is governed by a portreeve, appointed annually. A weekly market is held on Saturday; a great market, on the Saturday after 24 August; and a cattle fair on 14 April. The harbour is a mixed work of nature and of art; is defended from the sea by a bold mass of rock, stretching half way across the entrance; has a pier, originally built by the Bouchiers, and enlarged at various times to an eventual length of 850 feet; and affords perfect shelter and good anchorage to vessels of 200 tons and upwards. A lighthouse stands on Lantern Hill, about 100 feet above sea level; was originally an ancient chapel, frequented by pilgrims; includes a news room for the inhabitants and visitors; and presents a quaint appearance in its capacity of lighthouse. A project was recently formed to enlarge the harbour to the extent of two acres, to convert the present area into a floating dock, and to erect quays on the E side. Steamers sail regularly to Bristol, Bideford, and Swansea; and the Cornish steamers between Hayle, Padstow, and Bristol, call off the harbour. Pop. of the town in 1851, 2,919; in 1861, 3,034. Houses, 652.

The parish comprises 5,583 acres. Real property, £17,853; of which £20 are in gas works. Pop., 3,851 Houses, 787. The manor belonged formerly to the Champernownes, Sir Philip Sidney, the Martyns, the Audleys, and the Bouchiers; and belongs now to Sir Bouchier P. Wrey, Bart. The parochial living is a vicarage, united with the chapelry of Lee, and the living of St. Philip and St. James is a p. curacy, in the diocese of Exeter. Value, of the former, £150; of the latter, £170. Patron of the former, the Prebendary of Ilfracombe; of the latter, W. H. Stone, Esq. A section of the parish was assigned, in 1859, to the church of St. Philip and St. James; and this, in 1861, had a pop. of 1, 291. There are a small chapel of ease at Lee, and a small charity school at Heal. The sub-district contains also four other parishes. Acres, 19,261. Pop., 5,663. Houses, 1,187.

Source: The Imperial Gazetteer of England & Wales [Wilson, John M]. A. Fullarton & Co. N. d. c. [1870-72].

Parish Records

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Birth Marriage and Death Records

England, Devon Bishop's Transcripts, 1558-1887

England, Devon and Cornwall Marriages, 1660-1912

England, Devon, Parish Registers, 1538-1912


England Births and Christenings, 1538-1975

England Deaths and Burials, 1538-1991

England Marriages, 1538–1973 

England and Wales Birth Registration Index, 1837-2008

England and Wales Death Registration Index 1837-2007

England and Wales Marriage Registration Index, 1837-2005

England and Wales Non-Conformist Record Indexes (RG4-8), 1588-1977


Great Britain Deaths and Burials, 1778-1988

Great Britain Marriages, 1797-1988

Great Britain, Births and Baptisms, 1571-1977

United Kingdom, Maritime Births, Marriages, and Deaths, 1787-1933

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Migration and Naturalisation Records

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Newspaper Archives

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Census Records

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England and Wales Census, 1851

England and Wales Census, 1861

England and Wales Census, 1871

England and Wales Census, 1881

England and Wales Census, 1891

England and Wales Census, 1901

England and Wales National Register, 1939

Probate and Court Records

England and Wales, National Index of Wills and Administrations, 1858-1957

Military Records

Great Britain, War Office Registers, 1772-1935

United Kingdom, Chelsea Pensioners' Service Records, 1760-1913

United Kingdom, Merchant Navy Seamen Records, 1835-1941

United Kingdom, Militia Service Records, 1806-1915

United Kingdom, Royal Hospital Chelsea: Discharge Documents of Pensioners 1760-1887 (WO 122)

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County: Devon
Civil Registration District: Barnstaple
Probate Court: Court of the Bishop (Consistory) of the Archdeaconry of Barnstaple
Diocese: Exeter
Rural Deanery: Shirwell
Poor Law Union: Barnstaple
Hundred: Braunton
Province: Canterbury