History of Porlock
Porlock’s name derived from its description of a “Locked Port” when the sea receded leaving a strip of rich alluvial land (much of which is now marshland) bordered by a stone ridge beach stretching across the bay.
The village is a mile or so from the sea and also lies at the base of Porlock Hill, a winding road famously testing vehicles with a gradient of one in four at its steepest point.
Porlock has many attractive old properties with histories of their own. Follow this short trail to appreciate their picturesque qualities, whilst we draw attention to particular features of interest.
The Visitor Centre and Library
This building opened in 1879 as the local school and was extended in the early 1900s. The first Headmaster was 49 year old John Orchard from Selworthy. Porlock’s larger more modern primary school is now situated behind St Dubricius Church.
The Ship Inn
The Ship Inn is an old coaching Inn dating back to the 16th Century, although the building dates back to 1290 making it one of the oldest inns in the country. Stables were included in the 19th Century and an ancient skittle alley is still in use. Inside, “Southey’s Corner” pays tribute to the Poet Laureate Robert Southey who boarded there in 1779 and wrote a “Sonnet to Porlock.”
Wesleyan Methodist Church
The church was completed in June 1927, a gift from the Acland family of Holnicote. The old chapel, (now The Countryman and Ziangs Restaurant) previously built in 1837, was no longer fit for purpose.
The current Church’s rooms have served as meeting rooms, schoolrooms, games rooms and played host to WW2 soldiers to sleep in during Exmoor training exercises.
Miles Tea & Coffee
Miles tea blending and coffee roasting business dates back to 1888 when Henry Miles set up a tea blending business in Birmingham. His grandson Derek brought it to Porlock in 1962 forming D J Miles & Co. which eventually settled here in Vale Yard in 1980 where they started coffee roasting and production.
Now private residences and workshops, the Tannery is a series of buildings which once served the village as a tanning industry employing up to 30 men. Local hides were treated with bark from nearby scrub oak trees, producing leather for saddlery, harnesses and shoes. After several hundred years the Tannery business finally folded in the 1930s.
St Dubricius Church
The church is rumoured to have lost the top of its steeple during a storm in 1703 but some say it was built flat topped for a beacon to be lit on it. Thought to date back to 1120, it includes the remains of a Norman window arch and a 15th Century cross in its churchyard. St Dubricius was a 6th century Celt who included Exmoor in his travels. Born in Herefordshire, he was known for curing the sick by the laying on of hands. When made an archbishop, it is said that he crowned King Arthur and later officiated at Arthur’s marriage to Queen Guinevere.
The Ancient Yew Tree in the Churchyard
The Yew Tree is thought to be over a thousand years old. Yews were planted in churchyards as a reminder of earlier pagan times and to deter sheep and cattle from eating the trees which provided wood to make longbows. Nothing grows under a yew tree and their toxicity was thought to deter wild creatures from raiding the graves. An ancient law protects yew trees dedicated to St Dubricius.
The Watermill at Hawkcombe
Dating back to the 1800s, it was used as a corn mill until 1900 when Mr Stenner, the last miller, died. In 1909 it was bought by the Porlock Electricity Supply Company and powered by dynamo to supply the village’s electricity. It was taken over in 1929 by the Exe Valley Electricity Company.
The water wheel was restored to working order in 1969. The Mill is now a private residence.
The Old Rose and Crown Inn
The Inn also once had Cape’s Stores, a grocer’s shop, at the eastern end of the building. This also previously served as a butchers shop and Porlock Bank, but is now privately owned and known as Sanctuary Cottage. In 1870 the landlady of the Rose and Crown was summoned to appear before magistrates to answer a charge of allowing rowdy behaviour at the Inn and it was eventually closed in the 1880s.
The Lorna Doone Hotel
An Inn known as The Three Horse Shoes stood until it was demolished in 1886 and the present building was erected in its place. It has been a hotel since 1894 and is thought to have played host to R D Blackmore at the time when he was writing his novel “Lorna Doone”, a popular romance set in Exmoor.
The forge dates back to the mid 19th Century. Its frontage remains remarkably unaltered since it’s days as a Smithy. It now serves as an interesting bric-a-brac shop.
Dovery Manor Museum
The museum is housed in a fine example of a small 15th Century Manor House. Dovery Manor was a prestigious house dating back to 1450 and built on the site of a much earlier property. The Manor was thought to serve as the dower house to Court Place, the only other grand building in the village, destroyed by fire in the 1800s. A dower house was the residence of a widow, typically one near the main house on her late husband’s estate.
The Porlock War Memorial
Erected after the First World War “In honour of these 25 brave men who in the Great War of 1914 – 1919 fell in their country’s cause”. A further 13 names were added of the Porlock men who fell in the Second World War 1939 – 1945.
Sonnet to Porlock
“Porlock thy verdant vale so fair to sight
Thy lofty hills which fern and furze embrown
Thy waters that roll musically down
Thy woody glens, the traveller with delight
Recalls to memory, and the channel grey
Circling its surges in thy level bay.
Porlock, I shall forget thee not,
Here by summer rain confined;
But often shall hereafter call to mind
How here, a patient prisoner ‘twas my lot
To wear the lonely, lingering close of day,
Making my sonnet by ale house fire,
Whilst idleness and solitude inspire
Dull rhymes to pass the duller hours away.”
Robert Southey, Poet Laureate 1799