A History of the County of Hertford: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1908.
This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.
Shephall is a small parish entirely detached from the hundred of Cashio, of which it is part, and locally situated in Broadwater Hundred. It lies on a plain about 350 ft. in height, shelving downwards in the south and west to the Ware and Stevenage high road, which bounds it on these two sides. The village is in the centre of the parish, its chief feature being a large triangular green shaded by trees. The houses are largely poor except the vicarage, which is an old farm-house of red brick, with a good wing added some fifty years ago. About half a mile north-east of the church is an old farm-house called Half Hyde, and a modern house built about twenty years ago, the Red Lion public house and Shephall Farm, lately enlarged. A by-road running through the centre of the parish from north to south turns sharply to the west, skirts Shephalbury Park, and joins the high road in the hamlet of Broadwater, which lies partly in Shephall and partly in Knebworth parish. In Broadwater is an old brick house, a long row of modern flat-roofed cottages, and a little to the north a good modern house of concrete inhabited by Mrs. Seager. Completing the part of the hamlet which lies in Shephall is an old smithy, doubtless built in connexion with the coaching inn called the 'Roebuck,' which stands on the side of the high road in Knebworth parish. The inn is of plastered brickwork with deep red tiled roof. An inner wall of the wing bears the inscription 'W. 1769.' The pond at Broadwater is fed by springs in adjoining meadows, and has never been known to dry up.
The area of the parish is 1,155 acres, and comprised in 1905 about 697 acres of arable, which grows corn and root crops, 391 acres of permanent grass, and woodland to the extent of 80 acres. (fn. 1) The soil is loamy clay and gravel, and the subsoil is chalk. Some gravel is dug, but none is exported.
There was a windmill at Shephall before the Dissolution, but at that time it is mentioned as being totally decayed. (fn. 2)
The manor of SHEPHALL was given to the abbey of St. Albans by a certain powerful benefactor whose name is not known. (fn. 3) It was at the time of the Domesday Survey in the hundred of Broadwater, (fn. 4) but it was afterwards added by the abbots of St. Albans to their hundred of Cashio. It was divided into two parts, one of which, consisting of 3 hides, was held by the abbot of St. Albans as part of the demesne of the abbey, and the other, containing 2 hides, was held by Anschitil de Ros of the archbishop of Canterbury. These 2 hides had formerly been held by Alvric, a man of Archbishop Stigand, and it belonged to the demesne of the church of St. Alban in the time of King Edward the Confessor, and he could not sell or alienate it from that church. (fn. 5) Shortly after the Survey Abbot Paul obtained these 2 hides held by Anschitil de Ros of Lanfranc for the abbey, (fn. 6) and the whole manor reremained in the possession of the abbey till the Dissolution (1539). It was confirmed to the abbey by Pope Honorius III. (fn. 7) Abbot Geoffrey gave this manor to Adam the cellarer, but later, under Abbot Ralph (1146–51), it was granted to the kitchener. (fn. 8) In 1331 it was leased for nine years to Geoffrey de Hamele, (fn. 9) and later in the fourteenth century to a certain Robert Brome for life, for a small sum of money. This last lease seems to have been an injudicious one, for we find later that Robert did much waste in the manor and did not keep to his agreement, which led to its being bought back by the abbot at great cost and trouble to the convent. (fn. 10)
