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Old photos & postcards of Shelford Hall, Little Shelford

Shelford Hall was the family seat of the Wale family who were the principal landowners in  Little Shelford for 300 years.


The first Shelford Hall, or the Old House, was built  on land off Bridge Lane in 1640. It was altered in 1764 by Thomas Wale and then largely demolished in 1852.


A new Gothic style house (pictured below), known at the time as the New Hall, was erected around 100 metres north of the current Wale Recreation Ground. It had six bedrooms. The servants' quarters were on the third floor.


The hall burnt down in 1929. As the insurance covered only the value of the mortgage, rebuilding was not an option.


The owner at the time of the fire was Fanny Lucretia Wale, the compiler of the book “A Record of Shelford Parva”. She had not lived in the Hall for a quarter of a century, having let it to a relative for much of that time.


Mrs Eaden was living there at the time of the blaze - 24th February 1929 - when a fire, believed to have originated in the pantry, gutted the entire building. The roof caved in and there was little chance to retrieve any of the contents.


Press reports suggest that there were 9 people in the hall at the time of the fire. None of them was injured.


The Lodge to Shelford Hall still stands on the corner of Bridge Road and Whittlesford Road (in 2021, it is the distinct yellow building). This building was the north wing of the original 17th century Old Hall and it was retained to be used as an entrance lodge to the new house. There is a model of the original building in the possession of the Museum of Cambridge though it is not currently on display. (You can ask to see it.) Photos of the model of Shelford Old hall can be seen here. 


The original gates to the New Hall can still be seen on Whittlesford Road. Several outbuildings from the New Hall including the former stables can also be seen from the road. They have now been converted into two homes off Bridge Lane, Little Shelford.


Click here to see photos of the New Hall and drawings of the Old Hall.


Click here to read about what life was like at Little Shelford New Hall.


Click here to see photos after the fire at the New Hall               


Click here to see photos of the model of Shelford Old hall to see photos of a model of the Old Hall - it is currently in the possession of the Museum of Cambridge but not on display.

New hall

A painting of the wedding of Adelaide Wale in 1881.

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A painting of Shelford Hall by Fanny Wale in 1897 as it would be seen from Bridge Lane. The painting was unknown until it was put up for sale on Ebay in May 2020.

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A postcard of Shelford New Hall from 1921 showing the driveway to the front (the west) of the house. The driveway entered the estate from Whittlesford Road.

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The southern aspect of Little Shelford New Hall from what is now the Wale Recreation Ground. Part of the ha-ha in the foreground still exists.


Shelford Hall from what is now the Little Shelford Rec. The former ice ponds can be seen in the foreground.


A drawing of the boathouse at Shelford Hall from A Record of Shelford Parva.


A painting of Little Shelford New Hall dated 1889 by Fanny Wale from A Record of Shelford Parva. The remains of the Old Hall which became the Lodge for the New Hall can be seen on the left of the painting. It could have been copied from the painting (below) which is still owned by the Wale family. The Shelford Old Hall, or the Old House, was built in 1640. It was altered in 1764 by Thomas Wale  and then largely demolished in 1852.


A painting of Little Shelford old ha;; owned by the Wale family. The first Shelford Hall, or the Old House, was built in 1640. It was altered in 1764 by Thomas Wale. and then largely demolished in 1852.


A map of the Shelford New Hall and the Wale estate from A Record of Shelford Parva by Fanny Wale. "This map is a tracing from one at King's College Cambridge
and was given to me (Fanny Wale) by Mr Corbett who passed away in 1926."

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Plans of the New Hall  drawn from memory by John Altham who lived there as a boy. Read some of his memories about growing up in the Hall.

"Built in around 1866 by Gregory Wale who pulled down half the old Wale home leaving the remaining half as a lodge at the gate to the New Hall. The Hall was gutted by fire in 1928. Instead of rebuilding it,  the Lodge was added to again to be the family home.

