An Uninteresting Village? Not On Your Life!

An Uninteresting Village? Not On Your Life!

From Page 7 of The Wilts and Glos Standard, Saturday, 7th November 1953

Shipton Moyne Isn't Just A Name On A Signpost

Village That Provides Water For Three Counties

When I say that Shipton Moyne is an extremely difficult village to write about, I am expressing not merely a personal opinion but quoting from the experience of others who have attempted the task in the past. The official guide to Tetbury Rural District, for example, sums up the place in one rather non-committal paragraph of seven lines (some of the information) in which is disputed by the villagers in any case), while the usually informative A.A. Gazetteer ignores the parish completely.

Shipton is a village of average size, with an average population, engaged in the industries and pursuits which one expects to find in such a corner of rural Gloucestershire. To many, its main distinction is an unusually-named inn, while to many more it is just another name on a signpost.

But the village is by no means so devoid of interest as all these things might suggest. Nothing very sensational ever happens there, granted, and few of its inhabitants have ever aspired to fame or notoriety outside their own district. As one resident has rather jocularly put it, none of them have ever been very good and none have been particularly bad.

Yet this out of the way semi-Cotswold collection of grey stone walls and buildings for a village well worthy of closer examination than has been its lot up to the present. Let us take a look at Shipton Moyne and see what it has to offer.

Estcourt House - 1953
Estcourt House is itself less than 200 years old, but it is the home of a family which has been associated with Shipton Moyne for well over six centuries. The history of the village and the family are closely interwoven through that time.

The parish of Shipton Moyne, somewhere over 2,300 acres in extent, is border country in several ways. The Fosse Way, ancient Roman highway now demoted at this point to the status of a cart-track, runs to the south-east of the village, forming at one and the same time the parish, rural district and county boundary. Only about a mile from the centre of the village, you are in Wiltshire.

The village itself, in common with many of its kind, consists almost entirely of a single main street. There are few landmarks, for the Parish Church lies some distance away from the street and the village's principal house, the residence of the Estcourt family, is situated a considerable way from the compact group of dwellings which one regards as Shipton Moyne proper.

One feature of the village street that does usually catch the eye of the passer-by is the sign of the remarkably-named Cat and Custard Pot Inn. But if you expect to find an interesting history behind this strange title you will be disappointed. The building only became an inn between 20 and 30 years ago, and the name was taken at random from a hunting tale, and not from any factual incident in Shipton Moyne's history.

The actual inn sign, however, is worthy of note. On one side it bears an appropriate design of a cat with its head in a bowl which we assume to be a custard pot, while on the reverse side is a colourful scene signifying the origin of the inn's name.

Cat And Custard Pot - 1953
At first glance, a typical group of Shipton Moyne cottages. But on closer inspection the second cottage from the left turns out to be the village's oddly-named public house, the Cat and Custard Pot Inn.

A Time When There Were Two Shiptons

Despite its proximity to a Roman road, the known history of Shipton Moyne cannot be said to begin until early in the 14th Century. It was at this time that there began the association between the village and the family of Estcourt, a link which has continued through more than 600 years right up to the present day.

Like Charlton, subject to an earlier article in this series, with the Suffolks, the stories of Shipton Moyne and of the Estcourts are inevitably woven down the centuries. Ever since the time of Walter de la Estcourt, the founder of this branch of the family, who died in 1325, there has been an Estcourt living in this parish, and almost without exception each generation has played its part in the life of the parish.

When the Estcourts first came into the picture, there were two Shiptons - the Manors of Shipton Moigne, in the possession of the family of Le Moigne, and Shipton Dovell, owned by a family named Beauboys. The Estcourts also owned a considerable estate in the neighbourhood, but of this no court rolls exist.

In 1415, the Estcourt family was united with that of Beauboys by marriage, and it is from that time the single manor of Shipton (appended to which the name of the Le Moigne, anglicised to Moyne, remained) takes its place in history.

Of the original Estcourt House there is little trace. Built about 1400, it was destroyed centuries later by fire, and the only surviving remains are a garden wall containing the old mullioned windows and a few relics incorporated into a small cottage.

The present house, the imposing Georgian building pictured elsewhere on this page, was built about 1730. Interesting to future historians will be the fact that it served as a military convalescent hospital during the 1939-45 war, when the late Queen Mary was a regular visitor there.

Although the estate which formerly included the whole of Shipton Moyne and much of the neighbouring Long Newnton, has diminished in size of recent years, it still covers some 2,000 acres. The boundary between the two parishes runs through the present Estcourt Park not far from the house.

