Heritage Visits to South Tawton

For individual heritage sightseeing, Church House is open to the public on Sunday afternoons from May 5th until  September 29th in 2024. Entrance is free and Cream Teas are available.

If you wish to arrange a group Heritage Visit to Church House (Small or Large Groups Welcome), this can be arranged,
with  access and a guided tour of St Andrews Church, if required.
There is no charge for the visit or guided tour – we just hope you may want to stay for our delicious cream teas. (see Premises & Bookings)

South Tawton Village

South Tawton is situated on the northern fringe of the Dartmoor National Park, on a knoll in the valley below Cosdon Beacon. It was recorded in the Domesday Book as one of the wealthiest parishes in Devon .

Historically, the settlement comprised the church of St. Andrew, the associated Church House, various farms, the vicarage and several cottages. The settlement was not situated on any major route, no market was established and there was no local labour-intensive industry. Consequently, the settlement has changed little over the years.


The church and churchyard are elevated above the street level behind a tall granite wall. To the left of the Lychgate is one of the finest church houses in Devon, constructed of ashlar masonry under a thatch roof. Other buildings along the main street either have exposed rubble walls with slate roofs (dating from the late 19th and early 20th centuries) or rendered, painted walls with thatched roofs (dating from the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries).

The Parish Church of St. Andrew

The Manor of South Tawton (Tauetona) appears in Domesday Book (1086) as a demesne of the King, and was a portion of the dowry of Githa, the mother of Harold. The church probably originated as a manorial chapel, but the “parochia de Suthaw- thune,” called South Tawton to distinguish it from North Tawton, is met with as early as 1199.


The Rectory, in the time of Henry I, belonged to the de Tonys, lords of the manor, but later passed to Guy de Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick, who had married the sister and heir of Robert de Tony. On 20th March 1349, the then Earl, Thomas Beauchamp, one of the founders of the Most Noble Order of the Garter, made a gift of the advowson and rectory to the College of St. George, Windsor, who are still patrons of the living.

The listed, Grade 1 church is entirely of the perpendicular style, though several stages of work (apart from obviously later additions) may be detected in the masonry, and consists of chancel, with north (Wyke) chapel, and south (Burgoyne) chapel (with priest’s door- way), nave, north and south aisles, south porch, and an embattled double-buttressed tower (75 feet high) of three stages, with six bells. The fabric is of granite, but the arcades consisting of five arches on each side are of Beer stone, except in the chancel, where both granite and Beer stone are found.


In the south aisle are two piscinae, one just to the west of the chancel screen, indicating that the aisle has been lengthened. This is also shown by the change in the stonework as seen from the exterior. The tower was opened up in 1881 and the north (or devil’s) doorway was stopped and the doorway of the rood stair opened. The organ was entirely rebuilt by Henry Jones & Sons in 1887 as a Jubilee gift by a parishioner.


There are carved angels attached to the wall plates at the springing of the braces and a great variety of devices carved on the bosses of the nave, chancel and both aisle roofs. There is a boss carved with the three hares with conjoined ears which are found throughout the world. Another boss, a figure with head foreshortened is thought to be the (Irish) figure known as Sheela-na-gig. There are a number of bosses depicting the ‘Jack-in-the-Green‘ tree worship which lasted into the 15th century.


There is a ring of six bells which, with the exception of the second bell (recast in 1859) were recast in the churchyard by Ambrose Gooding of Plymouth in 1744.

Historic South Zeal

Half a mile away in the village of South Zeal there is the village tea shop, the old thatched King’s Arms and the historic Oxenham Arms. There also you will find the old gild chapel of St. Mary which appears in the pre-Restoration South Tawton churchwarden’s accounts. This was rebuilt in 1713 and is next to the 14th century granite market cross, considered to be one of the finest in Devon.

South Zeal (the name, Zeal, comes from the old word Zele meaning hall) was a village in the manor of South Tawton  which developed into a 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.

In the 19C 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.