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The Old Parsonage House at Norton, 1600-1850

Two early glebe terriers, from 1601 and 1606, provide us with the earliest descriptions of the old Norton parsonage house. Both describe the site of the parsonage with its attached “Homestall” or homestead:

lying between the common street over against the farm house on the east side and the orchard belonging to the … parsonage on the west . And between the church on the north and a backside or close belonging to the parsonage called the overclose on the south, containing an estimate two roods, with a further one rood for the garden and orchard

Parsonage plan

We learn from this brief description that the parsonage house was situated on the corner of the street, directly opposite the church, as further attested by a well-worn path leading from the street to the priest’s door where the parson gained access to church. The parsonage house itself was a fairly substantial building:

 

six bays built all of tymber and floored over whereof about one baye is covered with tyles and the residue with thatch…disposed into eleven rooms: the hall, two parlours, five chambers, one kitchen, a buttery, a milkhouse (and other outbuildings).

A bay was the term used to measure the size of a building. From common estimates of a “bay” varying from between fifteen to twenty feet width, the parsonage house itself would have been a double-storey building, perhaps a hundred foot long. Various small closes were attached to the homestead. One called the “Dayhouse Close adjacent to the west side of the parsonage Foldyard, occupying three roods, another called the Neather Close on the north side of the churchyard, occupying two roods”. The 1601 terrier also describes a “peece of meadow in Smallthornes Meadow, of three roods and another in Broad Meadow”, clearly indicating that the parson farmed his glebe land.

Two more glebe terriers for 1679 and 1700 describe the parsonage house seemingly little changed from that described in the earlier terriers. The “Houses, Edifices and Buildings” listed as belonging to the parsonage in 1700 still included “the dwelling house with that which adioyneth unto it … comprised of six Bayes of building, four of them plaster fflowers, two boarded with three little pent houses” (provision for extra roof space). Alongside the parsonage, on the north side of the house, was the old Tithe Barn containing three bays of building, with two more barns standing on the east side of the fold yard, one with four little bays and the other, called the “New Barn”, of three bays. At some stage over the course of the seventeenth century two stables and an outhouse of three little bays were built on the south side of the fold yard, and a cow-house was erected on the west side of the new barn.

The old parsonage house of six bays with plaster and boarded floors with its barns and outbuildings was still standing a century later. The glebe terrier drawn up by the rector, Mr Edward Lees, in October, 1790 describes substantially the same structure, including the three little pent houses mentioned in 1679, suggesting that the “rebuilding” of 1725 may have been merely the addition of a brick casing to the original structure.

The 1749 Enclosure Award provides further precise valuations and acreages of the eighteenth-century buildings and glebe lands belonging to the Norton parsonage. We learn from this survey that the rectory house with its adjoining barns, yards and crofts covered four acres and 26 perches, and that the church stood on a croft covering some two acres with additional lands granted in exchange for lands in the Common Fields. The parson had acquired ten acres of Heath Field, “heretofor Commonfields”, part of a flat adjacent to the Heathfield late belonging to Sir Thomas Abney, a 26 acre piece in Snarestone field adjacent to the Appleby hedge, 35 acres in Churchfield along the Snarestone fence, and an 18 acre piece in Woodfield. Altogether, including meadow pieces granted in exchange for pasturage rights, the glebe lands extended over 129 acres and five perches.

With changing tastes and expectations the old parsonage house, a frequent source of contention and claims repairs and maintenance by successive occupants, was eventually abandoned as a rectory. The Rev. W.T. Pearce Mead King, is credited with building the new rectory at the south end of the village in 1850. However, the 1887 ordnance survey map clearly shows the old parsonage house and outbuildings still standing on the site. A lack of any marking as to its ecclesiastical function suggests that it had by that time reverted into a glebe farm.

The new rectory at the southern end of the village lasted until comparatively recent times. Surviving ecclesiastical papers relating to repairs and maintenance in the Leicestershire Record Office provide some quite interesting information about this building. The 1918 submission for the Ecclesiastical Dilapidation Act of 1871, for example, recommends the demolition of a pigsty in the paddock next to the rectory. The Ecclesiastical Insurance Office in 1927 lists in addition to the rectory house, a stable, stalls, a coal shed and a coach house – all signs of increasing amenity and comfort - a thatched cowshed, various implement sheds, a copper house, a loose box and other outbuildings altogether valued against total loss by fire at ₤925. The office also recommends immediate repairs to the tune of ₤90.

Mention can be made here to a list of the incumbents of the new rectory, those following on from those recorded by John Nichols, and compiled from the list of ‘nominations’ drawn up for the archdeaconry court.

There is a fine portrait of the Rev. W.T. Pearce Mead King, the rector who is credited with rebuilding the new parsonage in 1850. However, both the old and the ‘new’ parsonage houses and outbuildings have now disappeared. Little trace of the old rectory opposite the church survives apart from some stone courses in the walls marking the boundaries of the glebe farm.

