The Parish of Norton Sub Hamdon
A Somerset Stone Village
For it's size, the history of the village is well documented. The reader is referred to a book by Charles Trask, entitled 'Norton-sub-Hamdon', published in 1898, and a more recent booklet privately published in the village in 1971, sponsored by the Women's Institute, bringing Mr Trask's book up to date. Much of the material in this guide is taken from an article by the Revd. G.W. Saunders published in the Western Gazette, one of a series on local villages, in the 1920s.
Before the Norman Conquest, the manor was held by a Saxon Thane; after the Conquest it formed part of the large estate of Robert, Earl of Mortain. He granted it to the Abbey of Grestein in Normandy, and the Prior of Wilmington in Sussex acted as their steward or agent, and we find the Prior appointing the incumbents until 1324. But during the French Wars, the property of French Abbeys in this country was confiscated, and Norton, its manor, and advowson passed into the hands of the King. He granted it to the great family of the de la Poles, who were to hold it for more then 80 years.
William de la Pole, who was Lord of the Manor in 1420, was created, Marquis, Duke of Suffolk, Lord Chancellor, Lord High Admiral, and chief minister. But high honours in those days were often the prelude to unpopularity and disgrace, and he lost his head in more senses than one. He was succeeded by John, and afterwards by Edmond, the last of the house, who, after escaping to Spain, returned under the protection of King Philip, only to be imprisoned for nine years and beheaded in 1512.
Non Resident Lords.
The manor was again held by the crown for some years, and was then granted to Sir Charles Brandon, and the dukedom of Suffolk was revived in his name. The Duke married no less a person than Mary, sister of Henry VIII the Dowager Queen of France, and had two daughters. The eldest daughter, Frances had married Henry Grey, Marquis of Dorset, and to him the manor was granted in 1553 with the title of Duke of Suffolk. He had two daughters, Jane and Catherine. Jane was the Lady Jane Grey, and for his implication in the plot to make Lady Jane Queen of England, he lost his head. His Duchess, though even more deeply implicated than he, succeeded in making peace with the Court, and retained the manor.
On her death, the property would have fallen to the other daughter, Catherine, but she had married Lord Hertford, the son of the Duke of Somerset, the Pretender, without the Queen's consent. The Queen, fearing the birth of a child from the marriage, and another Yorkist heir to the throne, sent both to the tower, where Catherine died nine years later. After her death, Lord Hertford was liberated, and his property restored to him, and he continued to hold it until his death in 1621.
He was succeeded by his son Edward, Lord Beauchamp, who died in 1660, and the manor passed after the death of Anna his wife, to their daughter Elizabeth, wife of the Earl of Aylesbury in 1671. From then it descended or came into the hands of the Hon. Charles Bruce, the Hon. Robert Bruce, and James Bruce, who in 1705 divided up the estate and sold it in portions.
The manor passed into the hands of the Fanes, of Brympton, and in 1807 was purchased from the Trustees of the Earl and Countess of Jersey by Matthew Quantock, who was the first lord of the manor to reside in the parish.
The Parish Church
There is no doubt that there was a Norman Church on the site of the present one. Mr Charles Trask in his book 'Norton-sub-Hamdon', says that the base of a Norman pier was found under the pavement, and refers to the "capitals of the shafts of doorway, arch stones with zigzag moulding, and stones with carved lozenges" built into the walls of the upper stage of the tower. But the present church is a beautiful example of the 15th. Century, tall and narrow, and beautifully proportioned. The best view is that from the field at the east end of the church.
The plan of the church is complete with western tower, nave, chancel, north and south aisles terminating in chapels, stopping just short of the east end, and a south porch. But what strikes the eye is the imposing height of the structure. This is due to the fact that the church was designed so that the nave and aisles might be covered with one roof of a steep pitch. To do so, the walls of the aisles had to be raised proportionately with the height of the nave. But a large roof surface is generally ugly, and if brought down to overhang the eaves, gives the appearance of insecurity and slipping down. This is overcome here by a very beautiful battlemented parapet with tall crocketed pinnacles, which masks the lower courses of the roof, and appears to prevent them slipping off. The tower is also raised high, and is of the same graceful proportions. It is a plan which is extremely rare in this country, and nowhere carried out with such success as here.
