St Mary's Parish Church

The Victoria County History for Norton states that “although no fabric earlier than c.1260 can be identified in the present church, this may be the consequence of wholesale restoration in 1875–6. A statement in 1307 implies that it was then believed to have existed as a chapel before the St Oswald’s prebends were abolished in 1153. The surviving two-light east window, dated to c.1260, is surprisingly rich in ornamentation, and before church restoration presented a remarkable contrast to the rest of the small and unpretentious building. If correctly dated this window coincides with a period of renewed building activity at St Oswald’s, which began in 1251. The remainder of the medieval church, apart from its three-stage ashlar limestone west tower, with elaborate gargoyles, was a simple two-cell structure of Blue Lias, without aisles, but with 14th- and 15th-century windows and doorways, including a priest’s doorway, which were incorporated into the restored building”.

I am no architectural historian but if the earliest remaining parts of the current church building date from no earlier than 1250 and there was a church in the village prior to that, then perhaps either the church had undergone a complete rebuild at about 1250 or had been moved to its current site from another location in the village.  Where this may have been we cannot say although there does not seem to be any reason to doubt that it was on the same site as the present building.  Indeed, in Mediaeval times high ground at the edges of villages was considered to be an entrance to this world for the devil – a gateway to hell - and was quite often selected as a site for a church to countermand this threat.

Canon Evans Prosser wrote about the history of the church a number of times in Parish Magazines.  He also believed that there would have been a church here earlier than 1250, quoting from a list of gifts to Gloucester Cathedral as evidence of this.  In the Parish Magazine of May 1980, Canon Evans Prosser wrote “There is also a list of gifts to Gloucester Abbey (now the Cathedral).  In this we are told that Robert son of Walter and Aveline his wife gave to God and St Peter of Gloucester the church of Nortune with the lands, tithes and all other things belonging to the said church as fully as Elmelina, the mother of Aveline, some years since had given the same to be free, peaceable and quiet from all charges”.

The story seemed plausible and I used it myself when writing an article for The Journal of the Norton & The Leigh Historical Society; “The gift by Robert thus confirmed the gift of it previously made by his grandmother, Elmelina, the mother of Aveline.  King Henry I again confirmed this grant in the time of Abbot William Robert.  The advowson is the right to appoint a vicar and it seems unlikely that one would appoint a vicar to a place without a church.  William Britton, in the time when William was Abbot, gave to the church of St Peter in Gloucester the church of Norton with five yard lands.  King Henry I again confirmed it.  Abbot William held office from 1113 to 1130, King Henry I reigned from 1100 to 1135.  What this does not tell us is whether grandmother Elmelina was responsible for the original building of the church or whether it had existed before her time and, if so, for how long before her time.  It is not exactly clear who Robert, Walter, Aveline or Elmelina were but as the gift was originally made by Elmelina, this could take the existence of a church back into the eleventh century.  So although this is the earliest reference to a church in the village that has been identified there may of course have been one in existence before this time”.

I tried on a number of occasions to identify the family of Elmelina, Walter, Aveline and Robert with no success.  Thanks largely to the internet I believe that I finally identified them all and unfortunately their Norton was Cold Norton, Oxfordshire, not our village.  [See 'Aveline- Lady of Norton ?' for further details].

On 9 December 1281, in a return made by the Bishop of Worcester of sequestration of churches not exempt or appropriated to exempt monasteries, includes Norton and Churchdown which are exempt under the prebends of the prior of St Oswalds, Gloucester, so there was definitely a church here at this date.

In a booklet entitled ‘How it all Happened’, Canon Evans Prosser wrote the following on the construction of the church building; “One is often asked about the age of Norton Church.  Very few of the thousands of ancient churches in this country can be exactly dated’ all that they can be given is an approximate one which can be found from the type of architecture used in its construction.  The oldest part of our Parish Church is the chancel which is undoubtedly of what is known as Early English architecture.  The date of it would be somewhere about 1250.  The window over the altar is a very good specimen of its type and should be well looked at by any visitor.  I refer here to the stonework not to the glass which is modern.  The main body of the church, the nave, is decorated and would be about 50 years later than the chancel.  One curious feature of it is that the windows on the south or right hand are of Perpendicular architecture.  Why this is cannot be said.  It may be that the original windows proved unsatisfactory and had to be replaced or it may be that the nave was built with windows on the north only and later on it was found to be not light enough and so additional windows in a later style was inserted.  Have a good look at the doorways inside the porch and on the opposite side of the church. The top of these contain unusual and very good decorated work, though the one in the porch has been restored.  The tower is Perpendicular in style and would be about 50 years younger than the nave.  This style of architecture was invented at Gloucester Cathedral in about 1330.  It was gradually copied all over the country and most English churches have at least some part of them built in this fashion.  No church on the continent has any, so it is considered to be the characteristic English architecture.  On the outside of the tower, near the top, are gargoyles.  These were put in nearly every old church as ornamentation to cover up waterspouts from the roof.  The one on the right hand side shows a man playing bagpipes and this kind is very rare.  Few people know that bagpipes were once much played on the Cotswolds and Shakespeare refers to this.  We are told that the men of olden days were much shorter than they are today.  Proof of this can be seen in the small doorway that can be seen on the south side of the chancel.  This is what is known as a Priest’s Door.  In former times, the Priest entered the church by this and not by the main one.  If you go close to it and try your height against it, you will notice that only a short man can go through it without having to stoop.  There is a similar one at The Leigh.  It shows that the Priests of those days must have been what we should now consider short men, or average”.

Most village churches of any age have their own peculiarities which set them aside from others of a similar period.  Over the years it is likely that several cycles of alterations have been carried out to the original structures and sometimes part of the earlier history comes back to light.  An example of this at St Mary’s is the presence of a stone coffin lid now to be found cemented into place in an upright position inside the south wall of the tower.  An article from the Gloucestershire Chronicle newspaper of July 1876, reporting on the church restoration tell us a little more about this; “The stone top of a coffin, with a well-carved cross extending the whole length, was found buried in the south wall and has been rebuilt into the wall of the porch” – it must have been moved again since.  This is a real rarity with very few such coffins having been discovered elsewhere.  It would appear to date from some time in the thirteenth century – as indeed does the oldest part of the existing church building – and being made of stone was probably prepared for the burial of a priest.  Perhaps he was one of the canons from St Oswald’s who was responsible for the manor of Norton at that time; we shall never know.  Unfortunately there is no sign of there ever having been a name on it although there is a carving that seems to represent a cross surmounted by the sun - presumably a reference to the Resurrection.  This symbolism is continued in the edges or steps which can still just be made out carved at the foot of the cross.  As this stone has been covered by a curtain for many years it has escaped mention in any of the guide books written about the counties churches.

Another ancient feature identified by Canon Evans Prosser at St Mary’s in the Parish Magazine of April 1976 was either the remains of a much older sundial or a Mass dial.  Canon Evans Prosser goes on to say that it would be very unusual to place a sundial so low down and as it has only three lines marked on it, it is more likely to be a Mass dial.  The Mass dial was a feature of Saxon and later churches and had only three lines on the older specimens showing the times when Mass was held at that particular church.  I was unable to find this dial in the location given by Canon Evans Prosser but an article discussing the presence of these features on Gloucestershire churches gave another location for the one at St Mary’s; “South side on buttress, 3 foot from the ground, style hole and circle and faint hole at mass hour.”  Assuming this to be the same feature that Canon Evans Prosser was referring to, it is still very clearly visible.  The article went on to say that these Mass, or ‘Scratch’ dials are generally found on churches of the 13th, 14th and 15th centuries.  Usually on the southern porch or doorway of a church, occasionally on a tower or buttress by a priests door which would tie in with that at Norton.  The theory that these are indicators marking the time of mass would require them to have had moveable gnomons to enable the priest to adjust the time of the next mass.  Although hundreds of these dials exist around the country no such gnomon has been found.  In many examples a trace of lead or stump of oak has been found in the gnomon hole indicating the existence of one but not telling us if it was removable.

St Mary’s also has what is known as a ‘Devils Door’.  In an article entitled “In and around Gloucestershire with pen and camera” written by Gerald Clinch and published in the Gloucestershire Chronicle  Gerald wrote about many parishes and on 5th October 1912 it was Norton’s turn.  Amongst other things he wrote “… and it is interesting to note that here we find a north door.  According to some authorities this was termed a ‘Devils Door’ from which were exorcised evil spirits and in certain parishes a very strong feeling exists among the more superstitious villagers against burial at ‘the back of the church’ to which this so called ‘Devils Door’ gives access”.

A bit of research yielded a couple of articles that add to this.  One wrote that “In most churches the main entrance door and porch are located on the south side of the church with opposite it a north door, which in most instances now has been filled in. Occasionally the main door may be on the north side. If this is the case then the village centre probably also lies in that direction. In medieval times the churchyard was a gathering place for market sports, fairs and socialising; all of which normally took place on the north side.  The south side was reserved for burials. It is assumed that the north door was used as an exit point for the processions which were a great feature of Sundays and feast days before the reformation. However there is also a legend that says that when the congregation entered the church through the south door they dipped their fingers into the holy water stoup and that by crossing themselves the devil was expelled. As the devil could not go out over their shoulders, a north door was included for his retreat. Thus sometime the North door is known as the Devils Door”.

Another explanation is that this north door was opened at the time of a baptism to permit the speedy exit of any spirit driven out by the ceremony.  It is interesting to note that at St Mary’s, Norton, there appear to be no old burials anywhere near this ‘Devils Door’ and an absence of more recent once in its close proximity.

St Mary’s church structure seems to have been poorly maintained at a number of points in its history.  A document held in Gloucester Diocesan Records from 1563 states that; “Robert Hobbes and John Snowe, churchwardens, Robert Symons and Thomas Browne parishioners, present as follows: that John Davys clerke is curate there and saithe service and ministrith twise in one day.  Also they saie that the bodie of there church is ruinouse in coveringe in the defaulte of the whole paryshe.  Item the church yeard is not sufficientlie enclosed as it ought to be in the default of the paryshe”.  Another reference in Gloucester Diocesan Records from July 1572 suggests that things have only got worse; “The ruffe of the church is decaied, the churche yard walles are in decaie and lye open – to be repared by the feast of St Andrew”.  It is not known when these ruinous conditions were repaired.

