Historically the name 'Shepley' (derived from the ancient 'Shepelei') has been interpreted as 'a clearing or meadow where sheep are kept', the meaning being derived from the Anglo-Saxon language.
However, Shepley is also situated on one of several local leys comprising Crossley, Longley, Shepley, Shelley, Emley, East Midgley, Coxley, Stanley, Scholey, Methley and Astley. The ley idea was introduced by antiquarian Alfred Watkins in his book 'The Old Straight Track' in 1925. He suggested that the ancient British used high points and hill tops as sighting points to help them navigate in a straight line and that 'ley' or 'leigh' place names actually mean "a grassy track across country". Watkins perceived that many later Roman roads followed these straight ancient tracks. Some people also associate leys with the occult.
Evidence exists of earlier occupation in the area at Castle Hill (not to be confused with Castle Hill, Huddersfield), a small hilltop above Birdsedge that contains defensive works which might have been either a Roman or tribal look-out station. 'Sceaplei' is also mentioned in the Domesday Book written in 1086.
Norman Conquest and Medieval Period
Shepley's population suffered during William the Conqueror's Harrying of the North 1069-1070 when the king laid to waste towns and villages between the Scottish border and the River Humber in order to put down a northern rebellion against his Norman rule.
Thousands of people were put to the sword.
However, the village was soon back in political favour. In 1217, a certain Matthew of Sheplei was knighted and his name appears in the records of the Beaumont family of Whitley Beaumontand later of Bretton Hall near Wakefield.
If the township of Shepley was subinfeudated before 1166, Shepley's mesne tenancy would have been held by William de Neville, husband of Amabel, daughter of Adam, son of Sveinn.
There is a reference to Shepley in the Inquisitions Post Mortem, written in the 33rd year of Henry III's reign (1249).
By the 13th century, the tenancy had passed to the Burgh family. Shepley Hall, situated on Station Road, was the manor house for the village. In 1361 Robert de Goldthorpe, who was also known as Robert Robertson (his father's name was Robert), married Esabell de Shepley and, as a result inherited part of the manor and estates of Shepley. In 1542, during the reign ofHenry VIII (Tudor) Thomas Goldthorpe sold his share of Shepley manor and other lands for £290 to a certain Richard Stansfield and thereby appeared to terminate the family's connection with the manor. However, in the local fines records for 1543, it states "William Goldthorp, gent [held the] Manor of Shepley, also called Shepley Hall, and tenements in Shepley and [Kirk]Burton.
Farming would have been the village's main industry, although the wool trade started to grow from the 14th century onwards, gaining momentum following the Dissolution of the Monasteries.
In the early 19th century, Sir Joseph Radcliffe from Milnsbridge House was Lord of the Manor. He was knighted for his role in suppressing the Luddites in the Huddersfield area following the murder of Marsden mill owner William Horsfall in 1812.
In 1868 Shepley was described as a township and chapelry in the parish of Kirkburton, upper division of Agbrigg Wapentake, West Riding County York. The village was also recorded as having 30 tailor's shops in a population of around 1,000. These would have sprung up as a result of the four mills around the village manufacturing fine woollen worsteds.
Lane Head is a hamlet to the south of the village which had a Quaker meeting house, built in 1696 and which has been a private dwelling since 1706. It had connections with the even older High Flatts meeting house in Birdsedge.
With a gold sovereign, Seth Senior was reputed to have established a brewery in 1829 at the Royal Sovereign Inn (now the 'Sovereign Inn'). As the business grew, the brewery was moved to Piper Wells on Holmfirth road. The Seniors eventually owned several public houses in the area, including the Railway (now the Cask and Spindle), The Black Bull, the Stagg's Head (the building can still be seen on Abbey Road), and the Farmer's Boy. The family also built Cliffe House. In 1946, the family business was taken over by Hammonds Brewery. The Senior family are all buried in the church yard at Upper Cumberworth a few miles away.
