Norton-in-Hales Rectory Sale

Whilst at Norton-in Hales, the Reverend Frederick Silver (1821- 1884) formed a Picture Gallery and a Museum of antiquities and curiosities, which for twenty years prior to his death had attracted thousands of visitors. In 1885, Messers. Edwards were engaged to sell by public competition the contents of the Rectory, Picture Gallery and Museum. The auction took place over thirteen days:

  • Monday 26th January – Household Glass and China
  • Tuesday 27th January – Organ, Oak Furniture, Curiosities and Natural History Specimens
  • Wednesday 28th January – Curiosities, Natural History Specimens and China
  • Thursday 29th January – China Collection
  • Friday 30th January – Curiosities and Armour
  • Monday 2nd February – Engravings, Water Colours and Oil Paintings
  • Tuesday 3rd February – Shell, Plate and Linen
  • Wednesday 4th February – Coin, Jewellery, Medals and Autographs
  • Thursday 5th February – Drawing-room, Dining-room and Hall Furniture
  • Friday 6th February – Library, Music Room and Bedroom Furniture; Microscopes and Mounted Specimens
  • Monday 9th February – Bedroom Furniture and Outdoor Effects, Carriages, Birds in Aviary, Books, Various Volumes and odd lots of miscellaneous works.
  • Tuesday 10th February – Books
  • Wednesday 11th February – Books
  • Thursday 12th February – Books or any lots remaining unsold.

Here is a sample of the eclectic mix of lots, taken from the sale catalogue.

Lot 189 Printing press
Lot 193 Old carved oak pulpit from Norton-in-Hales Church before the restoration, with canopy
Lot 196 Old carved oak cabinet, date 1615
Lot 197 Moving panorama, “Scenes in New Zealand”, six views
Lot 215 A very fine mahogany case organ, with pipe front, beautiful mellow tone (built by J. W. Walker of London), with manual and one octave of pedals, six stops, including open and stop Diapason, Dulciana and Principal, the whole enclosed in general swell, to blow by hand or foot; suitable for a chamber or small church.

Lot 86 About fifteen tins of tripe, by Derby & Co
Lot 87 Seven tins of Russian caviar
Lot 94 Three tins of oysters

Lot 27 Dolly tub and peg

Lot 239 A blue silk slipper, said to have been worn by Queen Elizabeth
Lot 241 A boot; this boot belonging to Miss Mellor, afterwards Duchess of St. Albans, born at Market Drayton.

Lot 253 An ancient Egyptian alabaster vase with sphinx lid, very fine and perfect
Lot 278 Rushlight candlestick, about 100 years old
Lot 279 Two keys, a nail and two pieces of tile found during the restoration of Norton Church, about Edward III’s time
Lot 284 Cinder of nails from the fire of London, a rare relic and valuable

Lot 444 A piece of ribbon worn by Queen Marie Antoinette
Lot 492 A plaster presentation font, a present from the Hanley Ragged School
Lot 505 Telescope, by Dollond of London
Lot 592 Vase from Pompei, 2,000 years old
Lot 593 Old Roman bowl, about 2,00 years old, also Roman tile
Lot 598 Valuable Sevres plate, once the property of Louis XVI, painted with portraits of Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette
Lot 837 A settee of stag antlers covered in super Utrecht velvet
Lot 852 Two Chippendale chairs, stuffed with hair in green cloth
Lot 860 Valuable circular table “Rouge Royal”, with inlaid coloured marble circular top, very valuable

Lot 701 Valuable large dinner service, nearly 80 years old, Crown Derby, comprising soup tureen and cover, two sauce tureens and covers, gravy dish and 16 flat dishes, 24 soup plates, 44 meat plates, 25 small plates and salad dish

Lot 924 Sword used by the Hon. Colonel Needham at the battle of Waterloo
Lot 926 Lord Clive’s sword, a valuable relic
Lot 952 Dagger from Bloor Heath.
Lot 982 Part of a Roman sword found in the Thames during the building of the Thames Embankment
Lot 1036 Cannon ball of Oliver Cromwell, found in this parish

Lot 1071 Mummy from Egypt, 3,000 years old

Lot 2053 Two stone pelicans
Lot 2056 Slate dog kennel
Lot 2060 Fine peacock
Lot 2069 Four hives of bees

Lot 2085 Park Phaeton (by Crutchley, of Market Drayton) from one or a pair, pole and shaft complete, lined with blue cloth
Lot 2086 Handsome Barouche, complete with lamp, pole and shaft (by Corben, London) lined with blue and yellow, painted dark blue picked out with yellow

A Curious Case

In my possession I have a silver British War Medal (1914 – 1920), belonging to 54282. Pte. J Gaskin. L’pool R. This medal was given to me, in amongst a number of possessions from my late Uncle. What makes this a curious case is that I have found out very little about the owner of this medal and I also can’t find a connection as to why this medal has ended up within my family.

