In the Domesday Book of 1086, Yarnscombe is referred to as ‘Hernescombe, the valley of the eagles’. The ‘eagles’ were probably buzzards which still breed in the parish. From changes in dialect and spelling the present name has evolved. There is some evidence of habitation in the area prior to the Norman conquest, with traces of the Saxons at Cogworthy and elsewhere. The Saxons called the area ‘Delilea’, meaning a well-wooded area, but little woodland remains. We are reminded of our Saxon ancestors in the names of the local farms at ‘Delley’ and ‘Delworthy’.
In 1280 there was a chapel dedicated to St. John the Baptist said to be in ‘Little Ernescombe’. This was in the area of ‘Chapple Farm’ where there are some remains. This chapel was given by Bishop Grandison of Exeter to the Exeter Hospital of St. John towards the foundation of a grammar school. Two scholars were to be chosen by the Archdeacon of Barum [Barnstaple], one to be from the parish of Yarnscombe.
In 1630, Sir William Pele called it ‘Ernscombe’ which he said ‘lieth remote within the hundreds of Shebbeare beyond Bideforde, yet it is of the hundred of Hartland’.
Several noteworthy families have lived in the parish and there are numerous memorials to them in the Parish Church.
Pollard. The Pollard family lived at Langley from 1303 to 1732. In 1415 a licence was granted to Richard and Thomasine Pollard for a chapel at ‘Langleigh’ (then in High Bickington) but no trace remains. Other branches of the family lived in neighbouring parishes and descendants still live in the area, including a former Mayor of Torrington. The only official memorial, in the north wall of the chancel, is to John Pollard who died in 1667. The inscription is in Latin and partly eroded. The translation states, ‘this sepulchral monument of John Pollard of Langley, Esquire, a most honourable man, distinguished by both birth and attainment’. An earlier John Pollard, probably the grandfather of the former, was gentleman usher to Queen Elizabeth I, and later married a lady-in-waiting, Bess, sister of the Countess of Shrewsbury who created the famous Hardwick Hall in Derbyshire.
Loveband. The family are recorded as farming Delley and Northchurch in 1314 and lived in Yarnscombe continuously until early in the 20th century. In 1913 they owned 274 acres (Delley 180, Shortridge and Watts 90). The only vault in the churchyard is that of the Lovebands who were devout churchgoers, but there are many memorials to members of the family in the church, including the stained glass window of the chancel. In 1580 a Thomas Loveband married Dorothie Trevelyan of #8221Court, and in 1738 Jane, a daughter of Richard Loveband, married a Pollard. In his will Richard left Ley Farm to Jane. The list of clergy records that Anthony Loveband was a curate or priest in 1848-49.
Cokworthy. John Cokworthy (also seen as “Cockworthy”) came into possession of the Yarnscombe estates in 1436. John’s son Nicholas had a daughter named Avice who inherited the estates. In 1505 she married John Trevelyan of Court. Avice gave Thomas, her younger son, the family house and farm. Thomas, wishing to give it a name, decided that there could be none better than his mother’s maiden name, and called it Cokworthy. The name survives to this day in the form of Cogworthy Manor. There are Cokworthy memorials in the church, one being the slab forming the base of the Easter Sepulchre of the chancel.
Trevelyan. John Trevelyan, a member of the famous family who lived at St. Veep, south of Lostwithiel, came to Yarnscombe at an unknown date and lived at Court. He married Avice, the heiress of Cokworthy, and died in 1542. Anthony (1572-1623) married Cecilia (1576-1609) daughter of Hugh Fortescue of Weare Gifford, near Torrington. Anthony’s monument is in the east wall of the south aisle of the church. The inscription again is in Latin and much eroded. It contains the arms of the Trevelyans and the Fortescues. Cecilia’s tombstone is in the aisle at the west end of the nave. Other memorials to members of the family are in the church. Another John Trevelyan is said to have sheltered a Roman Catholic priest, Philip Powell, for four months during the Civil War. Most of the land holdings in Yarnscombe owned by the Trevelyans were acquired by the Rolle family in about 1712.
Champney. The Champneys were an Uffculme family but knowledge of them is sparse. John Champney came from Chapple and had a son, William, born in 1554. Tombs exist in the nave and chancel and they are remembered by a perpetual charity.
Oatway. The Oatways lived in Yarnscombe from 1684-1928. Their various residences include Ley Farm. In 1971 a descendant in Canada enquired if the parish records could be researched for names of the family. 91 baptisms, 30 marriages and 60 burials were discovered. The family were prominent in church life and descendants erected a memorial screen enclosing the belfry chamber. The screen was dedicated by the Bishop of Crediton in 1976.
Included in the parish records that survive are some Indentures of Apprenticeship dated 1832 to 1844. These mostly read ‘Husbandry’ or ‘Housewifery’ and one is instantly reminded of the novels of Charles Dickens when reading that fifteen of the children ‘apprenticed’ were no more than nine years of age.
In 1851 the parish had an area of 3047 acres and a population of over 500. The Census Return shows there were 5 blacksmiths, 2 masons. 2 millers, 4 bootmakers, 4 carpenters, 2 thatchers, 2 innkeepers and a paid constable amongst its inhabitants. There was also a school and school house with resident teacher. The school building has an indistinct date inscribed on its south wall which could be 1847, but it is known that the school opened in 1848, and was in continual use until it closed in 1950 due to lack of numbers and changes in education. The children of the village and outlying houses were, and still are, taken by coach to schools in Torrington. The building belonged to the church, but in 1983 the Diocese sold the building to the village for community use. The schoolhouse was sold as a residence and the school used as the Village Hall. In 1995 a site for a new Village Hall was purchased and work on the building commenced. This was completed and opened in 1996 and is now a popular centre for village recreation.
The Parish Church of St. Andrew is located at the highest point of the village, but Yarnscombe has not had a resident priest for a great number of years and the imposing Victorian Rectory was sold for a private residence.
The Methodist worshippers of Yarnscombe originally attended services in a wooden hut until, in 1908, a stone chapel was built. This was used until 1993 when reduced congregations and high cost of maintenance caused its closure, and it was sold and converted for residential use.
A Post Office was opened in 1929, but regretfully, it closed in 1996 due to the retirement of the postmistress. Prior to 1929 the postman carried the mail daily from Umberleigh, some four miles away, delivered the letters and then waited in a hut at Moor Lane until it was time to collect the post from the postbox before commencing his walk back to Umberleigh.
Where public utilities are concerned, Yarnscombe arrived in the 20th century later than most places. The telephone service appeared relatively early, but mains water and a sewerage system were only installed in 1961. Until then the village pump, situated in the square, was the source of water for the villagers. Outlying houses and farms had wells and septic tanks, as some still have today.
What of Yarnscombe today? The population of 1851 has diminished, with just over 230 on the electoral roll and 40 children and young adults. It is still mainly an agricultural community of mixed farming; Plough Sunday, Harvest Festival and the Harvest Supper are well attended and their relevance perhaps better understood than in non-rural communities. Gone are the tradesmen of 1851. The tradesmen who currently live in the village have most of their business in the surrounding towns and villages. There are a number of retired persons and professional people who work from home. In spite of all the pressures of modern life there is a tremendous community spirit with most people pleased to help one another, supporting a fund-raising effort or giving their time for the church, village hall, youth club or other worthy cause.