The Incumbents of Norton Rectory from 1850

William Thomas Pearce Mead King, 1850

Thomas Cox, 1869

John Thomas Walker, 1877

Herbert Coke Fowler, 1891

Thomas John Williams-Fisher, 1907

William Callahan, 1916

John Carpenter, 1918

Notes and Sources

Most of the references to the parsonage are from documents in the Leicestershire Record Office at Wigston. Glebe terriers 1601, 1606 from L.R.O. MF 260; Glebe Terriers, 1679, 1690, 1700, L.R.O. Misc. 1041/2/492-4

Norton Enclosure Award, 1749 Q.S. 47/1/1-2

Norton Tithe Award, 12 Oct 1849 (and map): DE 76/T1/239

Insurance correspondence, 1918: DE 1555/16/1-41

Archdeaconry court nominations, L.R.O. 7D55/692/1-2, &c.

Particular thanks for the advice and assistance of Dr Simon Harratt.

© Alan Roberts, May 2005


Some notes on the Parsonages Houses at Norton, Orton and Twycross

The new parsonage house at Norton which the rector, Mr Reuben Clark, finished building in 1725 had fallen into disrepair by the end of the century as the archdeacon, Dr Burnaby records in 1797, ‘The Parsonage House and premises want much repair; which must be done by degrees and as soon as Circumstance allow’ (LRO, 1D/41/18/22 p. 68).

This ‘new’ parsonage house at Norton was the home of at least four 18th century rectors. According to Nichols, Reuben Clarke, who briefly served as rector of Ibstock, was the incumbent at Norton and lived here from 1711 to 1728, followed by Lancelot Jackson (1728-1745). Jackson was succeeded by John Clayton who entered the living on May 31st, 1745 and occupied the parsonage house for almost half a century. He in turn was succeeded by William Carson, M.A. who assumed office on June 27th, 1796, staying until the census in April 1811.

Although by no means a rich living, Norton did attract interest in the fiercely competitive scramble for benefices. The Rev. William Bagshaw Stevens, domestic chaplain at Foremark and headmaster of Repton School sought preferment here, but was put out of the running perhaps by his association with his patron, Sir Francis Burdett, the radical Member of Parliament. In his journal Stevens mentions the living at Norton several times, wondering in one entry, ‘whether such a living would demand Residence’. Later around June 1794, on hearing that Lord Curzon was exerting influence to obtain the living for Tom Gresley, he wondered ‘whether it would be more expedient to wait till some more promising object presents itself’. Finally on hearing that the rectory had become vacant in February, 1796 he notes perhaps with some satisfaction that ‘Gresley was come down from London defeated as to his hopes of Norton’. Even as late as 1st June, 1796 Stevens was still hopeful that ‘the living is not yet given away’, unaware that Carson, a third contender, was destined to have it before the month was up.

Carson may have secured the living but the urgent repairs to the parsonage house which Burnaby recommended in 1797 were still not completed by October 14th, 1829, when it came into the possession of the Hon. Alfred Curzon of Kedleston Hall in Derbyshire. Curzon, who gained preferment through his connections with Earl Howe was a pluralist, the grandfather of the famous statesman, Lord George Nathaniel Curzon. With the option of moving into the living next to Kedleston Hall.

Curzon had no need for the parsonage house in Norton. This might help to explain why references continue to be made about its dilapidated state throughout the nineteenth century. In 1832 it was partly occupied by a curate, ‘the Under Master at Appleby considered as resident here, having apartments in the Rectory House’ (245/50/2 p.155). Again, in 1835 although it is recorded that ‘The Rectory House is in a bad and dangerous state.’ (245/50/6) there is no evidence of any repair work being started.

The incumbents’ replies to lists of questions sent by the commissioners of the so-called Ecclesiastical Revenues Commission provides further evidence about the condition of the Norton, Orton and Twycross parsonages. These replies, supplemented by correspondence relating to the inquiry, give full accounts of the incomes and expenditure of each benefice together with statistical information about the populations of the parishes, providing a revealing insight into the financial problems faced by the poorer local parsons.

At Norton where the Reverend Alfred Curzon is listed as the incumbent from 14th October 1829, the return records a population of 301, with another 74 in that part of Bilston attached to Norton. We learn that the curate was paid a stipend of £80. There was one church which could accommodate 160 people and a “Glebe House” (presumably the parsonage house) which is described merely as “tolerable”, shared by the curate and the tenant of the Glebe lands. The gross annual income of the parish is recorded as £332 – 9 –11¼d of which £200 was rental for the land and part of the house let to the tenant.

In 1842 we learn from archdeacon Bonney that the curate at Norton lived in the rectory house which was still 'in a bad and dangerous state’ (245/50/8 p. 230), with the rector presumably more comfortably ensconced at Weston Lodge in Kedleston. By this time Curzon had been succeeded by the Reverend Andrew Bloxam, a keen Naturalist, who in the 1820s had sailed on botanical expeditions to the South Seas on HMS Blonde (LRO. papers and correspondence, DE 3442). A prolific writer, he was related to the Mathew Holbeche Bloxam who transcribed and reprinted a fascinating collection of reports and letters relating to the Civil War in Warwickshire. They were respectively the fourth and fifth sons of the Reverend Richard Rouse Bloxam, assistant master at Rugby School and Rector of Brinklow in the County of Warwick.

