In Saxon and Norman times Uppingham was one of the seven small hamlets included in the King’s Manor of Ridlington. It is supposed the path Uppingham’s inhabitants trod when they had business with the King’s Steward there – attending court, paying their taxes, rendering labour service – took them through the fields by way of today’s High Street West, along Sheilds Yard and Pig Lane to Ayston then on to Ridlington. In medieval times when the town was expanding there developed substantial yeomen’s cottages lining the streets, except in the yard where only mean hovels were built because space was so limited.
The name Sheild is no older than the middle of the 19th century. A hundred years earlier this was called first Bennett’s Yard, then Gamble’s Yard and the narrow passage leading off High Street West was known as Binnett’s Entry
In 1736 William Bennett a shoemaker, lived at 38 High Street West with his workshop at No. 36. Forty four years later another William Bennett or Bennitt cordwainer was living here. His son also a cordwainer named William then sold the property to William Gamble in 1802. Gamble lived at No. 38 while the cobbler’s workshop was let to others.
Two features remain from Gamble’s time. The first is the ‘squint’ (now filled in) at the left of the entrance passage that enabled the town’s watchman doing his rounds to check the householder’s fire was properly damped down at nights. Through the passage also on the left stands the fine cast iron water pump in a wooden casing and its lead plaque with a deer’s head, the initial W.G. and date of 1805. William had placed his stamp on his property. The pump, which has been listed, would have served all those living in the dozen or so dwellings, Nos 36, 38, 40 High Street West, and others in the Yard itself, masters and tenants, families and servants in all perhaps as many as a hundred souls.
SHEILD: FAMILY ATTORNEYS : 40 AND 42 HIGH STREET WEST
One of the most important residents in the town in 1851 was the solicitor William Gilson. Coming from Wing on or before 1849 he acquired 40 and 42 High Street West, where soon after his arrival he built his residence and office. At the time this was the grandest house in Uppingham with his domestic quarters on the right distinguished by bay windows at ground and first floors with ironwork above them. To the left of No. 42 his office was marked by a large window and the imposing entrance with its Corinthian columns and pointed pediment above. Later he purchased No. 38 where his clerks worked.
Legend has it the columns were once the finishing posts from the Uppingham Racecourse set in front of the grandstand in the field opposite the Community College. At the point of the pediment there used to stand a stone carving of an eagle with outspread wings that came from the same source. Alas weathering and ivy have wreaked havoc and what is left of the bird is now retired to a wall behind the building.
Shortly after is arrival at Uppingham in 1851-2 Gilson changed his name to Sheild in order to inherit property at Wing, ruining two of his cousins at Knossington in the process. His own fortunes prospered – he was clerk to the magistrates and to the county courts, the clerk to the Board of Guardians in charge of the Uppingham Union Workhouse and Superintendant Registrar. In addition he was clerk and treasurer of the Uppingham Association for the Prosecution of Felons and Steward of Lord Gainsborough’s Preston with Uppingham Manor and its Court.
William was succeeded in 1880 by his son William Thomas also a solicitor, who practiced from the same office. Another brother and partner in the law firm Charles Swann Sheild lived at 46 High Street East. The dynasty ended with his generation.
P N Lane