From military records I have found that Private John Gaskin, regimental number 54282 of the 17th Kings Liverpool Regiment was awarded the British War Medal and Victory Medal in 1919. There is also a pension record card linked to his regimental number, although it is very blurred, it records John Gaskin as missing, from the 29th April 1918 and that his dependant was a Mrs Hannah Gaskin (Mother), with the address of Van C/O Jones, Coal Yard, Luke St, Birkenhead. Written in pen over the card it says ‘prisoner of war’.

Whilst reviewing the war diaries for the 29th April 1918 I found this entry.

Voormezeele – At 3.30 am, heavy enemy bombardment opened, followed later by enemy attached and our line was forced back to G.H.Q. 1 where I reorganised and held on to the position. The enemy got through on the north flanks practically surrounding 2 of my companies. “A” Company was actually surrounded and after severe fighting were captured.

With no specific mention of him being capture, I researched the archives further. At Dülmen prisoner of war camp, on a document dated the 15th August 1918, the following is listed; Pte John Gaskin, 54284 [incorrect regimental number], Kings Liverpool Regiment. Captured at Dickiebusck [this is a short distance from Voormezeele] 29-4-18. Address of relatives – 113 Herrington St, Leicester. Mrs Smith. Birthday, Liverpool -3-90 [No day, just the month and year].

It has been difficult to try and find more about John Gaskin outside of military records. Even with a partial date of birth I have been unable to find a baptism record for him, or find him appearing in any census return before or after the war. I do know that he survived the prisoner of war camp and returned to England in 1919 but then he vanishes. Going back to the only records that I have, I took a closer look at the addresses he gave whilst in the army, where his mother’s address was listed as a van, I started to wondered if he could be a traveller and that was why he was proving to be so elusive. So I searched the British Newspaper Archives and I believe I may have found him.


At Ormskirk, to-day, John Gaskin (26) a travelling van-man pleaded guilty to failing to report himself under the Reserve Forces Act. Superintendent Hodgson said the defendant had never presented himself at any recruiting office or offered his services in any way. He was fined 40s and handed over to await a military escort.

Liverpool Echo 1916

and so the search continues.

Norton Forge

An Iron Forge was built at Norton in Hales on the River Tern in 1646 by Walter Chetwynd, Chetwynd already owned forges at Winnington in Staffordshire and Tib Green in south-east Cheshire, all supplied with pig iron from his blast furnace at Heighley in North Staffordshire.

The exact location of where the water-powered forge was sited, within the area of Norton forge is unknown as there are no visible remains. The only clues I have is from deposits of charcoal and iron, as well as the field names 164 – forge pool, 165 forge/forge meadow with the Rector of Norton owning a field called forge field, but that isn’t enough to give me an exact location of where the mill was sited.

Sale map from 1827

Pig iron would have arrived at the forge to be remelted in a heath called a finery of which Norton had two, in which excess carbon is oxidized; it could be reheated as necessary in another hearth called a chafery, Norton had one. The water-power from the river Tern would have powered the bellows or hammer. It was common for forges to be distant from the furnaces where they did not compete for the supply of charcoal.

Iron Output for Norton Forge 1715 – output was 100 tons per year
1736 – output was 150 tons per year
1749 – output was 150 tons per year
1790 – operated by Wheeler and Company.

The iron industry profited through an increased demand, when an embargo was placed on Swedish trade in 1716-1719 at a time when 60% of the iron used in manufacturing was from Sweden. The local Rector also benefited by charging for the used of his field (forge field as seen on the map). A Terrier from 1733 for Norton in Hales details “West the forge pool, east the lane leading down to the forge. This lane belongs to this piece of Glebe Land and therefore every beast or wagon carrying charcoal down to the forge pays 2s 6d and every single horse 6d to the parson.”

It was common practice to provide housing for the clerk and workmen at the forge. I can only assume that the three cottages that survived until the 1960’s were at one time built as workers cottages. It is possible that the larger of the three cottages would have been for the clerk.

Possible workers cottages in red

It is also worth noting that Samuel Owen was born at Norton Forge in 1774, he went on to become the founder of the Swedish Mechanical Industry.

It is not known when exactly Norton Forge closed, it is last recorded in the 1790 survey and there is no further mention of it in the 19th century other than a place name and the cottages being occupied. A lot of small water forges did closed before the 1800’s due to advancing technology and steam power.