"Fiorella, Psyche and I lived in the Lodge from about 1916 but later lived in the Hall with our Great Aunt Isa Eden (nee Willis) until 1928. We all then lived in the enlarged lodge until 1939 when war broke out and the family moved to 12 Brookside, Cambridge.

The Lodge was sold after the war. This was drawn by Barty (S.G.R.) Willis from near the river. He built South Lodge

 in the 1920s." 


John Altham 

Shelford Hall fire


Little Shelford New Hall was destroyed by fire on February 24 1929.


The fire, believed to have originated in the pantry, gutted the entire building. The roof caved in and there was little chance to retrieve any of the contents. 


There were 9 people in the Hall at the time of the fire according to press reports. None of them were believed to be injured. The Cambridge Chronicle suggests they were Captain and Mrs Gordon Dill and their children, Mme Carne, who was the Governess, the butler and the maid.


Mrs Eaden (seen in photo 5 below) was also said to be living there at the time of the blaze although the Hall was part-owned at the time by Fanny Wale.


Remains of the building can still be seen from Whittlesford Road and the Little Shelford Recreation Ground.


This is how the Cambridge News reported the fire:

 "A disastrous fire occurred at the Hall, Little Shelford in the early hours of Sunday with the result that the building was almost completely gutted. It was discovered by Mme Carne, the governess who, with the butler and the maid, were immediately above the fire. Captain and Mrs Gordon Dill removed their children to safety in The Lodge. While waiting for the fire brigade which was delayed due to the thick fog, the occupants attempted to subdue the outbreak, then confined to the pantry, with buckets of water. But the heat melted a lead pipe and the cistern emptied so water had to be fetched from a cottage about 30 yards away. The building is 71 years old, being erected in the grounds of the Old Hall which was pulled down in 1858." 

These are John Altham's recollections of the blaze in a note written in 1982 (he grew up in the Hall but was not living there at the time of the Fire).


"Some cousins borrowed the hall for the winter when we were living in my aunt's house in Cambridge.


"They had a butler who left sticks to dry in the pantry one night and in the middle of that foggy night, the house caught fire and the Cambridge fire engine could not find the house until it was fully alight.


"Then they had no water until they laid pipes to the river. Alas only a little furniture and some pictures were saved by Mr Thorogood (the Chauffeur and gardener) and many others who were alerted, and who worked all night among the smoke and flames. Nothing was saved from the nurseries, sadly for my sister and me.


"The house was mortgaged so could not be rebuilt but an addition was built onto the front of the Lodge; thus the Lodge became once again the family home, because it had been half pulled down when the hall was built."

Life at Shelford Hall


"I have been asked to write down some of my father’s memories of growing up at the Hall in Little Shelford, to coincide with the 90th anniversary of its destruction by fire in February, 1929. 


My father, John Altham, (pictured on the left in the photo when he was Chairman of the Parish Council) was born in 1909 and lived first in Cowes, where his father was a naval officer. His beloved sister Psyche was born in 1912. Unfortunately their parents became estranged and with their mother, Fiorella, they came to live at the Lodge midway through the First World War. They were invited by Isa Eaden, John and Psyche’s great aunt, who lived at the Hall with her husband Jack Eaden, a solicitor and partner of Eaden Spearing and Raynes in Cambridge. 


Even before they moved to the Hall the grounds and garden delighted the children. “We had the free run of the lovely garden surrounding the Hall where Aunt Isa and Uncle Jack lived. The mysterious grandeur of the Hall with its servants, its houses, the old mulberry tree, strawberry beds, peaches on the wall, the apple loft, pigs in their pens, chickens running around the stable yard, the big dog kennel with Bess, the shooting black retriever, always so excited to be talked to, the orchard running down to the river - and THE RIVER - the greatest excitement of all!” 