In 1542 the manor, with a pension of 5s. from the rectory, was granted to George Nodes, serjeant at arms, and serjeant of the Buckhounds to Henry VIII, Edward VI, Queen Mary, and Queen Eliza beth, (fn. 11) who had previously been farmer of the manor, (fn. 12) to be held of the king in chief for a twentieth part of a knight's fee. This grant was confirmed two years later. (fn. 13) George in 1564 obtained licence to grant it to his nephew Charles Nodes and his heirs in tail male, (fn. 14) having previously settled a messuage called Copidhall, parcel of the manor, upon his daughter Jane and her husband, William Kimpton. (fn. 15) After the death of George in 1564, (fn. 16) his heirs, Jane Kimpton and Thomas Chapman, son of Thomas Chapman and Joan, a second daughter of George, claimed the manor against Charles Nodes, (fn. 17) but the claim was not recognized, for Charles settled the manor in 1571 upon himself and his brothers George and William in tail male. (fn. 18) Charles died seised of the manor in 1593, leaving George his son and heir, (fn. 19) but his wife Elizabeth seems to have held a third of the manor as her dower. (fn. 20) George Chapman and Thomas Chapman conveyed their interest in 1599 to George Nodes, (fn. 21) and in 1611 Thomas Kimpton, probably son of William and Jane, gave up his interest to the same George, (fn. 22) who died seised of the manor in 1643, and was succeeded by his son Charles. (fn. 23) On his death in 1651, (fn. 24) he left by his second wife Frances, daughter of William Pert, three sons, George, Edmund, and John, who all died unmarried, George in 1654, and John in 1652. (fn. 25) The next heir male was George, brother of Charles, who succeeded his nephew Edmund in 1663. (fn. 26) He died a few months after his succession, (fn. 27) and the estate passed to his son George, who died in 1697, leaving three sons, George, Thomas, and John. George was succeeded in 1713 (fn. 28) by his brother John, and he, who died unmarried in 1748, (fn. 29) by his nephew John, son of Thomas Nodes. John died in 1761, (fn. 30) having left this manor by his will dated 31 October, 1761, to his sons George, Charles, and Henry in tail male, with remainder to his daughters Catherine, Sarah, and Margaret Mary, as co-parceners. (fn. 31) The sons all died without issue, and the daughters succeeded to their father's estates. Catherine died unmarried, and her share came to her sister Margaret Mary, wife of Richard Price. The third daughter, Sarah wife of Robert Jaques, conveyed her third in 1782 to Francis Abell, (fn. 32) who may have been a trustee for Michael Heathcote of London, to whom it afterwards came. (fn. 33) Mrs. Price had an only daughter, Catherine Nodes Price, who married Jacques-Clement de Warburg, and in 1838 she sold her share of the estate inherited from her mother to Samuel Heathcote Unwin Heathcote, who already possessed one-third as heir of his mother, the daughter of Michael Heathcote. (fn. 34) On his death in 1862, (fn. 35) the manor of Shephall came to his son Unwin Unwin Heathcote. From him the manor has descended to Colonel Alfred Unwin Heathcote, R.E., the present possessor, who resides at Shephalbury, a Gothic building of red brick faced with Bath stone, built about 1865, standing in a large well-wooded park. This house is near the site of the older manor-house, which stood where the rose garden is now.
There was another estate in Shephall, which seems to have possessed the qualifications of a manor, held during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries by the family of Broc. In the reign of Henry III or Edward I, Robert Wyoth of 'Sepehale' granted 6 acres of land in Shephall to Laurence de Broc for a sum of 24s., (fn. 36) and in 1228–9 Laurence held 2 hides of land there. (fn. 37) In 1275 the executors of the will of Laurence handed over the manor of Shephall to his son Hugh. (fn. 38) The estate had come to Laurence son of Hugh in the early years of the fourteenth century. (fn. 39) Hugh's widow Ellen probably married Lord William de Melksop, who held a third of a fee in Shephall of the abbot of St. Albans in 1303. (fn. 40) The manor afterwards came to Ralph son of Hugh de Broc and Ellen, to whom a grant of free warren in Shephall was made in 1330. (fn. 41) Ralph left three daughters, Joan, Agnes, and Ellen, (fn. 42) and this land was assigned in 1346–7 to Ellen, who married Edmund Mordaunt. (fn. 43) Their son Robert Mordaunt sold it in 1375 to Thomas Dardres. (fn. 44) Its further descent is not known. (fn. 45)
The church of ST. MARY (fn. 46) is a small building, red-tiled, and overgrown with ivy, consisting of chancel 21 ft. 6 in. by 13 ft., with modern north vestry, nave 42 ft. 2 in. by 17 ft. 6 in., with north aisle, south porch, and wooden bell-turret at the west end. Externally it shows nothing of age, both the flint facing and stone dressings being renewed throughout, and the east wall of the chancel with its copings is of modern brickwork. The chancel was repaired about sixty years since.
