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.

Re-opening of the Church and Consecration of the Cemetary – 1865

Tuesday last will evermore be regarded as a red-letter day in the history of this somewhat secluded, though highly interesting village. Amongst the many improvements that have taken place here during the last few years, none seems to have excited the interest of the villagers and the inhabitants of the surrounding neighbourhood so much as the restoration of the house of the lord, where for generations the parishioners have been to worship. A casual visitor to Norton will now see , after passing by neat farmyards, homesteads and really beautiful cottages (such as are seldom seen in agricultural districts , except at Trentham or Chatsworth), that the culminating point of attraction, the church.

On approaching the village from Market Drayton, our ears were first greeted by the gladsome sound of the new bells, whose music seemed to be gently wafting along the sweet and balmy air of the May morning. A splendid triumphant arch was erected in front of the house of Mr John Eardley, Norton Farm, from the top of which floated several neat flags and appropriate mottoes. Similar arches were found near the houses of Messrs, Bruckshaw and Halfpenny; also opposite the house of Mr Jones, Plough Inn and of Mr Pimlett, the Griffin Arms. Other ones were seen spanning the Mucklestone Road, the Knighton Road and the road to Audlem; but evidently the one greatest pretension was at the entrance to the churchyard and rectory, the work of Mr Allman, builder, the superintendent to the workmen in the restoration. The front of the neat looking village schools was enlivened with pretty decorations , the work of Mr Gray, the respected school master, whilst every cottage, we believe almost, without exception had its little token of welcome and joy.

The church is pleasantly situated on a slightly raised portion of the ground in the centre of the village, and at the parting of the roads from Audlem and Knighton, with a handsome square tower, containing, a neat looking clock facing the main street. The churchyard is closed, the tomb-stones are all placed flat, and choice trees have recently been planted. From old records of the parish of Norton-in-Hales, we gather that the present fabric of the church dates as far back as Stephen’s reign. As one might suppose, during the recent restoration much light was thrown upon its previous history. The lower portion of the tower is evidently the only part remaining of the original structure, the rest including the west window, belongs to the late early English. In this style it is almost certain the rest of the church was rebuild, displaced corbels, window heads built in, and the remains of a fine chancel arch being among the material by means of which the late restoration was effected. The chancel appears to have been built in Henry the Seventh’s reign. Not many years ago the church had high pews with locks on the doors, a whitewash pulpit, a low ceiling, iron smoke pipes traversing the upper regions, and galleries half filling the church, were till of late the only objects which attracted ones attention, with the exception of a large altar tomb with reclining figures on it, occupying one third of the chancel, and a disused Saxon font.