Spencer Thornton Silver’s Mug returns to Norton

When I started researching the history of Norton-in-Hales and that specifically of Reverend Frederick Silver in 2012, I came into contact with a lady called Verion from Australia. On behalf of a neighbour, Verion was researching the origins of a mug that was inscribed with Spencer Thornton Silver’s name. Early in 2013 Verion put me in touch with the owner of the mug, Rosemary Bates. Rosemary had inherited the mug from family living in England, the mug with a number of other personal possessions had been shipped to her Australia. Rosemary didn’t feel she was the rightful owner and had it on her ‘bucket list’ to return the mug to the Silver family, so she enlisted the help of Verion to trace Spencer’s descendants. Verion, like me had soon discovered that Spencer’s family line had died out by the 1970’s. However, with Spencer and Frederick both having lived and are buried in Norton-in-Hales, it was agreed that the mug would come back to the village to be displayed in the Jubilee Hall. After years of correspondence, Rosemary and her husband Doug travelled to England and on Sunday 18th August 2019 they came to the village, to meet me and to present Spencer’s mug to the village.

Spencer Thornton Silver was born on the 5th May 1849, at Wendover in Buckingham, to Reverend Frederick Silver and Harriet James. In 1850 Spencer along with his father and mother they came to live at the Rectory in Norton-in-Hales. On the 14th December 1878, Spencer died at Beechen Grove, Watford aged 29 years old. He was buried in the cemetery at Norton-in-Hales on Saturday 21st December 1878. More information on Spencer Thornton Silver can be found at

A Historic Murder Story

Recently the Bradling Stone, Norton in Hales’s monthly magazine, published the details of the murder of an old Nortonian resident and I was intrigued to find out more, here is what I discovered.

“1920 45 Main Road, Norton in Hales lived Mrs Pruce and Bert Pruce. In 1930 Mrs Pruce moved to Shrewsbury because Bert, her son wanted to get married and she didn’t want him to leave home. Shortly after they moved to Shrewsbury we heard Mrs Pruce had killed Bert and his dog with an axe.” – Extract from – The Bradling Stone – Issue 4 – July 2019.

Alice Annie Stevens b.1891, of 38 Great Western Road, Gloucester, married Albert Edward Pruce b.1889 a gardener of Asylum Lodge, Hyde Lane, Gloucester, on 3rd September 1913 at the Parish Church of St Mary-de-Lode in Glouchester. They had a son, Albert Edward Pruce Jnr (Bert) born in 1915. In 1917 Corporal Albert Edward Pruce died in action (6th Battalion Shropshire Light Infantary) and is buried in Belgium, Tyne Cot Memorial. At the time of his death, his widow Annie Pruce is listed as living at 45 Main Road, Norton in Hales Shropshire.

Corpl. A. E Pruce

The 1939 register lists Alice and Bert, living at 29 The Oval, Market Drayton Shropshire. Alice’s occupation is recorded as unpaid domestic duties and Bert’s as Railway Porter (trained as signalman). On the 28th October 1945, at 19 Roseway, Harlescott, Shropshire Bert was murdered by his mother.

On Tuesday 20th November 1945, the Daily Mirror reported: To Mrs. Pruce there was no Judge or jury. Judge, jury, barristers and witnesses just might not have been there for Mrs Alice Annie Pruce, in the dock at Shrewsbury yesterday, charged with the murder of the son she doted on. Mr Pruce, 58, rocked backwards and forwards, inconsolable because Bert her son, wasn’t with her. She had killed Bert because she loved him so much: because it tore her heart to hear him cry, night after night, after his girl had jilted him. Everybody in court knew, Birmingham’s prison doctor, Dr Humphrey, went into the witness-box. “So wrapped in her misery”, he said “that her mind has no room for anything else.” He paused. Mrs Pruce, unheeding, swayed and crooned. “She is not interested in what is going on. She is obsessed with her grief.” said the doctor. Briefly her story was told and her statements were read and the jury found her unfit to plead. Because Mrs Pruce could not bear to hear her son’s crying she had reached for a hatchet in their home at Harlescott, Shrewsbury, and killed him. Neighbours saw her running down the road in her nightdress that day. Judge and jury were gentle, Mrs Pruce will be kept and cared for “during his Majesty’s pleasure” – which means until she can face the world again.

WIDOW KILLED TEARFUL JILTED SON, POLICE SAY. 23rd November 1945. A widow killed her son after he had “cried for hours” because he had been jilted, it was alleged at Shrewsbury court. The widow, Alice Annie Pruce, 58, of Harlescott, told the court; “I do not remember anything about it.” She was committed for trial on a charge of having murdered her son Albert Edward Pruce. Police found the son dead in bed at his home. He was lying in a pool of blood with severe head injuries. In the kitchen was a dead dog and an axe. Mrs Pruce was found suffering from what appeared to be disinfectant poisoning. A neighbour said that Mrs Pruce told her: “I had to do it. He said Mother what have we to live for? You are unhappy and so am I.” She also said “He cried every night over being jilted by his young lady.” The court was told that when Mrs Pruce was charged she said “I could not kill Bert. I loved him too much, I must have been mad if I did.”

