Yew Tree Cottage (Norton Court Estate Cottage No 11)

In 1807 the land where Yew Tree Cottage now stands, between The Green and Yew Tree Farm, was recorded as Plot No 84, a garden 0-0-14 in size and owned by John Tombs.  John lived in a cottage facing Wainlode Lane between the Green and Green Farm.

By 1838 a cottage had been built upon the site and was then owned by William Mann and occupied by his tenant, Samuel Leach.  It was still 0-0-14 in size and its gross estimated rental or annual value was assessed at £4. In 1841 Samuel Leach was a 30 year old agricultural labourer living with his wife Hester/Esther and children Sarah, Charles and Harriet. 

In December 1848 William Mann wrote a will stating “…I give devise bequeath unto my friend Lt Charles Gardner of Kingsholm near the City but in the County of Gloucester all that cottage and garden situate at Norton aforesaid and now in the occupation of Samuel Leach as tenant thereof…”.  William Mann died in April 1856 by which time Charles Gardner had also died and it is not clear what happened to the ownership of the house.

Samuel Leach and a growing family were still in residence as tenants in 1851, 1861 and 1871.  By 1881 it appears that tenancy had passed to Samuel’s son William, 34 year old agricultural labourer, his wife Ellen and children Ann, Samuel, Caroline Jane, Charles, Eliza and John.

By 1901 things are not too clear but it would appear that the property was occupied by Henry Preston, a 77 year old boot maker and his wife Mary Ann.  Henry was included in the electoral register for Norton in 1901  He first appeared in the trade directories for Norton as a shoemaker in 1885 and in 1889 he had been living at Bradley Cottages so must have moved in the intervening years.  In 1908 Henry paid the Norton Court Estate £8 at the Lady Day Rental for cottage No 11.  Henry died in March 1910 and was buried at Norton.  His widow appears to have gone to live at Twigworth, perhaps with their daughter, then Mrs Tarr, and she died there in September 1916 aged 97 years.  She too was buried at Norton.

In 1911 Sarah Avery of 11 Norton Green had a child admitted to Norton school.

It is not known when he took up occupation but at the time of his death in May 1922 George Loveridge gave his address as Yew Tree Cottage and this is the first identified record of the name being associated with the property.  In the Churchwarden’s Accounts for August 1922 is an entry; “A vote of sympathy was passed in respect of the death of Mr George Loveridge who had for 37 years acted as Parish Clerk”.  In 1901 George had been living with his widowed mother Mary who was a grocer and shopkeeper most likely just inside Marlpit Lane, Priors Norton.  George was employed as a shoemaker so quite likely had dealings with Henry Preston and maybe took over Yew Tree Cottage upon Henry’s death.

The next owners of Yew Tree Cottage were Fred and Peggy Mullens, my grandparents.  Frederick George Mullens had been born and brought up at Norton.  Returning to the village after army service overseas during the First World War he met and married Margaret Emily (Peggy) Parker who was working as a nanny in Norton, it is believed for the Archer family.  They married on New Years Day 1921 in Peggy’s home of Leadgate, Co Durham, and returned to live briefly in the City of Gloucester.  George Loveridge’s death gave them the opportunity to return to Norton where they were to spend the rest of their lives.  They had three children during the early 1920s; Roy, Sheila and Michael.  Towards the end of the 1920s the house appears to have been sold to George Walker and became part of the Norton Court Estate.  

My mother, Sheila, has clear memories of growing up at the cottage; "We had no ‘mod-cons’ at home, cooking was done on an open fire, lighting was paraffin lamps and we went to bed with candles.  To help out with fuel for the fires we would go over the field at the back of the house through ‘Healing Orchard’ (where we ‘scrogged’ Mr Phelps’ apples) into ‘Healing Piece’ and into the covert at the top where we gathered firewood.  Also going through ‘Bradley Field’ into the field by the Keepers Cottage we gathered blackberries and going further up to the top of the hill, to ‘Pebbly Piece’ where lovely mushrooms grew". ... "At the bottom of the garden at ‘Yew Tree Cottage’ was a brook which ran into a pond in Mr Phelps’ field at Yew Tree Farm and, putting on ‘wellies’, we would wade in here with jam jars to collect newts and tadpoles.  Over the brook was a wooden plank leading into ‘Mead Croft’ where Mr & Mrs Walter James lived – we called them ‘Bampy’ and ‘Granny Nanny’ because they looked after us when our parents were out".

Fred’s father had been head gardener at Norton Court and Fred must have inherited his father’s passion being justly proud of the gardens at Yew Tree Cottage.  During the Second World War, however, the ornate garden was completely dug up and put down to vegetables, “for the war effort” as my mother relates; "With the men away mother and I took to cultivating the garden; no lawns or flowers, only vegetables".

The condition of the garden after the war resulted in a series of correspondence between Peggy and the solicitors of Capt Walker, their landlord of Norton Court Estate.  The correspondence would appear to have begun on 3rd February 1948 but that letter has not been found, however, a reply from Peggy to Capt Walker’s Solicitor dated 4 February 1948 reads; “…Sir, May I point out to you that the garden is my concern absolutely, you get your rent each month and that alone is your concern.  One thing may I suggest; were the drains which are in a most appalling state be properly attended to, the garden and everywhere else would look different.  Further correspondence from you will avail nothing I intend to burn it unopened.  The least every one of us is entitled to is some peace less unnecessary interference.  Yours very sincerely…”.  The letter is signed Margaret E Mullens with the Margaret heavily underlined suggesting perhaps that she had been addressed incorrectly in previous correspondence.  

