Shalbourne was first recorded in the tenth century charters as 'Scaldeburnam', comprised of the Anglo-Saxon word 'scealde burna' meaning shallow bourne or shallow stream. The name Shalburne was first used c.1494.
It is a linear village on the A338 and originally consisted of three tithings, Shalbourne, Bagshot to the north and Oxenwood to the south. Both Bagshot and Oxenwood were originally located in Berkshire and transferred to Wiltshire in 1895. Most of Shalbourne village itself has always been located in Wiltshire except for the vicarage, church and mill. The boundary of Wiltshire with Berkshire was less clear here than in the rest of Wiltshire, which tended to follow natural features. Reasons for this could be related to the tenure of the land.
The soil is mainly chalk with some covering of clay and flint, and also beds of clay and sand in the north-west. The land is arable, permanent grass, woods and plantations and there is some alluvium near the village. A high point on the downs in the south reaches 700 feet and there is a brook which contributes to the River Dun near Hungerford. The typical Wiltshire chalkland and downland landscape in the south of the parish contrasts with the large areas of woodland typical of Savernake Forest in the north.
The village follows the line of the brook and the valley, with farms scattered near Bagshot, Oxenwood, and Rivar. The mill is situated north of the village and is referred to in the Domesday Book. The land is fertile and supported a number of farms making agriculture of prime importance in the area.
Early finds suggest prehistoric settlements and these include a rare gold Saxon coin, flint axeheads at Shalbourne House, and a Bronze Age earring found at Rivar. Other finds include coin artefacts, specifically a follis of Constantine II and a sestertius of Hadrian. A long barrow at Botley Copse in Oxenwood in the south west of the parish has been opened but no records have been found of its excavation. There is also a round barrow on the River Dun. There are examples of entrenchment on the River Down which suggest pre-Roman construction and village earthworks can be seen on aerial photographs east of Manor Farm.
There are four Domesday entries for Shalbourne, which exclude Bagshot. They add up to a ten hide estate of which two-thirds belonged to the King and two of the three small holdings belonged to royal officials. The existing village was split between the Kinwardstone Hundred in Wiltshire and the Eagle Hundred in Berkshire. The tenants of both medieval manors, Eastcourt and Westcourt, in Wiltshire and Berkshire, farmed the common fields together, making it difficult to define a county line. A printed map of 1761 has the words 'Wilts and Berks both Intermix'd' written across Shalbourne's land. Although attempts were made to define the boundary, including enclosure in 1805 and an Act of Parliament in 1844, it took until 1895 to establish them.
Two linear villages either side of the county boundary developed, the Wiltshire side arranged north south along the main street, forking at each end and known as West Shalbourne or Westcourt and the Berkshire side known as East Shalbourne or Eastcourt, hugging the lane leading southwards from the mill. Westcourt contained Manor Farm, a triangular green, with the Plough public house, a shop and a Bible School, dating from 1843, which was used as a Wesleyan Chapel and a village hall. Further development continued along Rivar Road, to the 'Lynch' used for rope making. East Shalbourne or Eastcourt, in Berkshire, followed the lane leading south from the mill and then turning towards Ham. This is where the church is situated on the western side of the road.
Oxenwood, a small hamlet, in the ecclesiastical parish of Tidcombe and Fosbury, once had a manor house in an area known as 'Chapel', first mentioned in 1586. It was destroyed by fire and the occupants moved to Manor Farm in Shalbourne. Victorian estate cottages were built from 1861 forming part of the estate of Fosbury House, now Fosbury Manor. The village school which operated from 1905 to 1967 was re-opened as an Outdoor Education Centre in 1969 and has benefitted many Wiltshire schoolchildren. The hamlet of Bagshot, a separate royal estate at the time of Domesday, lay within Savernake Forest and was therefore under forest jurisdiction during the 13th century. It was part of the Stype Grange Estate and had a number of small farms and smallholdings run by tenant farmers. It was sold in lots during the First World War, bought by Sir William Rootes and later Sir Charles Clore. After his death the properties were again sold off. The Grange was destroyed by fire and Home Farm was developed as the present Grange. A 19th century chapel of ease was used as a school during the week and held services on Sundays. The hamlet of Rivar is situated at the foot of the escarpment, and has a farm and a few houses. To the west are 'blacklands' a name that often indicates early settlement.
Shalbourne Manor was originally held by Edward the Confessor and King William in 1086. Known as 'Eastcourt' it was passed on by Robert de Tatteshall c.1241 on the marriage of his daughter and was then known as 'Tateshale'. Through family succession it was owned by Ralph Lord Cromwell, Treasurer of England by 1454, sold by Thomas Frowyck in 1473, and then Sir Thomas Cheney in 1548, and then owned by Edward Duke of Somerset. It stayed in this family until the niece of the fourth Duke inherited it and married the Earl of Ailesbury, it then descended with them until a large amount of the estate was sold off in 1929.
Land in Oxenwood was sold to Richard de Havering by King William and other land was held by the Danvers family. The manor was owned by the Earl of Hertford and it descended with the title of the Duke of Somerset. Bagshot was owned at Domesday by Henry de Ferrers and it descended with the manor of South Standen but was retained in 1867 by the Mitchell family and eventually sold to Albert Munz.The greatest part of the Wiltshire portion was held in 1086 by Richard Sturmy, and referred to as Westcourt or Shalbourne Dormer. A part share passed through various heirs becoming part of the Duke of Somerset's estate by 1548 and then descending with Eastcourt. The remainder sold to William Castell in 1590 and then to the Earl of Hertford.
