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.

Various Roman and Saxon remains were found in and around Shillington. 
 

During the ages the spelling of the name has changed many times. (The suffix 'ton', denotes a village, while 'don' or 'dun' means a flat topped hill)
 
Sethlingdone, 1086
Suthlingdon C13
Shutlyngdene, C14  Shetelyngton

 
Shytlington C17-C18
Shedlington about 1840
Shitlington, (until 1881)*
Shillington.
 

*The 1881 spelling was changed after the Census possibly to avoid offence to Queen Victoria!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shillington through time
579 - Augustine is sent by Pope Gregory to convert the country to Christianity.
789 - Vikings make their first raids on England.
886 - England is partitioned  under the Danelaw with Bedford hovering on the border.
915 - Bedford is recaptured from the Danes by Edward the Elder
950s - Shillington Manor is owned by Ailwyn, Duke of East Anglia
1009 - Danish invaders sail up as far as Shillington.
1016 - Bishop Etheric buys the Manor of Shillington from Ailwin.
1034 - The Manor is given by Bishop Etheric to the Abbot of Ramsey Abbey
1066 - Battle of Hastings and the Norman Conquest of Britain
1086 - Shillington is recorded in the Domesday Book.
1215 - Magna Carta
1370s - Black Death claims many villagers and causes great hardship in the area.
1560s - about 1 in every 15 people in Shillington die of the plague.
1640s - Oliver Cromwell active in the area
1666 - the Great Fire of London
17th century - Almshouses built to house the poor.
1701 - Shillington Poor House censored when 12 inmates died in the year.
1801 - Population 899
1802 - Shillington Enclosures Act passed (see Margaret Rees Archive).
1834 - Holwell made into a separate parish in Hertfordshire
1840 - Congregational Chapel (Church Street) and Weslyan Methodist (High Street) chapels built.
1856 - National School built on the site of the old vicarage behind the almshouses
1861 - Population 1788
1862 - Coprolite discovered on Chibley Farm.
1864 - Kelly's Post Office Directory states that 'efforts are being made for the vicar to establish a library and reading room for the labouring classes and the men employed in the coprolite industry
1871 - Population 2173
1872 - New Congregational Church built in Church Street and the old chapel becomes the Liberal Hall.
1876 - The Coprolite industry reaches its peak with 1400 people employed
1881 - Population 2226
1885 - Scarlet Fever breaks out and three children die in the school
1891 - Population 1873
The census records only a single person employed as a 'Coprolite Contractor'
1901 - Population 1629 compared with the figure of to 2226 in the 1891 census. A drop of nearly 600.
1911 - Shillington manor destroyed by fire.
1956 - the almshouse built in the 17th century in the churchyard were demolished
1966 - the Marquis of Granby public house is closed
1989 - the Musgrave Arms public house reopens after refurbishment
2006 - a new playgroup building in Shillington Lower School opens in the September

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 Abbey itself).

Ailwin sold the Manor to Bishop Aethelric, (or Etheric) Bishop of Dorchester over the years from 1016 to 1034. Aetheric appears in various records, one of which gives a personal glimpse of the man. Evidently, when he was at school, he and four friends rang a local church bell so enthusiastically that it cracked. He showed so much remorse that he was let off the beating he was expecting!

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.

In 1010 the Vikings ravaged at will for three months, burning Thetford, Ipswich and Cambridge.  The remains of St Edmund were taken to London for safekeeping out of harm's way by a monk called Egelwin or Ailwin.

A church in Greenstead, Ongar has a reference to  'a shrine for the reception of the corpse of St. Edmund, on being conveyed back from London to Beodrics worthe, or Bury, whence it had been carried away, in 1010, by Bishop Ailwin, in consequence of the invasion of the Danes under Turketil
(see full text)

 

 

 

There seems to have been a lot of carrying of remains at the time. Here are Bishops Etheric and Ailwin again.

In King Canute's time, about 1031 AD. St. Felix's remains were removed by a monk named Etheric to Ramsey in Huntingdonshire, and there solemnly enshrined by Abbot Ethelstan.

Possibly, one of the Danish leaders under Sweign, having harassed and devastated the whole of East Anglia, burnt and plundered Bury. Ailwin presumably got away before this happened.
The Danes proceeded to the Thames Valley and into Oxfordshire and back to Bedford burning as they went.
(see full text)

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.

The Domesday Book


The Domesday Book entry for Shillington (Sethlindone)

A 'Hide' is probably either a tax measurement or an amount of land; accepted as about 5 acres.

The £12 is the income from the village for a year.

The woodland was extensive enough to support 100 pigs.

 

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 Shillington
 

Straw plaiting - the making of hats bought much employment to Shillington and the surrounding area for many years. See Straw Plaiting Coprolite - In 1862 Coprolite was discovered at a farm in Shillington. Used as a fertiliser, there was a great demand and the village expanded greatly for a relatively short period and then shrank back as the industry ran its course. The Coprolite Industry
 
Today  - Farming still continues with wheat and barley grown on the farms. Sheep are raised; there is a riding school. Walkers enjoy the 28 miles of footpaths surrounding the village. Three pubs offer good food, drink and company. Many small businesses thrive, from publishing to building to beauty therapy to catering. People live in the village and commute to nearby towns to work, others grow older and stay part of the community in sheltered housing. Children attend the school, the village hall hosts meetings, social events, bazaars, exhibitions, theatricals.

 

 

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Footnotes

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

 

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