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Notable members of the Wale family

The Wale family have dominated the history of Little Shelford for centuries.


They lived in Shelford Hall until it burnt down in 1929. The Wale Recreation Ground was given by the family to the village and is named after the family.

Fanny Wale wrote the first history book about Little Shelford after World War One called A Record of Shelford Parva. She was the last member of the family with the Wale name to live in the village until she died in 1936.

David Altham from the family was in an early forerunner of Pink Floyd.

The family whole a particular record, with three generations spanning 222 years:  Thomas Wale was born in 1701. His son Charles was born 1765.  Charles’s daughter, later Mrs Richard Dill, was born 1823, and was 100 years old on 27 December 1923. 


Source: Notes and Queries, 12 Jan 1924, p27.  (Given in the Wikipedia entry on Sir Charles)

Members of the family still live in the village today.

Profiles of notable members of the family are included below:

Fanny Wale


Fanny Wale was Little Shelford's first historian who died in 1936. She was the last member of the family with the Wale surname to live in Little Shelford.


She wrote and illustrated a book called A Record of Shelford Parva  between 1908 and 1919.


The book mentions former England football captain Arthur Dunn, famous garden designer Lawrence Johnstone and war hero Sid Dockerill who all had strong connections with Little Shelford.


There was only ever one copy of the book, which is now held by the Cambridge Archive.


However the book was republished in 2012 with support from the Heritage Lottery Fund following work by David Martin and the Little Shelford Local History Society.


Fanny Wale was the eldest of Colonel Robert Gregory Wale’s seven children. When she was born in 1851  the paint was scarcely dry in the spanking New Shelford Hall which her mother’s money had built. (The hall burnt down in 1929).


She also lived at Low Brooms and Ivy Cottage during her life in Little Shelford.


Fanny was 18 years old at the time of her mother’s death. By now Colonel Wale was struggling to make ends meet. He had had the bad luck - or bad judgement - to build his large house just when Parliament was repealing the Corn Laws. In the consequent agricultural depression, his income plummeted, and no tenant would farm his land. So he rented out New Shelford Hall and took his unmarried children (including Fanny) to live with him in the Hall Farmhouse in High Street, Little Shelford.


By 1890 he was able to find a tenant to run Hall Farm.  The Colonel then moved with his residual brood to Ivy Cottage on Whittlesford Road, which he rented from a relative. He died there in 1892 , leaving his estate to his only son Robert Foulkes Wale. Robert only survived his father by two years, dying in a flu epidemic at the early age of 31. The estate then devolved to the three unmarried sisters, Fanny, Mildred and Francesca. In the depths of depression such a heavily mortgaged inheritance must have seemed rather a poisoned chalice but the three sisters did their best to follow their father’s benevolently squirearchal role in Little Shelford.


Some 30 years before, Colonel Wale had fitted out Studio Cottage on Camping Close as a library and lecture room for village use. He had provided books, stationery, and heating and gave lectures himself which seem to have been  popular, especially amongst his tenants. From 1895 to 1908 the sisters followed this example, Francesca producing plays and other entertainments, Mildred teaching craftwork, and Fanny giving drawing lessons. The name Studio Cottage dates from this period.


Another artist now enters the story. Colonel Wood was a Royal Academician no less, a widower who had bought Low Brooms House in the High Street. It was Mildred who he married, but he swept her sisters away with her from Ivy Cottage to live in Low Brooms together.


It cannot be a coincidence that the first items in Fanny Wale’s manuscript A Record of Shelford Parva are dated from that time - 1908.  Colonel Wood’s approbation and encouragement may well  have been a factor in applying and keeping her nose to the grindstone. However her project had undoubtedly been gestating for a long time, perhaps as an exercise in nostalgia as she experienced the acceleration of change in the village. This would explain the curious frontspiece to the book captioned “In Memory of the Sounds of Shelford Parva”. A drawing of the King’s Mill as it was with its waterwheel before the 1890’s conversion to steam power has the subjoined couplet:  


                                             “In Shelford’s vale the millwheel once plied its busy lay/          

                                        But now in the dark prison it sleeps dull life away.`”                 


It suggests yearning for what was being lost as mechanisation and the motor car were taking over.