The details are also in perfect proportion. The string courses are bold, the windows tall and narrow, the pinnacles of the parapet graceful. These are original on the south side only; those on the north side were erected in recent times. They bear Hebrew inscriptions; 1, labsheh (earth); 2, Ruach (air); 3, nur (fire); 4, laminim (water).
>The Tower was struck by lightening on Sunday 29th. July 1894 at 4.30 am., and the resultant fire completely gutted the tower.The restoration, which was carried out within one year, was so carefully done that, though there are many fired stones, the original design is preserved unaltered. More about the fire of 1894 can be read in the extract from the parish magazine of August 1894.
The buttresses are rectangular and set a few inches from the corner; they stop several feet below the parapet, and from the top of each a triangular pilaster continues up and through the parapet to terminate in a crocketed pinnacle. These pinnacles do not stand at the corner, but near them. The parapet is battlemented, and a median pinnacle is set in each face. In front of this median pinnacle is corbelled out another lower "flying pinnacle" - an exceptional feature.
The staircase turret is hexagonal and set at the N.E. corner, and rises with its embattled top, gargoyles and smaller pinnacles, slightly above the parapet. A tall narrow window of two lights extends through the upper stages. These have been filled with openwork panels of stone. Below this on the north and south sides, the string course is lifted to frame a narrow square headed window, which lights and ventilates the ringing chamber. In each of the two lower stages on the south side, is a niche supported on a carved corbel and with a good canopy. Over the west door is a tall west window of excellent design. The total height of the tower is 98ft. 6ins.
The old ring of five bells were destroyed in the fire of 1894. Four of them were the work of Richard Purdue of Closworth, and bore inscriptions:
1,2,3, ANNO: DO: MI: NI: 1608: RP.. And royal arms.
4, ANNO: DO: MI: NI: 1608: RP. with a shield of six quarterings, a boar crest, and a motto 'Vita et simper' and initials. (It is illustrated in Ellacombe's "Church Bells of Somerset", PI. XlV, fig. 8, and are the arms of Walter Grey.
5, AVE. ARIA. GRATIA. PLENA. RS. By Roger Semson of Aish Priors, tem.
In 1895, six of the present bells were cast by John Warner & Co. of London and hung in a new bell frame which had eight pits. These bells were rung regularly until February 1998, when a scheme created by the Central Council of Bell ringers, backed by funds from the Millennium Commission was put into operation. Nationally, 'Ringing in the Millennium' involved over one hundred towers and a budget of £3 million.
In Norton, the existing six bells were re-hung and fittings refurbished. In addition, two new bells, weighing 6-0-23 and 5-2-27 were cast at the Whitechapel Foundry in November 1997, tuned in Derby to match the slightly sharp pitch of the Norton Bells, and hung in the two vacant pits in May '98. The engineers for the work were messrs Eayre & Smith of Derby. The bells were dedicated by the Archdeacon of Bath, Ven Robert Evens, on 29th. July 1998 (104th. Anniversary of 'Tower Day').
The South Porch.
In his book, Mr Trask says that the porch is probably 150 years older than the rest of the church. But a careful examination shows that it must have been an addition to the building. It is built against a buttress which comes through the roof of it, and on its eastern side the string course continues through the wall. Moreover, the walls of the porch are not bonded into the walls of the aisle. The buttress set against the angles, the mouldings of the doorway, and the vault with its heavy transverse ribs appear to be that of the late 15th. Century.
The East Wall.
Against the east wall of the church and below the sill of the window, are many circular indentations. They appear to be caused by heavy gun-shot or small cannon balls, but when or by whom made it would be difficult to say.
The interior of the church is most impressive. The narrow nave and aisles add to the apparent height of the building. The roofs are all worthy of attention. The nave is a barrelled vault divided into panels by ribs and pillastered between. Below is a cornice decorated with angels bearing shields. The aisle roofs are gabled and panelled, strengthened with principals, and with pendants hanging from the intermediate principals. They are supported on a series of stone shafts set against the wall, on which are placed moulded wooden wall posts. On the nave side they are supported on a series of corbels carved with foliage or with heads. The west end arch is tall, narrow, and panelled, and frames the west window.
