We begin this article with a short piece on the early history of the village and of how the Manor of Norton was originally formed.
In the beginning there was only one Manor of Norton and this appears to have belonged to Stigand, Archbishop of Canterbury in the reign of Edward the Confessor. Stigand held the Manor at Norton until Easter 1072 when William the Conqueror granted it to the Archbishop of York and in 1086 Archbishop Thomas held the Manor at Norton. The following is an extract from a translation of the entry that appears in the Domesday Book for Norton, or Nortune (North Town), as it was then known due to its location to the north of Gloucester :-
‘Stigand held Nortune. There were five hides and a half. In demean were two plow tillage’s and fifteen villeins with fifteen plow-tillages and four servi and a mill of 22nd. It was then and is now worth £4. Thomas, Archbishop (of York), now holds these manors. Walchelin, the nephew of the Bishop of Winton holds Nortune of him’.
A hide at that time is thought to have been 200 acres or so, therefore the area of Norton was about 1100 acres. The Manors referred to were those of Churchdown, Hucclecote and Norton. Although the date has not been identified, by 1272 Norton had been divided into two Manors held under the Barony of Churchdown. Bishops Norton got its name through being held by the Archbishop of York and Priors Norton through its attachment to St Oswalds Priory in Gloucester. The Manor of Norton appears to have remained with the Archbishops of York for 200+ years.
It is possible that the site of the first, perhaps Saxon, manor house in Bishops Norton was near Court Farm where there can still be found the remains of a moat. Later a new house was built to replace the original manor house and it is believed that this was the building that is now known as Court Farm.
Along with King Henry VIII came the dissolution of the Monasteries and the Priory at St Oswalds went the way of most and was forced to sell off its possessions. Its possessions at Norton went to several purchasers but the following reference records the sale of the Manor house and all that went with it :-
“1544 - 25 March 35 Henry VIII. Request by John Broxholme to purchase (inter alia) the Manor of Norton late parcel of the possessions of St Oswalds Monastry viz Rents of customary tenants there; £4 6s 8d New rent or farm of a chapel called St Johns Chapel demised to Richard Smythe, Edmund his son, John Butt, Edmund his son, and Edmund Robyns, by copy of Court Roll 14 Sept 34 Henry VIII for term of their lives; 2s Farm of the Manor there with all houses now built and hereafter to be built with multure and toll and a meadow called Milhay and two parcels or closes in the meadow called Welsege with all arable land to the said Mill belonging with all the tythes and altarages thereto from old time belonging or demised to Robert Morton and Joan his wife by indenture (23 Apr 19 Henry VIII) for 70 years; 36s 3d Takings of pigs in common years; 12d Fines, herriots etc in common years; 2s 4d Total; £11 14s 10d”
Along with Richard Pate, Thomas Chamberlayne was a commissioner to King Henry VIII and King Edward VI for taking a survey of all religious foundations in Gloucester, Bristol etc then being suppressed and between them they acquired many of these lands from Edward VI and this is what happened at Norton. The Barony of Churchdown, which included the Manor of Norton, was held by the Archbishop of York from approximately 1070 till 1545 when Archbishop Holgate made a general exchange of the temporalities of the See of York with the Crown for other properties. The Manors comprising the Barony were granted to Sir Thomas Chamberlayne in 1552.
The Lane family were prominent in this area at this time and it is known that they held a seat and estate in Norton until their lands were seized in 1589. Could this have been Norton Court ?
In 1608 a Richard Anderson was recorded as Lord of the Manor of Norton. As I have not discovered any other mention of him it is likely that he was Lord and landlord in absentia. It is recorded that Sir Richard Anderson, who was living at Pendley, Hertfordshire, was Lord of The Manor in 1680. It is known that Thomas Chamberlayne’s heirs alienated the Manor of Norton to the Whitmore family who appear to have held the title from approximately 1700. Perhaps Richard Anderson was one of these heirs.
In the 1600s the Brownes were the most prominent family in Norton and as such would probably have been in residence at Norton Court. The Browne family also held a Manor at The Leigh at one time. The Browne and Lane families came together in the mid-1600s with the marriage of William Lane of Apperley to Anne Browne, daughter of Richard Browne of Bishops Norton. It is believed that it is their memorial that can be found just inside the tower at St Mary’s, Norton, displaying the coat of arms of each family along with their initials. We are fortunate to have a portrait of John Browne of Norton Court, the brother of Anne Browne referred to above, from 1682. [See the Browne & Lane families article for further details].
It was in approximately 1713 that the Browne’s left and the Norton Estate took on a new tenant, Daniel Lysons of Hempsted. William Whitmore Esq was still ‘Lord of the Manor of Bishops Norton in Norton and Kings Barton’ in 1746 and still in 1761.
In his “The History of Gloucestershire”, published in 1803 by Rev Thomas Rudge BD rector of St Michael’s, Gloucester, he wrote; “… Norton House belongs to Mrs Arabella Webb. … It passed from John le Brun, 1301, and continued in the same family (afterwards called Brown) to the beginning of the last century when it was purchased by Daniel Lysons Esq of Hempstead and sold again some years after to William Singleton Esq from whom it passed to John Webb Esq”. This extract confirms much of what is recorded here although the reference to John le Brun in 1301 takes things back a few hundred years earlier.
