Shephall Manor Website

Home Nodes Heathcotes Shephall Manor Shephalbury Web Details Sources Contents Shephall Village Three Houses Photogallery SMAC Coptic Church Polish Connection




September 2007


The history of Shephall Manor is one of part of an apparently insignificant agricultural village of roughly a hundred souls set in about twelve hundred acres ( five hides ), near to the Great North Road, thirty miles from London ( in the 1779 Estate map,  Field 105  is called Milestone Close ) and within walking distance of Stevenage, now a town of about eighty thousand people ( 2002 ).  Less than a mile further up the Great North Road towards Stevenage is one of the best preserved sets of Roman burial mounds in England called the Six Hills, although there have been no Roman traces have ever been found in Shephall yet.

However, the more I have delved into the history of Shephall the more I realise that it is the history of all of England and what makes up the history of the EnglishLate  Iron age ditches ( 100 to 50 years BC ) were uncovered near the site of the present manor house in 2002 when an archaeological survey was carried out prior to the Egyptian Coptic Church building a cathedral in the grounds.  The lives of all the people that have gone before leave traces that affect our own.  How could a now, small insignificant hamlet, on the edge of Shephall, called Broadwater ( Saxon Bradewatre ), give its name to one of the eight Hundreds of Hertfordshire ( it was in fact a double hundred and stretched from Baldock down to Welwyn ), unless it was in times before the Domesday book, indeed a great lake.  It has always puzzled me as to the alignment of the main road into Shephall village, but if you imagine it dropping down to a great lake or marsh this could be the reason, also as to why Aston ( east facing ) was so called, what did it face?  Before the time of the Domesday book there is talk of draining the great marsh in Shephall.  Perhaps the marsh was the early source of food for the first settlers?  One of the oldest things ever found in Shephall was a partly polished Neolithic axe in Aston Lane in 1945, it was found near the present site of a very old peat bog now called Ridlins Mire ( looked after by the Hertfordshire and Middlesex Nature Conservancy ).  These axes were generally to be used for ceremonial purposes, perhaps at a sacred site, was it lost in the marsh before it could be fully polished?

The word 'bury' is common in North Hertfordshire and is said to come from the old Saxon word 'burgh' meaning a strong or fortified place and the earliest recording I can find is of 'Shephall berey' from Margaret Nodes's brass plaque in 1582. 

Here under lyeth the bodye of Margaret Noodes ye wyfe of Gorge Noodes late of Shephall berey Sargyaunt of ye Bucke Houndes unto Kinge Henry Kinge Edward Quene Mary & Quene Elizabeth, which Margaret deceassed the vjtth daye of January in the yeare of our Lord God 1582.

There is said to be traces of an older house in the Rectory, recently renovated by the church and this could be a contender for the first known house if it can be dated, but at the present time I believe the first Manor house was adjacent to Shephall Lane, to the south of the main village and church and was probably moated as a defence in troubled times, like the one in Whomerley Wood only two miles away which is thought to have been occupied from Roman to Medieval times.  The 'moat', as called by the villagers, next to Shephall Lane, existed up until the building of the Stevenage New Town in 1946 was possibly one side of the enclosure, I have been told by a then resident of Leaf Springs ( just across the way from Broadhall Way ) that when the council drained the moat about 1960 and were about to fill it in he noticed and unusual sharp v shape to the sides ( perhaps in times past a moat?)

The churchyard is an oval mound produced by years of burials and is probably pre - Christian in origin.  George Nodes was Master of the Buckhounds to Henry VIII, Edward VI, Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth and in the quaint brasses of George and his wife Margaret can be seen the evolution of the English spelling.

Here lyeth the body of George Nodes Gentylma Sargeante of ye bockehoundes to Kyng Henry viijth, Edward ye vjth Quene Mary and to Quene Elyzabeth which Dyed the xvij daye of May ano 1564 and Margaret his wyff dyed the -- daye of --         ano 15 --

  What would have happened to English history if George Nodes' employer Henry VIII had died early a few miles away hawking ( instead of hunting deer ) near Hitchin in 1525 , would the dissolution of the monasteries have taken place five years later without Henry VIII? How different English history could have been.

