A History of the County of Bedford: Volume 3. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1912.
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Eseltone (xi cent.).
Shelton, the smallest parish in the hundred of Stodden, is situated on the Northamptonshire border of the county. Its area is 946 acres, of which a little more than half is arable land, the remainder being permanent grass. (fn. 1) The soil is strong clay, and the chief crops raised are wheat, barley, beans and peas. The village lies low and consists of the church, the rectory, Shelton Hall and a few modern cottages. Shelton Hall is the residence of Mrs. Whitehead, the present lady of the manor. The actual house is only part of the west wing of a large rectangular building formerly grouped round a central court, three sides of which have now vanished. The external walls of the existing building are 4 ft. 6 in. thick and the reveals of most of the windows, though now fitted with 18th-century frames and sashes, are splayed on the inside. In one of the bedrooms is an early 17th-century stone fireplace, and one of similar character is to be seen in the scullery. There is also an 18th-century wood staircase of the usual type, though the external wall evidently dates from mediaeval times. Traces of a moat can be detected round the site of the original building, although much of this has been filled in in recent years. There are two square stone pigeon-houses in the village. Two very fair country roads connect Shelton with the neighbouring villages of Upper and Nether Dean, while another running north joins the main road from Kimbolton to Higham Ferrers. Shelton is also connected with the village of Yelden by a way that is part bridle-way and part a cart track across the fields, following the course of the little River Til. Shelton was inclosed in 1794. (fn. 2)
In 1086 William the steward held SHELTON MANOR from the Bishop of Coutances. It was then assessed at 5 hides and valued at 100s. In the time of the Confessor a woman named Ulveva held it under Borret. (fn. 3) In the Testa de Nevill Shelton is said to be held of Patrick de Chaworth as of the honour of Chaworth, (fn. 4) but before the end of the 13th century the overlordship had passed to the Wakes. (fn. 5) This may be accounted for by the fact that Payn de Chaworth (father of Patrick) and Hugh Wake married co-heirs of William Briwere, (fn. 6) and succeeded to part of his property. (fn. 7) From 1282 onwards the overlordship followed the same descent as that of the Wakes' portion of the barony of Bedford (fn. 8) (q.v.). The last mention of the overlordship occurs in 1442–3. (fn. 9)
The earliest tenants of the manor of whom mention has been found are a family called de Soleby. In the 13th century the third of a knight's fee in Shelton was held by Henry de Soleby. (fn. 10) Robert de Soleby was holding in 1282, (fn. 11) and had been succeeded in 1284 by his brother (fn. 12) William. (fn. 13) The latter died in 1291–2 seised of the property, which then comprised 150 acres of arable land. (fn. 14) His heir was his daughter Joan, (fn. 15) afterwards presumably the wife of Richard de Musgrave, who in 1316 was holding the Soleby property in Shelton. (fn. 16) In the same year Richard de Musgrave and his wife Joan granted Shelton to William le Engleys to hold for his life at a rent of 25 marks. (fn. 17) On the death of Richard de Musgrave the property passed to Robert de Musgrave, (fn. 18) who settled it on his wife Elizabeth for life with reversion to two clerks, William Bayous and William Beauchamp. (fn. 19) Elizabeth, it would seem, transferred the property to John Fitz William, who was holding in 1346, (fn. 20) whilst in 1357 he bought up the claims of William Bayous and William Beauchamp. (fn. 21) By 1387 the property had come into the hands of Sir William Marmyon, who in that year quitclaimed Shelton (here for the first time called a manor) to John la Warre, Anketin Malory, William Palmer and others. (fn. 22) In 1398 Thomas Wareton with Elizabeth complained that John la Warre, William Palmer and the others had unjustly disseised them of their Shelton property, (fn. 23) and in the same year they quitclaimed the manor to Sir Gerard Braybrook the younger, Sir William Malory of Papworth and others for 200 marks of silver. (fn. 24)
Sir William Malory died seised of Shelton in 1445, leaving as heir his son Thomas. (fn. 25) For the next 200 years few documents have been found concerning this manor, but it presumably remained in the hands of the Malory family, as in 1582 William Malory held it, (fn. 26) whilst Ralph Malory was lord of the manor in 1635. (fn. 27) In 1637 the tenants and poor cottagers of Shelton petitioned against the unrighteous conduct of Mr. Manning, rector of Shelton, and of Mr. Malory, the lord of the manor, who on the first payment of ship-money had assessed their own land and that of the other frecholders at the rate of 2d. per acre for their arable land and nothing for their meadow and pasture, while they taxed the petitioners as highly as 2s. 4d. an acre. (fn. 28)
Ralph Malory's son (fn. 29) Peter conveyed the manor in 1667 to William Busby for £300. (fn. 30) In 1705 there was a fine concerning the manor between William Busby and Francis Malory, (fn. 31) and the latter suffered a recovery of it in 1714. (fn. 32) In the same year Francis Malory sold the manor to Theophilus Dillingham for £520. (fn. 33) The Dillinghams continued to hold this manor throughout the 18th century. Brampton Gurdon Dillingham was lord of the manor in 1794 at the time the parish was inclosed. (fn. 34) From the Dillinghams this manor passed to Henry Harris, who was lord of the manor when Lysons wrote his history of Bedfordshire. (fn. 35) On Henry Harris's death in 1842 (fn. 36) the manor passed to his son Thomas Harris, (fn. 37) who in turn was succeeded in 1880 by his daughter, Mrs. Whitehead, who is the present lady of the manor.
