Shillington lies in the valley between the Pegsdon Hills, part of the Chiltern range to the south, and the Greensand Ridge in Bedfordshire to the north. It is dominated by a chalk mound, some 70ft above the surrounding land and falling to Hill Foot End to the north. The Parish Church of All Saint's was built on the mound and forms a landmark which can be seen for miles around. 'Shillington', in its original form, means possibly 'the hill of the people of the son of Scyttel the archer' or 'the home of a man called Scyttel'.
It has been close to a main route for 5000 years – the Icknield Way, an ancient trade trackway stretching from East Anglia to Buckingham forms the horizon on the Pegsdon Hills to the south. There is evidence of settlements in the general area from 4500 years ago and of farming 3300 years ago. Glacial activity carved out small valleys in the chalk and the remains of iron age terraces are still visible on the sides of some of these valleys. Remnants of another trade route, the Threedway, used for transporting salt well over 1000 years ago, diverged from the Icknield Way near Warden Hill and now forms part of the northern border of Luton.
The territory now forming Bedfordshire was inhabited in the pre Roman times by the tribe called Cassii. It became part of the Roman Britannia Superior; afterwards part of the Britannia Prima, afterwards, in 310, part of the Flavia Cæsariensis.
It belonged in the time of the Heptarchy to the kingdom of Mercia, and became subject in 827 to the Saxons. It first took the name of Bedford in the reign of Alfred the Great. Icknield Street crosses its southern extremity eastward over the chalk hills. Watling Street crosses its south-western extremity north-westward through St Albans, Dunstable and near Battlesdon.
A Roman road, coming in from Baldock, traverses the eastern extremity to Potton. British, Roman, Saxon, and Danish remains occur near Dunstable, near Sandy, near Hexton, at the Maiden Bower, at Tottenhoe, Arlsey, Biggleswade, Bradford, and other places. Earthworks, ruins, or other vestiges of ancient castles may he seen at Bedford, Risinghoe, Cainhoe, BIetsoe, Ridgmont, Meppershall, Puddington, and Thurleigh.
Roman and Saxon remains were found in and around Shillington.
In earlier times the hill upon which All Saints' church now stands would have been surrounded by marshland and water. People living today can still remember the ground between Shillington and Gravenhurst to the north being very wet and difficult to cross.
Danish invaders (possibly Vikings?) came in their longboats up to Church Panel (see footnote) in 1009. There was considerable activity around this area at the time. Dunstall Road in Barton-le-Clay was originally named Danestall Road. It was where Viking Danes were stopped or stalled during a great battle.
The hill in Shillington would have provided refuge and possibly a lookout or signalling point and there is speculation that a small wooden fort or pagan temple might have been built there.
The early history of Shillington is quite well documented and, although minor differences in interpretations of various references occur, the main names, themes and events intertwine as the story progresses.
From about 900, Shillington
(and other villages) comprised a number of 'Manors'. Effectively they
were estates owned by landowners. Shillington Manor was on land owned by Ailwin an Alderman of
King Edgar. Ailwin was Duke of
East Anglia, one time Bishop of Dorchester and also the foster brother of King Edgar.
Traditionally, he is acknowledged as the founder of Ramsey Abbey, just north of Cambridge, in about 969 AD,
raising funds from many sources including King Cnut (Canute) of the Danes
(and of England from 1016). Ramsey Abbey features large in the early history of
Shillington. (See the Parish Church pages for more information about Ramsey
He was buried at Ramsey Abbey. More detail about Ailwin, Ramsey and Aethelric
The land area was about 3 carucates (about 360 acres) and, in 1034, just before the Norman invasion, four manors in Bedfordshire, Barton, Barford, Cranfield and Shillington were bestowed upon the Abbot of Ramsey by Aethelric.
The Abbey grew further under the reign of Edward the Confessor and Aethelric continued to develop the church in Shillington under the patronage of the Abbey, until it became the most important in the area. (more on the Parish Church page).
It is fascinating how these names crop up indifferent contexts. Here is Ailwin from the St Edmundsbury (Norfolk) records linking in to the Bedfordshire area.
There seems to have been a lot of carrying of remains at the time. Here are Bishops Etheric and Ailwin again.
History can also lead in strange directions. A diversion to the History of Chess brings in Etheric and Canute together yet again!
There are references to the various holdings of Ramsey Abbey in the Domesday Book in 1084 including Shillington.
Ramsey Abbey was very rich and held about 40000 acres of land in total which
included land here and in the hamlets and villages around Shillington. The
abbot was Mitred and sat in the House of Lords as the Baron
Broughton, a village just north of Huntingdon. The lands were
scattered and a comment in an enquiry in 1252 says that the freeholders and
tenants of a nearby manor ‘owed service with horse and carriage for
conveying the lord to London, Shillington in Bedfordshire or elsewhere in
such remote places’.
The Manor of Shillington remained in the possession of the abbey till its dissolution in 1536, (at which time the annual income from it was assessed at £88 2s 10d). In 1540 Shillington became part of the honour of Ampthill and was conferred on the Princess Elizabeth in 1551. Later, it formed part of the dower of Anne, wife of James I.
During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the site of the mansion-house of the manor was leased out by the crown, which reserved to itself the right of holding court leet and view of frankpledge in the manor.
From 1594 to the mid nineteenth century the ownership of the manor passed through many families until it eventually settled. There is mention of another manor in Shillington called Shillington or Aspley Bury (now Apsley End), held of the abbot of Ramsey, in 1476. Click here for full details of this and the changing fortunes of Shillington.
During the next 500 years Shillington saw change and many difficulties. In 1560 the plague wiped out a seventh of the population, three times that of the surrounding areas. It returned in 1658, 1700, 1728 and 1788. Many victims were children. In fact, in the 17th and 18th century almost half the burials in the churchyard were children.
The levels of hygiene and sanitation were grim and this was probably the basic cause. The villagers worked for the landowners and lived near subsistence level. There were very few roads and those that existed were often flooded. This resulted in a village that received very little from outside, remaining isolated and underdeveloped.
Farming - From very early times farming was the mainstay of the village but through the years different concentrations of activity have come and gone. For an account of farming in Shillington at this early time read 'Farming in Shillington 1056-1349'. in the Margaret Rees archive pages.
Later Industries in
Church Pannel OS map 193 Ref 118350 just off Bury Road. Described as an earthwork enclosure, consisting of a 'D' shaped bank and ditch enclosure utilising a streat on the longest side. Date and function not clear and the association with the 'Danes' is based on the similarity with other Scandinavian earthworks in Bedfordshire and to sites in Scandinavia. (The Earthworks of Bedfordshire p225-227 - Doubleday 1904) Back to where you were