Through the inscriptions in the church on Shephall Green and entries in the parish registers the influence of Latin, the language of the learned, can be seen.  It was interestingly said of Shakespeare, that he knew little Latin and even less Greek.  We can be very grateful that this was so and during the Elizabethan age the English vocabulary grew by a quarter and the language that we know today began to evolve.  One of George Nodes' 'natural' ( illegitimate? ) daughters, Joan, married Thomas Chapman of Tilehouse Street in Hitchin and was the mother of George Chapman, the great playwright and scholar, who lived later in London and certainly knew William Shakespeare and was by some for some short time considered a better author!  His great claim to fame was that he translated Homer's Illiad ( 1598 ) and Odyssey (1616 ) into the English language for the first time, he considered it his  greatest achievement in life.  When George ( a name the Nodes were fond of ) died penniless in 1634 Inigo Jones paid for his tomb in St Giles in the Fields. 

History often just seems to record births and deaths of nobility but consider the human side when looking at Charles Nodes. He became a Sheriff of Hertfordshire and his father wrote the following touching letter to Charles's sister's ( Jane )  husband during the English Civil War in 1642


Thanke you for sendinge your children unto us I was verye glad to see them. I am ould and crasye [ ill ] and I doubt wether I shall see them againe, wee thinke the tymes more dangerous now then ever they were I praye God amend them.  I should have bynn glad to have seene Will but he being in a place infected I thinke you did better to let him staye then to bringe him home to indannger the Familye.  I have received of your servannt Stephenn ₤33‑6s‑8d for intearest monye which this my letter ‑ will acknowledge the receit.  Mrs. Keeling my wyfe and my selfe had a desire the chillderen should have staied untill the tymes had bynn better settled.  I make noe question if they growe more dangerous you will send for them speedelye. I have bynn bould to send your Godsonne and myne and a kinswoman of my wyfes her Sister Tonyes daughter in your Coach to London which ware verye well pleased wich theire iorrnye [ journey ] And thus with my love and my wyffes unto your selfe and your Ladye I rest.

This 16 of Aprill                                           Your assured lovinge Father in Lawe 1642                                                                               Geo. Nodes


Charles who died aged 48, married twice and saw his first wife and five children die before him but four children survived from his second marriage.  His oldest son George died on 9th April 1654,  at that time new year started on the 25th March ( not changed to 1st January until 1752 ) so he was only 14 and not 15  as he would be on our calendar ( George was born on 5th March 1639 and died on 9th April 1654 at the age of 14 years and 16 days ).  His other son John died within a few years and the 3rd son Edmund died in 1663 whilst up at Cambridge University.  His remaining daughter Elizabeth married the Earl of Westmorland, who was a famous waster, he once lost 500 on a game of cards he had never seen before!  Elizabeth sadly died in childbirth within 2 years of the marriage but her mother Francis married again after Charles's death and lived to be 81 and was finally buried in Shephall church with her second husband.  What a tangled web life and death can weave.

When Pepys stayed in the Swan Inn  down in the small town of Stevenage on the Great North Road in 1667 just after the Great Fire and Plague in London, he rejoiced to meeting Richard Bowcocke again, the Innkeeper, Sarah Nodes had been his first wife in 1655 but she died in 1660.   Incidentally in 1706 George Nodes actually owned the Swan Inn ( the lease in my possession ) and rented it out to Richard Nodes,  citizen and Ironmonger of London, for one year for the princely sum of four shillings.  Struggle with the obscure language of Legal English of 1706  when trying to decipher the lease for the Swan Inn, then one can appreciate part of how the English language evolved. 

Hogarth visited Shephalbury in 1739 to paint Katherine Nodes ( nee Vaslet ), the painting I believe now hangs somewhere in Geneva, Switzerland.  She was later claimed to be a Vicomtesse by one of her descendants and there hasn't been too many of them living in Shephall over the centuries.

The last remaining male line of the Nodes, again another George died in India in 1766 and the estate split into three parts.  A product of this is the beautiful Estate Book produced in 1779.

There is evidence that the estate in some part was occupied by the Heathcotes from 1818, a certain Mr. S.H.U. Heathcote purchased Wymondley Bury, 254 acres of land and the Priory Estate , all in Wymondley, near Hitchin in 1806 ( not to be sold until 1922 ) so the family must have been living locally possibly.  But the eventual reunion of the Shephalbury Estate was in 1838 by Samuel Heathcote Unwin Heathcote when he purchased the final part of the estate and started the Heathcote line for 100 years or more and gave us the present Manor House.  I am told upon the final sale of the manor the family fortune was invested in a Kenyan Coffee Farm that was later nationalised with little or no compensation. There is a saying that it takes one generation to earn a fortune, the second to consolidate it and the third to lose it.