A second manor of SHELTON is mentioned as a portion of a knight's fee held by John de Croxton in the 13th century. (fn. 38) John de Croxton was succeeded by Richard de Croxton, who was holding in 1284–6, (fn. 39) whilst the last of this family to hold in Shelton was John, who was in possession in 1302–3. (fn. 40) The descent of this property here becomes obscure. In 1346 Thomas le Rous held it, (fn. 41) whilst in 1428 a lord 'de Bycham' is recorded as holding all Shelton, (fn. 42) but no further document dealing with the property is forthcoming until 1544, when it was in the hands of the family of Skeffington of Leicestershire. (fn. 43)
William Skeffington, who was holding at this date, died seised of the manor in 1572. (fn. 44) His son and heir Thomas died in 1600, (fn. 45) and was succeeded in the tenure of the manor by his son Sir William Skeffington. (fn. 46) The latter died without issue in 1605, (fn. 47) and the manor of Shelton passed to his brother John. (fn. 48) Sir William's wife angered John Skeffington by taking for her second husband Richard Bray, a groom. (fn. 49) A quarrel sprang up between the two men which led to a lawsuit. In order to effect a compromise, the parties to the suit were induced to arrange a meeting at a hostelry near Gray's Inn. The meeting, however, resulted tragically, as on seeing each other the two men drew their swords, and in the ensuing fight both fell mortally wounded. (fn. 50) John Skeffington left this manor by will dated 11 February 1612 to his cousin William Bendish, vicar of Stanford, (fn. 51) who held it until his death in 1629. (fn. 52) His son William Bendish alienated the manor in 1637 to Sir Paulet St. John and his brothers Sir Henry and Sir Beauchamp St. John. (fn. 53) Sir Paulet St. John, dying in 1641, (fn. 54) was succeeded by his son Oliver, afterwards first Earl Bolingbroke, (fn. 55) who was holding in 1668. (fn. 56) This manor remained in the hands of the St. John family down to the 19th century (fn. 57); the last mention of it occurs in 1832, when it was the property of the Rt. Hon. St. Andrew Beauchamp Lord St. John. (fn. 58)
Ralph de St. Sampson held a portion of a knight's fee in Shelton at the time of the Testa de Nevill. (fn. 59) His heirs were still holding in 1302–3, (fn. 60) but no further mention of this property occurs.
The church of ST. MARY THE VIRGIN has a chancel 24 ft. by 12 ft., a north chapel of the same length and 11 ft. 9 in. wide, a nave 36 ft. by 15 ft. 9 in., a north aisle 9 ft. 5 in. wide, a south aisle 8 ft. 2 in. wide, and a west tower 7 ft. 7 in. by 7 ft. 2 in.
The north arcade of the nave contains the earliest detail now to be seen, and belongs as far as its two east bays are concerned to the end of the 12th century. The third or west bay is wider than the other two, and probably represents a rebuilding and widening of a former west bay. The church, therefore, seems to have had a chancel, nave and north aisle at the end of the 12th century. Its further history, owing to the simplicity of the work, is rather obscure. The chancel was rebuilt in the 13th century, its axis, as often in such cases, being altered in the process, and in the middle of the 14th century the north chapel was added to it. The west tower belongs to the latter part of the same century, and the lengthening of the north arcade probably took place at this time. The south arcade is curious; it appears to be all of one date, and its three bays are of equal span, but otherwise correspond to the design of the north arcade, as if copied for symmetry. It was perhaps built at the same time as the tower and the west bay of the north arcade. The chancel was remodelled in the 14th century, and in the 15th the nave clearstory was added and several windows inserted elsewhere.
The chancel has a 14th-century east window of five trefoiled lights, with unusual tracery in the head, a large octofoiled oval flanked by irregular elliptical octofoiled openings. In the south wall the east window is a 15th-century insertion of two cinquefoiled lights, with tracery under a four-centred head, the other two, also of two lights, having square heads and 14th-century tracery. Below the south-east window is a trefoiled ogee-headed piscina, and in the north wall a triangular arched recess with a rectangular sinking in the west half of its sill, probably to hold the loculus used in the Easter sepulchre. Between the chancel and the north chapel is also a 14th-century arcade of two bays, with arches of two chamfered orders springing from an octagonal pillar, and semi-octagonal responds with moulded capitals and bases. The chancel arch is in two chamfered orders, springing from 13th-century moulded corbels. The north chapel is now dismantled and unpaved; it is separated from the north aisle by a plastered partition, and from the chancel by a wooden one crested with a row of wooden spikes. The upper part of its east wall is modern, but it has a square-headed 14th-century east window of three cinquefoiled lights with flowing tracery; the external label over the head of the window has been destroyed.