As stated by Rev Rudge, above, a gentleman by the name of William Singleton became the next owner. In a Chancery case of Singleton against Mitchell and others from 27th June 1786 we find a particular of the estate late of William Singleton, deceased. The estate was to be sold in three lots with Lot 1 being the mansion house of Norton Court. The property was described as follows;
“The capital Mansion House, Offices, Gardens and Orchards belonging thereto, called Norton Court, situate at Norton in the County of Gloucester, within about 4 miles of the City of Gloucester, and 6 of Tewkesbury and Cheltenham, and near the Turnpike road between those places. The whole containing about 5 acres, having 2 fish ponds, one of which is in the Court near the House, and the other reserved in a Ground let to the Tenant as some little distance from the House. There are in the gardens and Courts adjoining to the House, Nurseries of about 1000 Ashes, about 8 years growth; about 860 fine Fir trees, about 10 years growth; and about 1000 Crab and Pear stocks, some of them grafted with good fruit, and all of them now fit for replanting. The House, which has a regular front was enlarged, most of the Offices new built, and the Gardens laid out at a considerable Expense (at least 4000l) by Mr Singleton, a few years before he died, who occupied the same till his death; but the House, Gardens and Offices have for some time been, and now are unoccupied. There is a chief rent of £3.3s.6d. payable out of this Estate, out of which 4s. is allowed for Land Tax”.
On 26th October 1787, John Webb bought Norton Court from the estate of the deceased William Singleton for £5250. [See The Webb family of Norton Court referenced article for further details]. John was Lord of the Manor by 1788 and probably some years earlier.
It has been suggested that it was John Webb who had the property redesigned but the auction notice recorded above suggests that it was William Singleton that was responsible. It appears that the work took place in 1762 at which time John Webb was living at Cote House near Bristol. The new generation of the Manor House was built on land adjacent to the old court and named Norton House. The house was described as being of two storeys and five bays and was almost certainly designed by a Bristol mason-architect, since it had the typical Baroque survivals of Bristol mason-craft; windows with eared architraves and stepped keystones, and a Gibbs surround to the front door. The most striking feature of the house, however, was the half octagonal two-storey entrance porch. This gave access to a corridor leading to a staircase hall at the back of the house which had a library to one side. At the front of the house there were originally just dining and drawing rooms.
The auction notice tells that the gardens had just been laid out and the map produced at the time of the Inclosure act of 1806, reproduced below, appears to show a garden design to the front of the Court. There was no sweeping drive passing Green Farm at this time either but a straight driveway leading off Wainlode Lane, that can also be seen on the map, and that is still in use today.
John Webb died in London in February 1795 and the ownership passed to his widow, Arabella, as stated by Rev Rudge in 1803, although he must not have been aware that Arabella had died in 1801. Upon the death of Arabella it is then likely that the ownership of Norton House passed to her son Edward. Edward Webb is the recorded owner at the time of the Inclosure Awards at Norton in 1807 when the property was described as ‘a mansion house’. He is also recorded as the owner of what is now Court Farm, that being described as a homestead. In 1807 the tenant of Norton Court was William Read King who held a 1 year lease. William King also lived at Winchcomb for a time and by 1843 was recorded as a gentleman of Serjeants Inn, Fleet Street, London.
Administration of Col Edward Webb’s Will dated 1811 was granted to his daughter in December 1839 and stated “…I give and bequeath to my daughter Elizabeth Frances Webb my estate known by the name of Norton situated and being in the Parish of Norton … with all the farms, lands and hereditaments belonging thereto…”.
The tenant in 1838 was a Daniel Jennings. When the Chapel was built at Norton Green in 1841 a ‘Miss Webb’, presumably Elizabeth Frances, was not willing to pass it on her way to church at St Mary’s so insisted that another track was constructed across the fields in order that she could proceed directly to the church from Norton Court. This would imply that she was resident at the Court, however, at the time of the Census in 1841, there were no Webbs in residence at Norton at all. Norton Court was occupied, most likely as a tenant, by William Merryweather, his wife Mary and two daughters. They were living off ‘independent means’ and employed five household servants. The mid-1800s are a difficult period to identify exactly who was living at the Manor House. The parish was still divided into two parts with a Lord of the Manor of the Eastern Part (Priors Norton) and the Lord of the Manor of the Western Part (Bishops Norton). This meant that there were two Norton Courts, Norton Court Farm, Norton House, Norton Farm, Court Farm, Norton House Farm etc. Not only this but some of the properties seemed to be identified differently in different documents from the same period and it was not always the owner who was the resident all adding to the confusion.
It appears, however, that in spite of the property being left to Elizabeth Frances Webb, ownership of the property passed to another Edward Webb, a cousin of the late Colonel Webb and second cousin to Elizabeth Frances. At the time Edward was a partner in Dent & Co and he lived in China overseeing the business. Norton Court and the Opium Trade
In 1847 it was decided that a new carriage road was required to link Norton Court with the main Gloucester to Tewkesbury Road. One William Rees, a surveyor, made his assessment of this road on 5 June 1847; “The cost of the new carriage road leading to Norton House from the entrance at the Tewkesbury Road to the drive in front of the house being in length 1376 yards, in width 13 feet, in thickness at the centre 9ins, and at the sides 7ins. The drains to be made with broken stones and draining pipes. Culverts to be made at the several ditches being 11 in number where the road crosses (the Contractor to have the privilege of raising the stones from the quarries on the Estate) will cost the sum of £384.2. This sum does not include the gravel on the surface of the road”.
