Double-barrelled Town

clear when the Mendip metal industries faded away - probably long after Roman administration had gone from Britain - long after the defeat of Christianity.

This part of Britain was an early Christian stronghold. In 1991, a Roman cemetery was excavated in Shepton. In one of the graves, an amulet bearing the Christian Chi Rho symbol was found, dating from the 4th century - making this the earliest known Christian burial in these islands. Note - the earliest known. Depending on which stories you believe, Christians lived and died in this vicinity 100, 200 or even 300 years earlier.

This Western bastion of the faith (and of Romano-British civilisation) was protected from the pagan Saxon hordes by the barrier of Selwood Forest - lying to the East of here. Long after the "Arthurian" peace had given way to the Saxons in the rest of England, the West held out until 658 AD, when Kenwalh, King of the West Saxons, defeated the Britons at Penselwood (about ten miles South-East of Shepton), and opened up an invasion route into the softer Somerset lowlands.

By this time, the Anglo-Saxons were relatively civilised, having been converted to Christianity by Augustine and his adherents, so it seems that the barbarity which characterised most Anglo-Saxon conquests was absent here.

It was the Saxons who gave this place its first (known) name - Sceapton, meaning "Sheep-fold".

This is a broad hint to the future source of Shepton's wealth; long before the rest of England began to enclose land for sheep farming, this area was already prospering on wool. Not only was the raw wool exported, this region also made its own cloth. It was pretty coarse stuff - the finer fabrics were still imported from the Continent.

The coming of the Normans seems to have happened with little drama - except for the Anglo-Saxon lords whose lands were absorbed into the developing feudal system. The most lasting gift the Normans brought was a second name for the town - from the Mallet family, who held lands here some time after the Conquest. A Mallet had been amongst William of Normandy's knights at Hastings. (It is not known whether he played croquet.)

Shepton Mallet is amongst the earliest of England's double-barrelled town names.

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