The Swan Inn has operated as a pub so named on the Hungerford to Wantage road (A338) in the centre of what is now Great Shefford since at least 1752. In the later nineteenth century the publican here also ran a substantial racehorse training yard from the premises. As a pub the Swan still functions today, and still has strong racing associations.
Shefford in the past
East (also known as Little) Shefford and West (also known as Great) Shefford lie in the Lambourn Valley, just under two miles north of Junction 14 of the M4. They were formerly two ecclesiastical parishes, but now form one civil and one ecclesiastical parish called Great Shefford.
East Shefford was about half the size of West Shefford in acreage, but it supported only a tenth of the population, clustered mainly in the area around the church and manor house (pictured below in the early nineteenth century) beside the river, and also in Shefford Woodlands, a hamlet on the Roman Road known as the Ermin Way, now the B4000 linking Newbury with Swindon.
Harbourer of Catholics and Kings
Being the larger of the twin villages called Shefford, West Shefford is often known as Great Shefford instead. The place has two manors: West Shefford itself and Coldridge. The latter – lying south-west of the village towards Shefford Woodland – belonged to Monk Sherborne (now Pamber) Priory in Hampshire before passing to Queen’s College, Oxford who still own it today. The main manor has a 16th century manor-house still standing next to the parish church: a rectangular two-storey brick and flint building with later alterations. During the late Tudor and then the Stuart age, this was the home of the well-known Catholic Browne family, a younger branch of Viscount Montague’s clan.
The family inherited it through a number of heiresses: from younger branches of the Cheneys of West Woodhay, the Norreys of Yattendon and the Brydges of Newbury. George Browne entertained King Charles I here on 19th November 1644, shortly after the Second Battle of Newbury, and the monarch spent the night in the ‘panelled room’. There is also said to be a secret room where he hid from passing Roundhead troops. The area was obviously rather troubled during the Civil War, for an unknown person found it prudent to bury a large hoard of silver coins – from the reigns of Elizabeth I, James I & Charles I – in the parish. It was rediscovered in 1889. George Browne’s son and namesake was knighted at the Restoration and made a member of the Order of the Bath.
His nephew, also George, was cousin to the London society belle, Arabella Fermor, and is said to have volunteered to cane the poet, Alexander Pope, when he accidentally insulted the lady by writing the ‘Rape of the Lock’ (1712)! This man eventually the estate was sold to Sir William Trumbull, the Secretary of State during King William III’s reign, but he and his descendants, the Marquises of Downshire, preferred to live at the much grander Easthampstead Park, near Bracknell.