Saturday, July 30, 2016

The Beautiful Village of Shere

by Lauren Gilbert

One’s first visit to a new place is always special. On my first visit to England, we were taken to a teashop in Shere. I was entranced. I had never been anywhere like it. So many stone and timbered buildings... It was truly the England I had always dreamed of visiting. Shere is considered to be one of the most beautiful villages in England, and I can certainly attest to that. (It was used as a setting for the movie “The Holiday.”) It is also quite old. It is in the Guildford district, between Guildford and Dorking.

A view of Shere, taken by the author, 1996

Shere appears in Domesday Book of 1086 as Essira and Essire. It was held by William the Conqueror. In 1086, when Gomshall, a village about 8 miles away, was royal demesne, the villagers of Shere were exempt from the sheriff's jurisdiction. There were four manors in the immediate vicinity of Shere: Shere Vachery, Shere Eboracum, Gomshall Netley and Towerhil.

Edward the Confessor, Bayeux Tapestry

Under Edward the Confessor, his queen Edith held Shere Vachery and Shere Eboracum until her death, when they were absorbed by William the Conqueror. It became the chief English seat of the Irish Earls of Ormond. Eleanor, Countess of Ormond (wife of James Butler, the first Earl of Ormond), who owned Shere Vachery manor, had a “view of frankpledge” (a compulsive sharing of responsibility, because of kinship or an oath of fealty, to produce anyone accused of a crime) in Gomshall Towerhill.

In 1281 William Braose was granted a privilege: he was allowed to kill certain kinds of game normally off limits there (free warren). Shere Vachery was forfeited to the king when James Butler, the fifth Earl of Ormond and Earl of Wiltshire, was beheaded in 1461. (It was restored to John, Lord Audley, James’ brother in 1467. The earldom of Ormond was also restored.) Henry VII granted this manor to Sir Reginald Bray in 1486, but Lord Audley remained in possession and paid rent. Because of Audley’s activities in the Cornish Revolt in 1497, the manor was again forfeit to the crown, but was soon returned to Sir Reginald Bray, and has remained in the Bray family.

Shere Eboracum was held by William Donn de Burgh, the third Earl of Ulster. It also changed hands several times. At one point it was held by Richard, 3rd Duke of York and subsequently his widow, Cecily Neville, who held it until her death.

Because Henry VIII used it as a dower property for his first five wives, it was also known as Queen’s Hold. (Apparently, it was not a dower property for Katherine Parr.) Subsequently, for a short time, it was held by Sir Edward Bray who also owned Shere Vachery. He bequeathed it to his wife, Mary, who subsequently married Edmund Tylney, Master of the Revels to Elizabeth I. It changed hands again several times, ending up in the possession of the Bray family several times. Ultimately, the Bray family holds it today.

Gomshall Netley and Gomshall Towerhil resulted from the division of the manor of Gomshall, which was royal demesne, and had been held by King Harold. After William the Conqueror defeated Harold, it was held by William (although his brother Odo did encroach somewhat). It appears that the division of the property occurred under Henry II, who awarded part to Robert de Wendenale and part to William de Clere. Gomshall Netley was awarded to Sir Edward Bray by Henry VIII, after the suppression of Netley Abbey. It remains in the Bray family still.

Gomshall Towerhil also changed hands multiple times. In 1205 it was in the hands of William de Braose who held it until driven out by King John who awarded it to to Peter de Mauley. After the Civil War, in which Williams son the Bishop of Hereford, John, was forced to restore Towerhil to the de Braose heirs.

Rowland de Bloet held it for a time, but in 1218 Reginald de Braose (younger brother of the Bishop) had it. His widow claimed dower rights in 1230. In 1332, Edward III granted it to John Pulteney, Lord Mayor of London; after Pulteney’s death, Edward III granted Towerhil to Eleanor, Countess of Ormond for her lifetime. After her death, it changed hands a couple of times again. In 1539, it was in the hands of Sir Edward Walsingham, who conveyed it to Sir Edward Bray in 1550 (the Brays again!). Gomshall Netley and Gomshall Towerhill manors held court baron, to resolve disputes and enforce the lord’s will.

Church of St James, taken by the author, 1996

The Church of St. James is a Norman church, with the oldest part dating from possibly the late 11th century but mostly being 12th, 13th and 14th century, of various materials probably taken from Roman buildings on Farley Heath, with buttresses, which has been carefully restored. By the north chancel wall, there is a 14th-century Anchorite Cell, supposedly used by the Anchoress of Shere, Christine Carpenter, who had promised in 1329 to devote her life to God and live in a holy place. It had a quatrefoil window through which she received communion, and a “squint” (a window through which she could see the altar) belonging to Anchorite Cell. There is 14th-century glass in the east window and the chancel fittings were renewed.

Quatrefoil and Squint
This area was one of the most lawless in Surrey, with smugglers, poachers and sheep and horse-thieves hiding in the hills surrounding the village. Most of the stolen livestock ended up in London. Sheep stealing was particularly troublesome 1830-1840. Some of the cottages had (and some still have) very large cellars, considered to have been constructed to hide smuggled goods until they could be removed to London.

Iron was worked from the stone and into implements in centuries before the 18th century in Shere. Relying on the River Tillingbourne for power, gunpowder was also manufactured near Shere at Chilworth.

Tudor Cottage

Shere holds many old cottages and houses dating from the 15th to the 19th century. It is also home to the White Horse pub, which was originally a farmhouse built in the 15th century. After traditional beer was replaced by hopped ales in the late 18th century, the farmhouse was converted to an alehouse and brewery. It is still in operation today, and a scene from “The Holiday” with Cameron Diaz and Jude Law was shot on the premises. I had a fantastic cream tea at a beautiful tea shop there as well.

The White Horse

This is an Editor's Choice. The original article was published on November 20, 2013.

Sources: Some West Surrey Villages, by E. A. Judges. 1901: Guildford (publisher’s name unclear).

Chef & Brewer. “History of the White Horse and Shere.

BritishHistory Online. Victoria County History, H. E. Malden, ed. A History of the County of Surrey, Vol. III. “Parishes: Shere.” Published 1911.

Exploring Surrey’s Past. “Shere.” “The History of Shere.”

Wikipedia: Shere  

Edward the Confessor image from Wikimedia Commons:

Quatrefoil and Squint image from Wikimedia Commons:

Tudor Cottage image from Wikimedia Commons:

The White Horse image from Wikimedia Commons:

Lauren Gilbert is the author of HEYERWOOD: A Novel, in 2011, and is a contributor to CASTLES, CUSTOMS, AND KINGS: True Tales by English Historical Fiction Authors. Her second novel, A RATIONAL ATTACHMENT, is in process. She lives in Florida with her husband. Visit her website at


  1. This is a lovely article. I shall certainly visit this area while traveling through England.

  2. This is a lovely article. I shall certainly visit this area while traveling through England.


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