No such nostalgic vibes come from the book A Record of Shelford Parva that Fanny came to write in a series of entries between 1908 and 1919 . It is, as the new title indicates, a dispassionate record of  Shelford, Little and part of Great, as she saw it just before the Great War. It is descriptive rather than analytical, but we can get an idea of the economy of the village from the delineation of the inhabitants and their occupations.  

One must read between the lines to imagine the hardship that undoubtedly existed in parts of the village at that time. Despite the orgy of cottage destruction during the 1950’s to 80’s,  the village footprint has changed very little since Fanny, so her descriptions of streetscapes are still instantly recognisable. This fundamental interest of the work is of  course complemented by the Edwardian charm of its presentation,  the text on each page lying within a decorative border in watercolour, and the many talented drawings by Fanny, her sister Mildred and cousin Louisa . The charm is in no way diminished by the eccentricity of spellings in  Fanny’s handwritten entries.

Colonel Wood died at the end of the War and in 1919 Fanny closed off her book with a tribute to the village casualties of the conflict. Her sister Francesca , who had spent the duration as a volunteer night superintendent at the American YMCA in London, succumbed to the 1918 ‘Flu epidemic. Fanny (now nearly 70) and Mildred were now living alone in Low Brooms. So their niece Norah Cecil Wale Powell came to live with her aunts as companion. Mildred’s death in the twenties left Fanny as sole owner of the Wale estate, and with her death in 1936 this passed to Norah.

The story of Norah Powell’s gift of the Wale Recreation Ground belongs to another occasion, but amongst other things she also presented Fanny’s manuscript of her book to the County Archive (or its predecessor). She retained a photographic copy of it bound up in wooden boards and kept with other Fanny manuscripts in a commodious cloth bag with handles.  This she would loan to newcomers to the village with the caveat “ You will have to live in Little Shelford for 25 years before you belong”.

Now thanks to David Martin’s and Ray Saich’s dedicated initiative and effort, with the support of the Parish Council and the Local History Society, we can all have our personal copies of Fanny Wale’s book A Record of Shelford Parva.  

Graham Chinner


John Altham


Group Captain John Altham lived at the Lodge with his mother and sister before later living at Shelford Hall and served in the RAF before retiring to the village in 1962.



Here is his account of the fire at the Hall in 1929.


Here is his account of  living at Shelford Hall.


Here is his account of the M11 coming to Little Shelford.



John A

Frederick Wale


A Little Shelford soldier who died during the Indian mutiny is now worshipped as a ‘saint’ and his grave has become a shrine where pilgrims offer up beer and cigarettes.

Captain Frederick Wale died during the uprising of 1857 in Lucknow, India. His grave is now a shrine and locals have started worshipping him hoping he will answer their prayers.

The officer was the eighth son of General Charles Wale and the family comes from Little Shelford and his memorial stone is in All Saints Church where most of his family members are buried.

But now the officer has become a ‘saint’. Worshippers pray to him to help with marital, business problems, diseases and offer beer, cigarettes and bidis made of unprocessed tobacco wrapped in leaves.

They say India is a country of several shrines but that Captain Wale’s stands out, not just because of the offering devotees present to him, 

Wale’s tomb fame has travelled far and wide, with devotees from nearby towns pouring in with packs of cigarettes and liquor bottles.

Captain Wale took command of the 1st Sikh irregular cavalry and he served in the siege and capture of Lucknow.

His brigadier reported: “Wale showed great zeal in command and led most successfully in pursuit of the enemy until he was shot.”


Joseph Altham, a descendant of Captain Frederick Wale, wrote a short piece based in his memoir which is still in the possession of the family. This tells the story of Captain Wale and the Battle of Ferozeshah.



These words are included on the back of this painting (left):


"This picture, is of Minna Wale (right) , who married Col George Marshall, Royal Artillery, and of Adelaide Wale known as Aida. She is the smaller little girl. She married Charles Bruce Willis. Their children were Frederick, Hilary, Fiorella, Isabel and Doris. In 1857 the Indian Mutiny occurred. Capt Frederick Wale, father of the two little girls, was killed but they and their mother escaped to safety hidden in a cart drawn by bullocks.
"This picture was painted in Peshawar in 1853. Capt Frederick Wale, my Great Grandfather, at the instigation of Sir John Lawrence, Chief of the Punjab, took the 11th Bengal Cavalry down to the relief of Delhi during the Indian Mutiny in 1857. This regiment became known as Wale's Horse and remained so until Wale was kiled by a sniper in March 1857.During a follow up of the mutineers during the relief of Lucknow from where my grandmother (known as Aida) and her sister Minna (later married Col Marshall) were smuggled out by a bearer (servant) hidden in a bullock cart. Aida is the little girl on the right. (Information given to me by Lt Col Robbie Barcrcoft) . John Altham."

