Hungerford Historical Association Talk: ‘Shaw House: 400 Years of History’ by Sarah Somerville

Shaw House

The new season for HHA got off to a splendid start with a wonderful talk from Sarah Somerville, Visitor Services Officer for Shaw House, Newbury. Sarah entertained us with tales from 400 years of history at Shaw House, a well-preserved Elizabethan Manor House built in 1581 for wealthy cloth merchant Thomas Dolman on a site with dwellings dating back to 1042.

This ambitious ‘Prodigy House’ showed off the huge wealth and social aspirations of Dolman and his family. A brick built house with many large glass windows was usually the reserve of royalty or the aristocracy in the Tudor period, making Shaw unusual for a merchant family and clearly demonstrating their rise in status and wealth. It seems to have paid off as Queen Elizabeth I, Charles I, Charles II, James I and Queen Anne all visited Shaw along with large retinues of servants and courtiers. The house was a Royalist stronghold during the English Civil War. The Second Battle of Newbury was fought at Shaw in 1644 which is when Charles I was likely to have stayed there. The legend of a musket ball narrowly missing the King and lodging in the panelling of the room he was in, although a great story, is now thought to have been a legend constructed by the Andrews family who lived there in the 18th Century.

Having accumulated large debts, the Dolman family sold Shaw to the Duke of Chandos in 1728. Not used as a family home, the Duke was more interested in the revenue from the Estate and the convenience of the house between his London and Bath residences. The 2nd Duke of Chandos, having inherited Shaw with large debts, sold it all to Joseph Andrews in 1751 for just over £27,000. In 1850 Henry Eyre inherited Shaw and filled it with his seven children and a multitude of servants. During their tenure a service corridor was added that extended the central section of the H shaped Tudor house. The original outside walls and windows can be seen today inside the reception area. This represents the only significant change to the external architecture. The ceiling of the Great Hall had been lowered to enable a suite of rooms on the floor above to be added for Queen Anne’s visit, and the grand central staircase was installed at the same time, but otherwise it is a remarkably unchanged building.

World War II saw the requisitioning of Shaw from Peter Farquhar who had inherited the Estate from his grandmother in 1935. The Royal Army Ordnance Corps used the house initially, and in 1941 it became the base for the 1st Airlanding Reconnaissance Squadron. Finally, the American troops of Company B205th QM Battalion occupied the house with disastrous results for Peter Farquhar who found that they had broken in to his private quarters, broken his Chippendale furniture, stolen his clothes and personal possessions, and drunk his wine cellar dry.

In 1945 Farquhar sold the house and broke up the Estate. Shaw House became the Council School, and later Shaw House School, until structural defects prevented its use in 1985. In 1998 West Berkshire Council took control of the property, and a restoration programme ensued with the backing and funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund, Vodafone and English Heritage. The aim of the project was to restore the house and establish a venue to be used by the council and community alike. In 2008 these goals were achieved, enabling the house to support itself and secure its future.

Visit to find out about visiting Shaw House.

About Hungerford Historical Association

Why not join the Hungerford Historical Association? Only £15 a year to enjoy a fascinating series of talks (outings are individually charged). We have about 200 members in the HHA, and between 60 and 140 members and visitors attend each meeting.

Non-Members can pay an admission fee of £5 per meeting which are normally held on the 4th Wednesday of the month in the Corn Exchange, Hungerford Town Hall, RG17 0NJ, starting at 7.30pm.

See here for the 2022/23 talk schedule.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Sign up to the free weekly

Penny Post


For: local positive news, events, jobs, recipes, special offers, recommendations & more.

Covering: Newbury, Thatcham, Hungerford, Marlborough, Wantage, Lambourn, Compton, Swindon & Theale