A Record of Shelford Parva by Fanny Wale
To see copies of the Wale family tree, click here
The Wale Family
by Graham Chinner
A casual visitor strolling around Little Shelford would probably encounter the name “Wale” but once – on the gate to the Wale Recreation Ground off Whittlesford Road. If, however, he managed access to All Saint’s Church, he would be confronted by a wall full of Wales- the so-called “Waleing Wall”. The serried monumental tablets on this wall testify to the extent and importance of the Wale family in the Village during the 18th and 19th Centuries.
A striking symbol of the Wale ascendancy during the 19th Century was surely Shelford Hall, which stood some ninety yards north of the present recreation ground in a park that had been Wale territory for centuries. A neoElizabethan structure with gothic trimmings, the mansion had been built for Colonel R.G. Wale in 1850 and was destroyed by fire in 1929. As the insurance covered only the value of the mortgage, rebuilding was not an option.
The owner was Colonel Wale’s only surviving daughter, Fanny Lucretia Wale (F.L.Wale, the compiler of the manuscript “A Record of Shelford Parva”). She had not lived in the Hall for a quarter century, having let it to a relative for much of that time. After her death in 1936 , the estate was inherited by her niece, Norah Cecil Wale Powell. The legacy was an agricultural holding of several hundred acres including four houses and many prime building sites. But 1936 was at the height of the global depression precipitated only a few months after the destruction of the Hall by the Wall Street Crash ; this bore as heavily on agriculture as on industry. The price of grain plummeted and all over the County, arable fields were left to revert to scrub. Although outbreak of hostilities in 1939 relieved the depression, rigours of the war economy involved every conceivable control bearing especially on rents, prices, and building.
To pay for the crippling War Debt as well as ambitious social programmes the post war Attlee government raised taxes to the highest level ever, and it seems that at this stage Norah Powell decided on disbursement of her inheritance. First came a gesture of great generosity. In 1947 some seven acres to the south of the Hall site were given to Little Shelford parish as the Wale Recreation Ground. Soon after, land was sold for the Courtyards and Beech Close developments. In the early 1950’s, the main agricultural holding, Hall Farm, was bought by its tenants and the remainder of the historic Wale Park was sold in small parcels, some for building.
Norah herself had the white house (“Gregory’s Close”) built on Camping Close opposite the Church where she lived and was later joined by her widowed brother Edward Blennerhassett Powell (always known as Blennie). On Norah’s death in 1975, the remainder of the estate passed to Blennie. In disposing of most of the remaining land, he afforded the Parish very favourable terms for the acquisition of the Garden Fields allotment ground, appropriately dubbed “Blennie's Patch” in grateful acknowledgement.. The photograph of Blennie beside the sign is probably the last taken of him before his death in 1985.
The Wale family has claimed descent from a Norman noble, the Baron de Wahul. Whatever the truth of this, it is clear that through the medieval period the family was prosperous and well connected. A Wale knight fought for Henry V at Agincourt. By the 17th Century the progenitors of the Shelford line had acquired substantial property in the eastern counties. Thomas Wale of Bardfield (b 1642 ) had inherited this manor as well as those of Radwinter and Harston. Passing through little Shelford on his way to Harston he must have been aware of the picturesque Shelford House tucked into the corner of what is now Bridge Lane, and Whittlesford Road. In 1660, the year of King Charles’ restoration, Wale purchased this redbrick Tudor house and its park of about 10 acres along the River Granta. On his death in 1695, his properties descended to his eldest son Gregory.
Gregory Wale (1669 - 1739) made Shelford House his permanent seat and is the first Wale to be be commemorated on the Waleing Wall. An even more imposing monument is the obelisk on Maggot’s Mount, visible for centuries from the village but now regrettably obscured by the motorway embankment and its afforestation. The story is told that Gregory and an intimate, James Church of Newton, would regularly meet on the mount for a pipe and a palaver. They agreed that whoever survived the longer, would erect a monument to his friend. So the inscription reads:
To the memory of Gregory Wale, Esquire,
Justice of the Peace for this County,
Conservator of the River Cam.
