Priors Cottage

At the time of the 1806 Inclosure Act where Priors Cottage can be found today was Plot No 352, a house and garden of 21 perches belonging to John Averis who also owned Plot No 351 an allotment in Upper Churchfield of 9 perches, adjacent.  The surname later seems to have been spelt Everiss and that will be used here.


John was baptised at Elmstone Hardwicke on 28 May 1762, son of John and Ann Everiss, had married Sarah Cox at Norton on 10 September 1787 and they came to live in the village where they appear to have had at least nine children.  Their first child born at Norton was John in January 1789.

By 1838 John Everiss would appear to have moved next door into a new cottage with a garden of 9 perches at Plot No 351.  Plot No 352, still a house and garden of 21 perches, belonged to William Harding and was occupied by George Curtis who cannot be identified in the village by 1841.

Priors Cottage, Plot No 352, has not been positively identified again for nearly 100 years until 1936.

I believe that the following photo dates from the early 1920s.  The lady is Theresa Lewis nee James who had been born in 1863 at Church Cottage, next to the church gates, daughter of Robert and Ann James.  The family had left Church Cottage some 30 years previous and the photo was taken when Theresa was visiting Norton from her home in South Wales to show her family where she once lived.  By good fortune the photo managed to include a small section of Priors Cottage in the background. 

[1920s. Theresa Lewis nee James and family with Priors Cottage in the background].

In September 1937, William Charles Virgo married Nancy Margaret Blackmore at All Saints, Weston Super Mare, and after marriage they made their home at Priors Cottage.  William Virgo was the son of Mr and Mrs Virgo of ‘Holmsdale’, Stroud Road, Gloucester.  He was an active member of the Caer Glow Operatic and Dramatic Society for many years, for about five years he was their honorary pianist and in 1936 was appointed Musical Director.  Caer Glow was formed in 1920 as a result of a breakaway from the Gloucester Operatic and Dramatic Society (GODS).

It appears that William Virgo had purchased Priors Cottage before his marriage and on 29 June 1936, whilst still living at ‘Tortonville’, London Road, Gloucester, he applied for permission from the Rural District Council to make additions to the cottage and to install a ‘convenience’.  The details were accompanied by a plan the following of which is my (poor) copy.  Priors Cottage is the cottage to the right, Pegmore to the left.

The extension was to have a concrete base, be built of brick with a 9” cavity and a bitumen damp course.  There would be 3 new rooms with fireplaces ventilated by 6” and 9” air bricks.  It would have a green asbestos roof.  There would be a septic tank for the sewage from the WC and would use the existing well for water.  The extension would have a pantry, scullery, and cloakroom downstairs with stairs leading to a landing with a new bedroom and a bathroom at the west end. 

In 1939 William Virgo, then Chief Clerk for Gloucestershire County Council Welfare Dept, was still here with his wife Nancy and newly born son Simon John.

At the end of the Second World War, Priors Cottage, was still in the ownership of Capt W C Virgo.  In June 1945 Capt Virgo, who was normally employed on the staff of the County Medical Officer of Health at the Shire Hall, Gloucester, was part of the British Army of the Rhine, employed with a Military Government attachment with the British Liberation Army.  I believe that Capt Virgo was still in Germany later that year when Priors Cottage was put up for auction on Monday 12th November 1945 at The New Inn, Gloucester.  The following is an extract from the Bruton, Knowles & Co auction leaflet that gives a detailed description of how the property would have been constituted at that time;  “The delightfully situated detached cottage residence known as Priors Cottage standing on high ground near the Church.  It is built of brick with a thatched roof except for an addition on the north side which is galvanised.  The accommodation consists of :- Porch, small entrance passage, part oak panelled; Dining Room 10’x10’ with wood block floor, serving hatch and picture rail; Sitting Room 16’x13’ having open fireplace with canopy surmounted by oak mantelpiece and panelling, oak beams, and bric-a-brac shelving; Scullery with hard and soft water taps over sink, draining board, cupboard and semi rotary pump; Larder Kitchen with range and oven; Landing with cupboard and Three Bedrooms (one with fireplace and one with cupboard) measuring respectively 16’x13’, 10’x10’ and 10’x8’6’’, Bathroom with bath, lavatory, basin (cold) and small cupboard.  Outside are WC, oil house, coal house, shed and small garage.  Garden with crazy paths and fruit trees.  The water supply is from a well on an adjoining property connected with the semi-rotary pump in the scullery which feeds the tank on the landing.  The cost of keeping the well in good repair and condition is borne equally by both parties.  There is also a large soft water tank connected with a tap in the scullery.  Cesspit drainage.  The house is assessed for rates at £12, the amount payable for the current half year being £3.14.0.  The property is also subject to a land tax of 5/- per annum.  Vacant possession may be had on completion of the purchase.  In addition to the purchase money, the purchaser shall pay the sum of £20 for the three-burner oil stove with oven, large oil drum with tap and the oil geyser with four-burner primus lamp.  The property can be inspected on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, between 2 and 5pm”.