Further development of Norton House also occurred in 1847 when the house was extended asymmetrically to provide a morning room and extra service accommodation. It was also probably at this time that the low tower, that can still be seen at the rear of the property, was first added.
In 1971, Canon Evans Prosser, long time vicar of both Norton and The Leigh was persuaded to write a booklet recording his memories of his time in our villages which was sold in aid of funds for building the ‘new’ village hall at Norton. Entitled ‘How It All Happened’, the booklet includes the note that he would finish writing about the Wesleyan Chapel by “… mentioning the tradition current in the village that when the chapel was first built, Miss Webb who had succeeded her father Colonel Edward Webb MP at Norton Court, was unwilling ever to pass the chapel on her way to church. To avoid having to do this she had a new drive made across the meadows so that she could go direct from court to church”. This may or may not have been a fact but it does seem a little strange seeing as it was her who gave the land for the construction of the chapel in the first place. To further support this possibility, however, there does seem to have been discussion about a new carriage road to link Norton Court with the main Gloucester to Tewkesbury Road. One William Rees, a surveyor, made his assessment of this road on 5 June 1847; “The cost of the new carriage road leading to Norton House from the entrance at the Tewkesbury Road to the drive in front of the house being in length 1376 yards, in width 13 feet, in thickness at the centre 9ins, and at the sides 7ins. The drains to be made with broken stones and draining pipes. Culverts to be made at the several ditches being 11 in number where the road crosses (the Contractor to have the privilege of raising the stones from the quarries on the Estate) will cost the sum of £384.2. This sum does not include the gravel on the surface of the road”. Perhaps it was never constructed as it doesnt seem to appear on any Ordnance Survey maps ?
At the Census of 1851 there were again no Webbs in the village and Norton Court was occupied by William Butt, a single man from Standish, who was farming 339 acres, employing 10 labourers, two farm servants, a butler, a parlourmaid, a housemaid and two gardeners.
The Manor of Bishops Norton remained the property of Edward Webb until approximately 1860. A Miss Webb, probably Elizabeth Frances again, was recorded as Lady of the Manor in 1856 and 1859. It would appear that she was living at the new house with William Butt farming the Norton House Farm; or Court Farm as it became. It is also possible that Miss Webb was absent from the property altogether and a tenant was in residence. Indeed another schedule of the Norton Court Estate, undated but appearing to be from this time, gives us the name of another tenant; J P Goodrich Esq.
J P Goodrich's name crops up again in 1862 when William Butt was planning on leaving Norton House Farm and as reported in the Gloucester Journal newspaper of 18 October 1862; "Norton House Farm, Four miles from Gloucester and eight from Cheltenham and Tewkesbury, Bruton and Knowles have received instructions from Mr Wm Butt who is about leaving the farm, To sell by auction on Thursday, the 30th October, 1862 ... also, the property of J P Goodrich, Esq, a very valuable and well-bred bay gelding, seven years old and up to great weight".
On the night of the Census in 1861 the property was standing empty with the exception of a resident housekeeper/caretaker. An Indenture or Deed of Disposition dated 1 November 1862 between “…Elizabeth Fances Webb of Chesham Place in the County of Middlesex spinster of the one part and Henry Evans of Frampton in the County of Gloucester Esq and Francis Edward Guise of Westcomb Park in the County of Kent Esq of the other part…”. The Deed constitutes the “barring of the entail” or stopping the hereditary succession right to the property referring back to a marriage settlement drawn up when Edward Webb was ‘contemplating’ marriage to Jane Mary Catherine Guise in July 1807; “…the said Edward Webb released and assured to the said Sir Berkeley William Guise and William Fendall and John Webb … all that Manor or Lordship or disputed Manor or Lordship otherwise … all that capital messuage or mansion house … late in the occupation of James Andrews as tenant thereof…”.
A Thomas Marling Norton Court and Marling School, Stroud bought the property at about this time and was in residence in 1863. Perhaps the sale had been brought on by the death of Miss Webb which is suggested by an Indenture bearing the date 6 April 1863 between Henry Evans, Francis Edward Guise and Thomas Marling of No 10 Pittville Parade, Cheltenham “…to purchase the fixtures of the said Manor and premises and everything then belonging to the said Elizabeth Frances Webb in and about the said Estate for the price of thirty nine thousand five hundred pounds … on the twenty fifth day of March one thousand eight hundred and sixty three at which time the said purchase was to be completed”. The property next changed hands in mid-1864 with Thomas Marling selling back to Edward Webb. Dent & Co were to go bankrupt in 1865 and perhaps advance notification of this prompted his move but Edward had returned to this country from China and had been living for a short time at 40 Sackville Street, Piccadilly, London. The following entry appeared in the Gloucester Citizen of 2 July 1864 :-
“We understand that this valuable estate has just changed ownership. The severe domestic bereavement recently sustained by Thomas Marling Esq supplied a motive for parting with the property and a most eligible purchaser has been found in the person of Edward Webb Esq, who was a partner in the eminent firm of Dent & Co, well known in the China trade. Mr Webb (cousin of the late Col Webb, many years representing this City in Parliament) returned to this country in June last from China, where he had been remarkably successful in his mercantile operations and was no doubt well pleased of the opportunity of becoming possessor of the old family property”.