An Advocate for Liberty,
A good Subject,
An Agreeable Companion,
A faithful Friend,
An Hospitable Neighbour,
And in all parts of life
An useful member of Society.
He dyed June ye 5, 1739, in ye 71st. year of his age, universally
lamented, and was buried in the Parish Church of Little Shelford.
This obelisk is erected by his surviving friend James Church Esq,
as a public testimony to his regard for so worthy a gentleman.
Gregory’s first marriage was to Margaret Sparke of Risby Hall in Suffolk. Their only surviving son, Thomas, born in 1701, was to live through nearly all of the eighteenth century. We know more about him than of all other Wales through the series of small pocket books, part diary, part common-place book, kept throughout his life . These were rescued from the later destruction of Old Shelford House by his grandson Henry John Wale, who later published extracts under the title “My Grandfather’s Pocket Book” ( Chapman & Hall, 1883)
At an early age Thomas was sent to school at Wisbech, then an important port in the Baltic trade. Here he must have sensed the excitement and potential of foreign trading because at age 17, most unusually for the eldest son of a well-to-do landed gentleman, he became apprenticed to the Baltic trader W. Allen at King’s Lynn. This cost his father £200- perhaps £12,000 in today’s money. After six years at Lynn he was sent to trade on his Master’s behalf in Russia, based partly at Riga (where he perfected his German), and partly at Narva to learn Russian. Thomas was at Narva in February 1724 when Peter the Great died; his plan to travel to St. Petersburg to view the body was thwarted when an unseasonable thaw required emergency interment of the great man’s corpse.
Freed from his apprenticeship at age 28, Thomas settled in Riga and soon established himself as a highly successful middle-man contracting for Royal Navy stores- in timber, turpentine, pitch, tar and hemp. He clearly had acquired the flair for assessing the quality of raw materials (e.g. judging the potential of a rough pine tree for sustaining the stresses on a 30 foot sailing ship mast) as well as the skill in negotiating favourable contracts. Doubtless the art of deft back-handing of officials in both Russia and Britain did not come amiss.
Thomas had launched into trading on his own with a sub from his father of £500- perhaps £25,000 today. Soon he formed partnerships with other traders- usually in companies of three or four. He must have been a shrewd judge of character, for he showed confidence in leaving partners in charge of business during quite lengthy absences- this gave him liberty to travel widely in Russia and western Europe. In 1736 when his father was in final decline, Thomas returned to England, only regaining Riga in 1739 after Gregory’s death.
The 1740’s were bonanza years. In 1748 he records that his firm loaded off Riga 42 entire ships including one contract for 352 masts. Yearly gross takings for Thomas of £8,000 (= £400,000 today) seem not to have been unusual. There were of course reverses- in 1744 Thomas makes an enigmatic reference to the “ Great and fatal hemp contract” which cost him personally £ 2500 (= £165,000). None the less, overall, life in Riga was exceedingly profitable; however it was not comfortable. The Russians had seized Riga from the Swedes only in 1710, and their rule was severe. Foreigners were not permitted to own property in the city or even to live there without a freeman as landlord. They could not marry without sanction of the Russian Governor.
Now in 1749, Thomas was considering matrimony. His intended was Louisa Rodolphina Rahten, a young lady whose 25 years of age were little more than half Thomas’s 48. Some mystery surrounds Louisa. Thomas states merely that she was the daughter of a Lutheran pastor, Nicholas Rahten the Hoch Prediger of Lunenburg in Hanover. However she clearly had residence rights in Riga, most likely acquired by previous marriage to a Freeman of the city, i.e. she was a young widow. The couple evaded the Governor’s sanction by slipping over the border into Polish territory and tying the knot at a Lutheran church in Mettau. On their return to Riga the clandestine couple set up ménage in a large house arranged by Thomas but with Louisa posing as owner and landlady. Even the bed- and table linen was monogrammed ‘ LRR’! Thomas, with two partners and their clerks all lived there as boarders and lodgers. Louisa produced five infants during this period; some eyebrows must surely have been raised, but Thomas does suggest that authority did ‘wink’ at the arrangement.
After ten years of subterfuge the restrictive laws were lifted. Thomas and Louisa came out of the closet and in 1760 remarried publicly in Riga (for decency’s sake!).