Shalbourne was essentially an estate village until the 20th century so the most important ancient buildings are the church, Manor Farmhouse and Westcourt Farmhouse. The 1843 Tithe map shows property belonging either to Anthony Kingston of Manor Farm, or the Marquis of Ailesbury. Early buildings and settlements are grouped around the stream and are generally of timber frame construction. The oldest properties include Shalbourne Cottage (once known as 'Johnings'), and Westcourt Farm which both date from the 15th century; Cruck House, Little Court and Manor Farm, from the 16th century; Baverstock Farm, Crooked Cottage, Crossways, Doves, Highclere House, Ivy House, Little Annegrove, Old Timbers, Ropewind Cottage, The Grove, The Homestead and Well Cottage all date from the 17th century. The Manor House stands at the southern end of the village, a long rectangular two storied building of the late 16th century with many alterations since then. Thatched cottages date from the 15th century and there is evidence of early buildings in the fields between Baverstock Farm and Cox's Lane, known as 'Great Freddicks'.
Jethro Tull the agricultural inventor took over his great uncle's farm in 1709. It was situated in the east of the parish and called 'Prosperous'. The uncle was also called Jethro, and he gave his farm to his nephew in order to escape his creditors. Jethro the inventor died there in poverty in 1741 and his seed drill was thrown into the well at the farm by labourers who felt threatened by mechanical advances. It did become a place of interest for agricultural writers such as William Cobbett, who visited in 1826.
Tull's book 'Horse-hoeing husbandry', was later edited by William Cobbett more than a hundred years after it was first written.
The construction of early properties depended on the local materials available and so timber from Savernake estate as well as flint, wattle and daub, and thatch were the most popular and economic materials used in building. As time has passed many of the early thatch roofs have been replaced by tiles, and much repair work to the walls of properties has been done using brick. Box-framed construction relied on green timber with wooden pegs to hold joints, often resulting in a bent or warped appearance as the wood ages.
The Black Death was thought to have halved the population in Shalbourne in 1349. By 1811 the population was 774 rising to 1042 in 1841. It dropped in the latter part of the 19th century to 822 in 1881 and 698 in 1901. The 20th century saw a shift away from employment in agriculture and Shalbourne became a popular place to retire to, while also proving a suitable place for commuting from. In 1971 the population was 621.
The main occupations in the area has always been centred on agriculture, while brick making was sometimes combined with farming. At the beginning of the 19th century there were 8 brickmakers recorded in the parish. Other usual local trades included that of the harness and rope maker, essential for use in wells for drawing water, as well as blacksmiths, wheelwrights and broom makers. Grocers, a Post Office, bakers and butchers also existed to support the local community and as in most villages of the time there was a boot and shoe maker, and two or three tailors and dressmakers. Many people had allotments in the early part of the 20th century and many cottages had bread ovens, so there was also a great deal of self sufficiency. The mill, in Shalbourne was derelict in 1581 but had been rebuilt by 1694 and remained in operation until 1929, when watercress beds were established in the mill area. Varieties such as 'Morning Dew' and 'Mill Brand' were sent to Covent Garden and Birmingham to be sold. The business closed in 1972 and the watercress beds have now reverted to a natural state providing a haven for local wildlife. A wildflower farm opened in 1980 at Carvers Hill Farm and this now farms more than twenty acres which are devoted to over 25 species of wild flowers that are purchased by both individuals and local authorities.
Public houses included 'The Plough' built c.1704, 'The Red Lion' which is now a property known as 'Foxbury', 'The Royal Oak' on the Hungerford Road and the 'Cross Keys' on the boundary with Ham and later destroyed by fire. A beer house also existed at Oxenwood known as 'The Kings Arms' and is now a private residence.
One of the earliest maps to show Shalbourne dates from 1588 and is part of a series woven from silk and wool, for Ralph Sheldon, showing parts of Oxfordshire, Wiltshire and Gloucestershire. Other early examples of maps include John Speed's map of Wiltshire of 1610, a survey of 1717 for the Bruce family including a mention of 'Wolf Manor', a map of Berkshire dated 1761 by Jean Roque and the Andrew and Dury's topographical map of Wiltshire of 1773.
The main land owning family at the time of the enclosures of 1800 were the Bruce family, who owned most of the freeholds during the 19th century. Much land was sold off in the 1920s and early 1930s due to demanding death duties and new building, begun in the 1930s, quickened pace after the Second World War.
The property now known as 'Foxbury' was once St. Michael's Home for Motherless Girls, run by Miss Dagg and Miss Annie Dagg, her sister. This provided a strict but kind environment for about twenty girls who were taught to cook and sew as well as attending school and taking bible instruction. They even had their own patch of garden to maintain. The girls left at about 15 or 16 years of age if a suitable job was found, perhaps in service. Many remained in touch with the home and often re-visited. It was owned by Lord Frederick Bruce of Wolf Hall.
Local charities included Martha Smith's Charity, established in 1715 to provide bread and continuing for 200 years, 'Thomas Henshaw's gift', 'Parish stock' and 'Poor's allotment' which were all combined and administered by three trustees.
There is still a pub, a school, a post office and shop and an active sports club, including a female cricket team. While traditional village occupations are fading, others are taking their place such as the Soaring Society, a gliding club and Shalbourne remains a popular place to live.