An Indenture dated 21 December 1864 records that Edward Webb, who at this time was living at Greys Court near Henley on Thames, paid £49150 for the property and may well have been pleased with the opportunity to be able to purchase his old family seat again but his stay was only to be short lived and was to mark the end of the Webb family’s long connection with Norton. The following entry appeared in the Gloucester Citizen of 4 May 1867 :-
“Gloucestershire - A Choice Residential Freehold Property Known as the Norton Court Estate Situate in the parishes of Norton and Sandhurst, adjoining the turnpike road from Tewkesbury about 2 miles from that town and Cheltenham and four from the City of Gloucester, embracing an area of about 970 acres.
Messrs Beadel are instructed to sell by auction at the Mart, London, on Thursday May 16 at twelve for one o’clock the very desirable freehold residential property known as Norton Court Estate embracing an area of about 970 acres. Divided into five moderate sized and productive farms with capital farmhouses and homesteads attached, an excellent family residence with pleasure grounds, gardens, hothouse and forcing pits, coach houses and stabling, gardeners and coachmans cottages, a parklike paddock of about 27 acres and 30 acres of ornamental woodland and plantations forming excellent coverts for the preservation of game. Two commodious public houses known as the Red Lion and Kings Head Inns with land attached, a commodious dwelling house with about 9 acres of land and twenty six cottages many of them recently built and together forming the greater portion of the village of Norton.
The whole producing, independent of the family residence and grounds, the woodland and property in hand, an annual rental of about £2270.
Included in the sale is the Manor or reputed Manor of Norton with the royalties, rights, and privileges thereto belonging.
Particulars with plan and conditions of sale may be had of Messrs Symes, Sandilands and Humphrey, 33 Fenchurch Street; at the Mart; and of Messrs Beadel, 25 Gresham Street, EC”.
It is not known what happened at this sale. There is a reference that “biddings reached £61000 but the property was withdrawn from competition and bought in” but it is not clear if this referred to Norton or not. In a declaration concerning land tax due from the Norton Court Estate I April 1868 a John Watts was listed as paying £170, holding a two year lease for Norton Court and the shooting rights. John Watts of Norton Court [Link to Watts] The lease would have taken John Watts through to 1870 when the property finally changed ownership again and came into the hands of the Walker family. The following entry appeared in the Gloucester Citizen in April 1870 :-
“We understand that the Norton Court Estate, near the City, consisting of a mansion and about a thousand acres of land, has been sold to Charles Walker Esq, by Messrs Bruton and Knowles”.
Another reference from time records a sale dated 17 May 1871 from “…Edward Webb of Roundwood near Bagshott in the County of Surrey to Charles Walker of Hillfield House in the County of Gloucester for forty thousand pounds…”. [See Walker family for further details]
Charles Betteridge Walker did not immediately take up residence at Norton but appears to have continued to let the house to John Watts, however, there is no record of anyone being in residence on the night of the 1871 Census. By 1876 a William Pegler [See Pegler family for further details] had moved in but on 17 September 1878 it is recorded that John Watts was holding a four year lease on Norton Court and land that was due to expire at Michaelmas 1879. On the night of the 1881 Census the house is again empty ‘whilst undergoing repairs’. Alterations were carried out on the property by F S Waller & Son including a change to the short tower that had been erected in 1847. It was also F S Waller & Son who worked on the church, the vicarage and built the school at Norton in 1876. In 1885 Norton Court, still owned by Charles Walker, was the residence of William George Prichard. In 1889 the house was described as the residence of Mrs E D Prichard and it is assumed that her husband had died at around this time. It was perhaps this death that caused the house to be put back on the market again and in 1889 the following advertisement was released :-
“18 Bed and Dressing, Bath Room, 4 Reception, Stabling. 38 acres. To be let, unfurnished, with early possession, a well-known country mansion, in a good hunting and social centre, 4 ½ miles from Gloucester, 7 miles from Tewkesbury, and 8 miles from Cheltenham, picturesquely situated in the midst of charming pleasure grounds, with park-like surroundings, at the foot of Wainloads Hill.
The mansion faces south and west, is approached by a long carriage drive, and contains porch, vestibule, hall, 21ft 9in x 16ft, with fireplace, dining room, 26ft x 18ft 6in, drawing room, 30ft 6in x 22ft, exclusive of large bay, billiard or smoke room, 24ft 6in x 21ft 6in, morning room 17ft 6in x 16ft 6in, study, housekeeper’s room, servants hall, and ample offices; on the first floor are 7 bed rooms, bath room (h and c), housmaid’s closet, heated linen cupboard, 3 dressing rooms, and nursery; and above are 6 bed rooms, work room, and box room.