Thomas had decided on retirement from active trading and in 1763 the couple set sail from Riga to England. With them were 3 surviving children- Margaretta Phillipina of 13 years, Mary, 7 years, and Gregory, 3. A fourth child, Charles, was born in 1763. In addition Louisa had acquired, as a wedding present, a serf called Maya. Thomas, who always called a spade a spade, referred to her as an hereditary slave. At that time in England small children could be kept as slaves, but not adults. Accordingly, after arrival in Shelford, Maya (who had no English) was married off to a villager called Haggar (whose Russian was presumably vestigial)- so exchanging one servitude for another. Other adjustment to England for Louisa involved naturalisation- then a complicated procedure requiring a special act of Parliament. Having proved that she was not a Catholic by taking Communion in a Protestant Church, she had to stand before the House, abjure previous allegiance and swear fealty to the House of Hanover. The whole palaver cost Thomas £126- some £7,000 today.
The family settled into Shelford House. Although Thomas had inherited the reversionary ownership of the property, a lifetime interest had been bequeathed to Mary Wale, the widow of Gregory’s son Hitch Wale by his second wife Elizabeth Hitch. Accordingly, for her lifetime, Mary was offered an annual rent of £ 30, calculated from:
House ,Orchard, Gardens, Dovehouse &c….. £18 0s. 0d.
3 acres, 1 rod of meadow @ 30s…………… 4 17 6
8 acres, ½ rod in 3 closes @ 20s……………. 8 10 0
Total……….. £31 7 6
Off for use of my own furniture from above… 1 7 6
As part of his initial planning of his establishment, Thomas estimated the yearly expenses of keeping house and family, with two men servants, 3 maids and a separate chariot with horses for his wife, as £ 580- some £30,000 today.
Thomas’s homecoming holding of 11+ acres was soon expanded. In 1765, King’s Farm was bought from John Cheetham, a Cambridge Woollen merchant. The farm then consisted of 14 acres enclosed land mainly surrounding the farmhouse, 100 acres dispersed over the three open arable fields of Little Shelford, and 50 acres of common meadow along the river. The 5 acre Camping Close (referred to in contemporary documents as Angel Close), part of the enclosed land, was early detached by Thomas from the farm when letting the property to his first tenant. With burgeoning farming involvement in addition to his administration of the Bardfield, Radwinter and Harston estates, his continuing interest in the Riga partnership, and the obligations and pleasures- hunting, fishing and socialising- of the Country Gentleman, Thomas’s retirement was very fully occupied. He had not lost his wanderlust and undertook frequent tours including trips to the Low Countries and in 1767 one three month journey with a servant and portmanteau up the westcoast of Britain to Glasgow, across to Arbroath and back through Edinburgh and Newcastle – 1240 miles, “the whole performed on ye same horse”. A 1770 follow-up trip to Newcastle- now by Post Chaise and with Mrs Wale and her maid- occasioned a tour of Castle Howard where inter alia the sumptuous Mausoleum made a strong impression. Accordingly he commissioned his own, presumably rather less grand, mausoleum which in 1775 was built on Camping Close opposite the Church. The building was in use by the family until its demolition a century later; no plans or pictures appear to have survived.
Life was satisfying for Thomas, but seems hardly to have been so for his wife. Louisa clearly did not adjust happily to the replacement of her active role in Riga’s cosmopolitan bustle by the slow tenor of Shelford life, gliding softly as Granta’s sluggish stream. Her English may not have been good and she probably lacked intimate friends. Although only 39 on her arrival, she soon became increasingly laid low by various illnesses, which required constant outlay for physicians. Her problems were likely to have been psychosomatic, exacerbated by the poisons being prescribed for her. One such nostrum was “James’s Powder”- essentially nitrate of antimony ground up with mercury-, a violent purgative in both directions. Her relations with her younger daughter Mary (known as ‘Pretty Polly’ and possibly a bit of a little madam) were not good and by the 1770’s were becoming fraught. In October 1772 Thomas laconically recorded that on the 13th Mrs. Wale began taking her medicines again and on the 17th “fell to and beat daughter Polly”, comparing the friction between his wife and daughter to the growing hostility between the American Colonists and the Mother Country. He solved his problem by sending Polly away to boarding school.