In many accounts it is said that the Victorians have a lot to answer for in respect of the damage that they did when ‘restoring’ the old churches and such has been written of St Mary’s.  The following account, taken from the Cheltenham Looker-On newspaper of 16 October 1847, however, suggests that even at that time it was felt that ‘modern’ alterations had taken away some of the beauty from the old church.  Unfortunately the article I have seen is incomplete but what I have reads as follows; “The village of Norton is situate about four miles from the city of Gloucester, on the road thence to Tewkesbury; it consists of many straggling houses, with a population of about 400 souls, for the most part occupied with agricultural pursuits.  The Church, which is situate on a slight eminence, called Norton Hill, is an interesting structure, and has a most picturesque appearance from the surrounding vale; it consists simply of a tower, nave and chancel, of rather good proportions, and presents the following details:

The Tower is of the usual quadrangle form, supported by buttresses at the angles; it is of three stages with plain battlements, and has a west door, with a three-light window over it; these as well as the whole masonry of the tower, is of somewhat late perpendicular masonry.

The Nave is entered on the south side by a modern porch, but the door beyond, as well as the opposite one on the north side of the Church, are very elegant in form, consisting of equilateral pointed arches, with well executed multifoil mouldings; these are decidedly of Decorated character.

The Chancel is small and entirely without steps, either from the nave or approaching the altar; its general plainness being much relieved by the mouldings of an elegant Early-English window at the east end.

The Windows are a two-light perpendicular one on the south, and a two-light transition decorated on the north side of the nave.  In the chancel are two single-light trefoiled windows, one on either side, a two-light one of a like character on the south side, and the before-mentioned east window; this latter is of two-lights, with a circular moulding in the head; the mullions, both within and without, present the slender shafts, with the peculiar caps and the bases of the purest Early Pointed design; the drip terminations are bosses with the well carved foliage mouldings, peculiar to the period.

The Font is an olla podrida, [A Spanish stew ?  Presumably meaning a hodgepodge or a jumbled mixture’] of course of modern date, and appears to consist of the remnants of many abortive attempts at Font making, all jumbled together by a rude village stone-mason.

Most of the oak benches are still extant, and have a good moulding, but a few of them have been made into not bad sleeping pens, by being surmounted by deal boards.  Besides this old oak work, a portion of the screen, with not bad carving, has been ‘worked-up’ into pews, part of which is painted red and the rest to imitate oak !

From these details it will be seen that this little Church presents much to admire, though here, as in most of our good old Churches, bad taste has done much to mar its original beauty; but it is not surprising that the uneducated should so little heed the structure, when its service is so badly cared for by the ecclesiastical authorities; for whilst pondering on the mutilations of the Church, we were told that the Curate was leaving, and that the musical bells of Norton would, in all probability, be dumb on the next Sabbath, and this while the Dean and Chapter of Bristol, who are the clerical impropriators, derive something more than £500 per annum from the tithes; out of this they pay a curate the liberal sum of £25 per annum, and even impose upon ‘Queen Annes Bounty’ for an additional £25”.

Indeed, in July 1847 Rev Marmaduke Cockin did resign the curacy and wasn’t replaced until the arrival of Rev George Cox in April 1848; he too resigned, in January 1853.

In days gone by most village churches would have had a gallery for the musicians to play in and later for extended seating for the congregation.  St Mary’s was no exception and we know from the churchwardens accounts of 26 September 1845 that it was still in place at that date; “It was agreed that in consequence of much space being lost in the present gallery, it should be so arranged as to provide a greater number of sittings”.  It 1876 it was reported in the Gloucester Journal newspaper of 8 July that “an unsightly gallery disfigured the west end and blocked up the tower arch and window”; see article reproduced in full below.  An article in the Gloucestershire Chronicle newspaper from July 1876 confirms the belief that the gallery was removed as part of the major works carried out at the church that year; “…the gallery has been removed …”.   Norton not only had the gallery but it would seem there was also an active band of musicians at church services.  In the Gloucestershire Chronicle newspaper of 3 August 1895 is a lengthy piece based upon a chat between the newspaper’s representative and an old local man who clearly had Norton connections but unfortunately remained un-named.  The piece is very long and equally interesting.  In this tale the gentleman tells of the village church band and of the choir from that time.  I would guess that the time in question is mid to late nineteenth century and prior to the church’s restoration of 1876; ““I have had a visit from a village Democritus or a laughing philosopher … he was the happiest and the jolliest old fellow I have met for years.  He and his dear old wife had read our description of the Church Choirs and they were delighted.  They had witnessed similar and more risible things in our village churches than had been narrated. … He said in Norton church choir we had two clarionets, one flageolet, two fiddles, a baseviol, and a horse’s leg.  We had our choir master, who selected the anthems and the Hymn and Psalm tunes.  The parson had little or no control over the choir.  He did sometimes best time with a stick, and very fine attitudes he put himself into to the amusement of the congregation.  What anthems or Psalm tunes the choir master selected for the Sunday were written on a slate, which were fixed to the gallery.  The choir master used to select some curious anthems, which could not be considered appropriate for their respective occasions.  One Christmas, was the child of a labourer was Christened at Norton Church, we played and sang in full force, ‘Unto us a Child is given, unto us a Son is born’ &c.  One of the choir could not read and the Psalms and anthems were repeated to him until he had gotten them by heart.  One of our very best parishioners was buried, and the anthem which the choir master selected for this occasion was ‘Deep in the pit there let the heathen lie’ &c.  This was played in full force and grand style, but we all thought the dead man, from his exemplary life, had deserved a better compliment than the words conveyed.  One of the choir band was a fiddler who did not confine himself to churches and church music, but he visited public houses and country merrymakings, and played merry-g-round country gigs for the lads and the lasses of the village.  One Valentine’s Day, said my funny and amusing chronicler of village history, we sent him a valentine – ‘There lives down by the pond green, An old fiddler so rough and so keen, With a yud like a pig and ears like a donkey, He looks like a prig and grins like a monkey’.  This valentine was composed by the poet of the Norton band, and its receipt so annoyed and irritated him that he swore he would play vengeance upon the man’s yud who sent it.  All the parson was permitted to do was to beat time.  One Sunday he had to do duty in the next parish, but he hastened back to beat time at Norton to save a breakdown, and when he arrived the anthem was already played.  The parson hoped it had been done correctly without his beating time and he was greatly affronted when he was told ‘they did as well or better without un than wi un’.  He preached a ‘sermont’ against the band and its conduct and concluded by saying that ‘he wondered we had not all on us been served the same as Korah, Dathan and Abiraun, and had all been swallowed up by a yarthquake, with our clarionets, flageolets, fiddles, baseviols, and horses legs, for the benefit of the Antipodes’.  The parson was jealous of the band or choir over which he exercised no control.  His reproof and condemnation may have been deserved, for there was no doubt many profane men had played sacred melodies on unsanctified instruments.  My honest-hearted, congenial and merry old soul said he was once invited by ‘Shadrach Daniels’, the Clerk of Sandhurst Church, to play wi’un one Sunday.  With a merry twinkle in his bright eye, he said, ‘at the back of the gallery there was always a gallon or two of beer for the players or the singers.  There was no harm in it, for the parson found it, for he said he could not expect folks to come and play and sing there without a drop of summat to drink’.  He said in the old days, when the band was in full force at Norton, there was no vestry, and the clerks seat, the reading desk and the pulpit, were one atop a’tother.  The parson wore a white gown when he read the liturgy, and a black un when he prayed his sermonts.  It was a funny sight to see the old clerk help the parson on with his black gown and afore all the congregation.  Old Uglow used to come over from Gloucester to instruct the band.  He was organist or summat there”  … “He alluded with some glee to his reminiscences of ‘Margan, the choirmaster, who bawled with the voice of a lion – Let us sang to the prays and glories o’God the yundred and fust Psalm, long maytur’.  Then followed the clearing of voices, the tuning of instruments, and the grand ‘bust off’ of the entire choir in one of those up-and-down good old Church melodies, but sometimes inharmoniously rendered.  Then we had too much laity in the Church and too little ‘parzon’; now p’raps we have a little too much parzon and too little laity’.  May we have a happy medium and the resuscitation of the old village bands.  My old visitor became enthusiastically excited or inspired with the glorious vividness of a brilliant flash of memory.  He was all animation, and every nerve, muscle, and tendon of his hale body quivered with motion.  He even thought he was handling his old baseviol for he bent and made motions with his imaginary bow.  He exclaimed – ‘With what delight do I remember being invited to Minsterworth when we played the anthem ‘Ran down his beard and to his skirts the precious ointment, &c, &c’.  [Psalm 133 I believe].  The sunshine on his happy face was succeeded by a cloud of disappointment, when by way of valediction he exclaimed ‘Ah ! the bottom has fell out of my old baseviol’.  Cannot our village bands be revived ?  Cannot the rustics be induced to take an interest or some part in the Church and her services ?  Would it not be better for them to be there ‘singin and playin to Gods pryas and glory’ than to be sitting in the village cider shop reading the villainous Sunday penny paper, which preaches heresy and sedition, and teaches the labourer to hate his truest and his best friends, the squires and the parsons of grand old England”. … “In the old days the congregations of some of our rural churches stood up in their pews when the squire and his family came in, and did not presume to resume their seats until the squire and his family had taken their seats”. … “One thing may be said in extenuation of the comical vagaries and behaviour of the old Church Bands and Choirs – that is, there were no resident clergymen.  Sometimes, through unforeseen accidents, the clergyman did not appear, and under the circumstances neither the bands nor the vocalists were to blame if they had ‘a bit of a diversion’ by having a few old anthems and psalms for their own edification.  Poor old fellows did their best to keep the bats and the owls out of the dormant churches of remote parishes and villages”.

The decennial Civil Census that had begun in 1841 was extended in 1851 to include a Religious and an Educational Census.  Ostensibly intended to discover whether or not there were enough places of worship to satisfy the demand the Census has left us with an interesting record of a day in the life of all religious persuasions in the UK.  The day in question was Sunday, 30 March, 1851, or the previous day for Jewish attendances.  There were all sorts of reasons given as to why the data collected was likely to have been inaccurate but on the whole historians believe that the returns collected give a reasonably fair representation of a day in the life of the UKs religious attendance.  For the parish of Norton it was recorded that there were 103 inhabited houses with a population of 467.  The parish church was St Mary’s which was ‘centuries old’ and its date of consecration was unknown.  The church had a total of 206 seats available; 145 free for anybody, 5 others (paid for by the lord of the manor etc ?) and 56 seats on children’s benches.  On the day in question there were two services at the church.  In the morning there were 30 adult and 45 Sunday scholars in attendance.  In the afternoon 68 adults and 45 Sunday scholars.  In the remarks entry it was recorded that “seven only of the attendants in the afternoon attended also in the morning.  When the principal landowner is present the church is full.  Six of the children attended only once”.  The return was compiled by the perpetual curate, George Cox, who was at Norton between 1848 and 1855. 