The house is lighted by gasoline. Water by gravitation. The owner would consider putting in petrol gas, and a second bathroom.
The pleasure grounds are most attractive (4 men are employed at present), and include spacious lawns, a fine avenue of old Scotch firs, two large walled gardens, with range of glass-houses, orchard and park, 38 acres in all.
Stabling for 7, double coach-house, double garage with pit, 2 cottages, small farmery, and several outbuildings.
1000 acres of shooting (90 acres woodland), with keeper’s cottage, garden, kennels, hatching shed, &c, large fowls-house, and open air aviary, could be rented at £75 a year.
Bruton, Knowles & Co
Estate and House Agents, Albion Chambers, Gloucester”.
The house was then taken on by a George Arbuthnot [See arbuthnot family for further details] as tenant when he reached the following agreement with Charles Walker :-
“Agreement made the thirty first day of December one thousand eight hundred and eighty nine between Charles Betteridge Walker of the City of Gloucester Esq of the one part and George Arbuthnot of No 5 Belgrave Place, London, a retired colonel in Her Majesty’s Army, on the other part….. All that capital messuage or Mansion House and tenement situate in the parish of Norton in the County of Gloucester called Norton Court…from the 29th day of September one thousand eight hundred and eighty nine for the term of fourteen years…yielding and paying in respect of the premises firstly hereinbefore described unto the said Charles Betteridge Walker the yearly rent of two hundred pounds. And also yielding and paying in respect of the rights and privileges secondly hereinbefore mentioned the yearly rent of fifty pounds…”
Charles Walker died in 1893 and the ownership of the property had transferred to his son, George Norton Walker of Wotton House, Gloucester. Norton Court was still the residence of Col Arbuthnot. The first edition of the Ordnance Survey may for Norton dated 1885 did not show the entrance drive to the Court that still passes besides Green Farm but this had been added before the time of the second edition in 1903. Col Arbuthnot’s period of tenancy was due to expire in 1903 but must have been extended as Col Arbuthnot was still in residence in 1910 and finally left due to illness in 1912 dying in December of that year.
The Norton Court Estate was a major employer of the villagers in Norton for many years and a great many of the village families also lived in houses tied to their jobs and the Estate.
The 1901 Census gives us an idea of how many people were employed directly by the Court at that time. Col George Arbuthnot RA Ret’d was tenant, renting from Charles Betteridge Walker. He was living at Norton Court along with his wife, Caroline, and daughters Maud and Dorothy. There were also six servants in residence; a lady’s maid, a footman, a cook and three housemaids. In the nearby houses we find John Leat head gardener, William Stephens gamekeeper, William King coachman and Albert Stephens groom. This is before we take into account the tied cottages around the village.
The Estate staff in approximately 1910
The next identified reference to the house is in 1914 by which time the property was again unoccupied. The next tenant appears to have been Walter Leopold Buller. He is still recorded as tenant in 1919, however, this entry must have been noted in advance as he died in 1918. [See Buller family for further details]
Throughout this time George Walker remained the owner of the property and by 1923 the house is recorded as the property ‘and residence’ of Captain George Norton Walker Esq and he remained at the house until the early 1950s.
I include the memories of Mrs Jean Gray (nee Sparrow) whose father was employed as the chauffeur to Captain Walker of Norton Court and she grew up in the village in the 1920/30s along with her younger brother Roy. She begins be reminding readers that “this is as accurate as I remember but it is, after all, over seventy years ago !!”. Firstly her memories of the Court itself;
"One of the great pleasures was, when ambling home down Norton Lane after school, to reach Green Corners, the home of Mrs Fanny Mullens, where we had the treat of lemonade and a biscuit. But, topping that, was when there was a note from mum who occasionally had a lift to Cheltenham when dad took Mrs Walker there, so mum could visit my grandma’s. This note told me to go home and change my school clothes and go to the kitchen at the Court. So I rushed home, past the front drive to the Court, round Bradley Corner, up the back drive to our house (did we ever lock doors in those days ?) and then down to the back door of the Court.
The layout of the servants quarters were thus :- a short passage on the right leading to a cloakroom and a bench or table where the houseboy cleaned shoes, boots and also knives. The servants hall was next on the right, and after, a room full of shelves holding jars of preserves, jam, etc and big stone jars. Next came the butler’s pantry with sink, bowls and snowy white cloths. Then came the door to the front of the house. On the other side of the passage was a narrow room with glass covered shelves containing many glasses and silver entre dishes. At the end of the room was what was called the ‘pophole’ where food was passed through from the kitchen. The chinaware containing the food was placed into the silver serving dishes, then brought the door opposite the dining room. The sound of the gong reverberating brought the diners to the table.
After that came the kitchen and I was always greeted by lovely cooking smells. The kitchen was a big room with a huge white wooden table, scrubbed every day. There was a huge solid fuel aga from where the enticing smells came. The ‘pophole’ was next and the door to the scullery where the vegetables were prepared by the kitchen maid, washing-up was done and a large boiler which the houseboy kept stoked up and which supplied hot water to all taps and radiators in the house. Next was a smaller white table where Mrs Gibbons, a dear soul to me, sat in her large white apron and wrote her menus and orders. Two windows, then a dresser on the corner of which sat the coffee grinder, which was my job. I remember so well the coffee beans bobbing about as I turned the handle, and the little drawer gradually filling up with fragrant coffee (I have loved coffee ever since). Then came the door to the two larders, one had the icebox on top of which sat two shallow pans of milk, from which cook skimmed off the cream. My dad used to go to Macfishers to collect great slabs of ice wrapped in blankets to be placed into the icebox. Lovely, lovely times – I used to be quite fed up when my parents returned and I had to go home.