The present house is an excellent example of early Victorian Gothic and when I finally had the privilege of taking the Listings Assessor ( probably not his official title ) around the building in 1999 he instantly thought that it would qualify.  He said it was as though they had ordered it from a mail order catalogue i.e. Gothic windows, gargoyles, Georgian staircase etc. Later it was given Grade II listed status.

 Kenneth Heathcote, who now lives in Norwich, has been incredibly supportive of our efforts to save the manor and many of the items seen on this site have been freely given by him, for posterity.

Mary Spicer has kindly given permission to publish her excellent book on the village of Shephall "Tyme out of Mind" on this website for, "Yesterday's children and today's and tomorrow's."

Shephall Manor

The present house was built in 1864 for the Heathcote family and was used by them up to the 1920's when it went into a variety of uses as a private home, as a school Polish refugees after the 2nd World war and as a residential school for problem boys from London between 1960 and 1990.  At the present ( 2003) it is used as Sunday School for an Egyptian Coptic church in London.  This is probably at least the 3rd house on the site although the two earlier ones were nearer to the old Shephall Lane.

For details of the present owners of the building

Christian Coptic Church

Key Dates

bulletPartly polished axe lost between Aston and Shephall in marshy ground @ 2500 BC
bulletSix Hills Roman burial mounds constructed circa 100 AD
bulletSaxon hut built in the place later to be Broadwater Crescent about 430 AD
bulletAluric the first Known name in Shephall, he was a land holder before the Conquest
bulletThe Domesday Book compiled and Shephall (5 hides) is owned by Saint Albans Abbey
bulletEdmund Nodes holds the Manor of Brooks in Stevenage 1480's
bullet1542 George Nodes granted Shephall Manor
bulletFirst house probably existed under the rectory next to the church
bulletSecond house next to Shephall lane near the moat?
bullet1766 Drury and Andrews map shows no 2nd house facing south from the walled garden
bulletGeorge Nodes dies in India in 1766 leaving no male heir. Estate split between 3 sisters.
bulletCatherine Nodes Price born London 29 January 1785, married Chevalier de Warburg in 1822 and died in Worms, Germany 16 March 1868
bulletSarah who married Robert Jacques who sold their share to Michael Heathcote
bulletMargaret Mary, wife of Richard Price of Knebworth to whom Catherine's share eventually went
bulletEstate map of 1799 clearly showing the 2nd house
bulletEstate split into 3 parts
bulletHeathcotes in tenancy from 1818?
bulletEstate reunited by Samuel Unwin in 1838 who adopted his mother's maiden name to become Samuel Heathcote Unwin Heathcote
bullet1864 Shephall Manor built by Unwin Unwin Heathcote
bulletUpon Unwin Heathcote's death in 1893, Colonel Alfred Unwin Heathcote R.E. succeeds to the manor
bulletHouse rented out to David Augustus Bevan 1926
bulletHouse rented to Lt Col Morgan Grenville Gavin 1929 to 1937
bulletHouse sold to William Harriman Moss in 1939 by Michael Heathcote
bulletDuring the 2nd World War 32 children between the ages of 2 to 5 from London stay at the house, arranged through the Waifs and Strays Society, with the Moss family
bulletLater in the 2nd World War it was used to house Polish Officers and Polish children needing accommodation
bulletSeptember 1947 acquired by the Stevenage Development Corporation and initially used for staff accommodation
bulletUsed as a school for Polish children from 1950 to at least 1957
bulletManor leased to London County Council ( later Inner London Education Authority ) and eventually used as a home for maladjusted boys from London between 1960 and 1990 as Shephall Manor School
bulletAfter a short campaign by SMAC the house becomes a Grade 2 listed property, including the grounds, in 1991
bulletChristian Coptic Orthodox Church based in London buy the manor for 351,000 in 1991 and effectively use it as a centre at weekends
bulletThe Christian Coptic Church build a Cathedral in the grounds
bulletSeptember 2007 a visit confirms Shephall Manor in the best state of preservation for many years. The Christian Coptic Church like many before them, have found the building intriguing


Web Site by Richard Holton
Copyright 2007 All rights reserved.
Revised: 11th December 2014 Ver 9.0



[Home] [Nodes] [Heathcotes] [Shephall Manor] [Shephalbury] [Web Details] [Sources] [Contents] [Shephall Village] [Three Houses] [Photogallery] [SMAC] [Coptic Church] [Polish Connection]