Pack o' Cards - History
The story of a village Inn
The following extracts are taken from the above titled book written by Donald F. Taylor.
In the seventeenth century, Combe Martin was largely cut off from the rest of the country by the hills that surrounded it. There were relatively few buildings and no continuous street, as we know it today. Combe Martin's inhabitants eked out a living from the soil and from working the lead and silver mines which had for long brought a measure of prosperity to the area.
The Ley family owned a good deal of land in Combe Martin and elsewhere and had connections in court circles. Sir James Ley of Teffont Evais became, in 1625, the first Earl of Marlborough and Lord High Treasurer of England. His relative George Ley received a license from the Bishop of Exeter in 1677 to teach in a private school in Combe Martin and in 1688 he became overseer to the poor and joined what was then the local council that ruled the village. He enjoyed a game of cards and, legend has it that in 1690, after a large win, he commemorated the event by having a new house built symbolising the features of a pack of cards. It has four floors, to represent the four suits, thirteen rooms for the number of cards in a suit, fifty two windows, fifty two stairs and was supposedly built on an area measuring fifty two feet square. The shape was that of a house built of cards. There were also outhouses and a walled garden.
Exactly when the house of cards became an Inn is not clear. Certainly it was used as an inn early in the nineteenth century. In 1822 one Jane Huxtable was the landlady. It was then known as the King's Arms Inn and was offered for sale in 1831 by that name. The name was changed to the Pack o' Cards on 1st June 1933, although it had undoubtedly been known as this colloquially for many years.
Today, the Pack o' Cards is a modern, thriving free house and, whilst preserving many of the original features, offers high quality accommodation with colour television and tea/coffee making facilities in each bedroom. The oak-panelled bar serves excellent real ales and a good selection of lagers, wines and spirits.
In summer the inn is very popular with holidaymakers who enjoy the fine food in the restaurant and excellent bar meals. The large riverside gardens with the al fresco barbecue are a delight and the terrific adventure playground keeps children and parents happy for hours.
In winter traditional village activities such as skittles, darts and pool take place regularly, as well as the more modern addition of quiz nights. There are many special occasions when the inn becomes a focal point of village life, such as bonfire night, Christmas and New Year's Eve. Carnival week in August brings the busiest period and there are regular car boot sales in the gardens throughout the year.
No longer does the local stagecoach pull into the courtyard for the horses and passengers to be fed and watered. However, the modern equivalent - luxury coach tour - visits to partake of the friendly hospitality, lunches and delicious cream teas. Guided tours of this famous monument are extremely popular since the Pack o' Cards has become very well known both nationally and internationally. Guidebook and maps have helped to spread the name and reputation plus numerous television features. The most notable programme was filmed in 1987 when the Paul Daniels Magic Show used the inn as a backdrop to some spectacular illusions. Further expansion of facilities is planned for the future, but always with the intention of preserving the heritage which has been handed down from the past.