As far as I remember the house was run by a staff consisting of the butler, parlour maid, house maid, tweeny maid, cook, kitchen maid and houseboy, they were all lovely people – so kind to a small bespectacled girl.
Now to the front of the house. Sometime during the year Captain and Mrs Walker went on their summer holidays. The house was shut and the staff went on their holidays. During this time one of my dads duties was to go round the house twice a day to pull down or up the blinds and to see that all was well – I tagged along and remember well the scent of beeswax, wood smoke and age. Since then I have visited many grand houses open to the public and I have occasionally smelt that special smell.
As far as I remember the library was on the right, then a passage down to the garden room, then the lovely drawing room. On the left was the wide curving staircase with a great Chinese vase standing on the wide side. Next came the dining room, then the billiard room leading to the big front door. I cannot remember the upstairs so well, maybe I do remember one beautiful room with two windows and beautiful lavender curtains and the Marigold Room reputed to be haunted. I also remember a long passage leading down to the old schoolroom".
Jean Gray's memories of the gardens at Norton Court; “When I was 5½ years old and had my first pair of spectacles I was able to see the lovely green countryside around me. So soon I began to explore the gardens. From the front drive up through the park, bordered by iron railings, one came to the Court. The front was lovely with a large magnolia to the left of the front door and a magnificent wisteria to the right. The former having large glossy dark green leaves and waxy handsome blooms (I think I remember these were sometimes picked and single blooms floated in finger bowls on the dining room table, set for meals). The wisteria was a grand sight with hundreds of beautiful sprays of flowers. In front of that was a great gravel sweep where the cars crunched to a halt at the door. Beyond that, a semi-circular lawn bordered by a lavender hedge, then the ha-ha down to the park. Then came the lawns with wide dark and light stripes. Between the lawns was an avenue with tall trees on either side. I was told that this was once the front drive and that the trees were planted long ago by two ladies living at the Court in silent support for the fugitive King Charles. On either side of the lawns ran a path, the right hand path was bordered by shrubs but the left hand path led to the rock garden. I have an old snapshot of my brothers and I sitting on the rockery steps with old Joe, the rather bad tempered terrier, though he was never bad tempered with us children and followed us about. Under one of the avenue trees, whose branches came down to the ground, was my secret place – my tree house – where I spent many hours reading, well hidden. Occasionally during the summer there was a garden party or a tennis party. Then chauffeur driven cars would park on the forecourt of the garages, many of them being well known to dad. I would peer over the wall and glimpse ladies in floating, flowery, gowns with lovely hats strolling around accompanied by elegantly dressed gentlemen. I would also hear the tennis being played. Of course there was the annual school treat. I remember us doing the Mad Hatters Tea Party with me (being the tallest) being Mad Hatter, with Boss Perrett watching with apprehension as I swung his gold pocket watch over a half full cup of tea. Past the side of the house was a doorway in the wall which led out to the back drive and directly opposite a similar doorway led to the flower and vegetable gardens. The first garden was walled all around. I remember catmint by the doorway, the right hand path led to the generator shed, also I remember a long row of pots with huge chrysanthemums in bronze and gold and a gardener tapping the pots to see if they needed watering. Then came three greenhouses, one growing green grapes and the others black grapes. Between the two was the hot greenhouse, very hot and steamy, the gardener stood on a step ladder with tiny scissors thinning out the beautiful bunches of grapes. Behind these greenhouses was the potting shed with a black stove supplying heat to the greenhouses, a long bench where the seed sowing and potting on was done, and a lovely smell of tarred string. Across the path, the melon house with big fat melons hanging with nets to take their weight. Through another doorway was the vegetable and fruit garden. To the left, a gate into the orchard, where the beehives were. This huge garden was full of rows and rows of vegetables and fruit bushes and at the far end big clay pots forcing rhubarb. To the right was the head gardeners cottage and a little further on another greenhouse. At the end of the cottage was a room which I called the ‘bee room’ where Captain Walker took the honey. I remember watching the golden honey slowly draining through a funnel – I loved his honey. I remember the straw being laid between the rows of strawberry plants and keeping an eye for the fat red fruit to ripen. On our side of one of the walls bordering the flower garden was a peach tree trained up the wall. The tree was netted to keep the birds and wasps away, so lovely to see those fruits ripening with bloom on their delicate skins. The back gate was the way in for everyone, to us, we were home. Through the gates on the left were great tree trunks sawn into planks with wooden pegs separating them and left to season. There were many of these great trees, a wonderful place to play hide and seek. On summer afternoons we children would sit on the trees and watch the crowds trudging down to Wainlode, but we were waiting for the ‘Stop Me and Buy One’ man to cycle past. To the left was a wide path leading to a gate into the orchard. Here a Wade Saw sliced huge branches into logs. To the right, a small copse and walled enclosure where there were several outbuildings. One, I remember, we called the paraffin shed, with large cans of paraffin, large balls of wood shavings and sacks of sawdust which was burnt in the black stoves in the garages to keep the