A painting of Adelaide's  wedding in 1881 can be seen below.


Miss Nora Powell, died 16th December 1975


Nora Cecil Wale Powell was born in Little Shelford Hall on 6th May 1888. Her mother was Cecil Henrietta Wale, the third daughter of Colonel Hobart Gregory Wale. Norah’s mother married the Reverend Harcourt Morley Powell, Vicar of Wollaston a village in Northamptonshire. They lived there until 1914 when he died.


On the outbreak of war Nora worked in the Ministry of Agriculture. After the war she decided to take up moral welfare work and she was one of the first student in the Josephine Butler Home in Liverpool where she went on to do this work for some years.


Then, in 1923, Nora came to Shelford to look after her aunt Mildred who was married to Col Timothy Wood and she lived with them at Low Brooms in High Street. Her mother was also living here at the Studio Cottage where she died. From 1923 until her death Nora lived in the village.


On the death of her aunt Mildred Nora inherited the Hall, the Lodge, a number of cottages and much land which thus came down to her from her grandfather. This brought her much responsibility, particularly to her tenants. In the 1920s there was still poverty and many social problems. Nora’s early training, together with her Christian upbringing and her generous nature, enabled her to do much good for many who needed help. She did much for the older people following her mother who, by inviting the old people to her house regularly, was the founder of our Cecil Club. Norah was its President when she died. She was also a supporter of the Village Hall and was a Trustee. She was a member of the Parish Council and for many years its Chairman.


After the second war Nora decided to dispose of some of her inherited property for the benefit of other people and one of four great benefactions was the gift of our recreation ground to the village, where our Cricket Club has played for over one hundred years. This gift has brought much pleasure to all of us especially to the children.


Apart from the official positions which Norah held in the village which enabled her to use her wise influence in a public capacity she also privately and quietly did much kindly and generous work which only those who benefited knew about. By nature she was a humble person, though where Christian principles were concerned she could be firm and outspoken.


Besides being, through inheritance the head of the village, Norah was through her character in a way also its heart. We all felt supported by her warmth. In the same way the sincerity of her religious belief supported this church where she was a regular and a devout worshipper. Her ashes lie in the churchyard on her mother’s and her brother, Robin’s grave.


For all of us who knew her Norah was a warm friend, full of humour, generosity and human understanding. She has been and will be missed for a long time. At this moment our thoughts and sympathy go out especially to her brother and to other members of the family who are here today.


(Lt. Shelford Church  …  )


Wale family wedding celebrations outside Shelford Hall 1881

Engagement of A. Wale and Reginald Willis 1879

Adelaide Wale


This is a painting of the wedding of Adelaide Wale to Reginald Willis that took place at Little Shelford New Hall in 1881. 


Memories of the day have been found in some old diaries written by Mrs Isabella Martha Willis which are still held by members of the Wale family and transcribed by one of the family, Patricia  Altham.



The clergyman Sherlock Willis married Isabella Martha Wale, the eldest daughter of General Sir Charles Wale and Isabella Johnson, in 1834. Sherlock and Isabella had seven sons and one daughter. The sixth of these sons was Reginald Willis, born in Paris in 1848, and the daughter was Isabella Martha Willis, always known as Isa. Isa was also born in Paris, in 1847. Mrs Isabella Martha Willis was an assiduous writer of her diaries, and we have many of these journals from 1830 to 1890. They are quite hard to read, but I particularly liked the diary for June 1881, for its description of The Wedding between her son Reginald and his cousin Adelaide Wale.

Who was Adelaide Wale? She was usually known as Aida, and was one of the two daughters of Captain Frederick Wale. Alas, Captain Frederick was killed in the siege of Lucknow in 1857, but his two little daughters, Aida and Minna, escaped by being hidden in the back of a bullock cart, presumably with their mother, who was also called Adelaide.

