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Helmdon Historical Articles

The Shortland Story

by Audrey Forgham

I was intrigued as to where the name of Shortlands Close came from, but a look through the Magdalen College Oxford archives gave the answer to that question. It is from an early presence of the Shortland family in the village. The records tell us that there was a William Shortlond in Helmdon in January 1362, and quite a few references to a John, William (son of John), and Thomas Shortlond, carrying through until February 1537.

In the c15 Leicestershire Record office archives mention the Shortland family in the papers of Earl Ferrers relating to property at Astwell. There are references in 1401, 1409, 1415 and 1416 of “grants and confirmations” of land, giving the names of witnesses, who must have had some standing in the community. Among them we have a Thomas Shortlond of Helmdon, John Shortelond, Thomas Schortlond and then Thomas Shortland again.

The spelling of the name seems to have settled down in the c16. A terrier (a historical record of lands belonging to a landowner) noted by John Bridges* bears the date of 1530, with a reference to Thomas Shortland, “of whose family it is remarkable that they have lived in Helmedon in the same house ever since, if not before, the year 1397, when John and Margaret Shortland were the owners, and who in the year 1420 levied a fine thereof, and from it is descended Mr Richard Shortland the present owner”.

The records do not yield much until the c17 when Edward Parry in his article on Helmdon Wills gives lovely detail about Vincent Shortland’s will of 1639 in which Vincent bequeathed to his wife “household stuff” including “one red chest standing at my beds foot”.

William Ellis recorded life in Helmdon in his informative book “Village Life in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries” published in 1902 (which, not surprisingly, is out of print).  He  writes about professional letter writers who wrote up the parish accounts, the farmers’ and trades peoples’ accounts, and the letters of the inhabitants, and suggests that it is more than likely this person would have the appointment of parish clerk. Thus we have a Richard Shortland, who may have been a parish clerk, followed by a Thomas who may have held the same  position.

Pd to Rich.Shortland  for writing 3 Duplecates £0 2s. 0d.

Ellis goes on to quote:
Expensa Thomas Shortland Constabularii  a Festo 8th Sti. Michaellis Archangel Anno 1688 ad Festam  St Mich Pxima sum sequentium.

In Thomas’s time of office Ellis finds on Feb. 14:

“Spent on ye children yt made ye bonefire on ye fast day £0 1. 6dand “Ap. 7 Spent on ye coronation day” £0.1s. 0d.

but suggests that although Thomas was evidently learned above the average he had a most original way of spelling Birmingham as one entry reads:

June ye 19th given to a Souldier disbanded at Brumetchain £0 0s 1d.

Ellis further comments that Thomas Shortland made all he could out of his year of office as this item shows, “for airing and ordering the Trayn Souldiers accoutrements” £0 0s 6d., and for “writing and summing my accounts” £0 3s 0d. whilst an additional 10s 0d. “for my time spent upon many occasions and severall Journeys” was not allowed. Then in June, 1678, we have: Memorandum – that within the revolution of 8 days after the Funerall obsequys of Thos Shortland, Affidavit was brought from a Justice of the Peace that the said Thomas Shortland was well wrapt in a shirt of woolen; and was let down into his Dormitory with that vestment about his corps to the great satisfaction of a law enjoining that Habiliment as convenient for the dead**.

The earliest graves in St Mary Magdalene churchyard of the Shortlands are in 1678. Richard Shortand, an infant, died on March 8th, Ann Shortland, daughter of Richard Shortand, died on May 7th, and Joyce Shortland died on July 1st. As an indication of man’s mortality the stone is decorated with the skull and crossbones. Another early memorial records the burial place of Vincent Shortland who died in 1680. Carved at the top of this stone is the head of a cherub or putto; this represents the messenger of the Gods who accompanied a man through his life and protected his soul and finally conducted it to its final resting place.

A Richard Shortland figures in the Voters List of 1705 and 1748, and this later entry might refer to a Richard (1718-1787), whose brother Vincent served two terms as Mayor of Oxford***.

In a Terrier of Glebe Lands belonging to the Rectory of Helmdon in 1723, we see, in Foxhole Furlong, “Item one piece of meadow ground called the lower Tythe Hook Astwell Liberty East & South, “Rich. Shortland North & John Spiers” and also another item “Astwell Hill Furlong One rood College land North & Richard Shortland South”. In addition, pertaining to Ackmans Hill Furlong “ Item One Rood College land North & Richard Shortland South”.

In 1758, the first year of the Enclosure acts, the lordship of Hemdon contained about 1800 acres (excluding Stockins, which was reclaimed woodland), and Mr Richard Shortland had about 220 acres.  It is not far out of being where Shortlands Close is today.

The Helmdon Enclosure Map of 1758.

On the 1777 militia return we have “Richard Shortland, juner, famer, and Edward Shortland, famer”. Among other Shortland references is a Richard who married Elizabeth Ladd, b.o.t.p, in 1725, according to the 1748 Voter’s List. An 1787 willof Richard Shortland “late of Helmdon in the County of Northampton but nowe of Yarnton in the County of Oxford Gentleman” states“I Give to my sons Richard Thomas Shortland and  Edward Shortland  one shilling each”, with all the rest of his money and possessions going to his daughter Mary. Whether this is the same Richard is a matter of conjecture.

Shortlands go on to be present in the census records of 1951, 61 and 81 but are not listed as farmers,  The last mention of the family name is the mention of a  girl named Olive,  in the Helmdon Council School Admission Record (March 1904 – 1941).

No longer inhabited by the Shortland family, the present cottage, no. 41 Wappenham Road, now a listed building, is dated from the early 1600s, and is the oldest building in Helmdon apart from the church.

Shortlands cottage is on the right.

The original building is long gone, but it still has part of its medieval fabric in the form of a cruck embedded in later stonework. The listed building reference is as follows:

Pair of cottages. Early C18 Coursed limestone rubble, plain tile roofs, brick end stacks on stone bases. No. 41 has 1-unit plan. 2-storeys and attic; one-window range. C20 part-glazed door to left with timber lintel, 3-light casements to ground and first floors with timber lintels and hipped roof dormer. Quoins and stone-coped gable to right  with kneelers.  Lean-to extension toright. Interior of No.41 has stop-chamfered spine beams.

As long as the cottage stands there is evidence of the Shortland family being in the village, and should this ever be demolished, the name will be remembered, because of Shortlands Drive, which is off Church Street.  This used to be allotment land nearby with the building of houses beginning in 1961/63.

Audrey Forgham 2021

* John Bridges, author of The History & Antiquities of Northamptonshire published in the early c18.

** The Burying in Woollen Acts 1666-80 were Acts of Parliament which required the dead, except plague victims, and the destitute, to be buried in pure English woollen shrouds to be exclusion of any foreign textiles. It was a requirement that an affidavit be sworn in front of a Justice of the Peace (usually by a relative of the deceased), confirming burial in wool, with the punishment of a £5 fee for noncompliance. Burial entries in parish registers were marked with the word "affidavit" or its equivalent to confirm that affidavit had been sworn; it would be marked "naked" for those too poor to afford the woollen shroud.

*** information from family history researcher, Mary Legge.

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