One of the most eminent members of the Estcourt family was the Rt. Hon. Thomas Henry Sutton Sotherton-Estcourt, who represented Marlborough and later Devizes in the House of Commons during the first half of last century.

He entered Parliament at 28, and subsequently held the office of Home Secretary. Although, at different times, no fewer than eighteen members of the family have sat in Parliament.

Another historical association of the Estcourt family is with the family of Hodges, founders of a number of charities in the district, who gave their name to Hodges Barn, another well-known residence in the village. They and the Estcourts were united by a marriage which took place about 1700. The present Shipton Moyne school belongs to a trust instituted by the Hodges family.

Church Rebuilt Under 100 Years Ago

Imagine that, one Sunday morning, every man, woman and child in the parish of Shipton Moyne decided to go to church. In most places such an unusual event would result in many being turned away and others having to stand in various corners of the building.

Not so at Shipton Moyne. Not only would they all get a seat, but there would be plenty of room for anyone else who chose to come along. The seating accommodation of Shipton Moyne Parish Church is well in excess of the number of people in the parish.

To all intents and purposes the church, which is dedicated to St. John the Baptist, is a fairly new building. Well within the past 100 years, it has been completely rebuilt, and but for the Estcourt family chapel and a number of ancient monuments only fragments of the original church survive.

And the bells. Shipton Moyne is particularly proud of its peal of six bells, one of which dates back to 1670 together with two cast in the early seventeen-hundreds.

It was on May 20, 1864, that the complete reconstruction of Shipton Moyne church began. The huge task was to take 18 months to complete, and the cost - defrayed by the Rt. Hon. Tomas Sotherton-Estcourt - totalled £7,073-14-6, a terrific sum for those days. New walls were raised on old foundations, the tower being erected at the south-west angle of the building instead of in the centre as previously.

For an account of the progress of the work we can turn to the church vestry minutes, which exist from 1865 onwards, the same book being in use today as was begun at the time of the restoration. Of the commencement of work, it tells us: "The day was fine, the sun shone, and all hearts were moved."

The Bishop of Gloucester and Bristol - as the title then was - preached at the service when the church was re-opened on September, 29, 1865.

Features of particular interest in this essentially "modern" church are naturally confined to the surviving relics of the original building. Under this heading are grouped three canopied recesses built into the chancel walls. Of these three richly-ornamented monuments, one portrays a knight in chain mail holding a shield, another shows a similar figure drawing a sword, and the third represents a female figure in wimple and flowing robe.

The monuments are believed to be of the 14th Century, but who they represent is not known. There were three manorial families around Shipton at that period, and they may be connected with any of them.

In the south transept, which houses the ancient Estcourt family chapel, are two more canopied and effigied tombs, but these are know to commemorate members of the Estcourt family. It is on this site that ancestors of the Estcourts - among them about 40 heads of the family - have been buried for over 600 years. The family vault is now closed.

Among the many members of the family commemorated in the church is Major-General J.B. Bucknall Estcourt, who fought at the battles of the Alma, Balaklava and Inkerman, and died on June 24, 1855 in the camp before Sebastapol. Though he died ten years before the church restoration, the church porch was erected at his earlier expressed wish by his widow, Lady Bucknall Estcourt.

Perhaps the most interesting of the more modern features of the church is the unusual font, ornamented with marble, which stands on a central pillar and four smaller marble supports.

A final point worthy of mention is supplied by the list of rectors of the parish, dating back to 1297, displayed in the church. This shows that all five incumbents between 1856 and 1950 held the ecclesiastical rank of canon.

Poet Was Born In The Village

It is not strictly correct to say that Shipton Moyne itself has never produced a notable man. But it is remarkable that the one man who disproves that statement did not live to attain the age of 30 years.

Few people nowadays know who John Oldham was, less still do they associate him with the little Gloucestershire village, where on August 9, 1653, he was born into the family of a Free Church minister. But in his short lifetime he attained great distinction as a satirical poet, and he is one of the three men associated with Tetbury Grammar School's long history to have been remembered in the name of one of the school's houses.

John Oldham attended Tetbury Grammar School for two years. He made rapid progress, and before his 17th birthday, had been entered at St. Edmund's Hall, Oxford. Here his genius developed further, and although he subsequently held tutorial posts it was always his poetry which came first in his life.

Though he fell victim to smallpox in his 30th year, Oldham had already made his name sufficiently to be ranked second only to Dryden as a satirist of his day. It is true we do not know of any further associations with Shipton Moyne or its environs after he left Tetbury Grammar School, but it would not be right to talk about Shipton without mentioning this outstanding native.