In 1775 the elder son Gregory, 15 years of age, was sent to Mettau to learn German and in April of the following year Thomas himself set sail for Russia to settle the youth as apprentice to his Riga partner James Pierson. The ship was immobilised for weeks in the Baltic by “Great Mountains of Ice” and his soft provisions ran short. Thomas at 75 probably lacked dentition capable of coping with ship’s hard tack and only staved off starvation by broaching a succulent plum cake in his trust as a maternal treat for his son. Louisa did not survive to learn of her husband’s defalcation. It seems that she had been summoned by the Cambridge Magistrates for the incontinent beating of her maid. Deeply mortified by the public admonition and fine she received, she took to her bed and in June died, possibly of a stroke. Thomas would not have had the news for several months; in the event he did not manage to return until October. Gregory carried on in Riga but showed little aptitude for work. He seemed to be more interested in travelling widely through Russia and Eastern Europe, running up large debts- in 1778 some 5038 Roubles, equivalent of £31,000 today. Pierson gradually lost patience and in 1780 sent him home to his father.
Perhaps as a diversion from his problems with his layabout son, Thomas now set about beautifying the grounds of his house, extending the gardens down to the river and conceiving the ambitious scheme of diverting a stream from Whittlesford to run the length of his Park, feed a carp pond near the house, and return to the main river down the slope of the medieval ford in Bridge Lane. This conduit was duly dug but with later neglect silted up; it remains today only as the elongate, occasionally water-filled depressions (“ice ponds”) in the lower part of the Wale Recreation Ground.
At this time Thomas was also concerned with the marriage prospects of his daughters. He seems to have been quite liberal in his attitude- the girls could have complete freedom of choice, providing only that the favoured mate had the means or prospects of matching the £4,000 (= £200,000 today) that he intended to settle on each. In the event both became engaged to Fellows of Cambridge Colleges- as Clergymen these had excellent prospects of lucrative Church livings. Mary married in 1781 a younger scion of the Pemberton ( of Trumpington) family but Margaretta’s fiancé died of a fever in 1786. She was it seems inconsolable, and remained unmarried.
Thomas had enjoyed remarkably robust health throughout his life, but as he entered his ninth decade began to fail. His favourite son the layabout Gregory continued to be a worry, alternately raising and dashing his father’s hopes that there might be a future for him in the Riga enterprise. In October 1794 however Gregory, heavily debt-laden, died suddenly at Shelford, and so became the first occupant of the mausoleum on Camping Close. Thomas, who had intended to leave most of his property to Gregory, barely had time to grieve or to rewrite his will before he followed his son to the tomb,in 1796. The old man’s new will devised most of King’s Farm to Margaretta. Ivy Cottage and its surrounding Close was willed to Mary. The remaining land; the Manors of Bardfield, Radwinter, and Harston; and Shelford House with its Park were inherited by Charles.
Charles Wale developed into a courageous and distinguished soldier. How this came to be reads like an episode from a soap opera.