Also in his booklet “How It All Happened” Canon Evans Prosser tells us about some wall paintings at St Mary’s; “We have some old churchwardens accounts in Norton that give a little information about some features of the church.  On April 26th 1826 the sum of £6.5.0 was paid for Tables of Lords Prayer, Ten Commandments &c.  These have completely vanished and were presumably done away with when the church was restored in 1876.  The Leigh still has its Tables of Commandments that were made in 1743.  In 1832 one Daniels was paid £5.12.6 for ‘painting arms’.  This would be the coat of arms of King William 4th.  It was customary to have these in churches but not many were made later than 1832”.

The gentleman whose recollections were reported in the Gloucestershire Chronicle newspaper of 3 August 1895 referred to earlier could remember these paintings; “We used to have the Royal Coat of Arms in Norton Church.  In the reign of William the Fourth we had some new ones done by Davenport, the painter of Gloucester.  They were framed; the names of Henry Butt and Samuel Green, churchwardens, appeared on um.  I am told the Royal Arms were put up at the Reformation to show that the King was the head of the Church of England and not the Pope of Rome.  They used to be in all the Gloucester churches.  They are but just kicked out of St John the Baptist.  Saint Nicholas is now the only Church in Gloucester where the Royal Arms remain and as soon as good old Daddy Luce is removed and a Jesuit takes his place, they will be put in the tower or the ashpit.  My old friend said there was a life-sized picture of a skeleton on the right hand side over the belfry.  The skeleton stood with one leg on a moving wheel, and in one hand he held an hour glass and in other a scythe.  It was a frightful picture to remind us of our latter ends and that we should soon become a bundle of bones”. 

[These references give us a chance to date some of his reminiscences.  Rev J J Luce was vicar at St Nicholas, Gloucester, for 46 years between 1877 and his death on 20 August 1923.  From old Norton Churchwarden’s Accounts we know that in 1832 a man named Daniels (could this have been our storytellers Davenport ?) was paid £5.12.6 for ‘painting arms’.]

The following photograph records the interior of the chancel at St Mary’s church from 1870 and what an opportune moment for a photo, just 6 years before the church’s ‘restoration’.  Indeed, the photo reveals a lot, especially when viewed alongside accounts of the restoration that will follow, below.

The ‘ugly’ wall supports that were keeping the south wall standing and the chancel intact must be the two large timber braces that dominate this photo.  I wonder when the door besides the altar was last opened but it is clearly standing ajar on this photo and is likely to have been the entrance used by the photographer. 

The Tables of Lords Prayer, Ten Commandments &c were still present in 1870, either side of the 13th century window in the east end of the chancel. 

But what about the 13th century window itself ?  Photos taken since 1876 show a much smaller window than that seen here.  The original window had three lights not two, was taller and wider than it's replacement, and had a design appearing to be religious figures.  So, although the original window was noted as being very good indeed, prior to the restoration, and it commented that “every portion to which interest attached has been most carefully reinstated to its original position”, this was not the case and the church lost a beautiful example of early stained glass.  

The ‘gaudy’ royal arms that were stuck against the chancel arch surprisingly can’t be seen in this photo although there are small paintings decorating the walls and the chancel arch.  Perhaps the arms weren’t painted onto the church walls but on boards or something that could be moved. 

It is noticeable in this photo that there is but a small step up from the nave to the chancel whereas after the restoration, and still today, there are 3 steps up from the nave then 2 more as you approach the altar.  

The font in the photo was described as being an ‘olla podrida’ or a hodgepodge of styles “all jumbled together by a rude village stone-mason” but this may have been a little harsh.  The font pictured here is highly decorated at the top and standing atop a column with an inscription on it, unfortunately unreadable in the photo.  The new font must have been procured and installed in its present location in 1876.

I had not found mention of an organ at St Mary’s until one was purchased from Barnwood church in 1910/1911 but this photo clearly shows one with pipes in roughly the same position as today.  Could this have been a barrel organ ?  Judging by the seating arrangement in the chancel there was also provision for a choir.

The more I look at the photo the more I see, a truly fortunate find.

The current generation of the church building of St Mary’s, Norton, is largely as a result of the renovation work that took place in 1876.  In the Gloucester Journal newspaper of 8 July 1876 is an account of the state of the church building prior to the restoration work and it doesn’t paint a very rosy picture; “What little there is to be told about the church and parochial matters generally during the past twenty years is not very satisfactory.  During the summer months many Gloucester people are in the habit of taking a Sunday evening walk to many of the neighbouring village churches, but despite the pleasant walk and the picturesque situation of the church, it was seldom they found their way to Norton.  The dilapidated edifice was hardly to be found in the ?  The nave roof was so decayed that in the case of heavy rain the congregation was obliged to have recourse to umbrellas; the walls looked as if they were about to dissolve partnership, and were only kept together by ugly supports; the south porch and the chancel were falling down; an unsightly gallery disfigured the west end and blocked up the tower arch and window; all the walls were lavishly covered with whitewash; and internally and externally, with the exception of the tower and the east window, the whole ? was in about as ruinous a state as could possibly be.  Nor was the vicar’s house in a much better condition than his church.  It contained only about six small rooms, had no effective drainage and no proper water supply, and the building itself was very much out of repair.  The educational accommodation in the village was also about on a par with the church and the vicarage, and Norton was one of the first Gloucestershire villages singled out by the Education Department as requiring a School Board.  Such was the unpromising state of things in the parish when in December, 1874, its present vicar, the Rev F J Attwood, became the incumbent.  The living had been vacant for ten months ? from the simple fact that nobody could be got to take it.  The real value of the living is between ? and 400l per annum, nut an official statement recently issued shows ‘the annual income of the vicar to have been no more than 40l to 50l, until recently, when in consideration of its claim upon some Gloucester Chapter property in the parish it was augmented by an annual payment from the Ecclesiastical Commissioners and a grant from Queen Anne’s Bounty, bringing the amount up to about 80l, plus a small vicarage house, and plus five acres of some of the stiffest of Gloucestershire clay’.  It is no part of our duty to enquire to what purpose the capitular authorities at Bristol put something like 300l a year which by right belongs to the living of Norton; suffice it to say that the miserable stipend coupled with the ruinous state of the ecclesiastical accommodation for the parish were enough to keep away the most humble aspirant for the honours of ? life, and but for the occasional visits of the Rev Layton, the Chaplain of the County Prison, the parishioners of Norton would during ten months almost have been without church services at all”.  Whilst this may have been an exaggerated account of the state of the church it does paint a very sad picture.

In ‘How It All Happened’ Canon Evans Prosser wrote of the restoration; “The job was begun in 1875.  Not only was the fabric of the church in a poor state but there was also the lack of some necessary furniture.  A new pulpit and font had to be bought, five of the bells had to be re-hung, one recast, and sundry repairs made to the tower.  New flooring had to be laid and much expense was caused by the necessity of lowering the height of the churchyard.  Owing to the fact that graves had to be made on top of where there had been graves before over the centuries, in very many places the level of the churchyard had got higher and higher until it was well up the church walls.  This was always especially the case on the south side of churches.  Generally speaking you will never find ancient graves on the north side of the church as in the old days they did not like to be buried on that side.  The work was still uncompleted by July 1876.  By then the nave had cost £695, the tower and bells £56, new vestry £160, seats £48, church furniture £106, churchyard 65.  It was reckoned that a further £152 was required to complete the job”.

Another account of the work needed stated’; “The church was in a most dilapidated state and any effective restoration necessitated the entire rebuilding of the chancel and south walls of the nave with new roof to same; new porch and vestry; sundry repairs to the tower; rehanging five bells and recasting one; partially new sitting accommodation; new pulpit and font; new heating apparatus and new flooring; some outlay in church furniture (which was entirely wanting) and much expense in levelling, lowering and planting the churchyard.  The Ecclesiastical Commissioners, as owners in possession of the rectorial tithes of the parish, undertook the entire cost of rebuilding and re-seating the chancel.  The cost of the other works already mentioned is as follows :-

Nave                                                                694-16-  4

Tower (including bell repairs)                        56-  0-  0

Porch                                                                 66-  0-  0

Vestry                                                              159-  1-  6

New sittings in nave                                         48-  0-  0

Church furniture                                              106-  6-  7

Architects commission                                    67-  6-  7

Churchyard                                                         65-  2-  2

Sundries, printing and books                           63-  0-  0

Fencing and new gates in churchyard              9-16-  6

Chairs for additional sittings                              5-  8-  0

Faculty                                                                    7-  4-  6

Interest on account at the bank to Dec 1876   2-  1-  2

                                                                             1350- 3 -4”

