Dartmoor: The South Zeal / Duchy of Cornwall stones

SZ/DC 1 Boundstone with "SZ 1" inscription
SZ/DC 1 Boundstone with 'SZ1' Inscription

The law condemns the man or woman 
Who steals a goose from off a common: 
But lets the greater villain loose 
Who steals the common from the goose.

A rambler ascending from Belstone with the intention of reaching the summit of Cosdon, will likely pass a fine granite post close to the boundary wall of Skaigh known as Ska Corner (Grid SX 63307 93312). Closer inspection will reveal the intriguing inscriptions 'SZ1' and 'DC1’.

At Foxes' Holt (SX 64029 92543), or ‘Rabbit’s Holt’ according to Crossing in Guide to Dartmoor, you’ll find another granite post. Crossing tells us; ‘Here is a stone about 6 feet in height... On one face of the stone in question are the letters S Z, with the figure 2 beneath them, and on the other the letters D C, and a similar figure. These stand for South Zeal and Duchy of Cornwall respectively, the figure being merely the number of the stone.’ This is the most well-known, labelled as "Stone Post" by Ordnance Survey and the only one that is marked on modern maps.

SZ/DC 2 Boundstone aka Stone Post, Foxes Holt
SZ2/DC2 Stone at Foxes Holt

Crossing advises these were part of; ‘a line erected in 1885, to mark the boundary of certain mineral rights, and also that between what was anciently known as the manor of Zeal Toeny and the land over which the Duchy claims jurisdiction. There have been frequent disputes between the commoners of South Tawton parish and the Duchy.

SZ/DC 2 Boundstone aka Stone Post, Foxes Holt
SZ2/DC2 Stone at Foxes Holt


Local 'Dartmoor Chronicler' Douglas Gordon in 'Dartmoor in All its Moods' on p.27-28 tells of an altercation between the residents of South Zeal and the Duchy who; ‘dispatched men to wreck the enclosures and demolish wall that had been built.’ A fight broke out, the Duchy retreated and Gordon went on to say; ‘the scene of the encounter bearing the name of Balaclava to this day.

The incident made the newspapers, dating to Thursday, 13th December 1883 . The articles make for fascinating reading and what we can glean from them is a more detailed account;

The residents of South Tawton, South Zeal and Throwleigh had long encroached on the Duchy owned eastern slopes of Cosdon, constructing enclosures. The Western Morning News, on 21st December 1883 tells us; ‘The total area of the enclosures, which skirt the three beforementioned villages, amount to between 200 and 300 acres. For the most part they consist of small allotments, many of which have existed for twenty years, and some for even thirty, while others again have only been taken possession of and brought into a state of cultivation during the present year.

In May 1883, the Duchy Estate decided to address the issue, making an offer which the newspaper article explained was; ‘for a nominal rent of 1s, per acre as an acknowledgment of the Duchy's rights, and it was offered that a lease for 30 years should be given in return. If required, a lease for longer term could be obtained on paying an increased rental - 2s. 6d., for instance, being asked for 60 years. Those, however, who had held possession of plots for 20 years and upwards cherished the hope that they could claim ownership... The Duchy, unlike private individuals, does not lose its manorial rights until after the expiration of 60 years, and none of the "owners" of the enclosures being able to date so far back, all of them will probably find that they have by no means acquired a legal claim to hold the land rent free.

Suffice to say the offer was treated with incredulity and ignored so seven months later the Duchy acted.

The Royal Cornwall Gazette, on 21st December 1883, reports; ‘EXCITING SCENE AT SOUTH ZEAL - Yesterday (Thursday) week, Mr. Barrington, the Duchy steward, took with him to South Zeal fifteen men, being navvies and quarrymen, one sergeant and six constables for the purpose of asserting the rights of the Duchy, by pulling down the hedges and fences.

It continued; ‘The men were provided with shovels, digging picks, and similar implements; but the nature of the intended operations does not appear to have been known to them until they arrived on the scene of their labours. In accordance with instructions, although with a certain amount of reluctance, the men commenced by levelling the hedges; but before they had proceeded very far with their depredations, their movements were observed by the villagers, and a general hue and cry was given. Armed with such weapons as were to hand, such as hooks, scythes, and sticks, the people proceeded to attack the invaders of their territory, which is locally known by the name of the "Little Ireland."