cars from freezing. In the copse was a petrol pump. In the centre of the yard was always a huge compost heap; I remember the gardeners turning it over with garden forks and steam rising. A long stone wall stretched from the road right down to the back of Norton Court, the only break being the entrance to the front gardens and lawns. At the end of the copse the long paved forecourt began with the old stables, the ‘bothay’, the saddle room and the garages. The gardeners sat in the stables for their morning breaks, eating bread and cheese and drinking bottles of cold tea. The ‘bothay’ was a large open fronted yard with a drain in the centre. A gate into the orchard and then a doorway leading into the fowl room where Mr Bill Piff had large containers of food for the fowls. Then the saddle room containing a work bench and many tools. At the end of the saddle room were the garages holding four cars; the estate van, Mrs Walker’s large limousine, Capt Walker’s lovely green Rover (years later bought by my brother, Roy), and finally, Major Walker’s car. On days of very bad weather Major Charles Walker would give me a lift on the mile long way to school and my duty was always to wind up the clock in his car. My dad kept the cars in pristine condition; no car was ever put to bed dirty or muddy. On winter evenings he would come in with hands frozen from the cold water. Sometimes when Mrs Walker went to Cheltenham, Mum, Roy (who was then a baby) and myself would be invited to go with her to visit my grandparents. This I always viewed with horror as, being a bad traveller, I knew the smell of the leather upholstery and the swaying of the well-sprung limousine would make me feel poorly. No doubt my parents also hoped that I would not disgrace myself. At the left side of this long building was the tin dump, a large bottle rack and yet another door into the paddock where my Mum used to hang out the family washing. At the other side of the building was a large rain water tank and then stairs up to the loft, the door of which was always kept locked. Then came the back door to our house and a gate to the garden. Opposite was the woodshed, a large brick building with a path going out into the drive. Tons of logs were stacked here to dry out. On wet days, a couple of estate workers would be splitting the huge logs into smaller chunks; it always smelt a lovely scent. Our side of the wood shed was covered in ivy and for several years our tame robin came back to nest. It was always around and would hover around Dad as he dug the garden. Our garden shed was there and was where one mower and tools were kept and where we also put our bicycles away each night. On the right was the Corden Peach tree and a gate to the orchard by the beehives. The orchard was lovely with old fruit trees and rosy apples and I can remember the warm fresh eggs and the strutting cockerels and the bees buzzing busily about the hives. Back on the drive leading to the Court were the green double gates leading to Court Farm with the small door with brass knob handles through which we climbed to collect our can of milk twice a day. To the right was the doorway to the flower garden and to Dad’s engine shed. At the corner of the Court was the back kitchen door and a wooden safe with a zinc front where game hung; hares, rabbits, pheasant, etc. Opposite the kitchen door lay a small copse and here there were small gravestones marking the graves of long dead pets".
There was a severe fire at Norton Court in 1941 and the Gloucester Journal newspaper carried the following report; “Norton Court, near Gloucester, the residence of Capt G N Walker, was damaged by fire on Saturday afternoon. Shortly after one o’clock one of the maids noticed that the attics were on fire and raised the alarm. The chauffeur and other members of the staff set to work to deal with the situation by the use of fire-fighting appliances, and by removing furniture and other contents from the building. Capt Walker was out at the time and returned with a friend to find flames shooting through the roof. No time had been lost in calling the City Fire Brigade, and when they arrived, in charge of Supt Windebank, they found the roof and attics well alight. There was a plentiful supply of water from a pond and with two lines of hose in use the Brigade soon had the fire under control. The attics and contents were severely damaged by fire, and other parts of the Court also suffered damage by water. The damage caused amounted to several hundreds of pounds”.
In 1952 George Norton Walker moved to live at Charlton Kings and, as his son Major Charles Norton Walker, did not wish to live at Norton, the house was boarded up and once again put up for auction.
George Norton Walker died shortly afterwards on 24 December 1956 and his second wife, Meta Baird, died on 11 December 1971. Both are buried at Norton.
The Gloucester Citizen of 27th December 1956 carried the following report; “One of Gloucestershire’s best known landowners and business directors, Captain George Norton Walker, died at his home, Courtfield, Charlton Kings, on Christmas Eve, aged 85. Captain Walker, who moved to Charlton Kings from Norton Court, near Gloucester, four years ago, was a director of Price Walker and Company, the well-known firm of timber importers of Gloucester, for 60 years. He was chairman of directors for about 50 years and when he retired from that office a few years ago he remained on the board. Another important county undertaking with which Captain Walker was associated was the Gloucester and Sharpness Dock Company of which he was a director until it was nationalized. As a young man Capt Walker became an officer in the 1st Gloucestershire Royal Engineer Volunteers and in the First World War he served with the 4th/5th Gloucesters and then in Bermuda with the East Yorkshire Regiment. Captain Walker inherited from his father the extensive Norton Court estate which had been bought by his grandfather nearly 100 years ago and he largely devoted himself to the pursuits and affairs of the countryside. He was very keen on shooting and fishing and took a great interest in forestry maintaining the woodlands at Norton.
