We are grateful to Go West for this history of our Parish. It has been written by young heritage detectives undertaking history quests with their teachers, family members and friends. Research is carried out by volunteers who have done their best to ensure that the information is as accurate as possible but we cannot be wholly sure that the interpretation is correct.
The Norton-juxta-Kempsey Timeline
There is a Christian Minster in Kempsey.
Coenwulf King of Mercia gave 30 manses (small holdings) to Abbot Balthun. In return he had to build and repair bridges and roads.
10th Century – In the reign of King Edgar
By this time ownership of much of the monastic land in Worcestershire, including Kempsey and the surrounding area, had been transferred to the Bishops of Worcester. The bishops at this time, and until the death of Bishop (St.) Wulfstan in 1095, were Benedictine monks. Their Cathedra (seat) was in Worcester Priory church and they lived in the monastery. They also had palaces and estates all around their diocese, including one in Kempsey.
The estate in Kempsey included Norton, Hatfield and Littleworth. Parts of the estate kept to provide for the bishop and his household and the monks living in the Priory but much of the rest was let out for rent. The Bishop had a palace in Kempsey; land in Kempsey provided food and recreation for the bishop.
By the middle of the century the county of Worcestershire has been defined.
Danish raids and internal political troubles meant that the Church in Worcester had to work hard to hang on to its land. Records indicate that some of the land they leased out, was lost, some fought for and sometimes regained. Many of these records are still in the Cathedral library.
11th Century – Battle of Hastings. The Normans conquer England. William of Normandy becomes King.
Bishop Wulfstan d.1095 was the last surviving Saxon Bishop. He was a frequent visitor to Kempsey
The Domesday Book of 1086 records that Kempsey with its outlier communities including Stoulton, Mucknell and Wolverton as well as Hatfield, Littleworth and Norton was still in the hands of the bishop who was recognised as the Lord of the Manor of Kempsey.
Norton was in
The County of Worcestershire
The Hundred of Oswaldow
The Manor of Kempsey
The Parish of Kempsey – a chapelry in Norton
The Bishop of Worcester was the Lord of the Manor
1080’s Around this time a small stone church, dedicated to St. James the Great was built where it stands today, in an area of the estate called Norton. It was simple Chapel of Ease where Mass was said by a priest who travelled from Kempsey; it was not a Parish Church.
The Parish Church was still in Kempsey where everybody on the manor was expected to go for baptisms, weddings, churchings and burials as well for the Masses that accompanied the many festivals and holy days.
At the end of 11th century the people of Norton were working the bishopʼs lands, as they had been before the Conquest, but now the bishopʼs ʻEstateʼ was called a ʻManorʼ and he was the ʻLord of the Manorʼ.
In return for their services the people had somewhere to live and a little land to grow their vegetables, they received the Bishopʼs protection through his customs, laws and courts. Everybody who held land farmed it as strips of land on the Common Fields. They grazed animals on the Commons.
By the end of the eleventh century the bishop had completed dividing up his lands between the Bishopric and the Cathedral Priory. From his vast estates land was set aside to provide for the monastic community at Worcester Priory. The remainder fed his own household, or contributed a rental income to meet his expenses.
The bishop set up a Rectory in the ecclesiastical parish of Kempsey. (The area of the parish coincided with the area of his Kempsey manor) The Rectory included land and a house for a priest to serve the spiritual needs of the people who lived on the Manor of Kempsey (which included Norton, Hatfield, and Littleworth.)
In return the people contributed their tithes and paid the priest fees for his services. In addition they expected him to care for the chancel of the church, teach the children, give aid to the poor and give hospitality to visitors to the parish.
The Bishop gave the Rectory to the priest of his choice. The first priest was one of the monks of the priory in Worcester. The income of the Rectory would benefit the entire monastic community.
It was quite normal for the Rector to appoint a priest as a vicar or a curate, he would give him the small tithes and keep the great tithes.
By the end of this century the small stone church of St. James had been lengthened, and larger windows inserted. It was a time when colourful processions were fashionable in church so more space was needed. Records show that many local men and boys were appointed by the bishop to serve as acolytes in this church.
The people continued to work the land and pay their fees, tithes and taxes but over the century there had been disputes between the people and the priest about who held what land and what the people expected from their priests.
Woodhall and Newlands were growing as sub-manors on the bishopʼs land in the Manor of Kempsey. The owners of these manors probably still farmed land in the common fields.
But by 1299 the Bishop had given the Rectory to the College of the Holy Trinity in Westbury on Trym and the tithes of the people went there.