This was followed by a letter from H P Rivers, Capt Walker’s Solicitor, dated 11 February 1948;  To M E Mullens, Yew Tree Cottage, Norton.  “…On behalf of our client Capt G N Walker we wish to draw your attention to the very poor condition of the garden belonging to the cottage occupied by you.  It was a condition of the tenancy that the garden should be cultivated in a proper manner and we must accordingly ask you to put your garden in a proper state of cultivation as soon as possible to avoid the necessity of our client having to take further action in this matter…”

For a brief period shortly after the Second World War the cottage was vacant with my grandmother having a 'living in' residential job at Bohanen House, Barnwood.  Capt Walker must have seen this as an opportunity to get rid of his 'troublesome' tenants and the correspondence regarding Yew Tree Cottage resumed with a letter from H P Rivers, Capt Walker’s Solicitor, dated 24 January 1951.  The letter was addressed to Mrs M E Mullens, Bohanen House, Barnwood Road, Gloucester, confirming that she was still living there at that time; “…Dear Madam, Our client Capt G N Walker understands that you have vacated his cottage at Norton.  We should be glad if you would kindly confirm this and let us know when possession will be given and the key handed in…”

My grandparents continued to pay the rent, however, until, on 17 June 1952, the Estate was sold off by auction and the cottage was bought for £400.  It was described as follows in the auction notice; "Lot 15, Yew Tree Cottage, situated in the road leading to Yew Tree Farm.  A detached double-fronted house known as No 11.  It is built of brick, has a tiled roof and contains: small entrance hall, sitting room, dining room with two cupboards and larder cupboard, kitchen with fireplace and oven and old furnace, lean-to board and galvanised back kitchen and three bedrooms, two having a fireplace.  Water is obtained from a pump.  Board and tiled shed, EC, and garden.  In the occupation of Mrs Fred Mullens at a rent amounting to £13 per annum."

I dont recall there being a water pump at the house so this must have been the pump near the village green.  My mother remembers the pump of course; "Normally we got our water from a pump at the back of the house but this wasn’t a very good well and we often had to carry it from the pump on the Village Green and sometimes even walk around to the spring in Wainlode Lane at the bottom of the hill leading up to Wainlode".  The pump at The Green is still in situ, now just outside Pumpstock Cottage.


I have fond memories of Yew Tree Cottage from my own childhood in the 1960s when the garden seemed to me like an adventure playground with lots of small paths and alleys to follow.  The garden at that time still had a large vegetable plot and a lawned area with symmetrically shaped rose beds. There were apple trees, damsons, greengage and Victoria plums.  I can still remember being told off for playing football with the fallen apples and for throwing them at the cows over the hedge. There was also a horse chestnut tree planted by one of my sisters, a ‘Chinaman’ Fred loved and the yew trees in the hedge besides the lane that gave the house its name - now gone.  Even then, in the 1960s, the toilet arrangements were still primitive with two outside toilets neither connected to the mains.  The one was located on a corner of a large shed facing Yew Tree Farm and I can remember the lavender bushes at its door to help keep the air sweeter.  The second was in bushes at the bottom of the garden next to Mead Croft and was nothing more than a wooden seat over a hole in the ground.  Arch Hooper would periodically empty this latter toilet in exchange for a packet of tobacco and a gallon of cider.

Yew Tree Cottage garden in the early 1960s.

Fred died in 1968 and Peggy shortly afterwards in 1972 and the cottage was placed on the market again with Severn Vale Estate Agents of Westgate Street, Gloucester, at an asking price of £12,000.  It was described as being; "A delightful detached, brick built country cottage, standing in approximately 1/4 acre of land some five miles from Gloucester.  The property is in need of some modernisation.  Situated in a secluded position by a quiet country lane on the outskirts of a small country village, the property offers good 3 bedroomed accommodation , within easy reach of the City".  The house itself had downstairs; "Partly glazed door leading to the entrance hall with tiled floor.  Lounge, 13'4" x 10'9" with tiled fireplace, two built-in cupboards, power point.  Dining room, 12'6" x 9'10" with tiled fireplace, power point.  Kitchen, 12'6" x 8'3", fireplace with open grate, 1".  Upstairs; "Landing.  Bedroom 1, 13'0" x 12'3" with power point and storage recess.  Bedroom 2, 12'4" x 8'10" with power point.  Bedroom 3, 12'0" x 8'3"".  Outside the property had; "Large front garden, lawn, flower borders, pathway for pedestrian access to front door.  Bounded by a high hedge.  Very large rear garden laid to lawn with flower borders, fruit trees, shrubbery, open outlooks, large garden shed suitable for conversion to a garage, outside EC".  The annual rates were £24.27. 

By the 1980s, the owners were Dennis and Barbara King who later moved next door but one to Jasmine Cottage.

Yew Tree Cottage, 2014 - My mother Sheila Maidment (nee Mullens) revisiting the house where she had been born 91 years earlier.