In October 1779 Margaretta Wale had been taken by friends to stay with them in the village of Hales Owen (near Birmingham). At the end of her visit Charles (then 16) was sent by his father with the family carriage to return her to Shelford. At dinner on his arrival he met two military men. War had just been declared on France over its support for the American rebellion, and the two were trawling for officers to bring their regiment up to strength. Now they had spotted a likely lad. Charles, inspired with visions of glory, straightway wrote to his father begging permission to join the Colours. Thomas was duly horrified and set off Post Haste for Hales Owen to dissuade his son from so disastrous a course. Meanwhile Charles, impatient for a decision, was spurring homewards to plead his case; father and son passed each other on the road. Thus Thomas arrived to find his son flown and a tearful daughter hysterically imploring that her brother would kill himself if he couldn’t enlist. The Recruiting Officers, more worldly wise, sat down with the old man, wining and dining him so well that he relented and agreed to provide the £100 needed to purchase Charles an Ensign’s Commission in the 88th Regiment of Foot. So it was that on Christmas Day 1779 Charles Wale, still only 16 and with barely a month’s training, found himself aboard a troop transport, Jamaica bound. He must have matured quickly. As a Captain two years later he saw his first real action, during the celebrated defence of Gibraltar (when the besieging French and Spanish ships were destroyed by firing red hot shot directly down at them), and after the peace of 1783 served on garrison duty in Dublin and Bengal. In his father’s final years he spent a period of retirement on half pay at Shelford , marrying his first wife Louisa Sherrard in 1793. Returning to full pay as Captain of the 20th in 1799 , he led a company in the expedition of that year to destroy Napoleonic forts in the Netherlands, was gazetted Major in January 1800 and the following October Lieutenant Colonel in command of the 67th Regiment then in Jamaica. Meanwhile at Shelford, five children had been born to the marriage of whom three (Alexander Malcolm, 1797, Thomas Sherard,180x and Luisa, 180x) survived infancy. In 1806, their mother died. Charles was promoted to Colonel in 1808 , followed the next year by appointment as Brigadier General in command of British forces in the West Indies. Now in 1809 he remarried, his new wife Isabella Johnson accompanying him to his headquarters in Barbados.
In February 1810, the seizure of Guadeloupe occasioned the act of gallantry for which Charles was awarded a specially struck medal with the citation “..he carried in person the almost inaccessible heights of Matauba”. Matauba was the French bastion guarding the main settlement, Basse Terre, of the Guadeloupe island of that name. Strongly manned by seasoned Napoleonic troops, it was strategically placed above the town at a height of some thousand metres on precipitous and densely vegetated volcanic slopes. While part of the British force was making a frontal approach to the fortification, Charles Wale with the aid of a local guide took his detachment of York Rangers by a circuitous route through thick and steamy jungle to a flanking position on the steep slopes from which to launch his attack. At the head of his men in the final charge he was hit and incapacitated by a well aimed musket ball. During the course of his convalescence in Barbados his wife Isabella died of fever, leaving their daughter, also Isabella, less than two years old.
The specially struck medal was not the only recognition of Charles’ gallantry by a grateful country. In 1812 he was appointed Governor of Martinique, a Caribbean island likewise wrested from Napoleon. However he was to rule his little kingdom for less than two years. The Congress of Vienna in 1814 returned Martinique (and Guadeloupe) to the now restored royalist France. Charles can hardly have been overjoyed. Thousands of his men had been killed or died of wounds or disease in the campaigns which secured these islands and the cost must now have seemed all for nothing. His feelings may, however have been partly assuaged as he knelt before the Prince Regent to be invested as Knight Commander of the Bath. So he returned to Shelford , aged 52, as General Sir Charles Wale, KCB. He was accompanied by his new and third wife, Henrietta Brent. In her ‘History’, F.L.Wale quotes an eyewitness account of their arrival at Shelford House, Sir Charles driving a smart curricle, beside him his elegant bride in fashionable black velvet redingote and a ‘Rubens’ hat with white plumes, and the little five-year old Isabella dashing excitedly out from the welcoming throng to greet them.
For much of Charles’ absence on service, Shelford House had been wholly or partly let and run as a school . The historian Thomas Babington (later Lord) Macaulay, a pupil there before entering Cambridge, enjoyed the experience and wrote flatteringly of the education he received. During this period, also, the enclosure of the medieval open fields of Little Shelford had been completed. The final awards make clear the large proportion of the parish allocated to the Wale siblings- Margaretta 140 acres, Charles 380. After the enclosures came a period of further consolidation. Charles disposed of the Manors at Harston and at Radwinter and Bardfield, and enlarged his Shelford holdings. The photograph of a painting of him at this time shows none of the arrogance often seen in military portraits of this period. Rather it suggests a thoughtful, contemplative personality. Certainly in retirement he seems to have cultivated more cerebral pursuits, mainly antiquarian. He was interested in the history of his village, and amassed documentary and ephemeral material relating to it. Cupboards were built into every recess and oubliette of the rambling old house, which on his death were found to be stuffed with his collections. In the upheavals that were to follow, most of these would be dispersed or destroyed.