There were horses kept in the stables, hunters for Jack Eaden and others for the pony and trap (a duckboard). Harry Want was one of the grooms and became one of my father’s oldest friends. William (Billy) Wisbey was another groom and gardener and he and John would aim at the two bells on the roof of the Hall with their airguns - with only limited success! “


The kitchen garden was a thrill too. Walled in, it had everything, including two strange pits about four feet square and two feet deep, with wooden covers over them, as a spare water supply for hand watering cans. These were inhabited by enormous toads, quite frightening for children! The green houses, full of exotic plants for the house, were heated by coke boilers and enormous iron pipes running under the staging, and they smelled as only green houses fully furnished can smell - quite delicious.” 


To come back to the river! John and Psyche were allowed to take the punt out on the river on their own, sometimes going out all day, going up past the Manor House into the open fields towards Hauxton, or up towards the Mill, where they would swim in the Weir. Swimming and diving in the Weir was considered safe as the water was clear - unlike the Perch Hole which was deep and murky. (Now marked “Deep water”.) They would fish in the river “which abounded with wild life, with birds, butterflies, rabbits, moorhens and very special - the kingfishers. (A word about the punt. It was made by the local builder, Mr Walker, father of the Walker Brothers who went on to build so much in Little Shelford.) 


In 1923 Jack Eaden died and Aunt Isa invited John, Psyche and Fiorella to live with her in the Hall to keep her company. 


When Jack died, Isa enjoyed a busy social life (he had been rather austere). There were tennis parties, an annual cricket match against the village XI, an annual pageant, where one year my father and his sister were dressed as miniature green flies! Psyche, a talented dancer, would dance for dinner guests on the lawn “in the lights of Uncle Barry Willis’s car!” 


This idyllic life came to an end in 1929 when the Hall was tragically burnt down. Isa and the family were in Cambridge at the time, living in Brookside where they spent the winters - the Hall being too costly to keep warm. The Hall was rented to some cousins. Legend has it that some sticks which had been left to dry in front of a stove caught fire. Because of a thick fog the fire engines couldn’t arrive in time to save the house.


I believe that my father’s great affection for the village stemmed from the marvellous years spent first at the Lodge and then at the Hall. In his mémoires he writes more intimately and in more detail of his life there, but I hope that this account will offer a glimpse of what it was like for a small boy and his beloved sister to grow up in such a wonderful and privileged world - which he always appreciated as such, being endlessly thankful to Aunt Isa for all she gave him and his family."


Jane Lagesse

February 2019


John Altham also wrote some of his own memories of the Hall in 1982.


"The war (World War One) is now over and my uncle died, so we are now living at the Hall with my aunt. We have our own nursery down a long passage which frightens us in the dark, especially when the candle blows out.


"I have a big toy cupboard full of Meccano, trains, my butterfly boxes and books.


"We go to the river often where we have a large punt t the perch hole."


"Mr Albert Thorogood has also come back (from the War) and he is Chauffeur and gardener. Mr Wisbey is also gardener. Also in the stable yard are Mr Whitfield and Mr Harry Want who look after some hunters which belong to Mr and Mrs Pares Wilson who have come to live at the Manor House.


"In the house we have cook and Lena and Celia living in and more help for the visitors in the summer. When the grown ups go out we often play hide and seek with the maids in the house or the garden. The house is very long and has lots of hiding  places. Lena is young and loves playing - - she giggles all the time. Celia is older and very stern. When there is a dinner party she comes in and runs the men out of the dining room to stop them drinking too much port"


Here is John Althams' account of the fire at the Hall in 1929.


Here is John Altham's account of living at the Hall.


Here is John Altham's account of the M11 coming to Little Shelford.


From the Victorian County History of Cambridgeshire

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. n 1765 Thomas leased the house from Hitch's widow who had a life interest. 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, 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. ) 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).


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 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. Much of that building was burnt down in 1928 (sic). 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. The house stood in a small park adjoining the Whittlesford road.

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