Andrew Bloxam wrote a series of letters relating to the parsonage in his submissions to obtain relief through Queen Anne’s Bounty in the 1840s. The ‘Bounty’ was first established in 1704 to improve the lot of parsons in the very poorest benefices. In 1862 he submitted a Petition to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners which records that until 1839 the only payment to the vicar of Orton on the Hill (of which Twycross was at that time a chapelry) was £17 paid annually by Earl Howe. The QAB inquiry reveals that the Glebe lands at Orton were rented out for £204 -2 - 0. When the parish was enclosed in 1782 land had been assigned to the vicar in lieu of the small tithes (granted in 1344).

Bloxham complained that he had been put to private expense with the separation of the chapelry from the mother parish, all ‘for the benefit of the population of Twycross’. This was a common complaint as the separation of chapelries from their mother parishes without adequate augmentation, often helped to impoverish rural parsons. There is no mention of course in the QAB correspondence of his predecessor, Mr William Paul, the Orton vicar executed at Tyburn as a Jacobite in 1716 (!)

The QAB returns for Orton and Twycross reveal that the parsonage houses here were well maintained, compared to the rectory at Norton. By this time the parish of Orton on the Hill, which included Twycross and Gopsall, had fallen into the possession of the Bishop of Oxford, the incumbent in 1831 being recorded as Mr John James Corey. According to the inquiry Orton had a population of 350, while Twycross contained 319 people. About two thirds of the population could be accommodated in the various churches and chapels. Mr Cory read prayers and sermons at Orton and Twycross in the morning and evenings alternatively on Sundays, Christmas Day and Good Friday. Prayers were also read twice a week during Lent and on Ascension Day. Here there was a Glebe House ‘made fit for the Residence of the Incumbent’ where the parson lived with a gross annual income amounting to £224 -18 – 6 while at Twycross in 1842 the parson is recorded as ‘resident in the Glebe House which is good.’ (245/50/8 p. 234). The author would be particularly interested to hear if any illustrations or photographs survive of these old parsonage houses.

Notes and References

Throsby, John. …Leicestershire Views…Excursions (1790) ‘Rev Mr Ruben Clarke, finished building the parsonage-house this year’ (viz. 1725) in the margin of the register

Church of England Records Centre, St Bermondsey, London

Church Commissioners QAB correspondence: NB 19/164, 19/164 Pt 2. & ‘F’ files, cf. G.F.A. Best, ‘Temporal Pillars QAB, the Ecclesiastical Commissioners’, Journal of the Church of England (1964)

John Nichols IV, Part iii, p. 850

A.P. Moore, (printed extracts), ‘Leicestershire Livings in the Reign of James I’ A.A.S.R.,xix, pp. 174-82

Cf. The last words of the Reverend Mr. William Paul, Vicar of Orton on the Hill, in the County of Leicester; who was executed on the 13th of July, in the year 1716

[by] Paul, William, 1678-1716; Hall, John, 1716.

Georgina Galbraith (ed.), Journal of the Rev. William Bagshaw Stevens (Oxford, 1965), pp. 154, et seq.

 Lincoln Record Office (now Lincoln Archives)

REG XXXVIII, 456, REG XXXIX, 619. REG XL, 372.

Leicestershire Record Office (Wigston Magna)

Archdeacon’s Visitations 1D41/18/21 James Bickham, 1775-9.

pp. 1-296, 1D41/18/22 Andrew Burnaby, 1794-7. pp. 1-297; 245/50, parochial visitations made by Archdeacon Bonney, including parochial visitation books.

LRO misc. Bloxam correspondence NRA 6263.

An act for dividing, allotting and inclosing, the open fields meadows pastures commons and commonable places in the parish of Orton on the Hill in the county of Leicester, and the lands ... reputed to belong formerly to the Abbey of Merevale / [by] Great Britain. Parliament, 1782

Plan No. 1. Plan of the Gopsall Estate (situate in the Parishes of Snarestone, Swepstone, Norton-juxta-Twycross, Shackerstone, Odstone, Nailstone, Gopsall, Bilstone, Barton-in-the-Beans, Orton-on-the Hill, Twycross, Congerstone, Carlton, Sheepy Magna and Sibson. Plan No. 2. Enlarged Plans of Villages) in the County of Leicestershire, 1927.

Particularly thanks to Dr Simon Harratt for references to the parsonages at Norton, Orton and Twycross, drawn from his intensive research for his dissertation, “A Tory Anglican Hegemony Misrepresented: Clergy Politics and the People in the Diocese of Lincoln c. 1770-1830”, Lancaster University, 1997.

Update on Bloxam name provided by Michael Beare © Alan Roberts, 2005

 

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