Charles’ sister Margaretta had meanwhile lived an independent life at King’s Farm. For many years she ran a school for village children in a cottage near her farmhouse. In her declining years she was cared for by Charles’ daughter Isabella. When Margaretta died in 1843 the farmhouse was left to Isabella and the greater part of the farmland to Charles.
Charles only survived his sister by two years. Unlike recent generations of his progenitor Wales, he left a large family to divide his property. His eldest son, from his first marriage to Louisa Sherard, was Alexander Malcolm Wale. He appears to have been willed Shelford House many years before, possibly as part of the prenuptial arrangements for Charles’ second or third marriages. The sole issue of that second marriage, Isabella Wale, had inherited King’s Farmhouse . So now the offspring of Henrietta Brent, numbering 6 sons and 4 daughters, were to be considered. Charles solved this problem by instructing his executors to sell some 300 acres of his land to the west of High Street and to divide the proceeds between Henrietta’s children; this was duly done. Henrietta herself, coming from a wealthy family, presumably had a substantial jointure, and figures in the will merely as the recipient of half of Charles’ plate.
Now the new possessor of Shelford House, Alexander Malcolm Wale, was 48 years old at the time of his father’s death. A good scholar and sometime Fellow of St. John’s College at Cambridge, he had been comfortably settled for many years as Rector of a lucrative living at Sunninghill in Berkshire. He presumably had little incentive to return to live as a country squire in Shelford. However his half brother Robert Gregory Wale (later known as Colonel R.G.Wale- Henrietta’s second son) appears to have been keen to assume his father’s mantle. With his patrimony, and probably a considerable mortgage, he bought Shelford House from Alexander Malcolm. He also set about recovering as much of the alienated land as he could afford. Most of R.G.’s siblings had left Shelford. His sisters were all married, and his brothers had followed their father into military careers. Henry John, wounded in the Crimea, later became a parson. Frederick raised his own troop of Cavalry (Wale’s Horse) during the Indian Mutiny and was killed charging at the head of his men during the relief of Lucknow. The one exception was R.G.’s eldest brother Charles Brent Wale, who bought the farm of Sainsfoins on the southern edge of Shelford Parva Parish. In the early1850s he was badly injured in a fight with poachers and retired to Switzerland, selling Sainsfoins to his brother.
Colonel R.G. now had a problem. His father and grandfather had run their estate to some extent as a hobby farm- they both had substantial outside sources of subsidy. R. G. had a large mortgage and no subsidy. To paraphrase the immortal Jane: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man encumbered by a large mortgage, must be in want of a wealthy wife.”
Colonel R.G.’s elder sister, Henrietta, had married into a Norfolk family, the Folkes of Hillingdon Hall near Norwich. Her father-in-law, Sir William Folkes, was guardian to his orphan niece, Fanny Anna West. Fanny , the daughter of Sir Edward West, a noted lawyer and reforming Judge of Bombay Presidency, had been left a substantial heiress as an infant in 1824 by her parents’ deaths. She was in her late ‘teens when Colonel R.G. was frequently to be found at Hillington Hall visiting his sister, and the two formed an attachment. Fanny’s guardian had no objection to a match between them. However, he considered Shelford House too dilapidated for his niece to live in. He proposed that her money be used to build a new and grand house- in fact a Hall- to suit her style and dignity. So the fatal decision was taken to demolish the Old House and build anew.
The Old Shelford House, situated at the junction of the roads now called Bridge Lane and Whittlesford Road, was the Tudor development of a medieval hallhouse, modernised in the Georgian taste by Thomas Wale on his 1760s return from Riga. A model made in the late 1840s and preserved in the Cambridge County Folk Museum shows U-shaped ranges enclosing an open courtyard; a sketch reproduced in F.L. Wales’ book gives an idea of the rambling and unpretentious charm of the buildings. With its six staircases, beamed and oak-panelled rooms and enormous Elizabethan fireplaces it seems to have been a commodious and comfortable house, lived in and loved by generations of Wales. It was however not grand, and it had to go. During 1850 the new resplendent Hall was arising in the Park and a few years later the old house was demolished, only a rump surviving on Bridge Lane to serve as an entrance Lodge.