He was churchwarden at Norton for about 30 years and for many years served on the Diocesan Board of Finance. Since moving to Charlton Kings he was a regular churchgoer there, last attending service only a fortnight ago. Captain Walker’s first wife died in 1906 and he is survived by his second wife. The only son by the first marriage is Major C S Norton Walker”.
Messrs Bruton, Knowles & Co conducted the auction of the Estate on 17 June 1952 at the Bell Hotel, Gloucester. Most of the Estate sold at auction but the House itself did not until slightly later. The following entry appeared in the Wilts & Glos Standard on 22 November 1952:
“Norton Court Sold. Norton Court, Norton, near Gloucester, which was offered for sale by public auction in June and withdrawn at £8500 has been sold by private treaty by Messrs Bruton, Knowles & Co. The Court which was acquired by a private buyer will in future be used as a house for old people. The property includes a Manor house, lodge, gardeners cottage and chauffeur’s cottage, and ground of about 40 acres. The Lordship of the Manor of Bishops Norton as well as Norton village green and pool is included in the sale”.
The property was purchased by Harold Melville Spiers of Green Farm, Bishops Norton,and so moved into a new existence with many alterations enabling the ground floor to be used as old peoples accommodation and the upper floor as the Norton Country Club.
The end of the house came in the early hours of Sunday 19 April 1959 with a devastating fire which, although not as bad as may have been the case, was sufficient to cause the destruction of much of the house. Ironically the outcome would have been much worse without the aid of the water which was readily to hand in the moat of its ancient predecessor. The following entry appeared in the Gloucester Citizen of 20 April 1959 :-
“Five Brigades Fight Big Blaze at Norton Court Old People Taken To Safety
Gloucester firemen, policemen and neighbours fought desperately to check a fierce blaze until reinforcements arrived at Norton Court in the early hours of yesterday morning.
With the whole of the roof and the attic ablaze the well-known house, now a country club and private residence for old people, was threatened with complete destruction. The worst part of the damage, however, was confined to this area. Downstairs was mainly affected by heat and water. Two elderly people in residence were hurried to safety and the housekeeper ran to raise the alarm. But aleady a neighbouring farmer, Mr Harry Cook of Court Farm, had seen the blaze and phoned the Fire Service. The crucial period was the time between the arrival of the first firemen from Gloucester and their reinforcements from Cheltenham, Tewkesbury, Winchcombe and Painswick.
With but a handful of firemen on the scene flames were blazing high in the sky. They could be seen by the Tewkesbury Brigade as it began its seven mile dash to assist.
Policemen who had come from Gloucester, under Insp Hudson, turned firemen and helped run out hoses and play the water jets on the fire. Neighbouring residents, awakened by noises like gunfire, hurried from the surrounding houses and also worked assisting the firemen and salvaging property and furniture from the blazing building. Despite the fierceness of the blaze it is estimated some eighty percent of the furnishings were saved.
But though the situation looked critical in the early stages, with the arrival of the additional brigades, bringing the total up to six appliances and 35 men under the command of Divisional Officer R J Jennings of the County Fire Service, the position was quickly changed.
An ample supply of water was available from a moat 300 yards away – but for this the alternative source would have been the Severn nearly three quarters of a mile away – and the fire was brought under control within an hour and a quarter. When the fire was discovered at about 4am by Mrs Hilda Lodge, the housekeeper, it already had a firm hold.
The crash which awakened her was the staircase collapsing just on the other side of the door of the room in which she was sleeping. Her first thoughts were for the two other people in the house. Fortunately they were all sleeping on the ground floor. Mrs Lodge rushed into their rooms, waking them, and hurrying them to safety.
Ran 400 Yards
Then finding herself cut off from the telephone – it was upstairs – she ran 400 yards to a neighbouring house to dial 999 and raise the alarm. “I was awoken by a terrific bump at about 4am” Mrs Lodge told the Citizen today, “I got up and found that the central staircase was burning furiously. Mrs Lodge said that she and two old people with her – Mr J Clements and Mr T Price – usually slept on the ground floor at the back. This part of the building escaped serious damage. One resident, Mrs Creese, however, usually slept at the front. “If she had been sleeping in her usual place that night she would have burnt to death” said Mrs Lodge. Fortunately she was sleeping elsewhere.
Damage to the club premises upstairs was extensive. The front and central part of the building were gutted.
Plaster was scorched from the walls, furniture was destroyed and piles of debris lay strewn all over the floors. The roof and staircase of the building were completely burnt out.
All that remained of the roof were several blackened rafters. What furniture could be salvaged was hastily thrown out into the front lawn. Mattresses, tables and picture frames littered the drive.
The owner of the Norton Country Club, Mr M Spiers, was at Harrogate, Yorks, when the fire started. It is understood that he is returning today. Although he was not on hand his wife and two children helped salvage what they could from the blackened remains. “I decided not to send my husband a telegram” said Mrs Spiers, “because I didn’t want to spoil his weekend. I shall tell him immediately on his return”.
a less common view of the property taken from the rear in 2019.