A History of the County of Essex: Volume 4, Ongar Hundred. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1956.
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Shelley is a small parish immediately to the north of Chipping Ongar. (fn. 1) Its area is 608 acres. (fn. 2) There were 32 inhabited houses in 1801 and 34 in 1811 and 1821. (fn. 3) In 1801 the population was 169. (fn. 4) By 1851 it had grown to 215; then it declined to 158 in 1901. (fn. 5) Since 1918 there has been a steady increase, mainly due to the building of council houses. The population was 386 in 1931 and about 650 in 1953. (fn. 6)
The land is about 200 ft. above sea-level in the south and slightly less elsewhere. Cripsey Brook, a tributary of the River Roding, flows south through the west of the parish. To the east of the brook lies Shelley Common. The south-eastern corner of the parish is bounded on the south by the road from Chelmsford to Epping and on the east by the road from Chipping Ongar to Dunmow. The junction of the two roads is called The Four Wants and at the north-west corner of the crossroads stands Shelley House. In about 1770 this was referred to as the only 'good house' in the parish. (fn. 7) In about 1835 it was described as 'a handsome dwelling upon a moderate scale'. (fn. 8) It was probably built towards the end of the 17th century and part of the back of the house is faced with brickwork of this date or a little later. The front rooms were added about 1800 and there is a good Georgian facade facing the road. A west wing was added later in the 19th century (fn. 9) and a small extension was built at the back about 1920. (fn. 10)
About 300 yds. north of The Four Wants the Dunmow road is joined by a road running north-west to Moreton. Between this Moreton road and the Epping road there is a large housing estate laid out since 1945 by the Ongar Rural District Council. When complete it will have seven new roads and will consist of about 450 houses. (fn. 11) The plan provides sites for shops, a primary school, and a community hall. By November 1953 178 houses had been completed and 147 were under construction. (fn. 12)
At the south-east end of the Moreton road there are council houses, built both before and after the Second World War, including a pair made of Swedish timber. On the north-east side of the road there are 12 pairs of older council houses and near Shelley Bridge some prefabricated bungalows. From Shelley Bridge over the Cripsey Brook the road runs directly northward. On the east side of the road to the north of Shelley Bridge is Bridge House which appears to have been built about 1800. There are gravel pits to the north-east of Bridge House. Farther north there are scattered 18thcentury cottages on both sides of the road. On the east side just before the road leaves the parish there is a pair of estate cottages dating from about 1830, called Gothic Cottages. They follow a type of studiously 'picturesque' dwelling which was evidently popular with local landowners during the first half of the 19th century. Nearly opposite Gothic Cottages stands Ashlings, which was built on the site of a property called Motes. (fn. 13) The present house originated in a pair of timber-framed estate cottages belonging to Blake Hall in Bobbingworth (q.v.), similar in general arrangement to Gothic Cottages but perhaps rather earlier in date. Later a third cottage was added and later still a wing at the back.
The Dunmow road is built up from the southern boundary of the parish, almost as far north as Shelley Lodge, which is about ½ mile north of The Four Wants. This building development dates mostly from the present century. The Ongar and District War Memorial Hospital (fn. 14) is on the west side of the road just beyond the turning to Moreton. Shelley Lodge is a single-story thatched cottage, built early in the 19th century by Noble of Ongar. (fn. 15) From Shelley Lodge a drive runs straight to Shelley Hall, (fn. 16) about ¼ mile to the north. Immediately to the east of the Hall is the church. A foot-path, formerly a lane, leads from the church, past the site of the rectory (fn. 17) about ¼ mile to the west, to the Moreton road north of Bridge House. Another lane leads eastward from the church to join the Dunmow road about ½ mile north of Shelley Lodge. There are some 18th-century cottages on the west side of the Dunmow road near the turning to the church. Almost opposite the turning a drive leads eastwards to Boarded Barns, formerly New Barns. (fn. 18) The house is timberframed and plastered and an oak lintel beside an original brick fireplace is dated 1613. There is an addition on the south side and the whole house has been altered and restored. The property is now an experimental farm belonging to Messrs. May and Baker. The farm buildings have been converted and two new red-brick laboratories for veterinary and horticultural research were built in 1951 and 1952. A building on the road near the drive entrance was formerly called Boarded Barns. (fn. 19) Nearly ½ mile farther north on the west side of the road a long drive leads to Bundish Hall on the northern boundary of the parish. (fn. 20)
