The reason I was hoping to use something other than ArcMap, is because I have a lot of very complex editing of structures etc that is reuired. ArcMap, will be very slow for this.
You can perform a limited amount of editing outside of Arc, and in fact I have just been trialling things and we've discovered that you can add fields within design view of MS Access and can even perform a query, as long as it's an update query and not a query that produces a new table.
It looks like the requirement is that the original DBF is used and not a new one generated through a query. My guess is that the .shx has links to a specific dbf.