Court Hay Farm (Rudges, Smithfield Farm, Courthay)

In 1732 the site was held by Richard Dobbins who sold it on to James Browne in 1738.  James Browne was recorded as having borrowed money on the mortgage from a William Singelton, Esq, of Norton in 1761, 1763 and 1767.  William Singleton was the resident/owner of Norton Court and the Norton Court Estate at this time.  James Browne sold to Thomas Browne on 2nd December 1768. 

On 17th November 1784 Thomas Browne sold on a part of the mortgage to William Pullin before selling the remainder to Thomas Rudge in 1789.  The Indenture that transferred the property from Thomas Browne to Thomas Rudge was dated 12th June 1789 and read as follows; “Indenture … between Thomas Brown of Norton in the County of Gloucester yeoman of the one part and Thomas Rudge of the City of Gloucester Gentleman of the other part … for and in consideration of the sum of five shillings … all that messuage tenement or dwelling house and farm situate lying and being in the parish of Norton … together with all and singular the barns stables cyder house cyder mill press and apputenants thereto belonging courtyards gardens curtillages orchards arable land meadow and pasture ground commons common of pasture and all other hereditaments and premises deemed as part of and belonging to … which are now in mortgage to William Pullin of Charfield in the County of Gloucestershire yeoman … to have and to hold … from the day next before the day of the date of these presents … unto the full end and term of one whole year yielding and paying … at the expiration of the said year one pepper corn.”

Thomas Rudge was still the owner at the time of the Inclosure Acts reaching Norton in October 1807 and the property was to remain known as ‘Rudges’ for some years afterwards. 

The following description of the property and map is based upon the inclosure awards of 1806.

No 148  -  Orchard                              1a 1r 19p

No 149  -  House, yard and garden    0a 2r 32p

No 150  -  Allotment in Smithfield     7a 1r 23p

The name Thomas Rudge is clear in Plot No 150 and Plot No 146 is named as Court Hay.

It is not known how accurate the representations of the buildings were on the Inclosure map but it was once said by William Cook, an old Norton resident, that he could remember the house running lengthways alongside the lane and this is what appears to be shown on the map.  

When Thomas Rudge snr died the property passed to his son Revd Thomas Rudge who sold it on to Edward Webb to become part of the Norton Court Estate in December 1810.  It is quite possible that none of the owners given above actually lived at the farm, letting it to tenants who would have farmed the land paying rent to the owner.  Indeed when the property became part of the Norton Court Estate it was recorded that a John Baylis was tenant.  

In 1816 it passed to Thomas Jeynes who in turn passed it on to Josiah Bartlett in 1830 - see plan below. 

In the ‘terrier and valuation of the messuages, lands, and other hereditaments liable to poor rate in the parish of Norton’ from 1838 the occupier is recorded as George Simmons who was also the publican at The Kings Head Inn where he actually lived.  George was born in Norton in approximately 1794 and as he was living at the Inn he presumably had tenants at ‘Rudges’ as it was still known at that time.  George Simmons is still the recorded occupier on 6 April 1863 when a record of the Norton Court Estate described the property as follows :-

No 129 -  Two cottages and gardens                          0a 2r 32p

No 130  -  Orchard and barn (pasture)                        0a 1r  1p

No 131  -  Part allotment in Smithfield (pasture)       1a 1r 36p

No 132  -  Part allotment in Smithfield (arable)         5a 1r 27p

It is interesting to note that it was recorded that there were two cottages on the site at this time or perhaps, as just the one building and barn is pictured, it was still just the one building but was occupied by two families. 

Although he was recorded as occupier of the farm in the Norton Court Estate records from 1863 it would appear that William had made a decision to give up the farm business the previous year as the following auction sale reported in The Citizen newspaper of 12 July 1882 reports; "Kings Head Inn, Norton, Gloucestershire,. Messrs T Rust & Co. Have been favoured with instructions from Mr William Simmons who is giving up the business.  To sell by auction on the above premises on Friday next July 14th, 1882, the whole of the household furniture, farm implements, garden tools, harness, and out-door effects, including 30 head of capital poultry".

By 1864 the property was occupied by Henry James and his family and appears to have been a single dwelling house once again.  Henry had formerly been a chair maker in his father’s business in the village but had chanced his hand at another trade and was now described as a butcher.  Henry’s father, William James, had built Dunsworth Villa opposite and was living there at this time.

Another record of the Norton Court Estate taken on 17 April 1868 depicted the property as shown below, with the buildings marked slightly differently to 1863 but more in keeping with 1806 and the ground plan that is believed to have existed.

In April 1868 the property was described as “The dwelling house with garden, yard, barn, stabling, slaughterhouse, is situate adjoining the High Road near to the village green together with 9a 0r 25p of arable and orchard land.  This portion is tithe free and subject to a land tax of eight shillings per annum”.  Henry James appears to have been using at least one of the outbuildings as a slaughterhouse, no doubt in connection with his business as butcher.  Henry and his family were still living here in 1881 but had left prior to 1891. 

