St Chad’s Church

The history of St Chad’s Church Norton-in-Hales.Nothing of the early church of Norton-in-Hales remains, the chancel was rebuilt in the 13th century, the west tower was rebuilt in the late 14th century, and the nave along with further restoration of the church took place in the 19th century.

Christianity was established in Norton-in-Hales between 669 – 672, through the exertions of Chad; the great missionary Bishop of Litchfield. This is probably why the church at Norton-in-Hales is dedicated to St Chad. It is not clear when the church itself was built, there is no record of one in the Domesday Book, so this would suggest that the church was built at any time between 1086 and 1148 which is when the church appears within records. Rev. R. W. Eyton suggests, “perhaps Herbert Fitz Helgot [son of Helgot] was the founder of Norton church, for his successors at Norton, the monks of Shrewsbury, were not addicted to such works.” [1] Herbert Fitz Helgot inherited Norton-in-Hales and during the reign of Henry I (1068-1135), Herbert gifted the manor to the Benedictine Abbey of Shrewsbury. [2] A charter of Bishop Clinton (1129-1148) records Shrewsbury Abbey receiving 2s from St Chad’s church. [3] The first parish priest is not recorded until 1294, so it is likely that a priest from the Abbey came to the church from time to time, until a resident priest was settled in the Parish.

Many churches were built during the Norman era, as a sign of gratitude to God for the victory over the Anglo-Saxons. Peasants would have been employed as cheap labour to build the church. With no skills to cut fine-fitting bricks, they would have erected two rough walls side by side made of blocks and then filled the gap between with rubble to create the thick sturdy walls. Food, lodgings and plenty of ale would have been needed to refresh the workers, which could explain why most villages have public houses opposite or close to where these churches were erected. It’s not known what the first church of Norton-in-Hales looked like but I’m sure that at that time the sudden explosion of people and activity would have caused great excitement. The villagers of Norton-in-Hales would have been amazed to see a church being built, raising high into the sky, such a contrast from the simple wooden structures in the village. Most dwellings at this time were made of wood when the country was, with few exceptions one thick forest, so timber was a building material close at hand and of little cost.

During the reign of Edward I, Richard Nenon was the parish parson at Norton-in-Hales. His name along with a long list of other British clergymen is recorded on a protection order. [4] This protection order was issued on 18th October 1294 at Westminster; it offered royal protection to churches that agreed to grant the King a moiety of church benefices and goods. Taxes were common in England, but Edward I needed to meet the expenses of his wars with Wales and France. He’d previously funded his wars through his Italian bankers, the Riccardi and Jewish moneylenders, but the Riccardi failed to collect money owed him and fell out of favour. In 1287 Edward I peremptorily seized all Jewish property and transferred all debts to his name. Everyone who had previously owed money to a Jewish moneylender now owed it directly to Edward himself. Then in 1290, Edward I issued what came to be called the Edict of Expulsion, expelling all Jews from Britain in 1290. So Edward needed to find new sources for money and in 1294 it was the churches that were scrutinised and their wealth assessed. Edward told the clergy that they should assist the military effort by paying tax, he wanted them to pay half of their assessed wealth and if they did not pay, they would be excluded from royal protection. Pope Boniface VIII forbade the clergy to pay and insisted that Edward I and King Philip IV of France, should gain papal consent for the taxation, but this was ignored. During Edward I’s reign he levied nine taxes on the laity and five on the clergy.

Church life would have dominated Norton-in-Hales before the reformation, not at least because the manor of Norton-in-Hales was held by Shrewsbury Abbey, but because life in the middle ages was mapped out by the liturgical cycle, the seasonal occurrences of the year and the labours of the months. The passage of time was marked by Saints days, feast days, when to sow, when to harvest, when to kill a pig, when to marry, there was even a right time to let blood. Rents and leases usually fell on Lady’s day (25th March), Lammas (harvest festival 1st August) or Michaelmas (feast of St Michael 29th September). No one could marry during the first four weeks of advent or during the six weeks of lent. There were almost seventy days in the year when adults were obliged to fast; forty days for lent; embertide; jejunia quattuor temporum also known as the fasts of the four seasons which occurred on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. A special date for the villagers of Norton-in-Hales would have been the feast for its dedicated Saint, Saint Chad whose feast day is on 2nd March. The church itself connected the local community; it was the one place where the poor and the privileged encountered each other. It provided a shared identity and was a physical reminder of their shared past, present and future.