Frederick Wale and Mrs Isabella Willis were two of the children of General Sir Charles Wale, but by different mothers. ( Sir Charles Wale married three times, and fathered twelve children.) The year 1881 was an exciting one for Mrs Isabella Willis, as the weddings of both Isa and Reginald took place then. In June 1881 Reginald Willis married Adelaide Wale and in due course their daughter Cecil Willis (always known as Fiorella) married Captain Edward Altham RN, and they had children John and Psyche Altham. John and Psyche spent much of their childhood at The Hall, Little Shelford, by invitation of their great aunt Isa, who had married Jack Eaden but had no children. Fortunately for us today, my father in law John kept all these diaries of the mother of his great aunt Isa, who had played such an important role in his childhood.

By the time of the wedding, Isabella Willis was a widow aged 72, living in London at 5, Foulis Terrace. In coming to Little Shelford for the wedding, she was returning to the scene of her childhood, where several members of her family still lived, including her half brother Robert Wale who lived at the Hall. (What is still a mystery is the name of her 7th son, and why he was not present at the wedding....perhaps he had died by 1881? Adelaide’s sister Minna married Major Marshall soon after this wedding.


6 June, Monday.

Left home at 5m to 4. No crowd this Whit Monday — found all very merry at Shelford, except poor Mother Adelaide. I was to be put up at Robert’s.......

8 June, Wednesday. Fine morning but very cold. Got Aida and Reginald to my room and gave them affectionate allocution of my deep and fervent Blessing —they both seemed touched and were most loving, affectionate and reverential. Wedding presents brought over from Long Melford.....

9 June, Wedding

“150 people — and Dance in the Evening in spite of the cold sitting out at night until 4 in the morning!!” I find only this in my Diary — but this always so, when one feels most,one details least— but now that more than a Month has past— I may well write down a few particulars— which at this time I did for Horace and Emily at Montreux I am — or at Chateau d’Oex where they see my letters.

The day was tolerably fine — smattering of rain now and then— also sun breaking out between and as we went to and fro’ Church it shone out. A number of course came from Cambridge and the Prest party were in the house, Isa also— and Mr Law— and others helped to give bedrooms.

We breakfasted in the large tent which had been put up at the end of the Conservatory— and all except Adelaide and her sister and I think Reginald were at it — but it was a dropping in of course and quite informal.

Some of the Hyde Parkers, and Martyns came over from Long Melford. At 11.15 we began to go over to the church, which Isa and the girls had well decorated with flowers about the chancel and Communion Table. Mary sat at and played the organ. The Uncle Henry J. Wale and Mr Martin (in gloves)! officiated. Bride given away by Robert— we the near relations stood nearest and the Eaden children.

Aida looked a sweet modest pretty little bride— and my Reginald as fine a specimen of a young and happy bridegroom as one would wish to see— his brothers Armine, Sherlock, Harry, Cecil were, with himself 5 of my sons present! only two missing of the Band of 7 brothers—one is not! — the other Horace, with his wife and children in Switzerland (?).
Isa looked gay in a light Pomona green silk dress with white hat — the Bride in an Ivory brocade ..... a Net veil and orange blossoms prettily fastened on by Miss Hyde Parker. Her bridesmaids were 5. 1, Fanny Wale, 2, Freda Wale, 3, Annie Williamson, 4, Maud Wale, 5, Blanche Wale. bridesmaids’ dresses were Ivory White material? embroidered by themselves in gold colour and green, straw hats trimmed with white lace and a few flowers— they were pretty enough being uniform, but scarcely worth the trouble they had given. Reginald gave each bridesmaid a golden fibula brought from Rome! He wore the customary frock coat, greyish trousers and a sort of ivory white and gold cravat—which sounds bad but looked well as is the fashion! My costume was the inevitable black (but new) silk dress — a white crepe de chine Mantelet and an Ivory white bonnet with lace trimmings and deep red roses without leaves— Parasol Ivory satin and lace guipure. The church was very crowded with villagers, and the church gate. Aida had herself chosen a nice hymn which was sung in the church — which I give. One thing to be remarked was the outspoken tone with which Reginald pronounced his “I will”!

