Shapwick is situated on the northern slopes of the Polden Hills between Bridgwater and Glastonbury.
The name Shapwick dates back to Saxon times and means sheep farm.
The parish extends northwards from the gentle slopes of the Polden Hills down towards Shapwick Heath. This was originally a drowned valley that was transformed over time into a series of islands surrounded by fresh water marsh and eventually to the levels that exist today.
Peat turf cutting was a significant industry for many years and continues in very limited form in the 21st century.
Within the parish are two nature reserves – Shapwick Heath National Nature Reserve managed by Natural England and the more recently acquired Shapwick Moor managed by the Hawk and Owl Trust. The reserves provide a haven for wildlife and are easily accessed.
The village itself has an unusual geometric layout, laid out in a distinctive ladder pattern, with 2 parallel roads running north-south, with a series of “rungs” running east-west between them. Such a layout is possibly linked to the mediaeval field system.
Shapwick was owned by Glastonbury Abbey from the 8th Century until its dissolution in the 16th Century. The village then passed through various ownerships, until the Manor House and parklands were sold to the Vestey family in the 1940’s. The Manor House has subsequently been converted to a hotel.
Shapwick church was attached to Glastonbury Abbey, with the current St Mary’s church being built in 1331 in the centre of the village. This replaced an earlier church in exact dimensions, which was situated approximately one mile to the west of the village, towards Ashcott, in a field which is still today known a Church field.
The church was originally dedicated to St Edith, but was later named after the Virgin Mary by the middle of the 16th century.
Various discoveries provide evidence of Roman settlement in the area. The most notable find being the Shapwick coin hoard, the largest of its type in the UK. Whilst metal detecting, two cousins found a hoard amounting to over 9000 Roman coins on the site of a previously unknown Roman villa. The coins are now on display at the Museum of Somerset, Taunton Castle.
The Shapwick project was an investigation by Dr Chris Gerrard and Professor Mike Aston into the archaeology and history of the area which ran for several years during the 1990’s, specifically looking at the formation and development of settlements between the 8th and 13th centuries.
Shapwick can also boast being one of the nine thankful villages in Somerset – all 32 men who went to fight in World War One survived the conflict and returned home.