Alice Annie Pruce died on 18th Febraury 1979, her last address was listed as 24 Alms Houses, Victoria Street, Windsor.

Close Helmet of Sir Rowland Cotton

Whilst visiting the Royal Armouries in Leeds I came across the close helmet of Sir Rowland Cotton.

The helmet was suspended over the alabaster monument designed by the famous architect, Inigo Jones, commissioned for his first wife by Sir Rowland Cotton and in which he himself was later entombed. Son of a prosperous London draper, he was elected Member of Parliament and later knighted. Cotton was Justice of the Peace for Shropshire and mayor of Newcastle.

On loan from St Chad’s Church, Norton-in-Hales.

The close helmet or close helm was a military helmet worn by knights and other men-at-arms. Sir Rowland’s helmet is believed to be German or Flemish, about 1550.

Bricks and History

When I look at any building I alway look at its brickwork. Why? because the different types of brickwork can help date the construction of a building, but be careful, bricks can be recycled and may be older than the building itself.

Brick Bonds

English Bond – This bond is formed by laying alternate course or rows of ‘stretchers’ the length of a brick and ‘headers’ the end of a brick. This is one of the strongest bonds but requires more bricks than other bonds. Used from 1450’s as the standard bond for most houses built in England for almost three centuries. It remained a popular bond for use in industrial building because of its strength.

English Bond

Flemish Bond – This is a ‘stretcher’ followed by a ‘header’ alternating throughout a course or row. This bond was first used in England in 1631, it became very popular and was the dominant brickwork used for houses then for over a century.

Variant of the Flemish Bond

Stretcher Bond – Most commonly used in recent times this bond is formed only using ‘stretchers’, with the joins on each course or row centred above and below by half a brick.

English Garden Wall – This is similar to the English bond but with one course or row of ‘headers’ for every three courses of ‘stretcher’.

Flemish Garden Wall – This is a variant of Flemish bond that uses one ‘header’ to three ‘stretchers’ in each course or row. The ‘header’ is centred over the ‘stretcher’ in the middle of a group of three in the course below.

Brickwork of Oakley Folly

The Brick Tax 1784 – 1850

The brick tax was introduced in Great Britain in 1784, during the reign of King George III, to help pay for the wars in the American Colonies. Bricks were initially taxed at 2s 6d per thousand. To mitigate the effects of the tax, manufacturers began to increase the size of their bricks. In 1801, the government responded by limiting the dimensions of a brick to 10 in × 5 in × 3 in and doubling the tax on bricks that were larger. The level of taxation was raised regularly, until its peak of 5s 10d per thousand bricks in 1805. The brick tax was abolished in 1850, as it was considered to be a detriment to industrial development.

Lairding it up

This half term we’ve been lairding it up at the Old Place of Monreith, a Landmark Trust property in Scotland. Landmark Trust buy these historically significant properties, restore them and rent them out. This one was discovered in 1981, when the house and outbuildings were being used to store hay and shelter the occasional sheep. The Old Place of Monreith is a traditional fortified tower house or Fortalice built in the 16th century for the Maxwell family.

drawings of the Old Place of Monreith
Beautiful drawings found in the guest book

The Devil’s Ring and Finger

The Devil’s Ring and Finger (a standing holed stone, similar to Mên-an-Tol in Cornwall) lies on the boundary of Norton-in-Hales, Shropshire and Mucklestone, Staffordshire. There is much debate about its origins, some presume it is a megalithic chambered tomb, the site of which is now lost [1]. Victorian historian, Mr T. P. Marshall believed it was a Druid’s altar, within a sacred grove. The religion of the Druid’s consisted of three concepts, to worship gods, to do no evil and to act with courage. They had several gods but he believed the circular stone was an altar piece for their sun god, who represented the power of life, of good, of increase and the finger represented the serpent god, which represented evil and death [2]. There are even theories for its later use, that the grooves on the finger were formed by the sharpening of prehistoric tools or weapons [3].

The Devil’s Ring and Finger
[1] Newman & Pevsner 2006, 215
[2] The Newport and Market Drayton Advertiser, March 26th, 1887
[3] Simms, WSL, Sept. 1

Domesday Book Facts

The Domesday Book was completed in 1086. Written in abbreviated Latin with a little French. Place-names are crossed through with a line of red ink, to highlight them. The book named around 19,500 people and over 13,400 places. Of the people names, 63% are Norman. No survey approaching the scope of Domesday was attempted again until 1873 (the Return of Owners Land).

Domesday details for Norton-in-Hales and surrounding villages