Shelley Bridge, described as a foot- and horse-bridge in 1665, (fn. 21) was often in a bad state of repair. In the 16th and 17th centuries it was claimed that the bridge should be repaired by the parson of Shelley. (fn. 22) In 1835 the Report of the Charity Commission quoted from the court rolls of Shelley, which purported to show that responsibility for repairing Shelley Bridge rested with the rector. (fn. 23) In reply to a letter of inquiry the then rector, Henry Soames, told the commissioners that although he had kept the bridge in good repair since his institution in 1812, he did not admit his liability to do so. (fn. 24) Some time afterwards the county accepted responsibility for repairing the bridge which first appears in a list of county bridges in 1872. In 1873 the county surveyor described it as a new iron bridge, in good repair; the roadway was not to be mended by the county. (fn. 25)
The roads of Shelley were frequently presented as in need of repair but individual roads are not often distinguished. In 1613 the inhabitants of both Shelley and Bobbingworth were presented for not repairing the highway leading from 'Moreton Street to Shelley Bridge'. (fn. 26) This was, doubtless, the highway which led from Ongar via Shelley Bridge to Moreton and which evidently then as now lay partly in Bobbingworth, partly in Shelley, and also formed part of the boundary between the two parishes. In 1618 it was said that these parishes shared the responsibility for this road. (fn. 27) In 1632 the inhabitants of Shelley were presented for neglect of their highways to Bishop's Stortford and Dunmow; they made the cryptic answer that 'they can take it of better cheape some other waye'. (fn. 28)
There is no post-office in Shelley. The parish is served by the Shelley Road post-office which is within the boundary of Chipping Ongar and which was opened in May 1934. (fn. 29)
Water is supplied by the Herts. and Essex Waterworks Co. (fn. 30) Gas was supplied from Ongar in 1926 by the Bishop's Stortford Gas Co. (fn. 31) Electricity mains were laid on in 1935. (fn. 32) A branch of the county library was opened in July 1940; it is now closed. (fn. 33) There is a cycle speedway in the parish. (fn. 34)
In about 1770 a writer noted that Shelley 'is small and has but few houses in it, the inhabitants of which are chiefly supported by husbandry'. (fn. 35) Shelley remained a rural parish, engaged almost entirely in agriculture, until after the Second World War.
The lords of the manor did not live in the parish in the middle of the 16th century but after John Green purchased the manor in 1582 the Green family lived on the estate until the early 18th century. (fn. 36) Mary Green went to live in the parish of St. George, Hanover Square, after her husband Andrew Trebeck became rector there in 1725. (fn. 37) She and her son James were still resident in that parish three years after Andrew's death in 1759. (fn. 38) In 1762-4 Shelley manor house was let to two tenants, one of whom farmed the estate. (fn. 39) The manor farm continued to be let until 1814-15, after which Harvey Kimpton, then lord of the manor, occupied it until his death in 1817. (fn. 40) The Tomlinson family, who purchased the estate in 1819- 20, occupied Shelley Hall from 1822-3 until 1878-82, since when it has always been let to a tenant. (fn. 41)
In 1839 the parish consisted of 601 acres. (fn. 42) Of this James Tomlinson owned 197 acres, all of which were farmed by Richard Tomlinson. (fn. 43) There were in the parish only two other substantial owners, neither of whom farmed his land himself; the Revd. John Bramston Stane (of Forest Hall in High Ongar, q.v.) owned New Barns Farm (98 acres) and Boarded Barns Farm (44 acres), and Thomas White owned Shelley Bridge Farm (95 acres). (fn. 44) There were 59 acres which belonged to Bundish Hall. (fn. 45) No other farm in the parish was over 40 acres. (fn. 46)
In Shelley as in neighbouring parishes mixed farming is carried on. In 1837 there were estimated to be 330 acres of arable, 188 acres of meadow and pasture, and 2 acres of woodland. (fn. 47) There was also an enclosed common of 13 acres. (fn. 48)