The Parish of Great Shefford comprises Great Shefford village itself, the hamlets of Shefford Woodlands and East Shefford and a number of outlying farms. It is set in beautiful countryside that is part of the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
There have been settlers in Shefford since at least 400 AD. An Early Saxon graveyard discovered in 1890 contained 95 burials with jewellery and weapons dating from the fifth and sixth centuries. The name ‘Shefford’ is Saxon and probably means sheep ford, being derived from two words – sciep (sheep) and ford. In the Domesday Book it was spelt Siford and there are other early spellings.
Today’s parish used to be two: West or Great Shefford and East or Little Shefford. West Shefford included the village of West Shefford, the hamlet of Shefford Woodlands and Henley Farm, while East Shefford included the hamlets of East Shefford and Wickfield. The village of West or Great Shefford has long been the principal settlement. The ecclesiastical parishes were amalgamated in 1926 and the civil parishes in 1972.
The boundaries of the parishes were almost identical with those of the manors. Ownership of the manors can be traced back to the time of William the Conqueror, when Hugh de Port and Aiulf the Sheriff were the major landholders. The village may originally have clustered around the manor house and the church. Pottery evidence supports a theory that the village was replanned in the 13th century.
The oldest buildings in the parish are its churches. The redundant church of St Thomas, in East Shefford, was built no later than 1100 AD, whilst the parish church of St Mary dates from about 1200 AD. East Shefford church is notable both for its medieval wall-paintings and a 15th century Fettiplace tomb. The flint church of St Mary has the only original round tower in Berkshire. However, St Stephen’s in Shefford Woodlands was consecrated in 1911 following its conversion from a disused Methodist Chapel. Methodism, both Wesleyan and Primitive, had a strong presence in the parish for much of the 19th and 20th centuries.
St Thomas - East Shefford
Until the twentieth century the parishes were dominated by arable agriculture. The keeping of flocks of sheep was a vital part of this, their manure being used to enrich the poor chalk soils. In the 19th century a range of shopkeepers and traders supported the agricultural population. These included bakers, blacksmiths, a wheelwright, miller, bricklayer, corndealer, carpenter, shoemaker, maltster, tailor, coal dealer, draper and a Post Office. Shefford Woodlands had its own Post Office, as well as a blacksmith and a carpenter. For other purchases carriers provided a service to and from Newbury until the late 1940s.
Great Shefford station - Lambourn Valley Railway
Improved links with the rest of the country came in 1898 when the Lambourn Valley Railway opened. Local farmers used it to transport milk, cattle, sheep, corn, hay and straw. In 1910 a horse-loading dock was constructed at the station for the use of nearby trainers. For villagers the railway brought cheaper coal as well as an easier means of getting to Newbury and beyond. Coal was stored in the station yard, as was timber for a period in the 1920s. The railway closed in 1962. The twentieth century brought other changes. Mains water replaced wells in the 1930s, electricity arrived in 1939 and sewers in the 1950s.
Following the Second World War there was a dramatic increase in the size of the village.
Today some of Shefford’s history is visible in its listed buildings. These include several cottages within the village, as well as scattered farmhouses and farm buildings. Parts of the manor house date back to the 15th century, while Hillside Cottage was probably built in the 16th century. Shefford’s comparative lack of old cottages is in part due to the destruction of six in one disastrous fire in Church Street in 1908. The special character of the area around St Mary’s Church, the Manor House and Great Shefford House has led to its designation as a Conservation Area.
Author: Liz Saunders Sep 2007