Norton Walk

Report by Editor (David Chastney-Parr)
Originally printed issue 62  September 1995

On Saturday 8th July, Deborah Giles led a small band of Society members, not only through the village of Norton, but also on a journey though time. 

Starting from Dianne Ketcher's house in Croft Lane, she advised us that this was once Norton village's main street. Where Paynes Close is now, once stood a building called Harvest House, which was probably the Grange from which the Grange Estate obtained its name. Cashio Lane was once called Butts Lane, but whether it obtained that name because the field came up to it, or whether it was once the place where archers practised every Sunday is not known.

We then walked along Croft Lane towards Norton Road, and stopped opposite Payne's Farm, where Deborah told us the history of the land, if not necessarily the buildings, which was owned by Daniel Parnell, one of three major land owners in Norton, then by Edward Payne, who owned it for 30 years, and finally by John Pryor, whose family came to own most of the land before the First Garden City Company bought the estate.

Across the road from the farm was land which belonged to Richard Reynolds (or Reinolds, as part of Norton's boundary with Stotfold was called Reinold's Hedge in the 1637 Norton Church Terriers). Once again, Deborah brought us up to date, with a list of the owners, including Robert Edwards, a man who was so intimidated by his neighbour, Daniel Parnell, that he stopped folding his sheep in a communal flock.

In Kenneth Johnson's book, "The Book Of Letchworth", there is a small photograph, on page 31, of Rose Cottage, Croft Lane, with William Hills leaning over the gate, but we were unable to identify the cottage as the hedge has grown so tall. 

Reaching the pond, at the junction of Croft Lane and Norton Road, Deborah advised us that Norton had been habitated since 3OOOBC because of the springs. 

The pond, now managed by the Letchworth Garden City Corporation, was surrounded by yellow irises. David Marsh, Standalone Farm Manager is on the committee which looks after the ponds.

We crossed the road to look at the so called' Manor House, which had a square dovecot to provide fresh meat during the winter before the invention of electricity and freezers. 

Once again, we were given the history of the site, which has been known as Lawman's, Cooper's Farm, and then Manor Farm when the building was occupied by Roger Parker, whose brother Barry designed the wooden balcony round the back. 

Further down the road is Norton Hall Farm, which was once the homestead of Robert Cleere Haselfoote, the impropriator (a layman in possession of revenues) of Norton rectory, who received parcels of land in Baldock Field, Middle Field in the 1796 enclosure awards, and by Shefford Lane and Norton Road (Award 1798). 

Although Deborah wanted to wait until we reached the church before discussing the difference between a rectory and a vicarage. General interest in the subject forced her to explain, that although originally the rector was a cleric, who was supported by the village through the payment of a tenth of their produce, the rector could sell that right to a non-cleric, who then had to appoint a vicar, which comes from the Latin word 'vicario' that means 'in the place of'

We then passed the Norton Hall Farm, warden controlled housing site, which is opposite the Three Horse Shoes. This time Deborah managed to delay her story until we reached the school. She then told us about the National School, which was built here in 1872/3 due to the energies and enthusiasm of George James Pierson the vicar at that time. 

The school, built on the village green, replaced the one, which had been held in the Three Horse Shoes since 1833.

We then walked to the end of Church Lane, where once stood a cottage of Edward Lawman, who on 4th October 1749 surrendered cottage and 6 acres "to the use of himself for life and after his decease to the use of the young woman then living in the said cottage or tenement with the said Edward Lawman for the term of her natural life and after her decease to the use of William Wright of Baldock...upon condition...that the said William Wright should within the space of one year...marry...the said Rose Lawman" (Norton Manor Court book 1 page 21). 

William Wright was a butcher in Baldock. Rose and William Wright's eldest son Edward moved away to Henley in Arden, but in his Will dated 16th November 1803, he left £16.10s. annually to the parish of Norton to teach six poor boys and six poor girls the elements of reading, writing and arithmetic and the Church catechism. 

He also stated explicitly that it should be understood that when the teacher who should be appointed, was considered to be past her work, owing to age, or infirmity, another was to be appointed, as the money was left for the education of the children, whose interest should be first considered. 

In the 1851 Census, Harriet Chamberlain aged 47, sister-in-law of Thomas Chamberlain, Publican of the Three Horse Shoes, is School Mistress. 

In the 1861 Census, the publican's daughter Esther, aged 32, is the mistress, and remained so until the opening of the National School.

We then walked behind the present cottages, to the fields where we had a panoramic view of Baldock, and the Al M an area, which the Corporation were planning to turn into a wooded area with a golfcourse. 

Deborah remarked that it was interesting to see that they were growing barley in the field, as barley was grown in medieval times to produce malt for the Abbey of St Albans, of which she promised to speak more about when we reached the church. But before that we were shown where a Methodist Chapel had once stood, the last property to be enfranchised, and the vicarage which was built in 1832, by James Watson, who had bought the rectory and appointed his son Joseph Burges as vicar.

After further explanation about the previous vicarage and its poor condition, and the present vicarage in Norton Way North, we reached the gate to St Nicholas. Even this had a story to tell, but we eventually went inside the church via the west door. Inside Deborah treated us to detailed description of the church from Offa, King of Mercia to the present time. 

I won't go into detail on this, as Deborah has written a brief history and description of the Church, which is on sale. it is well recommended reading. Outside we looked at the memorials, including that to the parents of Gypsy Smith the evangelist, and were told their story.

Then we went through a kissing gate, into Churchwick Field, that once was a road leading to Norton Bury, with cottages, and elm trees, on each side. Our walk took in Norton Bury, now a Scout centre, together with descriptions of the medieval fields of Norton, but I will end my report here, and let Kenneth Johnson take up the story, which he prepared in 1978. Deborah Giles who gave a talk to our Society in 1991, has written a book on the history of Norton and hopes to have it published soon.