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Little Shelford history


Little Shelford has a dedicated history website at

The oldest building in Little Shelford is the All Saints Church on Church Street. Parts of the Church building in Little Shelford date back almost 900 years.

There was a church on the present site early in the 12th century, parts of the existing building are over 900 years old. Restoration work over the centuries and a major restoration in 1878 left features of the Saxon and Norman periods in place.

There are the remains of a pagan Anglo-Saxon cemetery south-east of the first bridge. By 1731 seven non-conformist families met in a house licensed for protestant worship. A chapel was built east of the High Street in 1851. recently converted into a house

The village grew from a nucleus near the ford, the first bridge built in the 14th century, the Manor House complex and from around the Church. The De Freville family were the lords of the Manor from the late 13th century for over 300 years. The present Manor house was built c1746; Shelford Hall the home of the Wale family at the corner of Whittlesford Road, was built in the 17th century and largely demolished around 1850. The replacement house was almost destroyed by fire in 1929; the north wing of the 17th century house was retained as the Lodge and still stands there today. Later the village developed along Church Street, High Street, Hauxton Road and Newton Road.

This produced a compact village with open spaces, surrounded by open countryside. The farmhouses and old cottages are noteworthy dating from the 15th century. The total area of the parish is 1,196 acres, the village lies to the north eastern edge. The Shelford’s entry in the Domesday Book 1086 suggests a population of 25 inhabitants in Little Shelford. The population rose slowly to around 40 households in 1666, but rapidly in the 18th century to 61 families and 220 inhabitants. The number of inhabitants fluctuated between 440 and 580 until 1931 and rose after the second world war to 884 in 1971. Today the population is still over 800 and following the building of Beech Close after the war Beech Close and later Courtyards were built increasing the number of houses to 300 houses.

The land to the north and west of the village was probably enclosed in the 16th and 17th centuries, the main enclosure taking place in the 19th century. By this time the Wale family had built a considerable estate in the village. Sir Charles Wale held 380 acres and his daughter 140 acres.(King’s Farm). Later these were amalgamated. Sainsfoins an 80 acre. estate was also owned by a member of the Wale family.

The main occupation in the village has been agriculture. By 1521 there were three arable fields, Whitefield, Southfield and Homefield the common practice from medieval times. The cropping changed annually, barley and wheat in one, peas, beans saffron and sometimes vetches in another, the remaining field was fallowed. The common meadows after the enclosures were along the river, May Common to the south, and the Moor and Back Moor to the west.

By 1830 seventy agricultural workers were employed on the seven farms in the village. In the 1830’some men and boys worked in the gravel pits and there were about 24 tradesmen or craftsmen. From the mid 18th century the Gall family made ropes and twine, later sacks and tarpaulins and distilled tar. The Austin family were windmill builders, lime and coprollite merchants and farmers. Before 1875 they built a brewery in Hauxton Road which was demolished in the early 1960’s.

There was an unlicensed school master in the village in 1590. Early in the 19th century some 30 girls were taught in the village, an infant school opened in 1833. From the 1840’s children attended schools in Great Shelford.

In 1964 there was a village Post Office and Stores in Whittlesford Road, a Bakery and Stores and a shop in the High Street, and three Public Houses The Plough [the Navigator today] in the High Street, the Prince Regent [Sycamore Restaurant today] the Chequers (Chinese Take-away today) in Church Street

Early in the 20th century a wooden building was in use as the Village Church Street, replaced by a War Memorial Hall in 1925 and enlarged in 1932. This was demolished and in 2000 the new Village Hall was opened on the same site.

Recreation Ground - Garden fields was the original recreation ground, 1880 Col Wale decided it was best used as allotments. In 1925 the Wale family gave the present recreation ground to the village and in 1981 the Parish Council purchased the field in Garden Fields.