It is interesting to note that at this time the cottage had a thatched roof but it hadn’t at the time of the earlier photo from the 1920s. Perhaps it was William Virgo who was responsible for this addition and it also seems that he was the person who named the cottage.

Things were not going to go entirely as planned and the following is an extract from a letter sent to Cpt Virgo from a solicitor outlining an issue with the Ministry of Health and, more interestingly, a possibly way to work round the problem;

“Dear Captain Virgo, … Doubtless your wife has told you that a day or two before the proposed sale we heard from the Billeting Officer that the Ministry of Health were proposing to requisition the property, and your wife and I talked the matter over and came to the conclusion that the only thing to do was to cancel the sale and not remove your furniture, with the object of avoiding the requisition.  So far, the requisition notice has not been received and it would rather look as if steps taken have prevented this, but probably the officials are keeping an eye on the property.  Prior to the proposed auction sale, one of the prospective purchasers with whom we were in touch was a Mr G C Harvey of Cheltenham, and he telephoned me yesterday and suggested that the property should be let furnished to him with a definite undertaking on his part to buy at the end of one or two months.  He intimated he would be prepared to give £1350 and I think possibly he would go to £1400.  If you entertain this proposal, I think the way to deal with the matter is for him to enter into a contract to purchase at once, paying the usual 10% deposit, and the contract to contain a clause creating a furnished tenancy from the date of signing the contract to the date of completion of purchase.  Provision would also have to be made in the contract for you to have the right to remove your furniture and effects upon, or immediately after, completion.  If this proposal is acceptable to you, I should like to have a word with your Solicitors as to whether there are any snags.  Although I have not known of a case since the War, strictly speaking a Local Authority has power to requisition a property although still furnished, so I do not think it advisable to leave it unoccupied too long. There was a suggestion that, if necessary, your wife go to live there for say a few days at a time.  I await hearing from you… “.

The sale must have been temporarily postponed until the Second World War was over but the Gloucester Citizen newspaper of 25 October 1945 reported that the property was on the market again, to be sold at auction by Bruton, Knowles & Co at the New Inn, Gloucester, on 12 November; “Delightfully situated cottage residence known as Priors Cottage, Norton, containing 2 reception rooms, offices, 3 bedrooms, bathroom, garden and garage.  Vacant possession on completion of purchase”.

In 1947 the residents of Priors Cottage were George C and Anne Harvey, the couple who had expressed an earlier interest and presumably the purchaser at the auction.  In October 1948, George Harvey was named as a Permanent Director of Slack and Parr (Marine) Limited, who were based at Kegworth, Derbys, and this may have caused them to move on as the property shortly changed hands again.

(Rufus) Louis and Violet Mary Sparrow who had arrived here from Longlevens in late 1948 were the next residents.  Rufus Louis was born in 1889 at Gloucester and seems to have been known as Louis.  He was the son of Louis Sparrow, an attendant at the County Asylum, and Matilda Elizabeth nee Packer.  By 1911 Louis had become an elementary school teacher and at the time of their marriage was a schoolmaster living at Parliament Street, Gloucester.  Rufus Louis Sparrow married Violet Mary Bache at St Mary de Crypt, Gloucester, in July 1920.  In 1939 they were living at 184 Elmbridge Road, Longlevens, with Louis still teaching and with both of them working as ARP wardens and in St John’s Ambulance.

Violet Mary was born at Gloucester on 15 August 1891, daughter of William Henry Bache, an upholsterer, and Mary Jane nee Ettridge who were from London.  Vi grew up with family at Whaddon and Tredworth, Gloucester, and by 1911 had gone into service employed as a lady’s help to Mabel Liveridge, a secondary school science mistress, at Argyll Road, Gloucester.

The Gloucester Journal newspaper of 6 May 1950 included an article written by Sally Patience about the Women’s Institute, Vi and the vast number of organisations that she represented;  “Mrs V M Sparrow is the Chairman of the Handcrafts Committee, and when I went to see her at her home at Norton she told me of the work of this pleasant committee.  He is in her second year as Chairman and has been a member of the County Executive Committee for the same period.  The handcraft committee have a grant from the County Council to spend on teaching crafts to the Institutes.  Work for this committee is increasing this year, for they are preparing for the 1951 exhibition to be held in the Town Hall, Cheltenham, also in 1952 there is to be an exhibition in London in March, at the Victoria and Albert Museum.  Although these dates seem far away, ‘We need a plan a long way ahead’, says Mrs Sparrow.  Difficulties experienced during the war with regard to obtaining materials are over now, and so they can go ahead with interesting and expensive plans.  Mrs Sparrow is also county secretary of the Guild of Learners, which is the handcraft section of the WI.  The Guild is divided into eight areas, each with a chairman or secretary; Cheltenham, Bristol, Stroud, Lydney, Chipping Camden, Cirencester, Dursley and Gloucester.  Present membership exceeds 800.  The idea is to perfect crafts, and tests are held, of which there are three.  The A test for proficiency, the B demonstrators test, and the C test for judging.  ‘Members are keen, but I think they will be keener now.  Except for Cheltenham there had not been a handcraft exhibition in the Gloucestershire Federation since before the war’.  Therefore the exhibitions of the previous week were the first to be held for over ten years.  Part of Mrs Sparrow’s job as chairman entails visiting institutes giving talks and taking classes.  Mrs Sparrow’s work does not end with handcrafts for she represents the WI on the consultative council of the Gloucester sub-area of the Midlands Electricity Board.