Medieval Christians looked to the end of the world and Judgement Day, when they would be physically resurrected through the power of God. The vast majority of Christians expected to spend some time in purgatory, doing penance for their wrongdoing on earth and where the soul would be cleansed of sin. How long a soul spent in purgatory depended on a number of factors; the quality of life a Christian person led and having a good and holy death. For medieval Nortonians an act of piety whilst they were alive could have been a pilgrimage to somewhere like Walsingham in Norfolk to see the ‘Shrine of Our Lady’; Canterbury Cathedral to see the shrine of Thomas Becket; or closer to home Chester Cathedral to view the remains of the Anglo-Saxon princess St Werburgh. A good or holy death usually meant leaving bequests to the church, the confessing of sins and receiving Extreme Unction before death. A sudden and unexpected death was dreaded, without a holy death the length of time in purgatory would be prolonged. It was also believed that the living, by offering prayers and religious endowments could influence the duration of a dead person’s stay. Prayers for the souls of the dead were offered individually, but there was also a special day, the feast of All Souls which took place on 2nd November when collective praying took place.

In 1535 Henry VIII ordered the ‘Valor Ecclesiasticus’ which was an entire survey and estimation of the all of the ecclesiastical property of England and Wales. The assessment for Norton-in-Hales stated that £6 per annum was paid to Richard Wordeley who was the resident priest and its regular annual expenses are;

2s for synods (a formal meeting of church leaders)
8d for procurations (the customary payments that bishops or papal envoys received during visitations)
2s for pensions to Shrewsbury Abbey [5]

After the dissolution of Shrewsbury Abbey all its possessions were forfeited to the King. On 25th September 1540 Henry VIII granted to Rowland Hill, cloth merchant of London, the Manor of Betton under Lyne (which included Norton), and all lands belonging to the late monastery in Betton, Tunstall, Wollerton, Norton, Little Drayton and all tithes of corn in the manor. [6] Over the next few years Rowland continued to purchase further land.

Commissioners indenture, An inventory of church goods was made on the 3rd May 1553. It stated that there were 3 great bells, 1 Sanctus bell,  1 chalice of silver with the paten. This was signed by Richard Wordeley, parson, William Grosvenor and Roger Cotton. During the desecration of the monastic abbeys and religious buildings often included the removal of church bells. At the end of the 1552-53 process of investigation and confiscation, most of the parishes in Salop archdeaconry were left with bells and one chalice of silver with a paten. The rest of the church plate was handed to Sir Edmund Peckham, knight, master of the jewel house. The sale of copes, vestments and items confiscated by the commissioners from all of Shropshire totalled a mere £68 4s. 1/2d.

Richard Grosvenor, gent of Norton-in-Hales, Shropshire. 12 months recusancy from 24th February 1586/7: Convicted 18th July 1588. Goods, value £4 seized 9th October 1589: Debt re-enrolled: Record of land seizure, 9th October 1589, Rental of seized. [7]

In 1575 the rector Peter Stringer died and was succeeded by Alan Downes. The new rector, has one distinction and that is that he was the first rector of Norton who was ever married; and it is during the time that he had the spiritual oversight of the parish that the prattle of a baby’s tongue, and the patter of a baby’s feet woke the echoes of the rectory for the first time in its long history. His children were all baptised at St Chad’s Norton-in-Hales; William Downes, 9th October 1594; Maria Downes, 7th September 1596; Anna Downes, 5th May 1598; Thomas Downe, 25th February 1599; Joanne Downes, 5th May 1602, died 10th November 1602; Joanne, 27 Aug 1603 and Elizabeth Downes, 22 January 1609.

When Alan Downes died in 1611, he was succeeded by a very important individual in the person of William Primrose (Prymrose), M.A who was inducted on October 19th of the same year. A few years afterwards, Primrose had the honour of preaching at the Bishop’s visitation at Stafford, and on that occasion he took for his text Galatians 1,2.

In 1643 there were 12 baptisms held at St Chad’s Church, one of which was the baptism of William Cotton, son of William and Joyce Cotton.

In 1644 there were 5 recorded baptisms, only 6 entries into the register, 2 baptisms and 1 burial in 1645 and 2 baptism in 1646. In 1647 when the village was much more settled the number of entries rose to 14 (7 baptisms and 7 burials).

By 1655 the Latin language was dropped and all entries made in the parish register were made in English for the firt time. It was in this year that John Bradley became Rector.


[1] Antiquities of Shropshire, pg 407
[2] Collectanea Topographica et Genealogica, vol. i. p.26, Ibid. no. 42
[3] Salop Chartulary, no 329, 62
[4] Calendar of Patent Rolls, p122
[5] Valor ecclesiasticus temp. Henr. VIII. auctoritate regia institutus, Volume 3
[6] Patent 32 Henry VIII, pars, 3, me 16
[7] Catholic Record Society Publications: Record Series, Volume 71