By Tim Lambert
There was a Bronze Age settlement on the site of the village of Shepton Mallet. In 1995 the remains of Bronze Age homes and pottery were found in Shepton Mallet. Furthermore Maesbury Ring, an Iron Age hill fort stands north of the town.
Later Shepton Mallet lay just west of a main Roman road, Fosse Way and the Romans settled in the area. However, the modern village of Shepton Mallet was founded by the Saxons. They conquered eastern Somerset in the 7th century and founded many villages.
Shepton Mallet was once called sceapton malet. Sceap means sheep and tun meant farm, estate of settlement. So Shepton was a place known for sheep. In the 12th century, the Malet family were the lords of the manor. So in time, it became Shepton Mallet.
At the time of the Domesday Book in 1086, Shepton Mallet was only a small village with a population of only about 100. Later in the Middle Ages, it grew larger but in the 14th century it probably still had only 400 or 500 inhabitants. However, in 1318 Shepton Mallet was granted the right to hold weekly markets. Afterward, Shepton was a busy little market town. In The Square in Shepton are the remains of the Shambles where butchers sold meat in the Middle Ages.
The Church was a very important part of people’s lives in those days. The font in Shepton Mallet Church of St Peter and St Paul is Saxon. The Church tower was built in the late 14th century. The church also has a 15th century carved barrel ceiling.
Shepton Mallet was devastated by the Black Death of 1348, which killed a large part of the population. However, Shepton soon recovered and in the 15th century, it prospered. Shepton Mallet was known for its woollen cloth and for stockings, which were made in the town. The Market Cross in Shepton was erected about 1500 and it is dedicated to Walter Buckland and his wife Agnes. It was restored in 1841.
Shepton Mallet’s prison dates from 1610 (although it has been largely rebuilt). During World War II it was used to store documents like the Domesday Book and Magna Carta.
Through the centuries life in Shepton continued quietly. However, in 1685, the Duke of Monmouth led a rebellion in Southwest England. The rebellion was crushed and afterward, 12 men from Shepton Mallet were executed. In the 18th century, Shepton continued to thrive.
In the 19th century, the wool industry in Shepton Mallet came to an end as it shifted to the north of England. However, brewing became a major industry in the little town. (The Anglo-Bavarian brewery was built in 1864 but it closed in 1921). Furthermore, there was a silk industry in Shepton Mallet in the 19th century.
Shepton flourished in the 19th century. Victoria Fountain was built in 1868. Shepton Mallet railway station opened in 1874 but it closed in 1966. Meanwhile, the town grew rapidly and by 1901 it had a population of over 5,000. Collett Park opened in Shepton in 1906.
Today Shepton Mallet is a thriving small town. Cider is still made in the town. Furthermore, Shepton Mallet has a Leisure Centre and a Treatment Centre. It also has the Academy Theatre. Shepton Mallet is also host to the Mid Somerset Show and the Royal Bath and West Show. However, it is planned to close Shepton Mallet prison. Today the population of Shepton Mallet is about 10,000.