South Tawton

South Tawton

infobox UK place
country = England
official_name= South Tawton
population = 1,255 (FHSA 2005)
shire_district= West Devon
shire_county = Devon
region= South West England
constituency_westminster= Torridge and West Devon
Ambulance= Devon Ambulance Service
post_town= NORTH TAWTON|postcode_district = EX20
postcode_area= EX |dial_code= 01837
os_grid_reference= SX653945
latitude= 50.73
longitude= -3.9

South Tawton, a village on the North edge of Dartmoor, Devon, England is an ancient demesne (royal manor), going back at least to the time of the Saxons, if not to the Romans, who named the river Taw, the Tavus.


During the reign of Edward the Confessor, South Tawton was 'held' by Gytha, the mother of the future King Harold II, then Earl of Wessex. Like most high ranking Saxons, Gytha held more than one manor, so it is unknown if she ever resided here. And if she did or did not, where was the actual Manor House? It would appear likely, given its proximity to the Church, that the area of the existing Black Hall fits the requirement and the current village would be the settlement required to service the great house. At the same time, an area known as Aissa (East (Ash)), was under the control of a Saxon known as Wulfric. When Domesday Book was compiled (1086/7), this had been appropriated into the manor of South Tawton, and both held by King William. At this time, also, the sub manor of Itton was mentioned as was the castle in Okehampton.

After the death of William, the manor passed into the hands of King Henry I and his successors and in 1130, there is mention of a further sub manor, Ailrichecot (Addiscot?). 1156 saw the first mention of tin extraction on Dartmoor and in 1195 there was a stannary court and goal built at Lydford. It is thought that the first church in South Tawton dates from about this time. In 1189, a roll was signed by twelve names in the area including Wyke, Goseford, Sele, Cocketryne, (all in the Parish) and other notable names locally - Woneston & Politimore. One other name was Hause which surfaces later as Chuseman. (of the manor?) In 1285, the first de Tony passed the lordship of Black Hall to Walter Tantifer and in 1263 'the Courthouse of Black Hall and the Lordship of the Hundred of South Tawton was passed to Alured, the Mayor of Exeter. The Oxenham family is claimed to go back to the reign of King Henry III (1216-1272) and so possibly may the sub-manor. In 1299, Robert de Tony II obtained a charter for a market in Sele (South Zeal), the prosperity of which may have been the reason for a survey of 1316 stating that there is 'no royal borough, only one township called South Tawton and the lord is the King'.

By 1377, wages were fixed at 'slavery level', the Black Death (plague) was rife and the South Tawton peasants revolted against the laws favouring stannators (tinners). This was followed in 1381 by a poll tax revolt. In 1397, an enquiry at Okehampton into South Tawton manorial rights, reveals some new local names present including Weke, Oxenham, Yeo & Northmore. A 1398 document mentions the 'manor and borough of Sele and a 'fullinge mill and moor' which gives us an indication of the status of Zeal in the area at that time and also an insight into one of the occupations being carried out. It is believed that South Tawton Church House was built somewhere between 1480 and 1520 as a place of public entertainment. Parish records for South Tawton go back to 1540 and are available in the Devon Record Office. Fireplaces, chimneys and a second floor were added to Church House between 1568/1573 and it became used for 'church ales' until banned in 160. It then became a poor house.

Up to this time, the power of the crown had been exercised through the Lords of the Manor and the manorial courts. This was superseded by the appointment of Magistrates and then, supplemented by Parish Constables. By 1600, the various problems of land enclosures and agricultural unemployment led to a need for a formal system of poor relief leading to the Poor Law Act of 1601, where the responsibility for relief was put in the hands of the church 'Vestry' (churchwardens appointed from the parishioners). In 1656, three almshouses for poor widows were provided in South Tawton by Robert Burgoyne. One sub-manor that appears to have disappeared now was Fulford. There are records indicating that Fulford house was fortified by royalists, in the English Civil War (1642/1646) but this was taken by the parliamentarian Fairfax. It is also stated to have contained a Van Eyck portrait of Charles I. Elsewhere it is claimed that in 1650, the great Duke of Marlborough was born in the manor house of Ash, which was the seat of the Drake family. In 1834, the administration of poor relief was handed to a Board of Guardians elected by the ratepayers.

A directory of 1833 mentions farmers of Sessland, Trundlebeer, West Nymph, Week, Gooseford, Lovaton and Cullaford all of which survive today. No record of the date of the inclusion of the hamlet of Ramsley has been found nor of any detail of a hamlet/farmstead of Blackstreet. Equally a 'Wickington' is mentioned but this may be a version of Week (Wyke, Wike) ton. St. Andrews Church was completely restored in 1881 and in 1893 Church House was used as a Sunday School. Between 1875 and 1894 a series of legislative acts led to the formation of County Councils and then Rural District and Parish councils. In 600 years, South Tawton had passed from a Royal Manor ruled by the Manor Lord to a democracy appointed by the electorate of landowners, householders and male adult residents living in the Parish. Its inhabitants had moved from being little more than slaves, working for the lord, in his manor and his fields to being a few comparatively wealthy large farmers and the majority either free but poorly paid agricultural workers, or modestly well off tenant farmers, craftsman and tradesmen. In addition, many females were employed as spinners and weavers and there was some employment in the Taw Green, Frog and Dishcombe Mills and the South Tawton Limestone quarries. What the new council structure did bring was water, sanitation and education to the ordinary people.

Population distribution at that time was 1264 of which 530 were in South Zeal, 105 in South Tawton Village, 39 in Whiddon Down and the rest dispersed in the farms and hamlets of the Parish. The last century saw the advent of two World Wars, the rise of the town and the demise of the countryside. After the need for agriculture during World War II, farming has suffered from the rise of the supermarket and cheap competition from abroad. The 1960 saw the loss of many rail tracks and stations and the relative urban affluence has brought about the rise in tourism, house prices and 'incomers' retiring or dropping out of the 'rat race'. Now, whilst the Parish population has grown only slightly, at least half of the population have moved to the villages but where there were shops, craftsmen, tradesmen in plenty, South Tawton villages must travel to the one remaining shop/post office in South Zeal or travel into town.

ee also

* Church House



External links

* [ South Tawton Church House website]
* [ Listing in Villages of the UK website]

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