The Gloucestershire Chronicle newspaper of July 1876 reported on the restoration in successive weeks issues; “So much zeal has of late years been displayed in building and restoring churches, that scarcely a month passes without our having to record the consecration of some new church or the reopening of some ancient structure, rescued from decay and rendered suitable for Divine worship.  No doubt the eagerness for church restoration has led to the destruction of much which the antiquarian prized; the old order, in giving place to the new, has too often lost its charm of antiquity; churches in being made to look prim, have been deprived of that ‘soul’ which age and association with past times can alone supply.  But our diocese has been fortunate; the renewal of its churches has in most instances been entrusted to architects who entertain a profound veneration for these old fabrics, who feel their ‘walls are warmed with the prayers of a thousand years’, and who are actuated by the desire to preserve, not merely to re-erect.  This week we have to notice the re-opening of Norton Church which has necessarily to a large extent been rebuilt…  Norton Church was founded by the Priory of St Oswald, in this city, who had a missionary station there, probably about the time that the Monks of the Abbey, now the Cathedral, had their preaching stations, and also what may be called a hospital for afflicted mendicants at St Giles, Maisemore.  Like the old church at Chosen, that at Norton stands on a hill in the Vale of Gloucester, once surrounded by the Severn sea, and now forming a prominent feature in a landscape of surpassing beauty with Gloucester, Cheltenham and Apperley, in the middle distance, and far away east, west and north, the Cotswold, Dean Forest, and the Malvern Hills.  Its grand, solid tower, and low nave and chancel, form a conspicuous landmark, and will be remembered by many a traveller between Gloucester and Birmingham in the old coaching days.  Centuries ago the endowments like those of St Catherine, Gloucester, and Churchdown, fell into the hands of the Dean and Chapter of Bristol, and that body, apparently caring little if anything for the parishioners, some four hundred in number, allowed their vicar a pittance of 40l or 50l a year.  By and bye a small and inconvenient parsonage was added with a few acres of land so heavy as to e almost worthless; and now the stipend has been raised to about 90l or 35s a week, a sum which a year ago a goal-getter might, if he pleased, earn in a couple of days.  Mr Turner, the last incumbent, left the parish two years and a half ago, and for ten months no-one was found what was pleasantly termed this ‘living’.  The Rev H Layton, the gaol chaplain, occasionally officiated; at other times, we believe, the church was closed.  At length the Rev F J Attwood undertook the duties of vicar and at once set himself to a task which few men would have had the courage to face – to build schools, to restore the church, and to help make the parsonage habitable.  He asked for help, and backed his appeal by promising to give 300l (more than three years stipend) to the fund.  He received liberal aid, and though these is still a rather heavy debt to be cleared, yet, after so much has been done, we cannot think the rev gentleman will long be allowed to bear this burden.  The schools were opened many months since, and service has been held in them during the restoration of the church, which had been allowed to fall into a rotten condition.  Internally and externally the fabric was, in the words of Mesrs Waller & Son, architects, who carefully surveyed it, ‘in a most lamentable condition, and owing to the defective state of the roof of the nave, almost unfit for public worship’.  The roof was thoroughly decayed, and was spreading and thrusting out the south wall, which appeared to be in danger of falling.  The south porch was modern and bad in every respect.  Of a fine peal of six bells, one, we were told, had been broken and part of it carried away.  The interior was covered with whitewash; in places the lath and plaster ceiling had fallen; the three-decker pulpit, reading desk and clerks desk, were of the commonest material; the seats were chiefly of deal; and an unsightly and rickety gallery disfigured the west end, and blocked the tower arch and window.  The only fittings of any interest were a few old oak seats which have been carefully preserved and again used.  The Royal arms, gaudy in colour and gilt, and stuck against the chancel arch, seemed the most conspicuous feature in the church; this was erected in the reign of William the fourth, and probably formed all that had been done to beautify or preserve the fabric for half a century.  Plans were prepared by Messrs Waller, and their execution was entrusted to Mr W Fream jnr of this city.  The chancel, which belongs to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, was in so bad a state that it had to be entirely taken down and rebuilt.  Many parts of the church are very interesting, and every portion to which interest attached has been most carefully reinstated to its original position in carrying out the various works.  The north and south doorways of the nave and the east window of the chancel are very good indeed; and the tower is rather a peculiar specimen of Perpendicular work.  The whole of the south wall of the nave has been taken down and rebuilt and the nave entirely re-roofed, the gallery has been removed; as also has the other internal fittings; a new floor, partly of tiles and partly of wood has been laid; the old oak seats before spoken of have been repaired and refixed in the western part of the nave, and new seats of deal, stained and varnished, have been provided for the other portion.  The tower has been thrown open to the church; a new vestry and organ chamber have been erected on the north side of the chancel; and, as before stated, the chancel has been rebuilt by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners.  A new pulpit and font have been provided, and the church will be warmed by two of Gurney’s stoves; one in the nave and one in the chancel.  The timbers of the nave roof have been stained, but those of the chancel are plain; the choir seats are of oak, with carved backs. Lamps have been fixed to the walls.  A considerable amount of levelling and other work has been carried out in the churchyard, and a gutter course has been formed around the church, with drainage therefrom, to prevent damp rising in the church from the contact of the soil of the churchyard with the walls where the soil is higher than the level of the floor inside.  The restoration of the tower and bells and the erection of a new south porch still remain to be accomplished when funds sufficient can be obtained.  The stone top of a coffin, with a well-carved cross extending the whole length, was found buried in the south wall and has been rebuilt into the wall of the porch.  There is one monument on the north wall of the chancel, with this inscription – Here resteth what was mortal of Richard Browne, gentn, who was taken from among the living the 22d of March, 1636, aged 32 years and 4 months.  ‘Wee once were five, and I (such was my lot), The last that made and first that broke the knot, We lov’d and liv’d, alike each dear to other, And in effect each man an elder brother’.”

This article was followed just the one week later by; “Norton Church.  The opening took place on Thursday.  The tower was surmounted by a union jack, forming a conspicuous object mark for miles around.  Holy Communion was celebrated at nine o’clock, a fair number attending.  At the morning service the church was early filled by a well-dressed congregation and many were outside unable to gain admission.  The service commenced by the singing as a processional hymn of ‘The Church’s One Foundation’, as the Bishop and clergy and the choir of St Catherine’s, who attended, entered the church, Mr Goodfellow officiating at the harmonium.  The service was intoned by the Rev J Mayne and the Rev W J Evans.  The Venite was chanted to music by Crotch; the music of the Te Deum was by Professor Oakley, and that of the Jubilate by Woodward.  The proper Psalms were given to a chant by Pye.  The Rev W Balfour, rural dean, read the First Lesson, the Rev Hugh Fowler the Second Lesson; Cannon Sherringham read the Epistle, and Canon Lysons the Gospel, and the Bishop the Communion Service.  The hymns were Nos 395 and 397, and the Kyrie was by Nares.  The Bishop preached the sermon, and took for his text part of the tenth verse of the 5th chapter of the First Epistle of St Peter – ‘The God of all grace make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you’.  It was hardly possible, he said, for any of them to behold that restored church without thoughts of profound thankfulness to God.  Those who knew the circumstances attending the restoration would feel, he was persuaded, that the hand of God had been present in the work.  But other works which were necessary for the well-being of the parish, besides the church, had been brought to their completion, or nearly so.  There was the good and substantial schoolroom those had passed who came from Gloucester, and there was the house of the vicar which had been rendered more fitting and commodious.  There were those who had bravely borne their part….” … “Luncheon, which was served in a large tent erected in a field a short distance from the church, belonging to Mr N Dyer of Bredon, was partaken of by about 250 parishioners and visitors (many of the latter from Gloucester), arrangements having been made by means of subscriptions for almost the whole of the adult parishioners of both sexes to be partakers”.

In the parish magazine of May 1979 Canon Evans-Prosser wrote a short note about the building of the church porch which was completed some thirteen years later; “ … and there were the plans for the church porch.  They were dated March 1889 and were drawn up by Waller & Son.  These latter were the architects who restored the church in 1876.  I well recollect the late Mrs A J Cook telling me about the building of this porch.  The parish had been collecting money to restore the bells and not getting enough for this it was decided to use what they collected to build a church porch.  So it is safe to say that it was built in or about 1890”.

There must have been a porch at St Mary’s prior to the restoration of 1876 as that was where the stone coffin was found.  This early porch must have been removed as part of the restoration and did not appear again until some thirteen years later in 1889.  The following photograph, which is on display inside the church, is variously dated 1871, 1876 and 1881.  The new porch was added in 1889 so this gives us the latest possible date the photo could have been taken and agrees with Canon Evans Prosser’s reasoning for the porch construction.  The churchyard itself looks very bare when compared to today and no doubt many of the memorials on the older tombs would still have been readable then.

The following records the contract for the construction of the porch :-  “Memorandum of agreement made this 18th day of July, one thousand eight hundred and eighty nine, between Reverend Robert Marks, vicar of Norton in the County of Gloucestershire, of the one part and James Freeman, builder of Norton in the County of Gloucestershire, of the other part.  The said James Freeman hereby agrees to provide everything necessary for the erection of a new porch at Norton Church in the County of Gloucestershire for the said Reverend Robert Marks according to the plan and particulars prepared by Messrs Waller & Son, his architect, the plan being numbered 30384 and which is hereto attached.  The work to be completed to the entire satisfaction of the architect on or before the expiration of August 31st whereupon the said Reverend Robert Marks agrees to pay the said James Freeman in good lawful money the sum of fifty three pounds, 5% on the amount of the contract being retained be Reverend Robert Marks for three months to make good any defects.  Signed in the presence of us: James Freeman, Robert Marks & Alice Mary Shortland”.

Returning to the theme of paintings on the church walls, sometime in the 1990s I was lent the following photograph by Michael Phelps, then of Yew Tree Farm. The photo depicts the interior of St Mary’s,  but unfortunately we do not know when it was taken.  Canon Evans Prosser wrote at length about the church, its decoration and contents over the years but I have not been able to find a reference to the wall paintings either side of the arch.  The mural to the left of the photo reads “Sing to the Lord & praise his name”, the mural to the right “Honour the Lord with thy first fruits”.  Had these murals been painted over during Evans Prosser’s time in the village I would have expected him to make a comment about this.  Canon Evans Prosser became vicar in 1934 so I assume they had gone by that time which makes the photo earlier than that.  In 1912 the Arbuthnot family of Norton Court presented St Mary's with a large wooden lectern, see later in this account.  The lectern isnt present on this photo so it must be prior to 1912.  Another photo which claims to be dated 1909, also reproduced later in this article shows the interior without wall paintings so they had gone by then.  Could this photo show the interior of the church after the 1876 restoration ? 

It would appear that the village used to go to great lengths to beautify the church at St Mary’s. Norton, to mark occasions in the Christian calendar.  The following account has been taken from the Gloucestershire Chronicle newspaper of 24 April 1897; “Norton – the church was, as usual, brightly decorated for the Easter Festival.  Mrs and Miss Arbuthnot, assisted by the head gardener (J Mullens), took charge of the chancel.  The chancel windows were tastefully filled with pots of spirea, cineraria, and deutchia, the east window having in the centre a floral cross.  A cornice of white and red flowers formed the base upon which stood the bases and cross above the table, while the communion rails were wreathed with ivy intermingled with flowers and fruit blossoms.  The Misses Dyer treated the pulpit with wreaths of greenery lit up by a profusion of daffodils and a wallflower cross.  Miss Marks had ornamented the font prettily with laurustinus relieved by very many clusters of primroses.  Miss Loveridge decorated the lectern with arum lily leaves at the base, and a suspended cross of ‘snow in harvest’, and the lower windows were in the hands of Miss A Freeman, who filled the sills with primroses, embedded in moss.  The congregations were large, and the services brightly joyous”.

The following extract is taken from the Norton Churchwarden’s Accounts, Easter Vestry Meeting, 1909.  “Mr A J Cook alluded to the growing and objectionable practice of putting bicycles in the porch.  After some discussion it was decided to erect a wooden shed for the temporary housing of bicycles in some convenient position to be selected by the Churchwarden’s sidesman”.  Following this we see a Church Vestry Meeting of 13th May 1909 when “It was decided to call for tenders for the erection of the bicycle shed the site being selected being near the entrance gate”.  There is no further mention of the shed or the bicycles so I don’t know if it was ever erected and, if so, for how long it remained in use.

