is a village and civil parish
in the Salisbury
district of Wiltshire
. The village lies next to the A303 road
, and adjoins the villages of Bourton, Dorset
. According to the 2001 census it had a population of 693.
Its name comes from the Old English 'sealh' meaning a small willow or sallow.
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 from Stonehenge
where construction is believed to have started in 3100 BC
. 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.
At the time of the Domesday Book in 1086, the area of Zeals was divided between two estates, known as Lower Zeals (later the Manor of Zeals, or Clevedon) and Higher Zeals (later Zeals Aylesbury). Estimates suggest a population of 40 to 50 at Lower Zeals and 85-95 at Higher Zeals at that time.
To the 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 site operated between May 1942 and June 1946, and during this short time was occupied by the Royal Air Force
, the United States Air Force
and the Royal Navy
. Until August 1943 the site was used by the RAF as a base for Hurricanes
. The site was taken over in August 1943 by the United States Army Air Force whose initial plan was to use the airfield for maintenance of 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 returned to the RAF who used it as a base to launch Mosquito
fighter planes against 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 taken over by the Royal Navy base at HMS Heron
who used the airfield for aircraft carrier
training. The site was closed down from January 1946 and in June 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.