St. Martin's parish church
Zeals shown within Wiltshire
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|Sovereign state||United Kingdom|
|EU Parliament||South West England|
|UK Parliament||South West Wiltshire|
There is archeological evidence of human activity in Zeals as far back as neolithic times. The village borders the western edge of Salisbury Plain, and is 23 miles (37 km) from Stonehenge. There are bowl barrows on Mappledine Hill in the south east corner of the parish, and early prehistoric activity at Pen Pits to the north which were quarried since Roman times for greensand querns for hand grinding corn.
In 1086 the Domesday Book recorded that the area of Zeals consisted of two estates: Lower Zeals (later the Manor of Zeals, or Clevedon) and Higher Zeals (later Zeals Aylesbury). Estimates suggest a population of around 40-50 at Lower Zeals and 85-95 at Higher Zeals at that time.
The Church of England parish church of Saint Martin was built in 1842-44 to decorated gothic designs by the Gothic Revival architect George Gilbert Scott. It was consecrated on 14 October 1846 as a chapel of ease of the parish of Mere. On 27 June 1848 Zeals was made a separate ecclesiastical parish and St. Martin's became the parish church.
North of Zeals village, next to the village of Stourton and the Stourhead estate, is the site of the former RAF Zeals, also known as HMS Hummingbird and RNAS Zeals. The airfield operated between May 1942 and June 1946, and during this short time was used by the Royal Air Force, the United States Army Air Forces and the Royal Navy.
Until August 1943 RAF Fighter Command used it as a fighter airfield for Hurricanes and Spitfires. The station was transferred in August 1943 to the USAAF whose initial plan was to use the airfield to maintain C-47 Skytrain transport aircraft. However, the damp conditions prevented heavy loads so P-47 Thunderbolt fighter aircraft were flown from Zeals instead. From March 1944 the airfield reverted to the RAF who posted Mosquito there to intercept incoming German bombers. Following D-Day the RAF used the airfield for glider training in preparation for action against Japan, and in April 1945 the airfield was transferred to the Royal Navy, and was commissioned HMS Heron using the airfield for aircraft carrier training.
The airfield closed on 1 January 1946, although the RN stayed until June 1946 when it was returned to farmland. As of 2006, the control tower, now a private house, remains on Bells Lane in Zeals.
A memorial stands at nearby Beech Knoll in Stourton to mark the site where a Dakota transport plane crashed in February 1945, killing more than twenty people. The plane had taken off from Zeals airfield to return to Lincolnshire after two weeks of glider training and flew into some cloud-covered beech trees on the knoll.
- Wiltshire Council. "Wiltshire Community History: Zeals Census Information". Retrieved 2014-08-15.
- Wiltshire County Council (2005-09-19). "Wiltshire Community History: Zeals". Retrieved 2007-03-17.
- Currie, C.R.J.; Dunning, R.W.; Baggs, A.P.; Siraut, M.C. (1999). "Victoria County History, A History of the County of Somerset: Volume 7: Bruton, Horethorne and Norton Ferris Hundreds". pp. 184–192. Retrieved 2007-03-17.
- Pevsner, Nikolaus; Cherry, Bridget (revision) (1975). The Buildings of England: Wiltshire. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books. p. 603. ISBN 0-14-0710-26-4.
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