Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
South Zeal, Devon
The village lies at the heart of the Beacon villages area. It is the most highly populated area in South Tawton Parish but it doesn't have a church, only a Church of England chapel and a Methodist chapel. The church is situated in the smaller South Tawton village, down the road. The differences have their basis in history when South Tawton was a manor and South Zeal was a village in that manor, where the manor hall was situated.
South Zeal (the name, Zeal, comes from the Old English Zele meaning hall) developed into the larger settlement when it was granted a charter to hold a weekly market and two annual fairs in 1299 AD. This, in turn, led to the development of trade routes and the 13th century village lay either side of the early road from Exeter to Okehampton and on to Cornwall. With the passing of time, the hamlets of Shelley, Prospect and Ramsley became part of the village.
The village lies in a hollow and the surrounding roads look down on the medieval burgage plots which stretch out behind the cottages in the main street. These were enclosed fields established by the Lord of the Manor, in the 13th century from the 'open' manorial fields. The tenants of the enclosed lands paid a cash rent instead of, as previously, occupying land by virtue of having given feudal service. Those to whom land grants were made were known as 'Burghers', they jointly managed the 'new town' formed by the settlement.
For much of the middle ages and until late in the 18th century woollen manufacture was Devon's most valuable industry. Spinning and weaving of serge was a major cottage industry in South Zeal and in adjacent villages, where many of the cottages had large ground floor rooms to accommodate the spinning wheels and looms. This now vanished industry is commemorated in the village names, 'Tucking Mill Field' and the adjacent 'Washing Place'. The Tucking Mill was a water powered mill in which the woven wool was beaten to give a felted product.
The village, in serious economic decline at the end of the 18th century, gradually recovered during the following 100 years with the improvement of roads and other communications, the development of copper mining and of the infant tourist industry. In the 19th century South Zeal housed miners working in the important Ramsley copper mine on the hill above. At this time the influx of migrant workers from Ireland led the village to be known locally as Irishman's Town.
During the 19th century South Zeal supported its own bakers, shoemakers, tailors and milliners In addition to a range of general shops and up to five pubs. However in the 20th century, particularly after 1945, local businesses appear to have declined to their present level of three pubs (two in Zeal and one in South Tawton), one village store (expecting to take over a recently closed Post Office), a haulage business and motor repair enterprises. However, there are still farming businesses conducted in both villages together with a host of small service providers and internet based home businesses.
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