Our soul shall magnify the Lord

In Him our Spirit shall rejoice

Assembled here with one accord

We praise Him with our heart and voice.

May we the Christian law fulfil

And bear each other’s burden here

And thus unite to do Thy Will

In perfect love and Holy Fear.

Grant that our union here begun

May ever firm and lasting be

Around Thy throne May we be one,

One with each other, one with Thee.


A very nice breakfast was ready in the Dining room. Tables of all sizes, and none very large, were placed for parties to make themselves up. It was very pretty, very well done, and very abundant. Robert and Mr Martyn would NOT allow the old custom of health to Bride and Bridegroom to be foregone— so Reginald was rather taken aback for his speech which was a very short one — and Mr Martyn much wanted more healths — but was not allowed to propose them. By the way, we all walked back from Church, it was so fine and pretty to see.

Then came the viewing of the presents, and the Bride’s dressing for their journey, and then they were off in Robert’s carriage with the pair of Isabelle’s to Cambridge to meet the train for Lincoln — subsequently to York, and in a few days to Norway! Of course Major Marshall had a place alongside of Minna and both were very happy. after the pair were gone, Great rush to throw ??? ?? at both ?? made by the whole flight of young ones. We elders went upstairs and the others set to changing their clothes.and went to Lawn ?? The Military Band also was on the Lawn, and the dance and under the trees the ? danced — and it was very gay—till at 9 or so all was lit up and we all came down, arrayed for the Ball, which lasted
till Daylight was fairly set in— a good dancing band they had and they made them play!! I went to bed at 4 — they were still dancing!

May God have blessed them who left their parents this day!


10 June. All late of course.


‘Blennie Powell’ 1897 to 1984



Our good friend Blennie Powell died in December. He, like his sister Norah, who was co-founder of this ‘Book of Little Shelford’ with me, was a descendant of the Wale family, who came to the village in the early 14th century.

Upon his retirement after a successful electric engineer career he came to live with his sister at Gregory’s Close, his wife having sadly died soon after his retirement.

In the village which he loved he served on our Parish Council, he was President of the over 60’s club, which his mother founded, and he was a Trustee of the village Memorial Hall. After having inherited the allotment land he gave this to the Parish Council for a nominal sum. It was then christened ‘Blennie’s Patch’. Thus he followed the generosity of his sister who gave our beautiful recreation ground to the village.

Blennie was a valued member of the Cambridge Samaritans for some years. He was also an active Freemason, and was a devout churchman. He was loved by all for his generosity and his kindness. He will be sadly missed by us all who knew him.

He is pictured in the centre of the photo, with John Altham on the left.

John Altham (his cousin Dec. 1984)


Sir R.G.Wale

Col R.G.Wale in the centre/ foreground in 1859 - he built Shelford Hall around 1850


Thomas Wale


Thomas Wale, son of Gregory Wale, father of Sir Charles Wale. 

Thomas Wale was a Cambridgeshire gentleman born in 1701 and died in 1796. He is notable for leaving a significant quantity of documents collated through his life. His personal papers were sealed in a cupboard in his house and only discovered a century later when the property was destroyed. These papers form the basis of the book "My Grandfather's Pocket Book", published by his Grandson. These documents provide an interesting insight into 18th-century English life. Thomas Wale left an early description of how foreigners became naturalised in England.

The Wale family whole a particular record, with three generations spanning 222 years:  Thomas Wale was born in 1701. His son Charles was born 1765.  Charles’s daughter, later Mrs Richard Dill, was born 1823, and was 100 years old on 27 December 1923. 


Gregory Wale

Gregory wale.jpg

Augusta Wale


Charles Wale with his daughter Henrietta


General Sir Charles Wale (born 1752) became Colonel of the 33rd (The Duke of Wellington's) Regiment of Foot in 1831. Charles Wale was the last British governor of Martinique between about 1812 and 1815. He was responsible for capturing Guadeloupe from the French and was given the governorship in recognition.

Henrietta wale.PNG

Henrietta Wale

Henrietta Wale in 1877


David Altham

David Altham from Little Shelford has talked about his involvement in the formative days of Pink Floyd.

David rubbed shoulders with Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour and Syd Barrett in the 1960s as Pink Floyd was taking shape.