On 1 March 1911, at the 18:30 Lent service at St Mary’s, Norton, a sermon was given celebrating “music as an aid to worship” and the new organ was inaugurated.  In the Parish Magazine of November 1972 Canon Evans Prosser wrote that “…the Norton one (organ) was purchased from Barnwood Church in 1910…”.  The Churchwardens Accounts from this time also concur.  There is no mention of an organ at all prior to the Easter Vestry of 17th April 1911 when amongst the expenditure is an item noted as ‘Organ Fund’ at the sum of £2 15s 7d so perhaps this is what the organ cost the parish.  In the same accounts a C Lake was paid 2s to act as organ blower.  The following year C Lake was again the organ blower but his payment had risen to £1 6s perhaps because this was for a full year and in 1916 the blower duties were shared by Berry (15s) and W Giddings (13s).  Records of these payments continue for many years and the church inventory through the 1920/30s records the presence in the vestry of “1 organ blowers stool”.  In the May 1979 parish magazine Canon Evans Prosser wrote “The church organ used to be blown by hand and this was quite a popular post with the boys.  Many of them inscribed their initials on the back of the organ case”.  In September 1951 it was reported that “we are putting in an electric blower for the organ” and this must have deprived generations of boys of their payments.

The organ obviously needed someone to play it as well and details of this is also recorded in the Churchwardens Accounts.  In 1921 Miss Batty was paid £12 as ¾ year salary as organist.  The church inventory of the 1920/30s also records “1 organ, organ seat and oil lamp on organ and 2 organ hymn books”.  In 1935 the expenditure for the year records £18 for organist and blower and this was the highest single outgoing in the accounts.  The organ also brought additional ongoing costs and as early as 1913 we see a Mr Goddard being paid 10s for repairs and in 1916 a further £1 11s 3d for tuning the organ.  In 1921 Liddell & Sons were paid 18s 6d for more repairs and this continues to be a feature of the Churchwardens Accounts over the years.  In 1961/62 it was reported that Miss Goulter was paid £9 15s as organist with tuning an additional cost of £3 15s and repairs again at 15s.  It is interesting to note how much the salary of organist had reduced over the years.  In the parish magazine of December 1969 Canon Evans-Prosser wrote “… the Norton organ has now been repaired.  The Church Council and several others have seen the damaged pipes removed from the organ.  Mice had made quite large holes in them”.

St Mary's interior at 1909 - note the wall paintings are now gone

In 1912 another feature of the current St Mary’s appeared.  In November 1912 Col Arbuthnot wrote the following letter to the people of Norton; “Dear Friends, As you are no doubt aware, we are about to terminate a residence of 23 years at Norton, which I need hardly say is a source of the deepest sorrow.  We had hoped to be able to bid you farewell at some entertainment, but ill-health, the difficulties incidental to the move, and the fact that some of our oldest and warmest friends could not have come to it, make this impracticable, so we must content ourselves with writing to you and enclosing photographs, which we hope will make you remember us.  We have also decided on placing a new reading desk in the Parish Church”. 

The large wooden lectern holding the bible and from where the vicar reads the lesson of the day is in the form of an angel atop a pedestal and the design was Mrs Arbuthnot’s conception and was created by Mr Martyn of Sunningsend Works, Cheltenham.    A brass plaque that is affixed to the base of the lectern reads, “TO THE GLORY OF GOD and to commemorate the reading of the lessons in this Church by Colonel Arbuthnot during his residence at Norton Court of twenty three years.  This lectern is presented  by Colonel and Mrs Arbuthnot Christmas 1912”.

 In the Parish Magazine of June 1982 Canon Evans Prosser wrote; “When in 1926 it was found necessary to replace the church floor and the old pews it was decided that the section behind the font was sound and so sadly it was left.  The church architect has now discovered that there has been a complete disintegration of the support timbers and the whole area will have to be dealt with at considerable cost.  A suggested plan drawn up by the architect is that the ancient pews be retained but that an open space be provided behind the font”.  

In July 1929 a summer fair was held at the Kings Head, Norton, in aid of the church funds.  Organised by the Parochial Church Council with Rev Congdon as chairman and Miss Mullens as secretary and with the assistance of Gloucester based members of the Order of Crusaders. “The opening ceremony was performed by Mrs Alex Moore, of Badgeworth Court, who was introduced by Captain G Norton Walker.  Mrs Moore, in declaring the Fair open, said they had a fine old church, and if everyone gave a penny a week towards its upkeep, it would never be in need of funds.  If several people decided to collect in different parts of the parish it would become quite easy”.

In the Parish Magazine of June 1971 Canon Evans Prosser continued; “In 1934 there were in front of the pulpit several pews that were beginning to sag and before long they began to sink into the floor at one end.  By early 1936 it was clear that something would have to be done about them.  The Diocesan Surveyor was called in and he made it obvious that much of the flooring of the church would have to be taken up and replaced, he having had a site meeting with the churchwardens, Mr H E Bailey (the Estate Foreman) and myself.  His report was presented to an emergency meeting of the PCC.  It recommended that three quarters of the floor should be removed, owing to dry rot, and wood blocks set in 10 inches of concrete should be laid down instead.  Two members voted against but the majority was in favour and a week later an estimate for £60.6.0 was accepted.  The piece of floor not altered was that immediately behind the font which had been renewed not long before.  The church walls were painted a depressing grey shade and they were not given something brighter till many years later, about 1958”.

In the Gloucester Journal newspaper of 20 June 1936 it was reported that for the following two Sundays, the church at Norton would be closed whilst the floor was re-blocked.  It was also announced that on 30 July that year, there would be a garden fete held at Norton Court in an effort to raise the money to pay for this renovation.  The Gloucester Journal newspaper of 8 August reported on this occasion; “Lovely weather in no small way contributed to the success of a summer fair held at Norton Court by permission of Capt and Mrs G Norton Walker, when over £70 was raised in aid of Church funds.  A new floor in the church necessitated the augmentation of funds, and to this end the village worked loyally.  The Fair was opened by Mrs Denne of Arle House.  Produce, fancy, needlework and household, rummage, sweets and ice cream stalls did good business, and side shows and competitions were well patronised.  A cake competition was interesting and profitable.  A feature of the afternoon was an entertainment given by the village school children.  A display of country dancing was given by the senior girls, action songs and a dance by the infants, and a delightful little play ‘Peter Pans Party’ by about 40 boys and girls.  In a lovely setting of lawn and garden the childrens’ dresses showed to perfection, and the performance was excellent.  The garden were thrown open, and visitors had an opportunity of seeing a profusion of flowers artistically set among trees and shrubs, herbaceous borders and conservatories.  Music added to charm to the proceedings”.

In the early 1940s St Mary’s nearly had a moment of glory by appearing on the BBC  In his ‘How It All Happened’ Canon Evans Prosser recorded;  “In the early days of the war, some of the Norton mothers one Sunday met me at the bottom of the Church Lane and asked me if it would be possible to have a children’s service on Sunday afternoons instead of Evensong.  It should be explained that during the War we could not have evening service at the usual time because of the black-out and we had it in the afternoon.  This, of course, put an end to Sunday School which in those days we held at the day school.  Incidentally we also had the ordinary church services there on Sundays when we could not get to the church because of flooding at the bottom of the lane which used to occur quite often before they put in proper drainage years later.  Well, I said yes.  So we had this locally famous service on alternate Sundays with ordinary Evensong.  At that time we had a lot of church going children in Norton aged from about 10 to 14.  For this service I wrote a version of shortened Evensong in modern English and children read the lessons.  On a few occasions we had youngsters giving a short address.  We had excellent congregations as many adults came to it and it even became known farther afield and people would come from Gloucester, including a mistress or two from Denmark ad High School.  It could be called a success and went on for several years, though it is only fair to admit that a few parishioners did not care for it.  At that time I used to go occasionally to the BBC at Birmingham by the 9am bus to discuss church music and other things with Dr W K Stanton who was then BBC Director of Music for the Midland Region.  Naturally he was told about this service and the BBC got quite excited about it and wanted to broadcast it.  It was arranged that Dr Welch, then Religious Director of the BBC, should come to Birmingham to have a chat with me.  I got to Birmingham on the day fixed for this but no Dr Welch appeared.  We could not understand why.  Then he turned up very late and we learned that there had been an air raid on the railway line on which he was travelling.  The result was that we did not have long enough time for real discussion but long enough for him to ask me to take part in a series of talks that the BBC was arranging to have.  In the event this series never took place because of war emergencies.  In preparation for it I had to go up to the BBC to have my voice tested &c and to attend a conference of clergy, some of them well known personalities, in connection with broadcasting.  Later on I got a request from the BBC to allow them not only to broadcast the Children’s Service but also one of our Harvest Services and an ordinary routine one.  Unfortunately it all came to nothing when they fund that we had no mains electricity in the village and so they would not be able to work their machines.  So the BBC never came to Norton until this year of 1973 when the WI got them to broadcast a recorded program of a panel of gardening experts answering questions in the Village Hall.  I have always thought that in some ways the war years were the days of Norton’s glory.  Never before or since have we approached such a pinnacle of church attendance.  In 1941 we had 108 communicants at Easter and on no less than five occasions we had over 100 in those years, and just after the war.  I well remember how in 1947, the year that I became vicar of The Leigh, we had to start having Lay Readers to take some of the services.  Mr Holden, who was manager of SPCK in Gloucester, came out to take Evensong at Norton.  I met him a few days afterwards and he went out of his way to say that he had been astonished by the size of our congregation.  He had taken the trouble to count them and said there were between 60 and 70 in church, mostly young adults”.

At a meeting of the Parochial Church Council on 9 October 1953 a discussion was held concerning applying for a faculty to heat part of the church electronically.  Mr C W Phelps proposed the motion which was seconded by Miss F E Mullens and was carried unanimously.  The faculty was applied for and granted on 11 December 1953.  In the meantime, on 17 November 1953, L C Mitchell & Co, Electrical Engineers and Contractors, 52 Northgate Street, Gloucester, had submitted an estimate for the work needed; “Front nave.  Supply 6 x 6ft and 6 x 7ft ‘unity’ tubular heaters and fix same under the front six seats in each side of the nave.  Supply and fix one 60amp iron clad main switch and one 4-way 15amp distribution fuse board at position of service in porch and install 7/.029 lead covered wiring for 12 heater points.  The heaters to be controlled by two switched by the south door and each point to terminate with a 5amp plug and socket with asbestos flex to the heater.  The wiring run at low level along the seats and would be protected by conduits.  The whole of the above work to be carried out for the sum of; Heaters 81-8-6, Wiring and installation, 5-0-0, Total 86-8-6”.