The arch at the east end rises almost to the roof and frames the magnificent stained glass east window. The aisles terminate in chapels, on the north side the chapel is dedicated to St. Saviour and now houses the organ. The south chapel, dedicated to our Lady of Pity, at one time held the organ, then later seating for the ladies of the choir. In 1995/6 the tiered seating here was removed and the chapel restored for private devotions. Both chapels are divided from the rest of the aisles by good though somewhat heavy stone screens.
The sanctuary extends a short bay eastward of these aisles. On each side of the altar is a tall canopied niche. The piscine is somewhat unusually placed, to the south end of the east wall, as the south wall was already filled with a priests door.
The East Window
A wooden screen filled the chancel arch, "richly embellished with gilding and ornamental foliage", and bearing two coats of arms charged with three swords in pile, the arms of the Poulett family. This screen had been removed to the west end, and was destroyed when the tower was struck. There was also a Jacobean pulpit and some box seating. All this had been "restored away!" In the soffit of the eastern arch above the screen, was a painted doom, and there may have been frescoes on the wall above the pier arcades. In the tracery lights there are still many fragments of the beautiful 15th. century glass which once filled the windows.
On the north wall of the chancel are three small discreet brasses. One commemorates "Benjamin Collins, Minister of God's work at Norton under Hamdon 14 years", who died 16th. April 1662. The other two commemorate "Henry Birchell M.A., aged 60. Rector of this parish 31 years. Beloved by all his parishioners for every social virtue, 1770"; and Elizabeth Birchell, his widow, who died July 6th. 1805 aged 86.
The church shows many signs of the devotion and generosity of the parishioners. Some additions may be open to the criticism of the taste of today.
The iron pulpit and screen although beautifully executed, seem to be out of keeping in a county and neighbourhood where wood and stone abound, and the font by the south door, in material and design is unsuitable to its surroundings
On the other hand, there is much good modern woodwork in the vestry. The screen across the west arch, though somewhat heavy is well designed, and the carving above the doors of the vestry cupboards is a wonderful example of the woodcarvers art. The west door, constructed from timber reclaimed from the charred beams of the tower after the fire, was carved by a local craftsman, Mr Arthur Parkin, and is a beautiful piece of dignified work.
Please click on the picture of the West Doors for more information
Chalice and cover, 1601; chalice date letter 1796; dish 1814; flagon 1814; also chalice & paten designed by Henry Wilson, which belonged to Rev. Harold Trask, given to him by his parents Charles & Susan Trask in 1904, on their Golden Wedding Anniversary.
The Organ here in Norton church was originally situated above the Lady Chapel on the south side as shown in a picture hanging at the back of the church. The present organ consists of two manuals and pedals, and it has been estimated that some of the pipes are at least 150 years old. A plaque on the console states that the organ has some connection with]. Clark of Bath.
The organ was renovated in 1991 by the Deane Organ Builders of Taunton. In addition to cleaning the instrument, the opportunity was taken to make some tonal improvements by completing ranks of pipes which had obviously been 'prepared for'; sorting out 'peculiarities' within ranks of pipes; and installing a 'balanced' swell pedal to give more precise control over the shutters at the front of the swell box. For a small village church, this is a relatively large instrument, and it's sound has been greatly enhanced by the 1991 restoration.
A summary of the specification is as follows:
Great: 8, 8(treble), 8(bass), 4,4,2,8.
Swell: 16,8,8,8,4,2, 2rks, 8,8.
Couplers: Gt. To Ped., Sw. to Ped., Sw. to Gt.
The Pigeon House.
The pigeon house now in the churchyard, stands on ground which formerly belonged to the manor, and supplied pigeons for the manor table. It is circular with a cone shaped roof of stone in which there are two dormer windows. The cupela is formed by a flat stone slab supported on four small stone pillars, and surmounted by an ornamental knob. Within are 400 stone nests. A rotating wooden staircase which would have been used to service the nests has long been removed.