In the early part of this century the people of the area built a new tower on their church. This must have been an expensive activity, a sign of strength and confidence in the community.
But – by the end of the century the population of the Bishopʼs Manor of Kempsey had been devastated by the Black Death. Of a population of about 250 only 81 remained to tend the land. The plague must have spread into Norton, Hatfield and Littleworth. There was no official burial ground around the Chapel of Ease in Norton, burials still had to take place in Kempsey. Did these poor stricken people still carry their dead all the way to Kempsey?
By 1499 the Rectory of Kempsey had been taken from the Priory in Worcester and given permanently (well until the Reformation) to the College of the Holy Trinity in Westbury on Trym, near Bristol. This meant that the tithes of the people of Norton, Hatfield and Littleworth went to a community many miles away and they had the right to appoint the priest who served the parish of Kempsey.
The people continued to worked on the land for the Bishop of Worcester and his tenants following the rhythms of the seasons as they had always done.
They also followed the seasons of the Church year celebrating and fasting, celebrating and fasting year on year.
By 1599 the College of the Holy Trinity had been dissolved as had the Monastery of St Mary in Worcester. Henry the VIII had broken with Rome, Edward had consolidated his fatherʼs work: his half sister Mary had re-established links with Rome and her half sister Elizabeth had finally established the new Church of England.
A lot had also happened locally.
After a turbulent period the Rectory of Kempsey was finally restored to the newly created Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral and tithes reverted to Worcester.
Within the Chapel of Ease in Norton the churchwardens had to find their way through a mass of changing rules and regulations but by the end of the century things had settled down a bit. The old latin missal had finally been replaced by the English Prayer Book, the service was now in English not Latin, there was probably an English Bible and a new communion cup was a legal requirement.
In the Manor the Bishop of Worcester was still the Lord of the Manor but during the century some bishops had been excommunicated, displaced and one even executed!
Led by Thomas Gower of Wood Hall the local community took advantage of the new situation when petitioned the bishop for Norton to have its own burial ground and succeeded! From 1565 the people of Norton Hatfield and Littleworth have had the right to be buried in Norton Churchyard.
By 1699 a King had been beheaded, the country had been torn in half by a Civil War. A period of Commonwealth under Oliver Cromwell had failed and kingship had been restored.
During the commonwealth the Bishops of Worcester had been deposed but by at the Restoration they were back!
For a short while a Londoner became Lord of the Manor of Kempsey. Was he a bit shocked by what he found? In his will he left Bibles for the bishopʼs poor tenants.
On the Manor of Kempsey the land was probably ransacked as Parliamentary troops made there way across the farmland. It is known that they ransacked churches in the area, pillaging as they went.
A visitation to the St Jamesʼ reported the poor state of the church and its goods in 1655.
This had been rectified by 1677.
By 1799 the Turnpike Road from Oxford to Worcester and on to Wolverhampton had been opened. Norton had a place on the new fast route to London.
Things had been much more peaceful in Norton in the 18th century.
The people of Norton still worked on the land. On the big open fields the land was farmed in common, as it had been from time immemorial and the Bishop was still the Lord of the Manor. But new, significant families were living in the area. They rented land, and when they could they bought it, to improve production it really needed to be consolidated.
In 1788 the independent Parish of Norton was created out of the old Parish of Kempsey. The church was a proper Parish Church and no longer a Chapel of Ease.
For the first forty or so years of this century life continued much as before.
A Methodist Chapel opened in Littleworth in 1832
Hatfield (1840) and Eastfield(1854), the ancient open fields had been enclosed.
There were more small farms.
The railway had come through Norton, first north-south on the eastern edge of the parish and then in 1852 east-west through the centre of the village.
Wood Hall is now cut off from Norton village.
There was a train station.
Farmers could get their goods to market by train.
The Methodist Church was flourishing in Littleworth.
The Methodist Chapel had a Sunday School Norton had its own Vicarage
There was a Sunday School at St Jamesʼ
A day school had opened. (1857)
The Ecclesiastical Commissioners were the new Lords of the Manor
The church had been restored
Norton Barracks had opened, the dépôt of Regimental District no. 29 (the Worcester Regiment), built in 1876.
Young men from all over Worcestershire came to Norton for training.
Norton was a Civil Parish as well as an Ecclesiastical parish (1885)
There was some employment on the railways
The income of agricultural workers supplemented by work from the Worcester Gloving industry – a cottage industry.