Within the church nothing older than the first half of the fourteenth century is to be seen. The south wall was rebuilt in 1865, and the north wall removed at the same date, when the aisle was added. The west wall may contain some old masonry. The chancel has a modern three-light east window of fifteenth-century style, and a north window of three square-headed uncusped lights, the masonry of which, except the two mullions, is old, but of uncertain date. To the west of this window is a modern arch opening to the vestry. In the south wall is a square-headed window of two trefoiled lights with tracery, all the masonry being modern, and near the south-west angle a tall low side window with a square-headed light, probably contemporary with the north window of the chancel. (fn. 47) There is a cinquefoiled piscina recess of fourteenth-century date east of the two-light window on the south of the chancel, and a square drain in the sill of the window. The recess was formerly in the east wall of the nave, on the south side. There is no chancel arch, but the truss at the west end of the chancel, which has arched braces and a collar, seems to be plain work of c. 1340, and a moulded wall-plate of this date remains on both sides of the chancel, though the rest of the roof is modern. The nave has a modern north arcade and aisle of three bays, lighted by small two-light windows, and in the south wall are two square-headed windows with trefoiled lights and tracery over of fifteenth-century style, though the stonework is nearly all modern. The south doorway is plain, under a modern south porch, and the west window of four lights with geometrical tracery is entirely new (1865). In the east wall of the north aisle is set a shallow square recess containing a piscina drain. The trusses of the nave roof are probably coeval with the old work in the chancel roof, and are of the same design as that at the west end of the chancel, modern cusped timbers being inserted at the back of the arched braces. In the west bay are two trusses close together to carry the bell-turret, but the western of these is modern. The wall plates have a hollow chamfer only, and in the west bay are plain. Both nave and chancel have modern arched plaster ceilings between the trusses. The modern bell-turret has three trefoiled openings on each side, and a high-pitched red-tiled roof.
None of the fittings of the church are old, except the chancel screen, which is of the fifteenth century, with a wide centre opening, in which a modern tracery head has been inserted, and three traceried openings on each side with a top rail to which a modern embattled cresting has been added. The solid lower panels have been replaced by modern openings with tracery in the heads. Until lately an iron hook with a rose was attached to the screen. The font is modern, and stands at the end of the north aisle, while the old font is set in the churchyard, and is so thickly overgrown with ivy that none of its stonework can be seen. Near the south door is a good painted almsbox. In the church are a number of monuments to the Nodes family, who formerly lived at Shephalbury, the oldest being two brass plates fixed to the walls below the sills of the north and south windows of the chancel. That on the north is to George Nodes, 1564, serjeant of the Buckhounds to Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary, and Elizabeth, and the other to his wife Margaret, 1582. There are marble mural tablets to other members of the family as follows :—On the south wall of the chancel Jane Nodes, 1697; south wall of nave, George 1697, John 1761, John 1748, and Elizabeth 1731; north wall of nave, George 1713; and west wall of north aisle, Susan 1695.
At the east end of this aisle is an alabaster tablet with strapwork borders to John Rudd, 1640, pastor of Shephall for forty-five years, with a small circular painting above, showing him as a shepherd with a lamb on his shoulders and a crook in his hand. It was formerly on the north wall of the chancel, and bears these verses :—
The first book of the registers begins in 1560, and contains baptisms to 1730, and marriages and burials to 1735. The second has baptisms and burials to 1812, and marriages of 1759; and the third has marriages from 1754 to 1812.
The church of Shephall belonged to the monastery of Reading, but was renounced by them in 1151–4 in favour of the abbey of St. Albans. (fn. 48) The church was confirmed to the abbey by Pope Honorius III in 1219. (fn. 49) From this time till the Dissolution (1539) the church remained in the possession of the abbey. At the Dissolution it came to the king, and has remained in the crown till the present time.
There is only one registration for a place of worship for Nonconformists under the Toleration Act, which occurred in 1691, (fn. 50) but there is no Nonconformist chapel now in the parish.
In 1668 Thomas Chapman charged a cottage and yard in Stevenage with the annual payment of 5s. for bread for the poor of this parish. The charge has been redeemed by the transfer of £10 £2 10s. per cent. annuities to the official trustees of charitable funds.
In 1730 Elizabeth Nodes by her will left £100 to be laid out in land in the parish, the rents to be used for the benefit of the poor; 5 a. of woodland was purchased, which under the Inclosure Act of 50 Geo. III was exchanged for 15 acres, now let at £12 a year. The official trustees also hold £397 18s. 9d. India 3 per cent. stock, arising from the investment of gifts of various donors.
In 1737 John Nodes, in consideration of certain gifts to the poor, in the hands of members of his family, settled a meadow called 'White's Mead,' at Letchmoor Green, in Stevenage, containing 2 a. 2 r. 7 p. for the benefit of the poor, now let at £6 a year.