The whole body of the building was taken down to its very foundations, the walls of the tower and chancel alone being left standing. The two have of course undergone thorough repair and a nave and two aisles have been reared between them. They are separated for each other by two rows of pillars and arches of red sandstone, the nave being entirely paved of white marble (bought from Italy), dotted at the corners with black and the benches being of oak, very massive, with the ends carved into handsome finials, representing all of the different fruits and flowers mentioned in the bible; each final also bearing the arms and motto of the university of Oxford, “The book with the seven seals.” and “Domnus illuminsto mea”. Kneeling boards for benches to turn up and down. The eight windows in the body of the church contain handsome medallions of the sixteen Old Testament prophets and the arms of the kings of England during whose reigns the church has been at different times restored or rebuilt; these came from Flanders. The west windows (subject Moses and Aaron) are splendid specimens of the work of Hardman, of Birmingham. The east window (by Wales, of Newcastle) is very rich in colouring, but without figures. The chancel is furnished with plain Italian marble reredos, sedilia and piscina. It is also paved, as is the nave, with black and white marble, and has stalls of dark oak (the stalls are a distinguished feature of the church), with canopies to each ; and an elegant roof painted sky blue , bespangled with many hundred copper gilt stars and emblazoned with gilt shields and corbels. The dark oak roof of the nave and aisles is very rich. The eight celestial windows are of sky blue glass having an angel in its centre. The tower having a very handsome Norman arch entrance, and a very loft early English arch into the church, which is shut off by handsome oak and plate glass folding doors. On the north of the anti chamber is a Baptistery, which is entered by as small handsome gate. It is octagonal in form, and contains a splendid font of Caen stone and eight polished marble pillars (green); the lid is raised by means of a chain, to which, to which is affixed a figure of the dove of Palestine, in the act of descending. Several emblematical figures are carved on the font. The light is emitted by three small stained glass windows, rich in colouring, and containing the following subjects in the life of our redeemer:- 1. The infant in the arms of the aged Simeon, 2. Christ with the doctors. 3. His baptism in the river Jordan. The vestry is on the north side, at the chancel end and corresponds in shape and style to the Baptistery. A small handsome stained glass window contains a scene of the crucifixion. The floor is laid with irregular pieces of marble. From the vestry the pulpit is entered, it is composed of Caen stone and 16 marble pillars (Green and red). There is no reading desk, the prayers being read from the first stall on the south side. Between the pulpit and the latter stands a magnificent brass eagle for the bible, supported by a chaste pillar resting on a pedestal, underneath which are three lions. The whole is very massive, of solid brass and very costly. The bible is exceedingly handsome and quite new, as likewise all the books in the church, namely bibles, prayer books, and hymn books each bearing the following impressions outside “Parish Church, Norton-in-Hales, 1865”. The organ is a splendid instrument both in tone and appearance. It was built by Walker, of London, and bears the date 1864, and placed under an arch on the south side with two fronts, pipes beautifully illumed, facing north and west and played from latter with handsome oak case; compass, 2 keyboards, 15 stops, and pedals. It was skilfully and effectively played on the day of the opening of the church by Mr Gray, schoolmaster. The benches for the choristers and book boards are between the nave and the chancel. The tower contains six bells, recently erected, cost between £300 and £400, the contribution of the parish.

The cemetery which is situated one third of a mile from the village, on the road to Knighton. The site is very pretty, with a view of the high land of Mucklestone and Ashley Health stretching towards the east. It comprises half an acre of land (glebe), and is neatly laid out and planted with shrubs and choice trees. The Lich-porch is very quaint looking; and the cemetery chapel exceedingly pretty, built in the early English style. There are four windows of stained glass, representing the four evangelists and two clerestory windows -angels.

The Remote Chapel

Inside the Church

Octagonal Baptistery – A baptistery is commonly octagonal in plan, a visual metaphor for the number eight, which symbolised a new beginning in Christian numerology. In the baptistery there are three small stained glass windows, rich in colouring, and containing the following subjects in the life of our Redeemer: 1. The Infant in the arms of the aged Simeon, 2. Christ with the doctors, 3. His baptism in the River Jordan.

Cotton Monument— Is one of the earliest known commissions by Inigo Jones in 1606 following the death of Frances Cotton, who died in childbirth. The design of Frances clasping a child in her arms was later amended to incorporate Sir Rowland Cotton himself who died in 1635. The monument is made from Derbyshire alabaster.

Church Bells—In 1553 there were three great bells and one Sanctus bell. In 1742 and 1752 the records said there were just three bells. Now there are eight bells. Bell One: 26½ inches, cast by John Warner & Sons London 1867. Bell Two: 27½ inches, cast by John Warner & Sons London 1864. Bell Three: 28½ inches, cast by John Warner & Sons London 1864. Bell Four: 30 inches, cast by John Warner & Sons London 1864. Bell Five: 31½ inches, cast by John Warner & Sons London 1867. Bell Six: 33½ inches, by Hugh Watts of Leicester c.1610. Bell Seven: 36 inches, cast by John Warner & Sons London 1864 – Inscribed, according to a note by Mr. R. E. Davies :- GOD SAVE THE CHOVRCHE OVR KYNGE OF ENGLAND. Bell Eight: 41 inches, cast by John Warner & Sons London 1867. The Carillons are by Thwaites and Reeds of London – given to the church by Martin H. Griffin, Esq, Pelwall House near Market Drayton. When the ring was augmented to eight, the tunes played every three hours were: Sundays – “Sicilian Mariners” Mon, Wed, Fri – “Home Sweet Home” Tues, Thurs, Sat – “Nae Luck about the House, when our Gude man’s awa”

