Shinfield is a controversial Saxon placename, said by some to mean 'The Selingas' Field' - the Selingas being a Saxon tribe named after Chief Sela - through a single, but the earliest (1086), reference to the name. All other versions are derivations of 'Shinningfield,' so it may be 'The Scieningas' Field,' named after a different chieftain called Sciene. However, popular local etymology suggests the name derives from the shining fields where the River Loddon still floods today on the Arborfield border.
The village's entry in Domesday Book (1086) is rather interesting. There were 8 villeins (tenant farmers), 5 bordars (cottage dwellers), 2 serfs and their families living in the village. There was a mill and an extraordinary 5 fisheries producing 550 eels (how often?), 16 acres of meadow (presumably down by the Loddon) and woodland to support some 90 pigs in winter; but the number of hides available for agriculture had been reduced from five to nothing. This suggests that everyone was engaged in animal husbandry and at the fisheries. These rich pickings had all been taken directly for the new King from the old Saxon with the wonderful name of Sexi.
The parish covers a number of outlying hamlets - Spencers' Wood, Three Mile Cross, Pound & Ryeish Greens, Grazeley, Diddenham and the Hartleys - but Shinfield proper was the area around the parish church. This gradually expanded with a concentration of housing at School Green, the southern part of the village, after the handsome infants' school was built there in 1707 by Richard Piggot, a local boy made good. He had become a rich cutler (cutlery maker and vendor, particularly knifes and other blades) in Westminster, but never forgot his Berkshire home. The gabled bellcote is dated 1860. The part of the village around Cutbush Lane and northwards was known as Shinfield Green, and included the historic old Manor House and Good Rest House at Crosfields School. King Charles I stayed at the latter, when trying to relieve the Siege of Reading. Today much of this area is cut-off across the motorway on the edge of Reading and is known as Shinfield Rise or Shinfield North. Cut Bush Lane is named after an old thorn tree that a local farmer trimmed into the shape of the Prince of Wales Feathers some two hundred and fifty years ago. However, the man had a rival who took to spoiling the bush and a long feud ensued. The area retains a number of 16th century farmhouses.
Old Shinfield Manor House used to stand on the eastern side of the Shinfield Road, near Duckett's Farm, opposite the European Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasting at old Shinfield Lodge (now Shinfield Park). Another country house, Shinfield Grove, stood where the old Shire Hall (now Foster Wheeler) now is. The Hulme family lived there and their hatchments can still be seen in the church. The 18th century Hyde End House, south of the church, was for centuries the home of their relatives, the Body family, now patrons of Bernard Richard Body Charitable Trust in Stanford Dingley. Catherine of Aragon was given Shinfield Manor in Tudor times and is supposed to have planted a cedar tree in its grounds known as Catherineís Tree. Perhaps she dropped by when staying at Reading Abbey. Soon afterwards, a younger branch of the Martyn family from Wokingham lived there and Edward Martynís kneeling effigial wall monument can be seen in the Martyn Chapel of the parish church. Through Edward's only daughter, the manor passed to her husband, Willam Wollascott III. His family, from Woolhampston House, were famous for remaining Catholic even after the Reformation. They used their Shinfield house when visiting Reading. In 1792, a bricklayer working there discovered a number of important 13th century Catholic manuscripts carefully concealed within a cupboard, including a 'Sarum Psalter' and the 'Wolloscott Manuscript,' a cartulary of charters now in the British Library. Some family member must have taken them away from Reading Abbey at the Dissolution and kept them safe. Other past residents of note from the village include Queen Elizabeth I's Chief Physician, Robert Huick, and his grandson, Sir Simeon Steward, the poet.
The Wollascott heir, the Earl of Fingal, sold Shinfield Manor to Alexander Cobham, sometime Sheriff of Berkshire, in 1786. Shortly after 1790, he pulled down the old house and moved to the 17th century farmhouse opposite Badger Farm down Cutbush Lane, calling it Shinfield House. When he died in 1810, this passed to his grand nephew, Alexander Cobham Martyr, who subsequently changed his name to Cobham. He lived there to the great age of ninety-three, but changed the house's name to Shinfield Grange when he greatly enlarged it in 1866. The old rectory, next to the church, then became known as Shinfield Manor and the Cobhams moved there in 1902, the Palmers of Biscuit fame taking on the Grange. From 1921 to 1985, the new manor house was the home of the National Institute for Research in Dairying (NIRD), who had close links with Reading University and farmed much land in the parish. It later fell into ruin and was pulled down a few years ago.
Shinfield features twice in the works of Thomas Hardy, who called it Gaymead. Its principal appearance was as the setting for The Sonís Veto from Lifeís Little Ironies. Sophy, the chief character, even married the local rector in the church there. Later, Hardy wrote of Jude the Obscure working as a decorator in a church near Gaymead, though its exact location is uncertain, perhaps Arbofrfield. In Shinfield Church are buried the parents of another author, Mary Russell Mitford, who lived in Grazeley and Three Mile Cross. The parish church was built by order of William FitzOsbern in 1069. Whilst hunting in the woods at Shinfield, on the edge of Windsor Forest, with King Edward I in 1275, St. Thomas Cantilupe, the Chancellor of England and Bishop of Hereford (who sometimes resided at Whiteknights Park), took the opportunity to bemoan the sorrowful state of his diocese which was overburdened by the building of a new cathedral. The King immediately suggested that he take the tithes from Shinfield Church to help! The tower of the church was badly damaged by cannon fire during the Civil War when a group of Royalist troops, retreating from the Siege of Reading, took refuge in it. The Parliamentarians surrounded the church and blasted the men out of the sky.
See also Reading
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