Colonel Wale could hardly have chosen a less auspicious time to indulge in a palace. The Parliamentary Act of 1845 which repealed the Corn Laws had come into force in 1849. Now untaxed shipments of grain from the vast fields of the American Prairies and the backblocks of Australia began increasingly to flood the market. The economics of English farming had been fundamentally changed. With diminishing rents from his land and his wife’s fortune diluted, he may well have been tightening his belt. In 1860 he sold Sainsfoins Farm, the property he had bought less than ten years earlier from his elder brother Charles Brent Wale. In 1880, with the agricultural depression deepening, he could not find a tenant to take on the major farm on his estate, Hall Farm. Fanny Anna had died in 1869, so he was able to vacate Shelford Hall and move to High Street and the Hall Farmhouse, taking with him his unmarried children. From there he ran the farm directly, a Gentleman Farmer. From then on Shelford Hall seems to have been let to tenants- initially to the Hallett family who had struck it rich on an Australian goldfield, but later to members of the extended Wale family. Colonel Wale appears not to have lived in the Hall again.
During this time he did take his obligations as squire seriously. Studio Cottage on Camping Close was enlarged and a library and evening school established there. He gave lectures and instruction himself and later his unmarried daughters also ran classes in the useful arts. A cricket pitch was laid out in the Hall park (the site of the present Recreation Ground ) and the Village Cricket Team encouraged.
Hall Farm eventually gained a tenant in 1890. Colonel R.G. moved with his daughters to Ivy Cottage, where in 1892 he died. His estate was left to his only son, the 29 year old Robert Folkes Wale, who himself perished in the Influenza epidemic only two years after his father. With increasingly heavy death duties on land and property this rapid successional mortality must have triggered a double depletion of the Wale fortunes.
Robert Folkes Wale died unmarried, and the estate passed to his three unmarried sisters Mildred, Fanny Lucretia (“F.L”) and Frederica. Victorian young women of breeding were generally educated to epitomise the social graces rather than cultivate business acumen, and so the estate was placed into the hands of agents.
Another sister was, however, not of the common mould. Cecil Henrietta was Colonel R.G.’s second daughter, born in 1857. In her late ‘teens she persuaded her father to let her train as a nurse- only recently a respectable aspiration thanks to Florence Nightingale. Cecil Henrietta survived the rigours of training and went to Malta to serve at an Army base. There she fell for a dashing but impecunious Irish Chaplain, the Rev. Harcourt Powell. Powell was winkled out of the army by an adroit manoeuvre. With help from her father, she bought the advowson of a vacant benefice in Northamptonshire. She then presented her lover to the living. It was not a posh parish and although she was Lay Rector, there was no rectory. But they managed to build a cottage and in fairly primitive conditions the Powells reared four children- including of course Norah and Blennie.
For the decade following Robert Folke’s death, the inheriting sisters continued living at Ivy Cottage. In 1908 the eldest sister Mildred married a widower, Colonel Wood, who bought Low Brooms in High Street, to which everyone moved. During the Great War, the youngest sister Frederica moved to London as a YMCA assistant caring for troops on leave from the trenches. She was carried off, with many others, in the 1918 ‘flu pandemic. The estate was now the property of the remaining sisters,Mildred and Fanny. After Colonel Wood’s death at the turn of the twenties Norah Powell, the only daughter of the redoubtable Cecil Henrietta, came to Low Brooms as a companion. Mildred’s death in 1928 left Norah and Fanny together.
We now return to Shelford Hall. During the 1890’s it seems to have been effectively mothballed on a care and maintenance basis. Kelly’s Directory of Cambridgeshire for 1900 does not record it as occupied. However in 1908 Charles Wale’s granddaughter Isabella and her husband J.F.Eaden took a lease on the Hall. Drastic modernisation followed- even a telephone (the first in Little Shelford!) was installed. John Eaden died early in the war years. Isabella continued to live at the Hall, now only residing during the benign summer months and hibernating in Cambridge for the winter.
