History

History - The Oxenham Arms at South Zeal

Welcome to the famous 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. 

The Neolithic Period Around 1000 years before Stonehenge was built, 5000 years ago, the Neolithic people of Dartmoor cut the massive 27 feet high South Zeal Menhir Standing Stone from granite, then rolled the stone weighing around 17 tons down into a wooded hillside where The Oxenham Arms is now located . They used it as a pagan worship stone and it has been here ever since;in the middle of our building and the settlement which became what we know as the village of South Zeal.

Visit. During your visit to The Oxenham Arms, be sure to visit and touch the ancient South Zeal Menhir.

The late 1100's Benedictine Monastery . In the 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 Hotel. Three of our hotel guest 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 !)

Visit the monastery  .All of the building behind the ancient oak door in the central cloisters passageway after entering The Oxenham Arms is part the original monastery, the monastery 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 Manor. 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 with the intention to make it their family home.

The Burgoyne Frontage. 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, You will see the letter B carved in granite above the coach house doors. 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.

The Earls of Oxenham . By the late 1400's,s after the 2 parents of the Burgoyne family, William and Margaret, had 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.

1477 and The Manor House becomes an Inn ! However in the year 1476, William moved away leaving his brother 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, obtaining a licence from Exeter Justice Offices 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. The licence still retains a relic of the buildings past, namely that the Inn must if requested by a member of the active armed forces to serve a drink any time of night or day, the inn must open up and duly serve a drink!

The birthplace of Pirate - Captain John Oxenham . 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. A memorial to Captain John Oxenham can be seen even today at Plymouth Ho. His story is best read, in the opening chapter of Charles Kingsleys book " Westward Ho".

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". He accomplished a great deal for Queen Elizabeth I, effectively taking control of the South America seas and plundering and bring back to England much of Spains gold and silver they had taken from Peru. In real terms Oxenham was regarded by many as the first recorded "pirate" of the worlds seas.

Bibliography.The Oxenham Arms and Captain John Oxenham have been written about in many, many books and novels over its 850 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.

Visit or Stay. In coming to visit us you are in very 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 alesand wines in the same bar that you may come and sit in today.

Time for a drink or a bite to eat . We are pleased to say that The Oxenham Arms has today in existance for 891 years and been serving fine ales, mead, wines and excellent local foods for an incredible 537 years.  

Welcome ye all ! To The Oxenham Arms Hotel &Restaurant at South Zeal

Tours. If you would like a historical tour of the building, please telephone us on 01837 840244.


Our Facilities


  • Conference
  • Credit Card
  • Free Parking
  • Parking Facilities
  • Restaurant
  • Bar
  • Golf Course Nearby
  • Family Rooms
  • Bridal Suite
  • Internet Services
  • Wifi
  • Bicycle Rent
  • Luxury
  • Vegetarian
  • Wedding Functions
  • Romantic Breaks
  • Walking Holidays
  • Country Retreat