The following extract was written by Canon Evans Prosser in the April 1968 Parish Magazine; "Some time last autumn, the alms dish was stolen from Norton Parish Church.  An application was sent to the Ecclesiastical Insurance Company for reimbursement of its value.  An adequate sum of money was immediately sent by them.  The only honest thing to do, therefore, was to spend that money on getting another alms dish.  By adding just a small amount to this insurance money, we have only this week purchased a new one.  With all due respect to the old stolen one, which served us well for probably at least half a century, no-one could have called it handsome as it was bare of any kind of ornamentation.  The new one, however, is quite an ornament to the church.  It is up to us to take care of it in these days when there is so much stealing from churches.  We have learned our lesson and the new one will be kept in the Church safe when it is not actually being used for a service".

I guess that it has always been a dilemma whether or not to leave our churches open through the day.  The fact that this is not a new problem is revealed in the following extract written by Canon Evans Prosser in the February 1969 Parish Magazine.; “I am afraid that once more it will be desirable to keep Norton Parish Church locked when not in use.  Much as I dislike this, the reason for it is that on some night early this week someone went into the church, perhaps spending the night there, and had lighted and carried about the altar candles leaving many deposits of candle grease all over the place.  Evidently the safe had been tried and dead matches scattered and an empty cigarette packet had been found.  Also there was a smell of cigarette smoke in the church.  Thus apart from the risk of something being stolen there is also that of a fire being caused and this might result in hundreds of pounds worth of damage.  So there seems to be no alternative to keeping the place locked at least until summer time”.

It is nice to think that at the time of writing that our local churches are now open again each day for visitors to enjoy and pay their respects.

At a Parochial Church Council Meeting of 4 May 1961 a sanctuary lamp in remembrance of Capt Walker, formerly of Norton Court, was approved at an approximate cost of £100 which would be borne by his widow and donor of the lamp.  It was then necessary for Rev Evans Prosser to apply to the diocese for a faculty and he forwarded this on 15th August.  The faculty applied for “the hanging of a sanctuary lamp of silver plated bronze in the chancel of the parish church of St Mary the Virgin, Norton, in front of the altar in memory of Captain George Norton Walker for many years churchwarden.  The lamp being given by his widow.  It is to be perpetually lighted by electricity”.  The diocesan committee approved the request with the footnote that “though they are not enamoured of the use of electricity for this purpose they realise there is ample precedent and, in view of the difficulties of maintaining a continuous light in a country parish, do not oppose it”.

Rev Evans Prosser wrote about this lamp in the March 1973 Parish Magazine so we know that it was still in place and kept perpetually lit at that time.  “The sanctuary lamp that burns perpetually in front of the altar was given by Mrs Walker in memory of her husband.  It is of silver and as far as I can remember it cost about £100 or so.  I am afraid it has got rather blackened in the course of the years since it was first hung”

I believe this photograph to be the lamp described, as it matches a sketch I have seen of the original design, and it is still hanging at the front of Norton church in 2010.  Strangely though, although not ‘perpetually lighted’ any more, it would appear that it was an oil lamp and not electric at all.

To go with the musical accompaniment of the church minstrels St Mary’s has also had a church choir on and off over the years.  The first clear mention of a choir that I have found came in 1878 with the Harvest Festival of that year.  We take the celebration of harvest in our churches for granted today but this hasn’t always been the case.  Whilst offering thanks for a successful harvest most likely has its roots in pagan tradition and dates back thousands of years, the addition of the festival to Christian churches is not as old as might be imagined.  It is said that the modern tradition of celebrating the festival in church dates back to 1843 when Rev Robert Hawker first held a service for this purpose at Morwenstow, Cornwall.  The tradition became popular and spread, quite slowly, around the country. 

The Gloucester Journal newspaper of 14 September 1878 records the first instance of a harvest festival at St Mary’s, Norton; “The first harvest festival in the church of this parish was held on Wednesday evening, and was well attended.  The church was tastefully decorated.  The vicar, the Rev W F Steele, conducted the service, assisted by the Rev E Evans, of All Saints, Gloucester.  The Rev H W Maddy, of Down Hatherley, was also present.  Mr E G Woodward, organist of All Saints, Gloucester, presided at the harmonium, and the local choir was supplemented by several voices from that church.  The service was non-choral, except that the Psalms were sung.  A judicious selection of harvest hymns were made.  The sermon was preached by the Rev Mr Davis, and an offertory was devoted to the Gloucester Infirmary”.

The service would appear to have been ‘top-heavy’ with clergy so perhaps they were all just getting used to the idea of a church based harvest festival and were assessing the response and setting the order of service between themselves.

It doesn’t seem to have taken long before the idea of a harvest celebration at the church gained popularity with the villagers who entered into the spirit of things wholeheartedly.  On 21 September 1887 we find the following report in the Gloucestershire Chronicle newspaper; “The harvest thanksgiving was held on Sunday last.  The church was prettily decorated with flowers and fruit.  On entering the font first attracted attention; it was tastefully ornamented by Miss Pritchard of Norton Court, with moss and single dahlias at the base, with wreaths, and surmounted by a handsome lady fern.  The pulpit was bright with floral crosses and wreaths, very skilfully made and arranged by Mrs Duck.  Near the chancel steps Miss Loveridge had decorated the lectern very effectively with flowers and leaves.  The choir stalls were hung with wheat, clematis, dahlias, and other flowers, and the communion rails with oats and hops, brightened up by many-coloured dahlias.  This part was in the care of the vicar’s daughter.  Looking down the church the windows were seen to be filled with flowers embedded in moss, groups of fruit, a miniature wheat rick, and huge loaves of bread, all very nicely arranged by E Freeman and W Roberts.  The three triangles of flowers which broke the long stretch of wall were the tasteful work of A Stubbs.  The vegetables and fruit were sent to the children’s hospital.  The collection was mainly for cleaning and re-colouring the church”.

In his booklet entitled ‘How It All Happened’, written by Canon Evans-Prosser in approximately 1972, he refers to some of the old Churchwardens Accounts that still survive for Norton that suggest “that a surpliced choir was introduced in 1890 or possibly 1891 when the Rev R Marks was vicar as we see from the fact that £17.17.3 was paid for cassocks and surplices and Walter James was paid £1.16.0 for choir desks.  I think these were the smallish movable desks that are still there; the stalls came later.  At that date it was considered high church to have surpliced choirs in country places.  In connection with this I may say that many years ago I found a Hymns Ancient and Modern in one of the back pews with a date in the early 1880s written into it.  At that date, this hymnbook was also thought to be very high church.  All this is confirmed by what I was told by a stranger at an Evensong before the War who said that 40 or more years before that he used to live at The Leigh and added that in those days Norton was thought to be very high church not least because they sang responses.  The choir stalls were completed in 1916 at a cost of £24 when Mr Cherrington was vicar.  Until 1908 the choir used the vestry but then it was found to be too small and so the base of the tower was adapted by putting in matchboarding &c.”

An entry from the Churchwarden’s accounts reveals that there was a choir at Norton in 1927;  “Memorandum of Agreement made between Mrs Grace Mills of Norton and the Rev William Antipas Congdon, Vicar of Norton, this First day of May 1927.  Miss Grace Mills undertakes to play the organ at Norton Church at the ordinary services of the church, on Sundays and Festivals.  She undertakes to take the ordinary Choir practices.  The salary for the first year to be Twelve Pounds payable in equal monthly instalments.  This agreement to be liable to be altered or cancelled provided one month’s notice be given by either of the parties concerned.

Signed G H Mills and W A Congdon  Witnesses Ann Congdon and A Browning".

There was also a choir here in 1931 when the bells were restored.

Canon Evans Prosser says that he reinvigorated the choir when he arrived at Norton in 1934 and many years later he recorded the events of that time in the Parish Magazine.

 “Well here was I in a totally new environment.  At the place I came from we had had a fine chapel, with an assured large congregation of the boys of the school plus the staff and the general public.  It was supposed to have one of the finest organs of its size in the West of England and there was an excellent organist and a large choir of boys of which I had charge.  Some of them had very fine voices.  At that time, there was a strong feeling, much fostered by the BBC that it was necessary for churches to pay more attention to their music and to use better Psalters and hymn books.  So with all the enthusiasm of a young man, I set to work to do something about it in Norton.  First, there was the choir.  This was small and needed bucking up.  So I got together no less than sixteen boys and we had six men.  In those far off days I was a bit of a purist in musical matters and caused some offence by giving out that I did not like mixed choirs.  Men and boys only was it to be in future.  Then I introduced the English Psalter, as used by the BBC and Songs of Praise.  The latter we used gradually taking not more than one or two new hymns at a time.  As I thought it would not be fair to ask the parish to pay for my musical whims I saw to it that the PCC did not have to pay for these new books.  Then there was the matter of choir dress.  In November 1934, one of the members of the PCC complained of the state of the cassocks and surplices.  Three weeks later at another meeting, after Mrs Walker and other ladies had inspected them, it was reported that practically all the boys cassocks should be scrapped and new ones bought, the men’s could be repaired but they too were in very poor condition.  It was passed unanimously that the PCC should spend up to £17 but no more on new cassocks and surplices for the boys.  I offered to give a set of ruffs for the boys to wear and this was accepted.  Little did we guess what a problem these ruffs were to become as invariably the buttons came off and they became extremely dirty.  At the same time Mrs Walker gave a set of coat hangers and the PCC decided to install a new method of hanging the things up in the tower”.  [May 1971]

There was still a choir at St Mary’s in 1944 when the observance of Rogationtide in the village was reported in the Gloucester Journal newspaper of 20 May 1944; “Farm Sunday at Norton.  The traditional Rogationtide ceremonies were observed at Norton.  After matins, the litany was sung in procession, the congregation following the choir into the churchyard, where the ancient custom of invoking God’s blessing upon church and churchyard was performed by the Vicar (Rev K F Evans-Prosser).  Prayers were said at different stations for the crops, pastures, orchards and gardens of Prior’s Norton.  In the afternoon, a service was held on the village green and a procession of surplice choir and villagers visited a part of every farm in Bishop’s Norton, and the customary prayers were said by the Vicar”.

Canon Evans-Prosser tells us a little more about this in his ‘How It All Happened’ booklet; “For a short while we used to have a Rogation service on The Green but we had to give it up when traffic increased to the point when we could no longer hear properly.  From The Green we used to walk as far as the Bradley Orchard for prayers of blessing on the fruit crop but also this was stopped by the amount of traffic along the lane.  On these occasions, of course, the Church choir would be dressed in cassock and surplice and we used to bring down hymn books from the Church”.

