Combe Royal uncovered

Posted on March 15th, 2013 by Charles Boot

Combe Royal uncovered

John Clark

Combe Royal is a Victorian house, listed Grade II, with a notable garden in a deep Devon combe, in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, near Kingsbridge in the South Hams. The lower garden, which was largely planted with giant rhododendrons, still exists, but little remains of the elaborate Victorian layout around the house.

The garden was renowned for the early study of citrus fruit. Combe Royal oranges were sent to Queen Victoria in the 1860s ‘who afterwards sent her head gardener from Osborne for the purpose of enquiring on the spot as to the mode of culture.’ (Fox, 1864).

The Orangery at Combe Royal, 1871

The Orangery at Combe Royal, 1871

The garden was featured in the Journal of Horticulture in 1871 (above), when its Orangery was described as growing varieties of orange, lemons, limes and shaddocks, unprotected except for reed mats in severe weather.

The ‘Orangery’ is actually a large free standing south-facing wall with an arcade of chamfered 4-centred arches of dressed slate; inside the arches there are alternative courses of red brick stretchers and brick-on-edge, and at the west end there is a blind ninth bay. This listed wall has survived, although it is now bare of plants. It is, as far as is known, the only one surviving in Britain, though there may also have been another, similar in design, in Barnstaple.

The 1906 and 1907 OS map shows extensive woodland with a series of walks south east of Combe Royal and a long drive from the Lodge above Lower Combe Royal. But by 1999 the woodland walks were overgrown, and the citrus wall was buried under brambles and undergrowth. Devon Gardens Trust arranged for the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers to clear away the undergrowth. The property was owned by Devon County Council for some years and was used as an office by the Social Services Department until two years ago.

Combe Royal whilst still owned by Devon County Council

Combe Royal whilst still owned by Devon County Council

Site clearance in June 2012, showing the Orangery in relation to the house

Site clearance in June 2012, showing the Orangery in relation to the house

Devon County Council sold the property in 2010 and the new owners have renovated the house. They have employed a young enthusiastic gardener to work on the garden. He was brought up on the adjoining farm, and has memories of how the site looked before nature was left uncontrolled to take over the former designed landscape. Large areas of undergrowth have been removed from both sides of the valley revealing the Citrus Wall in its former glory. But there is much more to do.

An old view showing the Orangery from just below the house

An old view showing the Orangery from just below the house

The owners’ intention is to restore the wall in its original garden setting, more or less as it was in the early photographs of the site. The Devon Gardens Trust fully support the work in progress and has given the owner information & photographs from their archive.


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