The Village in 1086

The first description we have of Great Shelford is that given in the Domesday Book which carefully described the situation in 1086. Domesday Book is a very difficult record to understand and it needs to be treated with great care. Much of what we would like to know about the village is not included, and other information is written in such a way as to make it very difficult to understand. But it is possible to obtain a fairly good idea of what the village looked like in 1086, that is, 20 years after the Norman Conquest. Starting in the west by the river, which at this time was still a muddy ford, we would have walked along a rough track for a few yards. Then we should have come to a fork in the road. The right hand track led off S.E. towards Shelford Mill, down by the river where the present mill stands, but then very different from the great structure we see today. It would have been only a tiny building, largely of timber. The left hand track, now the modern road, turned sharp left as it still does today. In those days there was no house on the corner nor Rectory Farm but just an open piece of meadow. Then as the track turned right it would have climbed a low rise, still there today opposite King's Mill Lane. This rise marks the edge of the dry gravel area on which the village was situated. At this point the first of the houses of the village began. The village would have been tiny compared with today, with houses lining only a single straight street between what is now King's Mill Lane and the corner by The Grange, that is about 200 yards long. The houses would probably all have been small wooden hovels no more than 25 to 30 feet long, 10 feet wide and crudely thatched. How many there were it is difficult to say. The population given for this part of Great Shelford in the Domesday Book includes the population of part of Little Shelford but, if we assume that between one half and two thirds of the total lived in this part of Great Shelford, we can say that there were probably between 70 and 120 people living here. Therefore there were perhaps between 18 and 24 houses, along the street with a more substantial building, the Manor House, on the site of The Grange. This Manor House was not occupied at this time by the Lord of the Manor but was probably the home of a Bailiff for the Manor. All this part of Great Shelford was owned by Ely Abbey. It is very doubtful if anyone from Ely ever came here except perhaps once a year to check the accounts of the Manor. The resident Bailiff kept an eye on things most of the time.

Beyond the site of The Grange, as we have seen, there were no houses but only a wide open meadow stretching towards the present High Green with the existing High Street crossing it as a rough track. At the edge of the meadow, near Powell's Garage, there was a crossroads where the predecessor of Woollard's Lane crossed the High Street and went on along the N. E. side of the river to meet the present London road at Hauxton. Mill. Crossing the meadow we would have reached the other part of Great Shelford near Granham's Farm. Here, set around another Manor house, would have been a group of houses. We can be more sure of the size of this settlement. Between 45 and 55 people lived here and thus probably about 11 houses existed. This Manor was then owned by the Sheriff of Essex, one Peter de Valong, and again it is very doubtful if such an important man ever came here. In fact this Manor was part of Peter de Valong's big Manor at Newport in Essex.

Page last updated October 29th 2009

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