Shipton Moyne's association with education in its parent town of Tetbury does not end with John Oldham's two years at Tetbury Grammar School. The Hodges family of Shipton Moyne, already referred to above, are remembered in this connection too.

Mrs. Elizabeth Hodges, one of the Shipton Moyne family, in a will dated 1723, gave an annual sum of £30 "for the augmentation of the charity schools" in Tetbury, the objectives of this bequest being set out as "the teaching of poor children to read, write and cast accounts, and make them the better capable of trades and callings for gaining their livelihood."

Mrs. Hodges left a similar amount for the charity schools at Malmesbury, which though the other side of the county boundary is roughly the same distance from Shipton Moyne as is Tetbury. It would appear that the leading families of Shipton have tended to serve as benefactors, not only to their own village but to much of the surrounding area.

Which brings us to a way in which Shipton Moyne has a decided effect at the present time on the life and amenities of a very wide area indeed.

Shipton Moyne Waterworks - 1953
This attractive building houses the Shipton Moyne waterworks, from which two million gallons of water are pumped every day to supply large rural areas of three counties.

Two Million Gallons Of Water Daily

There is wealth in the land below Shipton Moyne. Wealth is not in the form of a precious metal or of coal, but the simplest and yet probably the most important commodity there is - water.

In something like 40 years, the exceptional sources of water supply existing in the parish have been developed to a point where an output of two million gallons a day has become a normal figure. And the supply has never failed.

It all began just before the 1914-18 War when the West Gloucestershire Water Company, then finding their existing sources insufficient to meet the demand, employed the services of a geologist. He located a large quantity of water in a field adjoining the Fosse Way just on the Shipton Moyne Parish boundary.

Testing was begun, and four or five boreholes were sunk, but then came a setback. The intervention of war brought a shortage of finances which, by 1916, put a temporary stop to operations. The cessation of activity lasted for about 14 years, but Government assistance arrived about 1930 to enable the completion of the work begun so much earlier.

Since the autumn of 1932, the supply from Shipton Moyne has been running practically every day and night. The area of supply takes in a wide rural region extending into Somerset, Wiltshire and Gloucestershire, and although the company has two smaller pumping stations Shipton Moyne remains their chief source of supply.

With rural water supply schemes always on the increase, the company are again reaching a point where yet more water is required. But no further demand is to be put upon the Shipton Moyne source. A new station is being opened near Wotton-Under-Edge, where temporary plant is already in operation.

The four concrete reservoirs at Shipton Moyne waterworks have a total storage capacity of four million gallons. Much of the water is pumped from a reservoir 380 feet higher at Tolldown. At Shipton the waterworks are in charge of a resident superintendent, Mr. C.W. Hooper, and a staff of six men.

It is a remarkable fact that, with this apparently unending supply of water on their doorsteps, many of the people of Shipton Moyne have not actually got a supply in their houses. The company supplies water to the village, but many of the residents obtain it from three outdoor taps.

This is explained by the fact that the village was once in possession of a private supply. When the latter was taken over by the West Gloucestershire Company, the expense of having water installed in the houses might have been too great for many householders.

But at lest they know that the water they obtain from their communal taps is "home-produced," and maybe that is something of a consolation.

New Developments In The Village

The reader must not think that any of the foregoing remarks mean that Shipton Moyne as a village is in any way behind the times. That would be a very mistaken impression.

Take, for example, the new council house estate, which could well serve as a model for the Tetbury and other districts. Started about two years ago, it now comprises 16 houses, and in one respect at least, is unique among the housing sites administered by Tetbury R.D.C. - it has a house in use as a general store. Besides the Post Office, there is only one other shop in the village.

Of the 16 houses, four are reserved for people engaged in agriculture. that is, quite naturally, the village's main industry today, and it is likely that it always has been, for it would seem that the "Shipton" in Shipton Moyne is connected with sheep rather than with ships.

Another new development getting under way in the village at present is the provision, on a conveniently located central site, of a recreation field for the use of the children of the various village sporting organisations. Already the youngsters are using the field, while by next year ploughing and reseeding should have made it ready for the cricket and football clubs.

The land was given for the purpose three years ago by Mr. H.C. Coriat, of Twatley, near Malmesbury. It covers four acres. A committee was appointed to raise funds for preparing, fencing and equipping the field, and things are going so well that swings have already been provided.

Yes, Shipton Moyne may be quiet, it may be out of the way, and it may well be that nothing of national importance ever happens there. But the inhabitants are definitely moving with the times, methodically, in their own way, just as much as any larger place.

There is more in such villages as Shipton Moyne then meets the eye. An uninteresting village? Not on your life!


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Wilts And Gloucestershire Standard Saturday, November 7, 1953