It is not known when the current house was built although it features an early example of cavity wall that is believed to date from the end of the nineteenth century.  Robert James (Jim) Stubbs, born in Norton and later a builder himself, once told Bryan Welch (a later owner) he had heard that the house had been built by Freemans who were builders at Longford at that time.  To support this story, in 1891 James Freeman a 41 year old bricklayer of Norton along with his wife Ellen and eight children were resident at what was then known as Dunsworth Farm; surely the same place.  His two eldest sons were also recorded as a bricklayer and a brick labourer respectively.  This must have been the family who became builders at Longford and as they were in residence in the 1890s it seems quite reasonable to suspect that they may have had a part in altering or rebuilding the house.  The auction catalogue from 1923 describes the house as being “…of modern construction…” which would also fit with this date range. 

The Freemans were still here in 1898 but had moved on by 1901 when an Augustus Hook, a 28 year old farmer from Chalford was in residence at what had by then become known as Smithfield Farm.  He was living with his wife and young son.  A George Freeman, quite likely a son of James Freeman was also in residence as a farm worker. 

At the time of the Ladyday rentals in 1908 Courthay was held by J A & J Hook at £50pa.  In 1910 the occupier was recorded as Jasper Hook and was known as Smithfield Farm.  Jasper is remembered as being a “funny little man….”. 

The property remained in the hands of the Hook family as tenants until an auction on 28 July 1923 when Mr A J Hook (Augustus Jasper ?) bought the farm from the Norton Court Estate for £1500.  At the auction the property is named Court Hay Farm and this is the first identified reference to this name.  The following is an extract from the description of the property taken from the auction catalogue; “Bruton Knowles & Co were instructed by Capt G N Walker to sell this farm by auction at The Bell Hotel, Gloucester, on Saturday July 28th 1923 at 3 o’clock punctually”.  Lot 1 was Norton Farm.  The general remarks section of the auction leaflet stated; “The Norton and Courthay Farms form part of the Norton Court Settled Estate, situated in an excellent position on the main road from Gloucester to Tewkesbury, about 4 miles from Gloucester and about 6 from Tewkesbury.  This Estate has been maintained by the Vendor in every respect as a residential property, and with the co-operation of his tenants a very high standard of repair and agricultural condition has been reached.  The buildings, which are of a substantial character, have been well cared for, as have also the field gates which have been maintained by the Vendor.  The fences generally are in good order, and the whole of the land is in an excellent state of cultivation.  Captain Walker has for many years taken a keen interest in fruit growing, and particularly in the management of pasture orcharding, and has kept in touch with the latest scientific experiments and discoveries on this subject.  He has retained under his own control and personal supervision the planting and management of the fruit trees in the Farm orchards, and with the assistance of his tenants very excellent results have been obtained, the County first and second prizes in the orchard competition having been won in the season 1921.  The orchards on the Norton and Courthay Farms are excellent examples of the most approved methods of management.  The farms are well placed for market facilities, being about 4 miles from Gloucester Market, which is well-known as one of the most important stock and fruit markets in the West of England.  They are also within 6 miles of the market at Tewkesbury.  There is a good service of motor buses between Gloucester and Tewkesbury, passing within a few minutes’ walk of either farm.  The whole of the valuable growing timber is included in the sale.  The property is free of Tithe and Land-tax”.

The auction leaflet goes on to describe Lot 2; “Court Hay Farm, a very attractive small holding with excellent dwelling house, buildings and about 16a 3r 17p of valuable pasture and pasture orcharding, of which the following is a schedule taken from the Second Edition of the Ordnance Survey :-

Parish of Norton

No on Map      Description                                                                    Area

181                  Pasture                                                                          7–1- 5

182                  Pasture                                                                          5-2-15

183                  Pasture                                                                          1-1-29

Pt 184              Pasture orchard                                                          1-0-  2

191                  Court Hay farmhouse, buildings, yards, etc                2-  4

192                  Pasture orchard                                                           1-0-  2


The dwelling house is situated near the picturesque village of Norton, is of modern construction substantially built of brick, and contains sitting room, kitchen, back kitchen with furnace, pantry, dairy with slate shelves, wash-up shed with iron roof and concrete floor, four bedrooms and box room.  There is an excellent kitchen garden.  The water supply is from a well in the garden with a pump at the side of the house.  The buildings are mainly constructed of timber with tiled and iron roofs, and comprise loose box and trap-house, 3 pig stys, cowshed for 2, chaff-house, cart-shed, cider-house, 2-stall stable, cowshed for 3, small stable and brick built and tiled meal house with granary over.  The shed in the orchard and the fowl houses are the property of the tenant. The holding lies within a ring fence and has long frontages to good roads.  It is wholly pasture and pasture orcharding of excellent quality.  The orchards have been well maintained and a number of young trees have been planted: orchard No 192 contains 34 fruit trees, including 17 perry pears, 4 Bramley’s Seedling and 4 Warner King; and orchard No 184 contains 46 fruit trees, including 5 dessert pears, 5 Warner’s King, 4 Newton Wonder, 3 Blenheim Orange and 3 perry pears.  The buildings, fences and gates are in good order.  The valuable growing timber is included in the sale.  The holding is let to Mr A J Hook on an annual Michaelmas tenancy at a rent of £65 per year, which includes an orchard and small arable field containing an area of 1a 1r 19p not included in the sale.  The rent apportioned to Lot 2 for the purpose of the sale is £58. The orchard and arable field referred to are shown edged pink on the plan and are numbered 85 and part 93.  The purchaser of Court Hay Farm will be offered the opportunity to lease this land for a term of seven years as from the 29th September, 1924, or such later date as the existing tenancy shall be terminated, at a rent of £7 a year.