This choir seems to have died off again after the Second World War.  It is said that the number of children in the village was particularly low in the late 1940s and early 1950s and this may have contributed to the absence of a choir at this time.  The choir appears again in the early 1970s when Canon Evans-Prosser included the following pieces in the Parish Magazines.

“For the first time since about 1947, we have the beginnings of a choir at Norton.  Four boys and two girls, in fact.  It so happens that in all these years we have never had enough children of the right age that could sing to form even the skeleton of a choir.  At the present moment we have no cassocks and surplices for them to wear and I am sure that they would like to have the proper outfit on in church.  You will remember that we had to destroy the old choir things a few years ago as they had gone beyond everything.  So this means that I shall have to ask the Parochial Church Council to agree to our buying a new set.  These will have to be for the Parish Church only as there is no room in St Johns for them to put any on.  In any case, as there are no choir stalls in the latter, there would not be so much point in having them.  I trust that we shall follow the example of many churches today in getting coloured cassocks instead of black ones”.  [June 1970]

“I am delighted to say that we now have no less than twelve in the choir at Norton.  The idea of having crimson cassocks for them has had to be abandoned because it was discovered that it would have cost a great deal of money and the pattern that was sent was of a very dull shade of crimson.  Instead, they are going to have cassocks in what is known as Mary blue.  This will be very appropriate in view of the fact that the Parish Church is dedicated to St Mary.  Not everyone realises that cassocks nowadays are very expensive, especially when they are coloured.  Upon going to find prayer books for our choristers at our last practice, I was horrified to find that practically all in the church were in a very poor condition with essential pages missing.  So I had to go and buy new ones for them.  They were paid for out of a gift of £5 that was given me a short while ago.  However, another matter arises.  New Prayer Books must be bought for anyone in the congregation who might need one.  Nothing looks worse than to see that a church can only provide tattered books.  As I am sure that the Parochial Church Council will agree to it, I propose not to wait for the next meeting of the PCC to ask their permission but to get some forthwith.  Having a choir also means that we must get extra hymn books and these I shall get at the same time.  I have already bought more Series 2 booklets out of the gift before mentioned.  The rest will be paid for out of the Free Will Offering funds”.  [August 1970]

“Harvest Evensong at Norton was also quite something.  The choir surpassed itself and added very much to the service.  We have never had descants before in my time in Norton and I can truly say that I have never before in all these years been so impressed by the singing of the choir.  I should like to make it clear to all who read this that it reflected great credit upon Miss Goulter.  Many of you will not know how much time and trouble she put in to get the choir well practised.  Our heartiest thanks are also due to the ladies who sat in the back pews and constituted part of the choir on this occasion.  I should also like to thank the boys and girls for putting their best into it.  Miss Goulter asked me last night to be sure to thank all in the choir, ladies, boys and girls for all they did to make things go off so well.  In addition to this, I should further like to say what a handsome sight it was to see the blue and white of the choir boys and girls and the scarlet and white of the three servers.  It must be very many years since the chancel looked as well as it did last night and I doubt very much if it has ever looked so fine”.  [October 1972]

St Mary's, 1930.

This photo also shows the two yew trees that used to stand either side of the entrance to the church.

As well as the musicians and church choir St Mary’s also had six bells hanging in the tower prior to 1935.  These were;  Treble bell, 5cwt, made in 1685.  Second bell, 5½cwt, same date and inscribed “if you ask who gave me, Squire Butt of Hatherlee”.  Third bell, 6cwt, 1685, inscribed “I am third bell for to ring many a day for our King”.  The King referred to must be James 2nd.  Fourth bell, 7½cwt, 1711, inscribed “William Fluck, William Welch, Churchwardens”.  Fifth bell, 9cwt, 1735, inscribed “John Poole and William Mann Churchwardens”.  Sixth bell, 12cwt, no inscription.

In Victorian times these bells, like a lot of the church structure, were neglected and it did not always prove possible to ring them.  An article entitled “In and around Gloucestershire with pen and camera” written by Gerald Clinch was published in the Gloucestershire Chronicle newspaper of 5th October 1912.  He found that the whole parish was looking a little run-down and began with a short poem;

“Neglected hamlet of a distant age, Close to the City’s northern walls, Near to the noisy hum of business life, Your old church tower the past recalls”.

Amongst other things he went on to write “…at no small trouble to himself the vicar [Rev Cherrington] was good enough to accompany me in search among the bells for dates and inscriptions.  Of the bells themselves and the present condition of the belfry I feel constrained to remark that it seems a very great pity – to put it mildly – that here in Norton, within sight of the old Abbey (now the Cathedral) of Gloucester, this ancient church should be allowed to continue in its present neglected state.  There are six bells, five intact and one completely smashed; but they are in such a condition that it has not been considered safe, I am told, to ring a peal upon them for the past 20 years.  Surely some concerted effort might be made to put these bells in order … It is to be hoped then that something will be done to remedy this lamentable state of affairs at Norton.  I shall feel that my work is not in vain by calling attention here to the belfry of Norton if I lead the charitable to come forward and assist in putting this dilapidated belfry in order”.

It took 18 years before such a charitable soul did come forward in the shape of Capt George Norton Walker of Norton Court who agreed to cover the cost of restoring the bells.

St Mary's, 1930

On 21st June 1930, Thomas Bond & Son, Bellfounders of Burford, Oxon, wrote to Messrs Stratton Davis, Yates & Dolman of Gloucester (for Capt Walker of Norton Court) providing details of their estimate and specifications for restoring the bells at St Mary’s, Norton; “An estimate to take down and recast the third and tenor bells in the church tower of Norton, nr Gloucester, and to rehang the bells with all new fittings and English oak frame.  To dismantle the bells of their existing fittings and renew same with wheels, headstocks, stays, sliders, rollers, steel gudgeons, gunmetal bearings, bored and fitted in cast iron pedestals, bolts, nuts, screws, washers and all requisite smithwork connected therewith.  To quarter-turn the four old bells with new reversed crown staples and clapper joints, so as their clappers strike on a fresh part of the bell or on unworn surfaces.  To take out and remove the existing frame.  To provide and erect a new massive English oak bell frame, constructed for six bells on one level, fitted with diagonal braces, well pinned and bolted together by long vertical bolts.  To recast the existing third and tenor bells, do all necessary returning and to re-use the same metal.  To supply six new bell ropes (best quality) with worsted sallies and flax ends.  To provide and lay necessary oak for floor under bell 1½” thick.  To fit all necessary rope guides and rope blocks in floor.  Including in the foregoing the provision of all labour and men’s out expenses, all cartage and requisite tools and hoisting tackle.  We do hereby agree to complete the work as specified above at and above the level of the upper part of the framing, evidently as a result of ringing after the framing became weak and loose and particularly following the wedging of the framing against the walls.  The upper stage of the angle buttresses were not very securely bonded to the main walls when the tower was built and serious cracks are evident in the buttresses and adjoining walls while the walls and parapets have bulged considerably and the stonework has to a certain extent been disintegrated.  In order to secure the upper part of the walls, iron tie rods have been inserted, four rods just below the roof timbers and two rods fixed diagonally above the lead roof. The rods are bolted to iron straps on the face of the walls.  At the same time a large number of iron cramps, bolts, straps, etc were used to tie together the parapets and wall stones.  While these have served their purpose, it is extremely unfortunate that iron was used as the rusting and expansion of the iron has already done considerable damage.  The angle pinnacles have been removed at some time and the tops cramped with iron.  There are many open joints that require pointing.  The lead roof is in fair condition but the apron flashing which is fixed with iron holdfasts should be properly secured and pointed.  The oak beam that has been inserted to carry the defective roof beam rests on a bed of soft mortar at the ends and this should be properly bedded on hard stone pads and pinned up.  The steps of the tower staircase are badly worn and the stonework to the walls of the tower requires pinning up and pointing in several places.  Two of the tower lights have been fitted with iron louver plates in place of the original stone.  No lightening conductor is provided.  The wire guards to the lights are dilapidated.  It was noted that some of the beams and plates have been attacked by Death Watch beetle.


Bells & Framing.  I recommend that the whole of the bell framing and fittings should be taken out and new provided.  The new frame should be in oak, properly designed to throw all the strain on the lower beams and entirely free from the walls at the top.  It would be desirable to re-arrange the bells so that the fifth and tenor bells swing in opposition to each other and 1,2,3 and 4 at right angles to 5 and 6 and at the same time 1 and 4 in opposition to 2 and 3.  the present tenor which is broken and the third bell which is cracked will have to be recast.  Part of the floor under the framing requires renewal.

Fabric.  All the iron straps, cramps and bolts should be taken out of the stonework of the parapets and walls and replaced with gunmetal or copper where necessary, with the exception of the six main tie rods and straps.  These do not appear to be doing serious damage at present and are efficient in their purpose of keeping the upper part of the walls and parapets in position.  These could be replaced by gunmetal where the metal passes through the walls, but the cost would be considerable, and I am inclined to advise leaving the rods as they are for the present.  These should of course be painted.  (The replacement of the iron rods would very possibly lead to the rebuilding of the upper stage and parapet).  I should not propose to replace the angle pinnacles.  The open joints and cracks of the stonework should be well grouted and pointed and the lead aprons properly secured.  The pointing of the walls should be done with lime mortar and cement should only be used for grouting and pointing weatherings.  A closer examination of the buttresses than is at present possible may very likely indicate the necessity of securing some of the stones to the upper stage where these are inadequately bonded.  Internally, the main roof beams should be properly bedded, the open joints of stonework grouted and pointed and all missing stonework properly pinned up.  The iron louvers should be replaced by stone and a step ladder provided to the trap door in the roof.  Proper wire guards are required to all the tower lights.  I suggest that the stone steps to the circular stair which are badly worn should be made up with granolithic hardened with ferrolithic or similar preparation, the whole well keyed to the stone with copper studs.  A pipe handrail to be provided.  A proper copper tape lightening conductor should be fixed with terminals at each corner of the tower.  A copy of Messrs Bond & Sons estimate for re-hanging the bells is enclosed with an alternative estimate for forming a lighter peal.  If the structural recommendations are carried out I do not think the lighter peal is essential. 

I estimate the cost of the work as follows;

Messrs Bond’s estimate for bell hanging etc £266

Builders work in repairs (approximate only) £250 - £300

I am preparing specifications for the work and shall be glad to receive your instructions in due course.  A copy of this report and drawing of the bell frame will be required in connection with an application for a faculty”.