David, who died in February 2021, played with Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour in a blues rock band called Joker’s Wild. (Pictured below)

David was a founder member of Jokers Wild with Tony Sainty (bass) and Clive Welham (drums). David played guitar and vocals, as well as the saxophone. Here is the story in David’s words. “There were 3 of us and looking for a lead guitarist.

“We were told about this guy – went to see him at a pub in the Newmarket Road. The band was quite raw but he could play a bit. That was David Gilmour. He was quite expressive. We asked him if he wanted to join us and he said yes.

“We were quite a good band, doing covers. We started doing Beatles covers and then Beach Boys covers. David could listen something four and five times and just play it straight away.

“We made a couple of records in 1965. We did a session for one hour in a studio in London, One was a cover of Why Do Fools Fall in Love with Don’t Ask Me on the other side. I haven’t got a copy. I have a tape of it. Its very valuable and sought after now. Record Collector magazine said in 1996 that a copy was worth around £1,000 but that’s maybe because there were only 50 pressed. We also did a 12 inch single 78rpm with 5 tracks.”

They were:

1 "Why Do Fools Fall in Love"

2 "Walk Like a Man"

3 "Don't Ask Me (What I Say)"

4 "Big Girls Don't Cry"

5 "Beautiful Delilah".

“We played around Cambridge for about 3 years. We used to play every Wednesday at the Victoria Ballroom above the Victoria cinema in the Market Square. It got us gigs elsewhere – we were quite popular.

“We did almost have a hit. Jonathan King produced us and we recorded two songs. One was You Don’t Know Like I Know, a Sam and Dave song. The other was How Strong My Love Is, an Otis Redding song. David Gilmour sang on both. He sang the really well.

“Decca were keen to release our record. But then the original was released here by Sam and Dave, and went into the top 20 so we had missed our chance.

“We got a manager in London who finished up getting us playing at a couple of clubs in Marbella for two months. But after that I had had enough so I left. The remaining members went to France playing as Les Fleurs. I wanted to come back to Cambridge to focus on horse racing. When I got back I remember Syd Barrett being around quite a lot. I got to know him. He had a cutting sense of humour but he wasn’t my cup of tea.

“A gang of us went on holiday to the south of France in a jeep. Me, David Gilmour and Syd ended up staying in this house together. It was owned by this French girl David knew. He was very popular with the girls. We called him Big Lips. We lived on cheap red wine and crisps. Syd got me listening to Bob Dylan.

“When we came back to England, Syd seemed out of it all the time with sleeping pills and things. Sometimes Syd wouldn’t show up for gigs or he would just perform with his back to the audience. The band asked David to come along and cover for him with Pink Floyd. So Pink Floyd started easing David in.

“After that David starting working more and more with Pink Floyd and I lost touch with him.

“I went to work with a racehorse trainer in Berkshire.

“I read an interview with David talking about his days in Cambridge. He talked about forming a band called Jokers Wild. I want everyone to know that’s not right- he was the last one in. (Wikipedia says that Jokers Wild were formed by David Gilmour.

“I did buy his solo lp. He’s a good instrumentalist and musician but I didn’t really like the album.

“I last Saw David Gilmour at his 50th birthday party in London – he is a good man who has helped a few people out along the years.

“I’ don’t envy him and his success. I’ve had a good life. I went to India as a hippy and then I imported handicrafts from India.

"I now live in Cambridge. But I still think back to my days in Little Shelford. I was born in Camping Close Cottage (Church Street) and then lived in Ivy Cottage in Whittlesford Road. And I captained the village cricket team for a while.”

According to Wikipedia, these are the songs recorded by Jokers Wild, featuring David Gilmour and Dave Altham on vocals:

6 "Why Do Fools Fall in Love"

7 "Walk Like a Man"

8 "Don't Ask Me (What I Say)"

9 "Big Girls Don't Cry"

10 "Beautiful Delilah"

The single had "Don't Ask Me (What I Say)", backed by "Why Do Fools Fall in Love”

Read more about Pink Floyd and their Shelford links

Jokers wild.png
David Altham.PNG

Harry Willis, one of the wider Wale family in his workshop


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.

He lived

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.

Wale family tree

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Family tree
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