She was also on Court of Referees (which finished before the outbreak of war), she is on the Appeal Board of the Ministry of Labour, and the Military Service Appeal Tribunal.  During the war she spent 5 years in the Civil Defence ambulance driving.  Mrs Sparrow’s home is a lovely thatched cottage on a small hill, the back of which looks on to Norton Church, while from the front there is a magnificent view of Gloucester to the south, Cheltenham to the west, and May Hill to the east.  Gloucester looked particularly fine, said Mrs Sparrow, when the cathedral was floodlit”.  Mrs Sparrow and her husband have lived at Norton for 18 months now; before they lived at Longlevens for 23 years.  They both like the country very much – but here again, ‘we are truly rural’ – no electricity, no gas, and water has to be pumped.  Strangely enough, although Mrs Sparrow’s home at Longlevens was ‘all electric’, she did not find it too difficult to cope with oil cooking.  He is also hoping that it wont be long before electricity etc comes to Norton”.

It is believed that this photo was taken in 1974 with Vera Cook, of Court Farm, and Vi Sparrow.

Husband Louis died on 22 January 1962 and Vi died on 15 January 1980, both still living at Priors Cottage.

Following the Sparrows came Martin Sherry, a former Sotheby’s auctioneer, and Kenneth Lambert, and they were both still resident in 1985. 

I have been told that a family named Stonehewer were the next residents.  In St Mary’s, Norton, churchyard is a memorial to John Reginald Stonehewer who died in 1997 and is likely the person remembered.  John was married to Elsie A nee Skipper.

Kevin A and Georgina M Cahill were here in 2002.

More recently the cottage was advertised for sale in 2016 at £695,000 with the following description; “Charming cottage within well placed hamlet.  Believed to date from 1786, Priors Cottage was extended in the 1980's to create the large kitchen/breakfast room and vaulted sitting room on either side of the original thatched cottage. The property was rethatched and double glazing installed in 2016 and now beautifully combines period charm and modern amenities including a lovely fitted kitchen with Aga. All the principal rooms lie to the front of the cottage and enjoy a south facing aspect with views over the garden and countryside beyond. The centre of the property is based on a dining room with an Inglenook fireplace and panelling over.  A hallway leads off to a study with parquet flooring interconnecting to the occasional bedroom with double doors out to the garden. At the far end of the hallway is the stunning sitting room with high vaulted ceiling, marble fireplace with fitted wood burner, fitted bookshelves and double doors out to the south facing terrace.  At the far end of the cottage is the boot room with door out to the rear of the property and a loft ladder to a first floor storage area, plus door to the ground floor shower room. The large kitchen/breakfast room is fitted with modern units with marble worktops, together with a 4 oven pale blue Aga and central island unit. Off the kitchen is the butler's pantry with second sink unit and built in cupboards. To the front of the house is the garden room which offers further potential as another reception room or space for office etc.  On the first floor lie three bedrooms, the principal with en-suite cloakroom, plus a shower room. All the bedrooms enjoy far reaching southerly views across the gardens to farmland beyond.  The pretty cottage gardens, which are south facing, lie to the front of the property and comprise a terrace area and well stocked borders leading down to areas of lawn, contained by high walling and hedging. A large summer house lies at the foot of the gardens. There is a gated block paved driveway off the village lane, with further gravelled parking area”.

In 2021 the cottage was again advertised for sale by Nick Griffiths, Estate Agents, at £775,000; “Located in the small hamlet of Priors Norton, this spacious, detached cottage offers a lovely blend of character, charm and contemporary living. On the ground floor there is an elegant drawing room, dining room, and home office & occasional 4th bedroom. The drawing room has double doors leading to a patio area of the garden, vaulted ceilings, and a log burner.  The kitchen has been newly fitted and offers a large central island, marble work tops, AGA, doors leading to the garden, and is a great place to host and entertain. There is a separate utility room, shower room, garden room & butlers pantry with plumbing & a double sink. On the first floor there are 3 bedrooms, a shower room and en-suite w/c and sink. Outside, the property benefits from a southerly facing mature garden which has been well manicured, and a pretty summer house. Ample parking is provided by the property, secured with a 5 bar gate. There was previously a double garage where there is still space, and the property is offered with no onward chain”.