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Branscombe is a village in the East Devon district of the English county of Devon.
The parish covers 13.92 square kilometres (3,440 acres). Its permanent population in 2005 was estimated at 523 by the Family Health Services Authority. It is located within the East Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, overlooking Lyme Bay.
The name of the parish is probably Celtic in origin. It is made up of two words, "Bran" and "cwm". Bran is a well established Celtic personal or tribal name that may also mean "black" or "crow black". Cwm is a topographical term still in use in English as well as modern Welsh to describe a steep-sided hollow or valley. So the name may derive from the first Celtic family to take possession of the land, probably from the Dumnonii tribe, sometime between 2000-2700 BC.
From the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries, Branscombe was a source of hand-made lace, and Branscombe Point is a style that is still practised by lacemakers worldwide. Fishing was also a traditional industry, as well as source of food. The manufacture of flints for early guns and the cooking of limestone to make fertiliser were short-lived but important local enterprises, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
The church of Saint Winifred was built between 1133 and 1160 in the Norman era, but there is some archaeological evidence suggesting there may have been a former Saxon building, on the site. The church includes a memorial to the Wadham Family. When Nicholas Wadham died in 1609 his fortune was used to found Wadham College, Oxford.
Branscombe's principal industries are farming and tourism, although a significant number of permanent residents are retired. In 2005 over half the estimated population were aged over 50. The village straggles along narrow roads down steep-sided valleys, terminating at a shingle beach, Branscombe Mouth, which forms part of the East Devon and Dorset Jurassic Coast. To either side of the beach, the coast rises steeply to cliffs, which are in the ownership of the National Trust. It is a popular point for starting walks on the South West Coast Path; it is a short walk eastwards to Beer (with two alternative routes, one at the top of the cliffs and the other ascending the cliffs via the interesting Hooken Landslip area also called the Undercliff) and a longer walk westwards towards Sidmouth.
There is a small primary school, which had 68 pupils in 2005. It is owned and operated by the Church of England with grant assistance from the Devon County Council. The original building dates from 1878.
There are two public houses in the parish, the Fountainhead and the Mason's Arms, both of which were included in CAMRA's Good Beer Guide 2008. The Fountainhead is sited at the source of a spring in the hamlet of Street. The name of the Mason's Arms is a reminder that stone quarrying in the nearby Beer stone caves was once a major employer in the village; from the undercliff path east of Branscombe Mouth, an adit to the former Beer stone mine can be seen. The Mason's Arms is also a hotel. A village brewery, Branscombe Vale Brewery, has won many awards for its beer.
The village contains three National Trust properties, The Old Bakery, Manor Mill & Forge, restored by the Trust, which has owned them since 1965.
After she was holed in the European storm Kyrill in the English Channel on 18 January 2007, forcing the rescue of her 26-man crew by French Navy and Royal Air Force helicopters, the MSC Napoli container carrier was beached at Branscombe to enable salvage of her cargo on Saturday 20 January 2007.
The MSC Napoli was carrying 2,394 containers, of which about 150 contained "hazardous" substances including industrial and agricultural chemicals according to the Maritime and Coastguard Agency. The ship was beached following serious structural failure, and the conclusion that she would not make it to Portland Harbour. Several items of her cargo were stolen by the populace in an act of wrecking.