A Brief History
For 3,000 years, the market town of Shepton Mallet has been a hive of fascinating history. The livelihoods of at least 120 generations have been dependent upon commerce sectors as diverse as brewing, quarrying, agriculture and the woollen trade.
Over the years, archaeological investigations have uncovered evidence of Neolithic and Iron Age settlements, a Bronze Age burial, as well as a large Roman industrial community adjacent to the The Fosse Way.
For example, to the north of Shepton Mallet and commanding spectular views from its position 950 feet high on the Mendip Hills, lies the Iron Age hill fort of Maesbury Castle. Whilst at Cannards Grave, on the town's southern fringe, Bronze Age homesteads and pottery have been excavated.
The 230 mile long Roman Fosse Way, built to link the important Roman settlements of Exeter and Lincoln, via Ilchester, Bath (Aquae Sulis) and Cirencester, passes immediately to the east of the town. Today, walkers can explore and enjoy the Shepton Mallet part of the Fosse Way, by following the atmospheric, narrow track that climbs to Beacon Hill, where evidence of a grouping of ancient round barrows can be seen.
During the building of the Anglo-Bavarian Brewery in the 1860's, remains of Roman potters' kilns were discovered. More recently in 1988, a Roman lead coffin was unearthed near the route of the Fosse Way. This discovery triggered further excavations in 1990, which uncovered evidence of a significant Roman industrial town.
The name "Shepton" derives from the Anglo-Saxon name "Sceapton" or Sheep Fold. Over the ensuing centuries Shepton evolved into a prosperous market town, earning its wealth from the woollen trade. The fine Parish Church of St Peter & St Paul, the Market Cross and the "Shambles" market stall all dated from that period.
The "Mallet" part of the town's name derives from Malet, a Norman family dating back to William the Conqueror. The name is also attached to other Somerset settlements: Curry Mallet and Sutton Mallet. Effigies of Norman Knights can be seen in the Parish Church.
The River Sheppey flows through the heart of Shepton Mallet and acted as an important source of energy for the woollen and silk mills. It is believed as many as 30 mills were located in the river valley: from Charlton in the east to Darshill in the west. A mixture of mills, mill owner houses and manors, along with worker cottages, fashioned the small industrial communities, e.g Leg Square and the hamlet of Bowlish, that make up Shepton Mallet.
Today the "Rock Flock", a family of sculpted stone sheep created by local artist Jeff Body, and situated on the Cannards Grave roundabout, is a reminder of Shepton's former reliance on the woollen industry.
The 19th century heralded the increasing importance of the brewing industry in Shepton Mallet. The striking Anglo-Bavarian building is said to be the first place in England to brew lager. Today it is home to a varied range of businesses: however, Shepton Mallet's brewing tradition continues at "The Anglo" with the presence of two cider-making operations.
Other large breweries could be found in Charlton (now operating as a business park) and at Kilver Street, where Babycham was first produced. Despite several ownership changes, "The Shepton Mallet Cider Mill" still produces and bottles a variety of ciders.
Two railway lines (and two stations) once served Shepton Mallet - the GWR and the Somerset and Dorset. The "S&D" may have closed in the 1960's, but its legacy can be seen today, notably the mighty 67 feet high, 26 arch, curved viaduct on the eastern edge of the town.
Today the market town of Shepton Mallet is home to a diverse population of approximately 10,000. It retains its reputation as a town of strong character, an industrious community and a pleasant place to live in The Mendip Hills of Somerset.