This lot is sold subject to the right of the Vendor to continue the use of the sewage ditches to the south of Nos 181 and 182 and to the east of Nos 182 and 192, and the purchaser shall raise no objection to such user.  The Vendor will covenant to maintain and keep clear and in good condition the ditch to the south of Nos 181 and 182.  This lot is sold subject to a way leave for the continuance of the user of the drain between the points C, D and E on plan, with the right to maintain and renew the same when necessary.  The boundary to the west of No 184 is shown by boundary pegs, and a fence will be erected on this boundary by the Vendor if and when required by the Purchaser.  Pending the erection of the fence and after the termination of the existing tenancy the Vendor will be prepared to let at a nominal rent the portion of No 184 not included in the sale.  This lot is free of Tithe and Land Tax.  Conditions of sale -  No auction fees

Particulars – Shelves above dresser in kitchen are tenants and also force pump and piping in wash-house for milk cooling plant and cistern in connection therewith in dairy.  Fruit trees.  Lot 2, correct tenants name is, J R Hook.

Position – Easy distance from Gloucester market and only six miles from Tewkesbury.  Pleasant position on a side road away from dust and traffic of main road, yet close to bus service.

Character of the house – Facing south and buildings (new range in kitchen) all conveniently arranged and forming a model farm homestead.  Good yards.

State of repair – Buildings and fences.  Cottages – Cottage garden.  Good land throughout – Arable land in good condition  (credit to tenant) crop of seeds, wheat, roots.  Pasture well slagged by tenant.  Orcharding – Full benefit has yet to come.  Orchard will undoubtedly bring in a good income.  Good sorts as mentioned.  Very compact.  Good frontage.  No tithe or land tax – Timber included.  Tenant – State of farm a credit to his enterprise and good farming.  Hope he will purchase.  Advantage to tenant of buying; value of agricultural land as investment.  Frontages.  Opportunity of renting meadows”.

Whilst Jasper Hook was in residence the farm also provided the land for the school garden and this remained here until it was moved to the Vicarage with the arrival of Rev Evans Prosser in 1934.

Court Hay Farm next changed hands on 24 March 1936 when Jasper Richard Hook sold it to Mary Elvira Theyer Bridge and her husband Frank for £1400.  It is thought that Frank and Molly, as she was known, never lived at the farm, living opposite at Dunsworth Villa.  In 1936 George and Lucy Bridge are recorded at Court Hay.  At the time they bought it Frank’s father lived there along with a Mr Osmond James Loveridge and Mrs Ethel May Loveridge; Frank Bridge’s brother in law and sister.  Mr Bridge senior is remembered as being a tall man who originated from the Forest Of Dean.  Mrs Loveridge who is remembered as having “…curly white hair…” died in 1948 and Mr Loveridge who it is remembered “…always had a pipe in his mouth…” died in 1963.  Frank and Molly Bridge used to supply milk to the village from a small dairy at the front of the farm.  This could never have been a very profitable concern with a just a small number of hand milked cattle being kept at any one time.  Frank would walk around the village with a wooden yolk over his shoulders holding a milk churn at each end.  He would ladle the milk from the churns into everyone’s jugs.

Later the farm was occupied by a nephew; Norman William Bridge.  It is believed that he used Court Hay Farm as accommodation land, buying cattle at the local markets and slaughtering them on the premises as and when required although this was again very small scale.  Jeremy Phelps of Yew Tree Farm remembered when, as about a 7 year old, he was wandering past the farm and witnessed his first pig being slaughtered in the yard.  Peter Hiller remembers delivering The Citizen newspaper here and seeing blood pouring out from under the door of the farm building adjacent to the gate so we know which of the outbuildings was being used as the slaughterhouse.  Norman Bridge was also a butcher by trade having a shop in Tewkesbury and died in 1973.

In 1978 Bryan and Betty Welch were living in Broadclose Road but needed to move to somewhere where there was plenty of shed room to house Bryan’s beekeeping equipment and where there was a bigger garden for Betty to work with.  Bryan’s sister, Margaret Stubbs, lived just along Wainlode Lane and was quite friendly with Norman Bridge’s widow and heard that the property was to be sold.  Knowing of Bryan and Betty’s desire to move she arranged for them to view the farm.  Consequently they were lucky enough to be able to purchase the property in a private arrangement for £41000.  They immediately sold off 13 acres of the land to Michael Phelps of Yew Tree Farm.  They thought about removing the ‘Farm’ from the name of the property but in the end decided to keep it as it was and they remained in residence until a few years ago.