History of Sunbury and Shepperton

A brief introduction to the history of Sunbury and Shepperton, plus a taster of the rich range of materials we have in our local history archives, from old maps, through to postcards and art. We often have a display of some of these at our meetings.

If you want to read more about local history take a look at our range of publications, or ask about our members' lending library.

The origins of Sunbury and Shepperton

Although scattered finds have been made from the Neolithic, Bronze Age, Iron Age and Roman periods, the real establishment of Sunbury and Shepperton was in the Saxon period. Both places names are of Saxon origin (Sunbury = burgh, or stronghold, of Sunna, Shepperton = settlement of shepherds) and appear in the Domesday Book of 1086, compiled shortly after the Norman invasion.

The centres of the original Saxon settlements are marked today by the position of the parish churches. This print from c1800 shows how St. Mary’s, Sunbury is built on higher land overlooking the river. Despite it’s proximity to the Thames, it never floods, which must have made it an attractive spot to settle. To the right is the site of the original manor house. St. Nicholas church at Shepperton is similarly situated.

St Mary's, Sunbury, c1800

~ one of the hundreds of old paintings and prints we have in the archives

Archaeology and pre-history

Excavations were carried out on the site of a new school just off Sheepwalk in Shepperton Green in 1973. A Saxon burial ground was found to have occupied part of the site, as well as traces of what may have been a house or workshop. The new primary school was appropriately named ‘Saxon School’.

 

Burial ground found on site of Saxon School

- one of the many excavation photos and images we have in our archives

Growth and development

This plan of 1899 shows proposed alterations to the Shepperton National School. The school was set up by the Rev William Russell , Rector of Shepperton, and others in 1833. The site chosen was at the lower end of what is now the High Street. The building closed as a school in 1930 when the new St Nicholas school was built nearby, and became the Scout HQ. Today it’s the appropriately named ‘School of Spice’ Indian restaurant.

 

 

Plan of alterations to Shepperton National School, 1899

- one of the many original plans and illustrations we have in the archives​

Work and industry

Sunbury and Shepperton were both predominantly agricultural communities for many centuries.

There were small workshops connected with this, e.g. blacksmithing and wheelwrights, as well as with the trade along the river, e.g. rope making.

From the 19th century onwards, other industries such as brick making developed. By the 20th century there were a range of light industrial businesses making concrete products, boats, aircraft parts and plastic mouldings, amongst others. Sunbury was the first place in the world where hardboard was manufactured.

The gravel raising industry has left a legacy of former pits, now landscaped lakes, and the water industry also occupies a large area, in the form of reservoirs, filter beds and pumping stations.

Workers at the Cowper-Coles aircraft factory in Sunbury during World War One

-  one of the thousands of old photos we have in the archives

The Thames

Sunbury and Shepperton are both bordered by the River Thames, which for centuries was an important source of food (fish and eels) as well as a means of transport.

From 1197 until 1857 the river as far as Staines was looked after by the Corporation of the City of London, which built the locks and weirs at Sunbury and Shepperton in 1812-13 to improve the navigation of the river, by regulating the amount of water in it. Both locks have been rebuilt several times since.

Shepperton lock is actually the most southerly point of the main navigation channel of the Thames. Today though, instead of barges towed by men or horses, the locks are used by large numbers of pleasure craft.

Map of the Shepperton Lock area in 1832

- one of the hundreds of old maps we have in the archives

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