The first part of the name originates from Sheep Town. The second part comes from the family of Drew (Drogo) de Montagu, who held the manor under the count of Mortain, from the Norman invasion until 1421.

The manor is listed in the Domesday Book as having 18 households, 2 mills, 2 cobs, 7 cattle, 4 cows, 34 pigs and 260 sheep.

The manor was held from 1765 by the Phelps family of Montacute.

The parish Church of Saint Peter has 13th century origins and has been designated as a Grade II listed building. It was seriously damaged by a fire in 1964 and restored two years later.

Alfred Edwin Eaton (1845 – 1929) was an English clergyman and entomologist who served as the vicar of Shepton Montague. His main interests among insects were the Diptera and Ephemeroptera.

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The quality of village life.

‘Most people in Britain live in urban or suburban centres. When surveyed they say their dream home would be in a village.  Mine wouldn’t be.’  Much recent writing agrees with this point of view. We set out to assess the quality of village life in Victorian Shepton Montague and then to compare those findings with those of today. Are we happy to be where we are, and what do you think of your village life?

Shepton Montague  part 1.
A local village in the Victorian age

The highlights of Victorian England were the drama of industrial growth and the expanding horizons of Empire.  They took the burgeoning population into the towns and brought cheap competitive food imports from overseas. Both trends were to become a dangerous threat to the pride of place held by the traditional rural way of life.

In 1860 75% of the population of England and Wales lived in the countryside, in 1901 75%  lived in the towns; by 1901 80% of wheat was imported and 75%of dairy produce, only 10% of the national workforce was in agriculture.  Agricultural production fell in value by 50% from 1880 to 1893. The tensions of adjusting to these changes would be felt by Shepton Montague.

Like most West Country parishes the population of Shepton peaked in 1831, at 452; in the 1851 census  it  was 405, still a vibrant and lively community, but the  decline would continue until the end of the century, when the population was under 300.  The 90 households in 1851, much the same number as today,  were spread across the parish in Lower and Upper Shepton, Southdown, Welham, Knowle and Stoney Stoke, and because journeys were made on foot each house cluster had its own  and local identity, as birth places show.

The society was hierarchical . Most of the parish was owned by two men, the Earl of Ilchester, in the east at Stoney Stoke, and W Phelips of Montacute, who as  Lord of the Manor owned the Shepton hamlets. These estates were not broken up until near the 1st World War and exercised a  benevolence, building and rebuilding cottages and the vicarage. Beneath them in the hierarchy were local people of importance, tenant farmers and master craftsmen. Lower still were the labouring class of agricultural workers.

Victorian economy

Kelly directory entries help to identify the economic activity of the parish at that time. 12 tenant farmers, the largest farming 200 acres, and their 93 farm labourers  dominated the male workforce. Another 20 men provided the specialist crafts a self contained village would need, blacksmiths, wheelwright, sawyer, carpenter and thatcher; with the high cost of tiles most buildings were thatched. No doubt the opinions of these men and those of the main farmers carried most weight in village affairs.  A few womens’ roles are mentioned, seamstress, dressmaker, charwoman. There were also 13 young women living in as servants, mostly with these same prominent families and they tended to come from  other neighbouring villages not from Shepton.

The population was youthful, 34% under 14 and only 1% over 65, today in England we have 16% over 65. For many the village had been their home for life, true of 70% of the male heads of household. By contrast only 35% of the wives had been born in the village, clearly the young men had gone out to other local villages to take their pick.  Supportive relationships show up in the census, a niece helping a retired widower, a mother in law taken into a family, several families taking in lodgers to help make ends meet, a retired couple living on an army pension and a few older villagers  receiving parochial relief. A few properties were deemed uninhabitable. There were no single parent families nor young unmarried couples living together!

Victorian people

The durability of the family names throughout time is impressive, Vallis, Sims, Sly, Trim and Lydford.  The Sims family are shown as tenant farmers in Lower Shepton from 1851 to 1931.The Heaths were in Lily Farm from 1883 -1927.  Parts of the  Sims family were prominent in all four of the major settlements, variously as farmer, butcher, dairyman and master shoemaker and Thomas Sims of Stoney Stoke tops the family records  in the census.with 14 children.

The village school, built in 1846, took all the young children under10, and two young schoolmistresses looked after about 46. The children  attended Sunday School as well. Most boys were in farming employment soon after they reached their teens, one or two were apprenticed to trades.

The village opened up to incomers for residence after 1880, especially in Higher Shepton and Welham, more advantageously placed on the turnpike road from Sherborne to Bruton. The more significant opening up of emigration is evidenced by descendants who sign into the church visitors’ book.

Daniel Bryant was baptised in 1807 in St.Peter’s and died in 1845 on the ill -fated expedition with Sir John Franklin to find the North West passage; visiting from Auckland, New Zealand, came descendants of the Lydford family which emigrated to New Zealand in 1879. The new art of family genealogy has produced a flood of recent visits to the church.

So in the mid 19th century we have  insights into an active and integrated community  with benevolent landlords, rector, church and village school, smithies, shops and an inn, twelve viable farms as centres of employment and a rail station at Cole, three miles away. How happy  do you think they all were? With that as a base we need next to look at the 20th century and the impact of the ‘modern world’
Roger Ketley


Listed buildings in Shepton Montague http://www.britishlistedbuildings.co.uk/england/somerset/shepton+montague

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