Wing Village Mysteries: Part 1

During the reading and research that I undertook for the book ‘A History of Wing Village and Its Setting 1066-2018’, I encountered a number of mysteries; people, places and situations that puzzled me, the biggest mystery of course being the precise origin and meaning of Wing’s enigmatic maze – a puzzle I’ll return to in a later article.

Over the next few months I’ll be setting out these mysteries in a series of articles for the readers of the Wing Village website. You may have vital information in your family histories, paperwork, knowledge, or attics, to unlock these puzzles. If you do, let’s be hearing from you!

I’ll begin with a mystery set out in the book which was subsequently and unknowingly resolved by a resident providing me with paperwork for an entirely different purpose shortly after the book was published – history is like that, a jig-saw puzzle with missing pieces that can change or confirm the picture when revealed.

This first mystery concerned the Sheild family who are something of an enigma. Their initials, frequently W. S. referring to William Sheild, appear on many Wing buildings. The family dominated key land and property holdings in Wing for about one hundred and forty years from the 1740’s. They were the second largest landowners in the Parish of Wing (second only to the Marquesses of Exeter). Wing churchyard once had a significant sarcophagi plot for the family, surrounded by iron railings. In the late 1800’s the family sell off their land within the Wing parish and virtually disappear. The sarcophagi plot today is sad and untended.

Likewise, a century earlier, the Preston originating branch of the family, who were dominant landholders within Preston from the mid 1600’s until the mid 1700’s, begin to disappear when their co-heiress introduces a new descendent line through marriage in 1734 to the Rector of Ridlington, one Cornelius Belgrave. This was coupled with other Sheild male line emigration to America and New Zealand, and then at home termination of the line with the death in 1811 of an unmarried clergyman, Henry Sheild, Rector of Preston Church. (‘Preston Village Rutland Miscellanea’ Collected and Arranged by David B Audcent IHBC March 2018).

Henry Shield (spelt differently but I assume a member of the same family) of Preston is recorded as County Sheriff in 1744 and 1768.

Further possible evidence of this disappearance occurs in ‘36 High Street West and Sheild’s Yard: A Mini-History’ (Uppingham Local History Group, 2007, Revised 2011), which analyses the buildings’ history of this site and its occupancy and tenure. The name of the Yard, first appearing in Court Rolls in 1674, is deemed to come from the occupancy of its frontage at 38 and 40 High Street West, which together with the Yard, were originally occupied by the home and offices of three generations of the Sheild family who were attorneys. This piece of local research looks at the Court Rolls, tracking the copyholds (an ancient form of service/fee tenure) contingent to the site.

Some of this latter work helps to explain certain puzzling features that had been detected during my reading of ‘The Haven’ documentation supplied by Cynthia Harris for her former house in Wing. According to the Uppingham Local History Group work, in 1839 William Gilson has the largest house in Sheild’s Yard noted in the Rate Book with a value of £18.00, as compared to others in the Yard ranging from £10.00 to £1.00. In 1849 William Sheild was known as William Gilson, and he appears at several entries in the Court Rolls.

Significantly, he changes his name by Deed Poll to Sheild and is known by that name when in December 1862 he receives the surrender of Edward Cort’s copyhold within Sheild’s Yard. Later, in 1879, William Sheild’s Will is referred to whereby he gave and devised to his son, William Thomas Sheild, a number of copyholds, his wife, Charlotte Sheild, his other sons, Robert and John Sheild, acting as executrix and executors.

William Sheild died in March 1880. The manor Court was presented with the Probate by Robert Sheild, attorney, on behalf of William T Sheild the beneficiary. Presumably, William Gilson was the son of one of the Sheild daughters who married a ‘Gilson’ and their offspring, William Gilson/Sheild, was attempting to reinstate the dynastic name?

This explains the April 1869 transaction within The Haven papers whereby John Gilson of Chelsea and Sarah Gilson of Wing effectively buy the property and the witness is William Sheild, who it turns out was their father.

After William Sheild’s death in 1880, the “Rt. Hon Charles William Francis Earl Gainsborough Lord of Manor of Preston with Uppingham” and living in Exton, confirms first the copyhold transfers of William Sheild to various members of his family and then subsequent enfranchisement under the Copyhold Act 1852. This confirmation reads “William Sheild, late of Wing, by his Will devised copyhold properties to his son W.T. Sheild.” He pays Earl Gainsborough £22.12.3p to extinguish the copyhold and immediately sells the freehold to James Edgson for £400 but keeps about half to two thirds of the surrounding properties for later speculation.

