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.