On the evening of February 28, 1929, a fire broke out in a scullery at the Hall. It was locally intense enough to melt lead piping and the copious water supply in roof cisterns could not be concentrated on the flames. The fire engine was summoned from Cambridge by telephone, but it was a night of thick fog and the firemen lost their way. The chauffeur, Mr. Thoroughgood, mounted his bicycle and pedalled out in his pyjamas through the fog in a gallant attempt to locate the firemen. Back at the Hall, the servants formed a bucket chain from the nearest water supply- which was now a handpump on a stable well about 70 yards away- to douse the flames. All to no avail. In an early precursor of the wartime FIDO operations, the fog was burned away and the villagers treated to the most awesome spectacle ever. Phillipa Pearce, the author of “Tom’s Midnight Garden”, was the daughter of the miller in King’s Mill Lane. As a small girl she was held up by her father to a window of the Mill House as the fire took hold. Even in old age she vividly recalled the flames shooting high into the sky from the house across the river. Flames fed by tons of the finest beeswaxed and turpentined oak, hangings, grand portraits, fine furniture……… As the roof timbers blazed the gutters spouted fountains of molten lead, and all collapsed into a chaos of flaming remnants.
This was the fiery end to Shelford Hall. It is tempting to read in it, the metaphoric Gotterdammerung of the Wale family of Shelford Parva, even though the coda was to continue for nearly a half-century more.
Many of the village houses once associated with the Wales still exist, more or less remodelled. However only the Wale Recreation Ground, with Blennie’s Patch, remain to remind us of the generally beneficent influence the family once was.
From the Victorian County History of Cambridgeshire
From the 18th century the parish was much influenced by the Wale family whose main seat was Shelford House or Hall, later known as the Old House, south-east of the church. The family owned much land in Little Shelford, and many members lived there. (fn. 38) In 1862 a cottage on Church Street, later known as The Studio, was opened by Col. R. G. Wale as a reading room and adult evening institute. Between 1885 and 1908 technical subjects were taught there. (fn. 39) The Wales also provided the village with a recreation ground south of Shelford Hall on Whittlesford Road. In 1925 a village hall was built as a war memorial on Church Street on a site given by C. H. Clay, and enlarged by C. F. Clay of Manor Farm in 1932. (fn. 40)
A considerable estate was built up in Little Shelford from the early 18th century by the Wale family. Gregory Wale (d. 1739) bought from Gilbert Wigmore a house and land there which he left to his son Hitch Wale (d. 1749), with remainder to his other son Thomas. (fn. 76) In 1765 Thomas leased the house from Hitch's widow who had a life interest. (fn. 77) Thomas, a Riga merchant, bought other land in the parish, and on his death in 1796 at the age of 95 was succeeded by his son Charles, later General Sir Charles Wale, (fn. 78) who after inclosure in 1815 held c. 380 a. in Little Shelford. Thomas had left his estate to his daughter, Margaretta Philippina, who after 1815 held c. 140 a. (fn. 79) Her estate, known as King's farm, passed on her death in 1841 through her niece Isabella Willis to Robert Gregory Wale, and then to Isabella's son-in-law J. F. Eaden. (fn. 80) Sir Charles Wale's eldest surviving son Alexander Malcolm succeeded his father in 1845, and in 1850 sold his Little Shelford estate to his brother Robert Gregory Wale (d. 1892). The latter's son R. F. Wale died in 1893 and was succeeded by his five sisters whose estates eventually descended to Miss Norah Cecil Wale Powell (fl. 1962). R. G. Wale's brother Charles Brent Wale (d. 1864) also held an estate in Little Shelford, known as Saintfoins. It passed in turn to his son Frederick and grandson C. G. B. Wale (fl. 1937). (fn. 81)
The Wale family's house, known as Shelford House or Hall or the Old House, south-east of the church, was of 17th-century origin. It was altered in 1764 by Thomas Wale (fn. 82) and largely demolished c. 1852. The north wing, which has walls of 18th century brick but has been much altered, was left as an entrance lodge to a new house built in a Gothic style for R. G. Wale by W. J. Donthorn. (fn. 83) Much of that building was burnt down in 1928. The north wing and parts of the mid 19th-century stabling, converted into private houses, survived in 1980. Between 1775 and 1845 a family mausoleum, designed by William Wilkins, stood west of the house in Camping Close. (fn. 84) The house stood in a small park adjoining the Whittlesford road.