A stone carving of a man's face - a Yorkshire tradition to commemorate any builder killed during construction work - can still be seen on the Eastern gable of the Sovereign Inn. But, some also think that the carving is of Seth Senior himself. Members of the Roebuck family lived on this site for over 70 years and held the tenancy when the famous Sovereign Anthem was written in 1929 to commemorate 100 years of the brewery. Sarah Jane's death in 1976 ended Roebuck family ties with the Sovereign Inn.
Lane Head is also famous for the quarries that have provided stone used at Buckingham Palace in London, and other famous landmarks. The Lindley family used to own the quarry situated on Carr Lane, but it has now become part of the Marshalls Group, as have Appleton Quarries situated on Holmfirth Road.
Legend has it that a golden cradle also lies buried in the Round Wood. Although, the line of the stone wall has changed in recent times due to quarrying, it is shown as a perfect circle on mid 19th century maps. Given that Castle Hill South of Huddersfield is only a few miles away, the wood may hold secrets yet to be discovered - after all, pagan burial sites were often circular in design!
Climbing up the hill on the A629 from Shepley towards Lane Head, Toll Bar Cottage appears on the left just after the main gates of Cliff House. The cottage marked the place where gates once stood across the Barnsley and Shepley Lane Head Turnpike which was built by Blind Jack of Knaresborough in 1825 following an Act of Parliament passed two years earlier. Another Turnpike between Saddleworth and Shepley Lane Head via Holmfirth was constructed around this time, having been surveyed by Thomas Dinsley in 1819. As the name of the building suggests, a toll was collected at this point from travellers. The tolls were abolished on August 1, 1875.
Before the Barnsley and Shepley Lane Head Turnpike was built, this small hamlet was situated on the packhorse route from Penistone to Huddersfield. Merchants would travel from Penistone, through Thurlstone, along Broadstones Road and Dearne Dike Lane to Five Lane Ends, down Piper Wells Road, Cross Lane and Carr Lane, before turning down the long drive into Shepley Carr. The route would then follow the fields (before they were enclosed), past the Shepley War Memorial, and into the village. The travellers would then head out towards Stocksmoor and Farnley Tyas through Stones Wood (where Devil worship once took place). Some old locals tell stories of a ghostly coach and fours furiously speeding down the long drive on wintry nights before vanishing at the hamlet. The present house at Shepley Carr is the third building on this site and dates from the 1860s, replacing one that burnt down.
During the early 19th century, the Tinker family lived at Shepley Carr, and was responsible for building Tinker's Monument near Hill Top above New Mill. Deeds held at the West Yorkshire Archive Centre in Wakefield suggest that the original house at Shepley Carr dates from the 16th century and was owned by the Armytage Family of Kirklees Hall. Locals believe that Oliver Cromwell marched his army through Shepley Carr during the English Civil War 1642-1649. Roundheads, as the soldiers were known, were probably in Kirkburton, and at Catlin or Catling (now Cat Hill) Hall near Penistone, the latter having a holding post in the cellars upon which royalist prisoners were chained (see the ghost story concerning Catling Hall. Inside the parish church at Upper Cumberworth, there is a chair that Oliver Cromwell is reputed to have sat in.
Part of the village situated on the A629 heading North towards Huddersfield is known as The Abbey, and some local street names are derived from this. No evidence exists to suggest that an abbey was ever built in Shepley. However in 1219, Matthew de Shepley gave land in nearby Cumberworth and some unspecified land in Shepley to the monks of Roche Abbey. It seems highly likely that the site of 'Shepley Abbey' stands on some of this land.
The land and farm would have been granted off by Henry VIII following the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 16th century, but the ownership is unclear until the house and farmland is mentioned in the papers of the Spencer-Stanhope family of Cannon Hall between Cawthorne and High Hoyland. The Shepley Abbey property first appears in these papers in 1674 and is last mentioned in 1800.
The Abbey and Farm were owned in the 19th century by the Armitage Family who originally hailed from High Hoyland and are linked to the Spencer-Stanhopes. They owned one of the mills in Shepley, manufacturing fancy woollens.