Thu. Feb 22nd, 2024

Shepperton appears to have it all. Just 15 miles from central London, weeping willows dangle lazily into the Thames as people fish for bream.

With a close-knit community and traditional independent shop-lined high street, it is also home to internationally renowned film studios behind the likes of Dr. Strangelove, Love Actually and Rocketman.

While the stars are often spotted unwinding at The Harrow Inn, regular folk may well prefer The Red Lion, recently crowned “Pub of the Year”.

Evidence suggests these contrasts work well for the locals, at a time voted the politest bunch in the country and the happiest in the South East.

What are the secrets to Shepperton’s success?

The attraction of the stretch of the River Thames that meanders through Shepperton proved irresistible to writers and poets in the 19th century, with the likes of Thomas Love Peacock and Percy Bysshe Shelley taking up residence, later joined by novelist J. G. Ballard.

The town’s standing in the arts world took another big leap in 1931, with the opening of Shepperton Film Studios one mile to the north of the town centre. Built around an “exquisite” manor house, it boasts 14 stages, 10 acres of backlot and thousands of square feet of workshop space.

Some of the past century’s most influential films came to life there, from 1947’s The Third man, to Star Wars in 1977 and Gladiator in 2000.

Despite the global renown of its largest employer, a population of just under 6,000 and London’s Waterloo within 50 minutes reach by train, Shepperton manages to maintain a charming countryside “villagey feel”.

James Lally, 46, hasn’t moved from the town since age three, and for the past 20-odd years has been the man behind James of Shepperton butchers on the high street. He considers the place blessed with a “rural feeling without being far out in the middle of nowhere.”

The most fortunate moor their pleasure boats at the end of their manicured gardens, and good old-fashioned brick cottages line the streets – which goes some way in explaining the £557,000 average house price over the past year.

By most accounts, it’s a lovely place to live. In online real estate platform Rightmove’s 2017 Happy at Home Index, Shepperton came top of the South East and ranked 6th nationally in a survey of 24,000 people.

On this, Mr Lally said: “We serve a lot of people, and 99 percent of them are smiling and happy… although that could just be my shop.”

The same year, the National Campaign for Courtesy decreed the Spelthorne town to be the politest in the UK.

Speaking to Surrey Live at the time, local councillor Robin Sider said the award reflected “everything that is good about our shops, its residents, its history, our village fair and Big Tree Night.”

Big Tree Night is Shepperton’s famous Christmas Fair, now in its 12th year and with a reputation that regularly draws in over 5,000 attendees. A celebration of the town, few are the local businesses that don’t throw open a stall.

If that isn’t enough of a draw for a winter visit, how does a pint in the UK’s best pub sound? The prestigious accolade was given to The Red Lion by Star Pubs & Bars in its 2022 competition.

Described as a “modern, well-presented pub” that “caters for the entire community”, its covered courtyard offering punters sheepskin blanks receives an honourable mention, as do the private huts.

More than just a riverside pub, The Red Lion has branched out over the Thames to reclaim the riverbank for a beer garden and quay from which to hire out its own boats.

As with all places, however, Shepperton does have a dark side. In this case in the form of a headless monk.

According to folk law legend, an active monk of Chertsey Abbey broke his vows to marry his beloved. His devout brothers then pursued and beheaded him for his sin.

His ghost is now said to roam the streets of the old town centre where he once lived, running from the monks after his head.

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