Residual anomalies in the Enclosure Act meant that various properties and landholdings, often containing both public rights of way and agglomerations of copyholders, were essentially left in limbo until the Copyhold Acts of 1841, 1843, 1844, 1852, 1853, 1887 and their consolidation in 1894, although the last of them were not finally extinguished until the Law of Property Act 1925.

The antiquity of Copyhold and the complexity of new legislation must have provided attorneys with regular fee-earning work and the closed nature of the legal profession and the courts must have ensured regular and lucrative employment for legal specialists working in the interests of both the aristocracy and the growing gentry being created by a new age of industrial rewards. Attorneys like those within the Sheild family were in an ideal position to speculate in land purchase as their specialist knowledge lent itself to them, having been property ‘gamekeepers’ for the wealthy aristocracy, becoming property ‘poachers’ through the new enfranchisement processes.

I concluded in the Wing history book; “It has been suggested by various observers that the Sheild family in Wing liquidated their landholdings because of reputed financial difficulties and in respect of Preston, reputedly because of financial difficulties related to a lifestyle of gambling and drink. There appears to be no written evidence to support the latter.”

I then went on to say; “The evidence, such as it is, suggests a more complicated picture involving the repeated division of properties related to inheritance and in the 19th and 20th centuries, to property speculation, particularly related to the ‘hoovering’ up of copyholds at low prices and after enfranchisement the selling of freeholds at escalated prices. No doubt that this was further complicated by an ongoing expectation of grand lifestyles unsustainable in the context of family resources being divided upon the death of their patriarchs and matriarchs.”

After completing the Wing history book, Tom Roberts, Wing resident and former owner of the whole Cuckoo Inn site, brought me a significant ‘bundle’ of legal documents covering the transactional history of that site from the beginning of the 19th Century. These documents were mainly on parchment, hand-written, and in archaic legal language.

It took me a quite a while, but I was able to produce a fifteen page history entitled ‘3, 3a, and 3b, Top Street, Wing, formerly and chronologically; The Red Lion Inn, The Noel Arms and The Cuckoo Inn: Summary of the property transactional history.’ This work produced its own mysteries, which I will return to in another article, but several documents, and one in particular, helped to shed some bright light on the disappearance of the Sheild’s from Wing property ownership and to provide detailed written evidence on their financial difficulties.

The papers contained a 1948 Conveyance whereby Dorothy Worrall, of Wing Hall, sells the freehold of properties that were described in her acquisition by an ‘Assent’ (an approval by the Executors and other beneficiaries of Edward Worrall’s Will) in 1930 as; “No 14. Two stone-built and thatched cottages known as ‘The Nook’, with garden ground thereto belonging situate in Top Street Wing aforesaid (near to Cuckoo Inn) in the respective occupations of G. Buckby and Mrs R. Bagley.” Accompanying this transaction there was an Abstract of title (essentially a document verifying the ownership history) which particularly focused on events in 1886. This revealed, amongst other things, that the High Court in London had ordered Robert Sheild and on behalf of both Mary Sheild and himself, in 1885, to pay James Worrall £23,924.15.2 (around £3 million in today’s money) by 12 noon on the 27th October in the Chapel of Rolls, in Rolls Yard, Chancery Lane, London, in settlement of the foreclosure of debt action taken by James Worrall in the High Court against Robert and Mary Sheild. Significant property transfers from the Sheild’s to the Worrall’s were subsequently agreed as the basis of debt settlement in 1885/86.

This solved the mystery; large loans from the Worrall’s to the Sheild’s followed by default on repayment. It also provided hard written and legally verified evidence that the Sheild’s were indeed caught up in financial problems as underlying their disappearance from Wing.

The only reasons this information came to light were; one, that the various pieces of land comprising The Cuckoo Inn (now 3a Top Street), the 1844 “drinking club” (now 3b Top Street), The Cuckoo Cottages (fronting 3b Top Street now demolished), The Nook Cottages (at the rear of 3b Top Street now demolished) and related back-land (now 3 Top Street), were once in a single ownership thus aggregating the custodianship of the historic documents, and two, that Tom Roberts had retained all these documents even though the land ownership had been re-divided and there was no need to retain the historic conveyance documents because of the supremacy of Land Registration Certificates in the 21st Century.

Well done Tom!!

Next time, an unsolved Wing mystery – can you solve it?

David Seviour

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