John North, Little Shelford History Society

Little Shelford has grown slowly over the centuries. In 1801, Little Shelford's population was 220. In 1861 the population of the village was 474 and by 1891 494 people were living in Little Shelford. In 1901 the population had increased to 441. By 1961 the population of Little Shelford was 717.

Australian Robyn Smith has compiled a fantastic website about the history and genealogy of Little Shelford.

Little Shelford featured in the famous novel Tom's Midnight Garden. The children's writer Philippa Pearce renamed Little Shelford "Little Barley" in her book Tom’s Midnight Garden, with Great Shelford becoming "Great Barley", the River Cam, which flows through the area, becoming the "River Say", and Cambridge being renamed "Castleford".

A wooden bridge crossed the river between Little and Great Shelford in the late 14th century. In 1399 there was a hermitage there.

The wooden bridge between Little and Great Shelford was replaced by c. 1630 with a stone one

There was a turnpike on the road from Whittlesford through to Great Shelford. It started in 1729 and ended in 1871.

In 1086 around 25 were living in Little Shelford.

There are remains of a pagan Anglo-Saxon cemetery near to the river, south-east of the bridge.

A number of 17th- and 18th-century cottages survive near the church and on High Street. Hall Farm is an early 16th-century building.

A 14th-century house on High Street was moved there from Eaton Socon in 1966.

The Three Horse Shoes inn, on the south-east side of Church Street, was used for parish meetings in the 1830s and survived until 1908 when it was demolished and a private house built on the site.

From the 18th century the parish was much influenced by the Wale family whose main seat was Shelford House or Hall, later known as the Old House.

The family owned much land in Little Shelford, and many members lived there.

In 1862 a cottage on Church Street, later known as The Studio, was opened by Col. R. G. Wale as a reading room and adult evening institute.

A fletcher was recorded in Little Shelford in the later 16th century, and there was also a weaver there in the later 18th century, but the main occupation in the parish long remained agriculture.

The parish had an almshouse in 1666.

The parish employed a surgeon by 1829.

From the mid 18th century the Gall family made rope and twine in Little Shelford. They had a rope walk running east from their premises (an 9 Church Street). From the mid 19th century the firm also made sacks and tarpaulins and from the later 19th century distilled tar. The business continued until the 1950s.

In 1957 the premises were bought by a manufacturer of lenses and optical instruments and by 1974 were used by a small firm engaged in wrought iron Arthur Austin (d. 1908), whose family had been long established in the area as windmill builders, built a brewery on the Hauxton Road in the late 19th century.

In the late 1930s there was a firm making straw plait at Little Shelford.

A water mill was recorded at Little Shelford in 1279.

John Wesley preached at Shelford in 1759. In 1761 a house in Little Shelford was licensed for Methodist worship.

There was an unlicensed school master at Little Shelford in 1590.

The oldest building in Little Shelford is the All Saints Church on Church Street. Parts of the Church building in Little Shelford date back almost 900 years. In the Doomsday Survey it is noted that Hardwin had a Church in Little Shelford. The Victoria History (of Cambridgeshire) mentions that the church at Little Shelford had been seized by Hardwin around 1086, and that this was probably Little Shelford church.

Further evidence of a church being in existence at this time can be found in the discovery of several stone coffin lids in the restoration in 1878. These are reputed to be of Saxon origin and some of them can still be seen built into the west wall of the side chapel, and also in the south porch. In an article by Dr Cobbett of Cambridge. mentioned in the Cambridge Chronicle in 1931, he suggests that these grave covers may be dated between 970 and 1066.

The Norman influence is also apparent. The plain Norman door on the north side of the Nave was once filled in, but was re-opened in 2004. It can be assumed that there was a church on the present site at least quite early in the 12th. century, and possibly earlier. and that some parts of the church building are at least 900 years old.

Facts from The History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely available through British History Online

Little Shelford on Wikipedia:

Little Shelford on Genuki: 

Little Shelford historical stories and old newspaper cuttings

Little Shelford has a dedicated history website at

Other sections on the Little Shelford history website

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