The Duchy retreated and thirteen days later, on the 26th December 1883, an open letter from Geo. Wilmshurst of the Duchy Office was published in the Western Daily Mercury giving their account of the incident; ‘The offers so made having met with no response, directions were eventually given to assert the rights of the Duchy pulling down the fences of certain particular enclosures on Throwleigh Common, and it was while these directions were being given effect to that the inhabitants of the adjoining parish of South Tawton assembled and made their attack on the workmen employed.

There was support for both ‘squatters’ and the Duchy. The Devon Evening Express gave a critique of the encroachers on 27th December 1883; ‘I say, for a lord of a manor to steal a whole common, it is equally wrong for a villager to steal a little bit of one and for the life of me I can't see that the Duchy authorities have acted harshly in their demand of 1s acre rent on a thirty years' lease.


Faced with the loss of the land, the squatters accepted a deal and by the end of 1884, an agreement was reached. A sum of fifty-seven pounds, nine shillings was paid to the Duchy of Cornwall and the Conveyance of lands in the Parish of South Tawton was completed on 20th November 1884.

Conveyance by the Duchy of Cornwall
The Conveyance - 1884

The vicar of South Tawton, Rev. J.F. Clarke, sent an open letter to the Western Times and Exeter and Plymouth Gazette on 1st December 1884 giving thanks for the deed; ‘a most gracious offer was made, allowing the enclosers of land to purchase the fee-simple of their fields at the rate of ten shilling an acre. The offer was thankfully accepted.

Conveyance: Those present
Deed of Conveyance of land in the Parish of South Tawton, Devon

He went on to say; ‘Yesterday I had the pleasure showing that deed to all who were interested it and I had the equal pleasure of hearing their heart-felt expressions of gratitude to his Royal Highness the Prince of Wales... Long may our gracious Prince live to enjoy the homage of grateful hearts.’


1884 Conveyance Map - close up of SZ / DC stones
Conveyance map showing 'SZ3/DC3', 'SZ4/DC4' and a 'BS' near Newtake

Returning to the bound stones, the Conveyance map shows the position of another two, a ‘SZ3/DC3’ and ‘SZ4/DC4’. These drew a straight line to a fifth bound stone by the road near Newtake (Moor View) which is embedded in a wall opposite the entrance at SX 65615 92195. 

5th Duchy boundstone opposite Moor View
5th Boundstone opposite the entrance to Moor View

Crossing says the stones were erected in 1885, which suggests installation was once the deed was signed. He also gave us a rough indication as to the location of the third, on the slopes of Cosdon, being "hard by the enclosures to the S.E.

Enclosure where SZ3/DC3 once stood
Enclosure - no sign of the "Stone" marked on old OS maps

This matches the Conveyance map at approximately SX 6497 9206. The enclosures have since encroached further up the hill in the past one hundred and thirty-four years and the location is now on private land, ‘DC3/SZ3’ likely plundered for building materials.


A similar fate met the fourth stone that once stood at SX 65308 92130 but fortunately the current location of ‘SZ4/DC4’ is known, listed in the Devon and Dartmoor Historic Environment Records.

SZ/DC 4 Boundstone (context)
Footpath behind Zeal Mills, SZ/DC 4 beside it

SZ/DC 4 Boundstone
'SZ 4' Inscription

This antiquity lies as an edging stone behind Zeal Mills in the village of South Zeal at SX 65084 93471. On the side nearest the footpath, the inscription "SZ4" is seen and on the opposite, "DC4" but vegetation often conceals both. Its size is recorded as 200cm x 30cm x 30 cm.

SZ/DC 4 Boundstone
SZ4/DC4 Boundstone

SZ/DC 4 Boundstone
'DC 4' Inscription

Now that the landowner has granted permission to move the bound stone and with the cooperation of the council, there are early plans to relocate it. Its original location is not an option, being private land but the idea is now to instate it in a more prominent position within the village (yet to be decided), where both the stone and the history behind it can be told.

I look forward to that day immensely!


  1. Brilliant blog post, Paul: an interesting read with great research done in an area I've not really explored as much as I would've liked. It would be great to see SZ 4 stood upright one day.


    1. Thanks Max,
      It's a subject that has me hooked. Rest assured SZ4 will be upright some time early next year.

  2. Really great look forward to stone being put again.


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