In its north wall are two square-headed windows with trefoiled lights and mask dripstones to their labels, and under the whitewash are many remains of mediaeval wall-paintings, apparently in fair condition.
The arches of the nave arcades are of the simplest kind, of a single rather sharply pointed order, without chamfers or mouldings of any kind; the north-east respond has a half-round shaft with a scalloped capital of late 12th-century type, and the east column has a square capital on a circular shaft and a base with angle spurs. At the west of the second bay on the north is a square pier with chamfered angles and a moulded abacus at the springing, which probably belongs to the same date as the tower, though its details give little guide to its date. The wide arch to the west of it dies into the west wall without a respond.
The south arcade, as already noted, copies the arrangement of the north arcade in having a round column and a square pier, but has none of the 12th-century detail of the other. In the clearstory are three windows on each side, each of two cinquefoiled lights with a quatrefoil over. The lines of an earlier steep-pitched roof may be seen on the east wall of the tower.
The north aisle, which has been widened and lengthened in the 14th century, has a two-light north window like the middle window in the south wall of the chancel, a 14th-century north doorway of two continuous wave-moulded orders and a west window of two trefoiled lights with a quatrefoil over, all of the 14th century. At the east end of the aisle is a plain round-headed piscina recess, which may be as early as the east respond of the arcade.
The south-east angle of the original aisleless nave, which is still to be seen, is of uncertain date, perhaps not earlier than the present south doorway, which is late 12th-century work, moved outwards when the aisle was added. The aisle has a small blocked window or recess on the east, and in the south wall two three-light 15th-century windows, one on either side of the south doorway. This is pointed, of two chamfered orders with a single label, and over it is a small porch of plain detail, and probably late date, with square-headed lights on north and south.
At the south-east of the aisle is a 14th-century piscina with a trefoiled ogee head. All the roofs of the church are plain, that of the chancel being modern, while the rest are probably 15th or 16th-century work.
The tower arch is in three chamfered orders, which die into the walls; the tower itself is in two stages, with diagonal buttresses at the west. In the west, north and east sides of the belfry stage are 14th-century windows of two trefoiled lights, with a quatrefoil in the head, the heads of the main lights being two-centred, except on the south, where they are of ogee form. The tower has a plain parapet, with crocketed pinnacles set diagonally at the angles. The ground story on the west has a window of two trefoiled lights like that in the west end of the north aisle, in the traceried head of which is set a clockface with one hand. Over this window is a trefoiled ogee-headed niche for an image.
On the south aisle walls are traces of 16th-century texts; to the east of the north door is a painting of St. Christopher, and another of St. Michael weighing souls, and our Lady holding down the scale. The ground is powdered with Maria monograms.
The pulpit and some of the pewing date from the 15th or early 16th century, as does part of the chancel screen, which has traceried openings on each side of the doorway, and an embattled cornice. The mullions are new on the south side, and on the north have been replaced by 17th-century balusters. The panelling at the bottom is old but plain, and large box pews are set against the north half of the screen on east and west.
There is a circular 14th-century font supported by eight shafts, with roughly moulded capitals and bases. In the chancel is an old chest, and near the south door of the nave a wooden stock, formerly an almsbox.
There are three bells: the treble inscribed 'Praies God, 1599'; the second by Joseph Eayre of St. Neots, 1770; and the tenor by Hugh Watts, 1634, inscribed 'I.H.S. Nazarenus rex Judeorum fili dei miserere mei.'
The plate consists of a silver communion cup of 1569, with a band of leaf ornament engraved on it, and a modern electroplated flagon and a pewter almsdish.
The registers previous to 1813 are in two books, the first containing all entries from 1706 to 1812 and the second marriages 1754 to 1812.
The advowson of Shelton was early divided into two parts, in the proportion of two to one, and held by the lords of the two Shelton manors. Thus in 1243 John de Croxton was declared to have two turns to the church of Shelton, while Henry de Soleby had one. (fn. 61) Until the early part of the 18th century one-third of the advowson followed the descent of the Malorys' manor (q.v.), while the remaining two-thirds descended with the manor held by the Skeffingtons and St. Johns (q.v.). Francis Malory, who held the third part of the advowson in 1705, (fn. 62) appears to have parted with it before he sold the manor to Theophilus Dillingham in 1714. (fn. 63) It was doubtless on the strength of this third that Thomas Wyatt presented in 1732 (fn. 64) and Charles Simon Oakden in 1781, (fn. 65) while in 1801 this third was in the hands of Mr. Freeman. (fn. 66) The two-thirds share of the advowson continued to descend with the St. Johns' manor of Shelton. The present patron is Lord St. John of Bletsoe.
This parish appears to be entitled to participate in the charity of Joseph Neale. (See under parish of Dean.)