An extract from the Churchwardens Accounts for the Vestry Meeting of 8th April 1931 records;  “This meeting of the Vestry expresses its appreciation of the goodwill of Capt George Norton Walker of Norton Court in defraying the entire cost of restoration of the ancient tower of Norton Church, of recasting the third and tenor bells, and of rehanging the whole peal of six bells in a new oak framework, thus causing the full ring of the bells to resound again after some thirty eight years.  Appreciation was also felt of the good work of Messrs Estcourt, the builders, and Messrs Bond & Sons of Burford, Oxon, the bellfounders”.

Two addition al bells were added just a few years later, donated by Miss Esther Hughes in memory of her father and brother who had both been keen bellringers.  Once again I am indebted to Canon Evans Prosser for an account, extracted largely from Parish Magazines from the 1970s, of the events that led to the offer of these bells being accepted.

“For a couple of years before I got here, the Norton Parochial Church Council had been much agitated by the desire of Miss Esther Hughes to present two extra bells to the church in memory of her father and brother who had been noted bellringers for many years.

Miss Hughes tried hard to get the PCC to accept these bells but the PCC hedged.  Her champion on the Council was Mr H A Cook, who could not see why they could not be accepted unanimously, as they would cost the church nothing.  However, the PCC thought they would rather have a stained glass window or a striking clock or a lych gate.  They deputed Mr Cook to go and see her and suggest having one of these instead of the bells and eventually they decided to send Miss Mullens along with him.  Miss Hughes would have none of this; it was to be the bells or nothing.  This was reported back to the last PCC meeting that my predecessor presided over and he suggested that a paper ballot should be held on the question of accepting the bells or not.  The voting came out six each way and Mr Congdon [the vicar of the time] refused to give a casting vote.  That was how matters stood when I got here.  Months afterwards, another meeting was held at which the voting was nine for and three against.  After much to do, the PCC agreed to apply for a faculty for the bells to be hung.  In the interval, we had the 1935 Vestry at the school.  This was packed from floor to ceiling; the only time in my life I have seen a full house at the Vestry.  It was commonly said that the reason was to ensure the right people being elected to the PCC so that Miss Hughes should have her bells.  The village as a whole was very much in her favour.

To cut a long story short, the bells [cast by Mr Bond of Burford] were hung and they were dedicated on October 17th 1935 by the Archdeacon of Gloucester, Mr Hodson, who afterwards was made Bishop of Tewkesbury.

The village was now rather concerned as to what Captain Walker’s reactions would be as it was he who some years before had had the tower repaired and the existing six bells rehung, and it was generally thought that he did not like the idea of having these other two bells put beside his.  A little judicious talking on my part and of that of my aunt Miss Evans, who then lived with me, put matters right”.

In October 1951 electric finally came to St Mary’s.  Looking back on this occasion some 27 years later, Canon Evans Prosser wrote in the Parish Magazine of June 1978; “After years of patient, sometimes I fear, impatient waiting, the church of St Mary the Virgin, Norton, has come into its own.  Most of us realised that electric light and repainting the walls would make a great improvement, but I do not think that any of us quite expected the enormous difference that these two things have made in actuality.  Not many of us ever penetrate into the vestry but there has been a big alteration for the better even there.  It used to be difficult to see things at night and it was so small that if more than two people were in it at one time it was almost impossible to move without getting in each others way.  By cutting out a very awkward and useless fireplace we have been able to move the big cupboard and, by so doing, to make the available accommodation appreciably greater".

Charles Blazdell came to live in Norton in the early 1940s and amongst other good deeds he carried out for the church was responsible for installing the floodlights at St Mary’s, Norton, shortly after electricity came to the village in September 1951.  The following extracts have been taken from the Parish Magazines compiled by Canon Evans-Prosser shortly after Charles Blazdell’s death; "Once again we sadly have to pay tribute to one who did a great deal for Norton Church over many years.  It is highly likely that, largely owing to his retiring personality, many of us do not realise how much Mr Charles Blazdell did in his quiet way.  Perhaps the most spectacular thing that he did for it had an impact upon the many users of the main road who never even entered Norton Church for it was he who enabled us for very many years to floodlight the church tower every evening.  He rigged up the necessary equipment and turned on the lights each evening until the soaring cost of electricity forced us to discontinue the practice some years back.  Many were those who from time to time drove along the A38 at night and told me how pleased they were to see our floodlighting.” [May 1978].  “This brings me on to another subject in connection with Mr Blazdell, namely, the floodlights which he installed when electricity was brought to Norton.  For many years after he did so we used to floodlight the church tower and he used to switch the lights on himself.  In those days the cost of electricity was comparatively small and over the years very many people from outside the parish remarked to me about the attractiveness of this arrangement.  Over the years the cost of electricity has regularly mounted and a few years ago we decided that the cost of regular floodlighting could no longer be met.  So we discontinued it.  However the lighting fixtures remained in place and are still there.  As he always used to switch the lights on and off himself I never knew where the switch was situated until quite accidentally last week when putting on the lights for the Harvest Evensong I discovered where it is.  Now it seems to me a great pity that no use at all should be made of them and I suggest that we could at least on special occasions afford to switch them on.  I feel that for example they could be used on Christmas Eve.  Not only would this be good in itself but also it would be a nice gesture to the memory of Mr Blazdell and I think he would have been pleased to think this was done".  [Oct 1978]

In early 1972 it was decided that St Mary’s needed a car park and throughout the following year the Parish Magazines are filled with the (slow) progress reports of this scheme; “Now about the car park.  It  has been discovered that we need to get planning permission for this scheme, so the Diocesan Surveyor was invited to come to Norton Churchyard to give us his advice upon how we ought to design our accommodation for cars.  He duly came a week ago and told us what we ought to do.  Since then he has drawn up the necessary plan and filled in the forms of application and sent them in for us to the Planning Committee.  He will also find out for us the cost and recommend a firm to do the work. So all that is being done for us by one who is qualified.  The next step will be for the Parochial Church Council to apply for a faculty for the work to be carried out.  When that is obtained the job can be put in hand.  The legal preliminaries will take a month or two to go through but there should be no undue delay”.  [Feb 1972].  “We have now received Planning Permission for the proposed new car park in Norton churchyard and the Vicar and Churchwardens have taken the next necessary step.  In all these cases, the proposal has to go before the Diocesan Advisory Committee for their approval.  That Committee meets this week.  When this has been had, a faculty has to be applied for.  When this has been granted the work can begin.  So we should see it begin to be constructed within the next few weeks.  A week ago I had a letter from Major C S N Walker, who is giving it in memory of the long association of his family with Norton, asking for the latest information on the scheme and this was sent to him immediately”.  [Jun 1972].   “In the middle of writing this I have at long last received the Faculty for the construction of the church car park.  It has taken us since the early days of January to get this matter through.  It is to be hoped that we shall now be able to have the job done without further delay.  What I am most anxious about is that it should be finished before the Harvest Festival comes around.  We have for years had difficulty in parking cars on that occasion”.  [Aug 1972].  “A great disappointment was that the car park that we had expected to be in use in time for the Harvest did not materialise.  As we all know, it had not even been started.  Considering that we began getting ready for this project at the very beginning of January in order to be sure of having the thing all complete by Harvest time, when it is always a problem to park the many cars that come, it was all the more of a shock that it did not work out as we had confidently expected.  All the legal formalities had been completed by July so there seemed to be no reason why our expectations should not be fulfilled.  Only a couple of days ago did I find out the reason for the delay.  The contractor rang me up to say that what had happened was that his earth moving machine had given him a good deal of trouble and finally broke down at the very time when he was due to start at Norton.  It meant that he had to get a new engine for it and this had put his work back by several weeks.  He now hopes to get started here in a fortnights time”.  [Nov 1972].  “It was a great disappointment to me, and no doubt many others, that the much wanted car park had not even been started in spite of the fact that I had been told that it would definitely be done in the week before Christmas.  However, at long last the work has begun.  The men turned up to do it on the Thursday after Christmas.  I should like to make it quite clear that we locally are in no way responsible for the delay, neither was the Diocesan Surveyor whom we asked to take charge of it.  Both of us have done everything we possibly could to hurry things on”.  [Jan 1973].  “At last the Norton Church car park is in existence.  It was used for the first time on Sunday 21st, almost exactly a year since Mr Kirton and I met the Diocesan Surveyor in the churchyard to discuss the details on January 19th last year”.  [Feb 1973].  “First and foremost, this time we must record the gratitude of Norton’s people to Major C S N Walker for his handsome gift of £500 to Norton to pay for the car park.  As I have already told him, there is nothing that he could have given us that would be more welcome than to make possible the construction of a car park for the Parish Church.  The actual cost of it was £323.90.  He had been duly informed of the estimated cost long before he made out the cheque so we have not got the extra money by false pretences.  The only condition he had made is that some of the balance should be used to pay a signwriter to record the gift on that board behind the lectern that his father Capt G N Walker had put up many years ago.  This will be done”.  [Mar 1973].

In the Parish Magazine of June 1982, Canon Evans Prosser wrote about more recent work at St Mary’s; “The church architect has now discovered that there has been a complete disintegration of the support timbers and the whole area [the section behind the font] will have to be dealt with at considerable cost.  A suggested plan drawn up by the architect is that the ancient pews be retained but that an open space be provided behind the font.  The practical side of the suggestion is that such a space would be useful for serving refreshments after a Harvest Service or Confirmation and also as a teaching area.  Temporary seating could be provided when needed.  I have been asked to outline this plan, so that members of the congregation can think about it and express an opinion before anything is done about the matter”.

In the January 1980 Parish Magazine, Canon Evans Prosser wrote of more bad news for the church buildings; “Norton Parochial Church Council has now heard and considered the contents of the architects report.  The most important thing in it for the immediate future is that we shall have to spend (and raise) at least £3000 on what the architects lists ‘the utmost importance’ needing to be attended to at the first possible moment is the roof of the vestry whose supporting stones are disintegrating.  Also the complete removal of the two chimney stacks which are in a very poor state and if they collapsed would do much expensive damage to the church roof.  We have no option but to get these things seen to at the first possible time.  Before we can make a start we shall have to enquire what we can get in grants etc.  It is however certain that we shall have to provide a good deal of the money ourselves so we have got to think out in what ways this can best be done.  ....   Whether we like it or not, we have got to face the fact either we all make a real effort to pay for the repair of the church, or there will be no church left before long to repair”.

In May 2003 the roof of the nave and chancel was again replaced.  [I must confess to still having one of the old slates that was removed].