Carillon

The Nave— is paved of white marble (brought from Italy) and dotted at the corners with black marble. The ceiling is of dark oak. The solid oak pews have finials that represent the different fruits and flowers mentioned in the bible and they are also carved with the motto of Oxford University and the opening words of Psalm 27, meaning The Lord is my light “Dominus Illuminatio Mea”. There are eight windows in the body of the church that contain handsome medallions of the sixteen Old Testament prophets and the Arms of the Kings of England during whose reigns the church has been at different times restored or rebuilt; all eight of these came from Flanders. There are six celestial windows of sky blue glass having an angel in their centre. The font is octagonal in form, and is made of Caen stone, with eight polished green marble pillars. The lid used to be raised by means of a chain, to which was affixed a figure of the dove of Palestine, in the act of descending. Several emblematical figures are carved on the font. The older font which once stood to the left of the belfry door is now outside in the Churchyard.

Pew ends

The Church Organ was built by Walker of London, and bears the date 1864. It is placed under an arch on the south side with two fronts, pipes beautifully illumed, facing north and west and played from the latter with handsome oak case and contains a compass, 2 keyboards, 15 stops, and pedals, and cost £350 when presented to the church in 1864 by Rev. Frederick Silver.

Church Organ

The North Trancept—The window here is in memory of Rev. F. Silver and depicts in the two side lights two scenes from Our Lord’s description of the Last Judgement in St. Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 25 “I was hungry and ye gave me meat” and “I was naked and ye clothed me.” The centre light shows the healing of the paralytic man at the pool of Bethesda, “Rise, take up thy bed and walk.” A very fitting tribute to a charitable man who did so much for the good of the people. The vestry is on the north side, at the chancel end, and corresponds in shape and style to the baptistery. A small handsome stained glass window contains a scene of the crucifixion. The floor is laid with irregular pieces of marble. From the vestry you enter the pulpit which is composed of Caen stone and 16 marble pillars (green and red). Next to the pulpit stands a magnificent brass eagle for the bible, supported by a chaste pillar resting on a pedestal and underneath are three lions.

Rev Silver Window

The Chancel—The stalls are partly composed of Jacobean carving (1567—1625) and the panelling is thought to be part of an old bedhead or overmantle. Many years ago the stalls on the north side belonged to the Brand estate and the ones on the south side to the Bellaport estate. On the right are the plain Italian marble reredos (decoration behind the altar), sedilia (stone seat set back into the wall) and piscine (shallow basin, used for washing communion vessels). There are two large brass candlesticks which were given in memory of Hugh Cokburne of Bellaport. The east window of the chancel has beautiful coloured glass and is in memory of Elizabeth Sarah Griffin, 1862. The east window of four lights and perpendicular tracery and is thought to date from the time of Henry VIII. The window in the tower ‘s west wall, visible as you leave the church, shows Moses with the tablet of the ten commandments and Aaron in his high priestly robes, breast-plate and incense burner.

Chancel

Outside the Church

Outside— The older font outside once stood to the left of the belfry door where the Cotton monument now stands. This is a plain, round structure of 12th or 13th century work and is still in use today. The arch once connected the north trancept to the Rectory. There is a figure of St. Chad in his episcopal cope and mitre in the niche at the apex of the arch.
There were at one time two entrances to the church, one giving entrance to the chancel and the other being the main entrance (both have since been filled in).

In 1864 the churchyard was levelled and the gravestones laid flat. A site was secured by Rev. F. Silver for a new cemetery, situated one third of a mile from the village, on the road to Knighton. Consecrated in 1865, the churchyard is very pretty with a view of the high land of Mucklestone and Ashley Heath stretching towards the east.

Inside the Remote Chapel
Sources

[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