Welcome to the ancient Oxenham Arms at South Zeal. The oldest heritage inn in Devon and Cornwall and one of the most famous old coaching inns in the UK.
Around 1000 years before Stonehenge was built, 5000 years ago, the Neolithic people of Dartmoor carved the massive South Zeal Menhir Standing from granite, then rolled the massive stone weighing around 17 tons on trees down into a wooded hillside. They then stood that stone upright as a pagan worship stone and it has been here ever since in the middle of the settlement which became what we know as the village of South Zeal.
That stone still remains here today in our snug bar " The South Zeal Menhir " and is visited daily by tens of people from all over the world.
In the early 12th Century, Benedictine Monks came to the village which was then known as Zale and constructed a nine roomed 2 storey granite and oak monastery around the South Zeal Menhir standing stone . Still completely intact today, that monastery and the Menhir form all of the centre, rear and first floor of today's Oxenham Arms. Three of our hotel rooms, The Belstone Room, The Bovey Room and The Widecombe Room were the original monks cell rooms in that monastery (they have since been upgraded of course !)
All of the building behind the ancient oak door in the central cloisters passageway after entering The Oxenham Arms is the original monastery, the kitchen and refectory is now our beautiful Monastery Restaurant with a fine view through the leaded glass window of Dartmoor's Cosdon Hill . Along with 4 acres of gardens now forming a home for our Dartmoor Ponies and rare breed Devon sheep, these were the original monastery gardens.
The Burgoyne family, of French origin who had arrived in Britain during the Norman Conquest, acquired the monastery estate in the early 14th century. and the monastic community moved on to the other side of Okehampton town. The Burgoyne's were a wealthy family being involved in trade and shipping in the Plymouth area, however they were not "titled" and so desired a manor house and an estate. They purchased the monastery and its estate of around 100 acres of land.
The Burgoynes constructed a fine granite manor house on the front of the monastery building which formed their home, The Burgoyne Manor. This is the beautiful building that you see today from the front road and four of our hotel rooms, The Chagford Room, The Lydford Room , the Lustleigh Room and the Manaton Room are within the that manor house building, constructed around the year 1350. For nearly 100 years these buildings were known as The Burgoyne Manor.
In the late 1400's,s after the 2 parents of the Burgoyne family passed away, two brothers purchased the entire estate which formed in todays measurements around 1000 acres. These brothers were the Oxenhams, John and William. The brothers were "Earls". William was from North Devon and his brother John was from Plymouth. South Zeal was very central for them and after its purchase the manor was renamed " The Oxenham Manor" and soon became the family home for the Oxenhams.
However in the year 1476, William moved away leaving John and his wife Elizabeth and two children, Mary a daughter and John a son. John had constructed a smaller home in the next village of South Tawton and John and Elizabeth with their children moved to that house and in the year 1477 they "leased" out the manor house and monastery, getting a license in order that it could become an "Inn " or Tavern . In the year 1477 the Oxenham Manor then became an inn called The Oxenham Arms.
In 1542, the grandson, of John Oxenham was born here and resided here as a child. This John was sent to Plymouth at the age of 12 to become a ships cook. He went on to became a famous sea captain and under Sir Francis Drake and became the first navigator for the English fleet. A very accomplished sailor, Oxenham was also the first sea captain to sail the pacific. He sailed on more than 80 missions with Drake, plundering gold and silver from the Spanish for Queen Elizabeth 1st.
Captain John Oxenham was finally caught and hung to his death by the Spanish in the year 1580. Famously he was the first sea captain to be put to death with the charge of "Piracy" and so in real terms Oxenham was regarded by many as the first recorded "pirate" of the seas.
The Oxenham Arms has been written about in many books and novels over its 800 years of existence . Charles Kingsley's "Westward Ho" describes Oxenham and the book "The Beacon" by the author Eden Philpotts was entirely written about and around The Oxenham Arms and a fictional barmaid Lizzie Denshaw and the beautiful and strong characters of the village of South Zeal.
In coming to visit us you are in good company ! Charles Dickens ( who stayed and wrote much of his Pickwick Papers here, Sir Francis Drake, Admiral Lord Nelson, The Reverend Sabine Baring Gould ( who write the hymn Onward Christian Soldiers ) , Prince Charles, The Rolling Stones and David Bowie have all stayed in the guest rooms and supped fine ales in the same bar that you may come and sit in today.
We are pleased to say that The Oxenham Arms has today been serving fine ales, mead, wines and excellent local foods for an incredible 537 years.
Welcome ye all ! To The Oxenham Arms.
If you would like a historical tour of the building, please telephone us on 01837 840244.