'A man of the people' - Heartfelt tribute to Bayfield Hall owner, Robin Combe

Robin Combe in his beloved Cockle

Robin Combe in his beloved Cockle - Credit: COMBE FAMILY

The family of a well-known north Norfolk landowner who “saw the best in absolutely everyone” has paid tribute to him. 

Robin Harvey Combe, of Bayfield, near Holt, died on August 28 following a short illness. He was 87. 

Born on January 2, 1934, in London’s Eaton Square, the family was bombed out of the capital during the Blitz in the Second World War. 

They moved to live in Norfolk on the Holkham Estate, as Mr Combe’s mother was sister to Thomas William Coke, the 4th Earl of Leicester. Here, a young Mr Combe spent every day either shooting with the keeper “Mr A.” or ratting with his dog, Binny. This unique time gave birth to his lifelong love of the countryside. 

Robin Combe on the Endeavour

Robin Combe on the Endeavour - Credit: COMBE FAMILY

Born a product of two old and illustrious families – the Combe brewing dynasty from London and the Cokes of Holkham – he was intensely proud of both and loved nothing more than the family get-togethers organised by the Holkham Estate each year. 


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In 1947, he arrived at Dartmouth Naval College as the penultimate intake of 14-year-olds before the minimum age was raised to 18. He served 12 years in the Navy, mostly in Minesweepers and Destroyers. During this time he met his future wife, Kim, in Bahrain, based in the Persian Gulf. She was working for the Foreign Office when he arrived on station as a young naval officer. The couple celebrated their diamond wedding anniversary last year. 

In 1959, Mr Combe left the Navy and began working for the family firm, Watney Combe and Reid, at the Mortlake brewery. A year later, the bequest that was to change his life arrived. 

Robin Combe as a glider pilot

Robin Combe with his dog, Diz - Credit: COMBE FAMILY

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Far from getting the pair of English shotguns he had been secretly hoping for, his great-uncle Roger Coke left him the Bayfield Estate, based close to the village of Letheringsett and the hamlet of Glandford. 

Bayfield Hall, whose lake is nopening to young anglers. Picture: MARK BULLIMORE

Bayfield Hall and lake

For the next few years, the estate took a back seat while Mr Combe pursued brewing and the unpleasant job of closing several well-known breweries including Bullard and Steward and Patterson. These companies had been bought by Watney’s, then a FTSE 100 company. 

In 1969, he left London with his young family to the newly converted Glandford Mill, where the fish farm was created and his appreciation of his inheritance really began. He was especially proud of the access created on Bayfield as he believed that it needed to be enjoyed by as many people as possible. 

Robin Combe

Robin Combe - Credit: COMBE FAMILY

Mr Combe was involved with a number of local organisations and charities. He appeared for the Blakeney Players, became the country’s longest-serving churchwarden, and served three terms as an active Liberal Democrat councillor. So passionate he was about the political party, he was forced to lace the Lib Dem signage on his land in grease and manure to stop thieves and vandals from targeting them. 

He was a long-time member of charity CPRE, CLA, and the Hawk and Owl Trust, among many other countryside organisations over the years. He was also a long-standing member of the Holt and Neighbourhood Housing Society, the instigator and founding member of the River Glaven Conservation Group, and was “very proud” of the new stretch of river running past the hall, as well as his relentless battle to eradicate the signal crayfish – especially as he had been the one to introduce them in the 1960s as a new business venture.

An aerial view of the lake and the restored channel of the River Glaven

An aerial view of the lake and the restored channel of the River Glaven - Credit: submitted

Robin Combe as a glider pilot

Robin Combe as a glider pilot - Credit: COMBE FAMILY

For the past decade, he spent his time continuing to champion local causes, planting trees on Bayfield Estate, and sailing his beloved Cockle “Water Rat” at Morston. He also spent time with his nine grandchildren, introducing them to sailing, shooting, and driving off-road in his old Land Rover. There was also at least one occasion when he commented on the sightings of a puma on his land. 

Son, Roger Combe, said: “Dad was many things. Above all though, he was a kind, decent man who saw the best in absolutely everyone and wanted to use his good fortune to help others.

"He was incredibly understated and never flaunted being the owner of the Bayfield Estate. He enjoyed being around all walks of life.

“He was a great father and grandfather, and was loved, respected, and admired by everyone who knew him and will be hugely missed.” 

Charles Jardine, right, with John Bailey's conservation hero, Robin Combe, of Bayfield.

Charles Jardine, right, with John Bailey's conservation hero, Robin Combe, of Bayfield. - Credit: Archant

Mr Combe leaves behind his wife, children Roger, Simon, Carey, and Silvia, and grandchildren Rufus, Fred, Sam, Cordy, Kitty, Emily, Martha, and Florence. 

A memorial service will be held at St Nicholas Church, Blakeney, on Saturday, October 9 at 2pm. Attendees are advised to bring wet weather clothes and folding chairs as the church is expected to be full. Donations in his memory are payable to Glandford Church or Prostate Cancer UK and may be sent c/o S. T. Sutton Funeral Directors, Burnt Street, Wells-next-the-Sea, NR23 1HL or via the JustGiving page.

Owner Robin Combe beside the lake, with Liam Reynolds from the rivers trust (left) and volunteer Car

Owner Robin Combe beside the lake, with Liam Reynolds from the rivers trust (left) and volunteer Carl Cornwall (right). Picture: Chris Bishop - Credit: Archant

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