The name originates from the Anglo-Saxon Chenefield, meaning 'good lands'.
The village, by the church and Green Dragon pub, lies along the original Roman road (now the A1023) which linked London and Colchester.
Nathaniel Ward, a Puritan clergyman and author, was made minister of the Shenfield church in 1648 and held that office until his death in 1652.
Shenfield, with Hutton, is part of the conurbation of Brentwood. The original village centre is located one mile (1.6 km) north-east of the centre of Brentwood. Apart from some small industrial areas and a modest but busy shopping area, Shenfield serves predominantly as a dormitory town for commuters to London and surrounding towns such as Chelmsford and Basildon. This is facilitated by easy access to the A12 and the M25 and rail services.
The parish church is dedicated to St Mary the Virgin and St Mary's primary school is located nearby.
Shenfield's recreational areas include the Courage playing fields on the Chelmsford Road and playing fields on Alexander Lane, next to Shenfield High School. The Courage playing fields contain a play area and a cricket pitch used by the third team of Shenfield Cricket Club. Next door to the Courage playing fields is the cricket club itself. The land was granted by the Courage brewing family for use by the cricket club. The club's badge is a cockerel, which echoes both the trade mark of the Courage brand and the weathervane on St Mary's church.
The village of Hutton, to the east of Shenfield, is now largely part of built up area.
Shenfield railway station, located on the Great Eastern Main Line and a junction for services for the Southend and Southminster services, is situated at the eastern end of the high street.
Shenfield's significance in the London Commuter Belt will increase as the CrossRail project proceeds since it is intended to be the eastern terminus.