It has been said that the only thing that Babbacombe is known for is the story of John Lee, “the man they could not hang”. Let us dig deeper.
Although St Marychurch dates back to Saxon days there is evidence of a fishing community near Babbicomb beach in 1500. The Manor map dated 1775 is the earliest known large scale map of the locality and the only properties shown are a handful of cottages on the slopes near the beach. Again in the Tithe map dated 1840 there still no properties on the Downs but several on the Babbacombe slopes showing names of both Land Owner and Occupier.
The whole area was extremely poor, the people barely surviving living from hand to mouth mostly working on the sea, a few worked on the land. Smuggling was rife.
St Marychurch has been a place of worship since Saxon times The Parish was founded between 637 and 690 A.D. and was called Sce Maria circean about the time of the Domesday Book, becoming Seintmariachurche in 1242. The Parish covered the areas now known as Babbacombe, Combe Pafford, Barton, Edginswell and Collaton Shiphay and was at one time far more important than Torquay.
It was described as a handsome village and picturesque parish with many neat mansions and marine cottages overlooking Babbacombe Bay in Whites History of Devon.