Much of the content of Norton’s Court records relate to land surrenders, amercements for a range of misdemeanours and orders which served to inform or remind villagers of the customs of the time. Below are a number of items which caught the writer’s eye.
In 1314 the Court records reveal an interesting case between father and son. Ralph, son of John Boveton had agreed in Court that in exchange for John surrendering his tenement to his son he would be paid annually for the term of his life three quarters of corn, three quarters of barley, half a quarter of oats, a pair of linen cloths and one acre of straw.
Immediately after this agreement John decided to disregard the agreement and enter into another agreement with Geoffrey the Shepherd of Norton who in return for John’s tenement would give to John a messuage and half a virgate of land plus six marks of silver.
This second agreement must have been far more profitable for John but Ralph, unhappy at being disinherited, paid 12d for an inquisition of 12 jurors and a day was given for the hearing. The hearing was not recorded but two years later in 1316 the records noted that John Boveton had demised his tenement to his son Ralph for the period of two years. Two years later it was recorded that John had died and that Ralph had paid a heriot of 12d.
Is this the first ASBO? Is this the decree which founded the Three Horseshoes?
The following order appeared in the Court records:
“Because the lord is given to understand that villein tenants of Norton go commonly to the tavern at Baldock and expend and waste there their goods and chattels to the grave damage of the lord and of those tenants there, the lord has appointed and ordained that in future none may go to the said tavern nor sit there wasting their goods under pain of a heavy amercement. And moreover the lord ordained that the said tenants brew in their own tenements or shall have a common brewery in Norton for selling by the view and regulation of the common tasters and not otherwise. And hereupon John le Dipere is appointed brewer there until the next Halimote. And it is to be known that at each Halimote such brewers should be chosen both by the homage and by the tasters.”
In 1349, the Court recorded that Adam Ward had died leaving one messuage and half a virgate of land to his daughter Alice. As Alice was “foolish of nature” the Court awarded her inheritance to John Loveleg (her half brother) to administer on behalf of Alice. He was also charged with caring for Alice and finding her food and clothing and everything necessary during her lifetime. Sadly he didn’t have to do that for very long as her death was reported by the same Court in the next item. 1348/9 of course was the time of the Black Death and the Court records noted 27 deaths in Norton for this period.
John Loveleg inherited Alice Ward’s tenement and survived the Black Death. When he entered Alice’s estate he paid 6d for permission to marry from which we assume that his wife, Anne atte Churche, who he married in 1344 had died, possibly in the Black Death. John was mentioned several times in the Court records, three times for leyrewit and in 1352 he married Agnes Bate without the permission of the lord of the manor. In 1354 he surrendered some land, defaulted on his boonday and wasted his tenement. He was given time to repair the waste under penalty of 10s which was a substantial amount for those days. His death was reported in 1355 and he left a sizeable estate to his sister Matilda Loveleg. Interestingly she came to Court and refused to accept her inheritance and the lord awarded the estate to John’s widow Agnes.
On Easter Day in 1349 the Black Death claimed another victim, Michael de Mentmore, abbot of St Albans. Despite a speedy burial the infection spread taking with it 47 monks including the prior and sub prior. Thomas de la Mare, prior of Tynemouth, was elected as the new abbot but before taking office was obliged to travel to Avignon to obtain papal permission. The costs involved were enormous so a tax was levied on all bondmen and bondwomen tenants of the liberty of St Albans. The sum raised in Norton alone was a huge 60s which must have been a great burden for the depleted number of tenants struggling to adjust to post plague conditions.
In 1381 there was an entry recording that John in the Hale had committed waste in his tenement by digging a ditch above which he would raise a ridge for elms. He was amerced for this act.
It seems that John was probably building a new elm hedgerow. Elm, apart from being valued as a timber tree, sends up suckers from its roots which helps thicken hedges and it was rarely necessary to plant up gaps in the hedge.
In the same year William Hale felled two elms on his tenement for which he was amerced 2s 6d. Cheekily William then sold the two elms outside the lordship but his enterprise came to light and the trees were seized by the bailiff and William was amerced again.
In 1405 the Testament of John Bradeway was proved before John Blebury, cellarer. It is an interesting and generous Will and no doubt the poor of Norton and Baldock were very grateful.
First he commended his soul to God and then requested to be buried in the cemetery of St Nicholas of Norton. There were a number of bequests; 3s 4d to the high alter, 60s to the porch of the church of Norton, 6s 8d to the fabric of the church of Baldock, 40s to support his grandson John at school while it shall last, 100s to his granddaughter Margery for her marriage, 6s 8d to John Helder as well as an upper garment, 6s 8d to Malcot the servant of John Helder, and 12d to each poor man and woman in the town of Baldock and Norton.
John Bradeway was a villein tenant who has obviously worked hard and accumulated wealth. We know that he was a customary or villein tenant because his Testament was proved by the Cellarer which is why it appears in the Court records. The Testaments of freemen were proved in a different Court at St Albans.
In 1435 the tenants of Norton were struggling to pay the heriot (customary payment to the lord of the manor on transfer of villein land) so they petitioned the lord for some relief. The court books for that year recorded the old rules along with the new ones. Formerly the tenants had been obliged to give their best beast or moveable chattel for each piece of land held irrespective of size. Under the new rules there was a sliding scale of heriots payable in money which varied depending on the size of each property held. This was on the condition that the tenants maintained their tenements and also made diligent search for other tenants to take over and rebuild vacant tenements.
Illegal hunting: In 1307 the jurors presented that Richard Miller, domestic servant of Martin Miller, broke the lord’s pond and carried away six pike. In 1313 Alan le Neweman was amerced 3d for allowing his dog to do damage to the lord’s rabbits. In 1445 the rector of Letchworth was charged with being a common hunter within the lordship of Norton and that he took hares and made unjust ways through the pasture and corn of the lord and his tenants.
When was the tower of St Nicholas built? A brief history and description of the church of St Nicholas Norton in Hertfordshire, compiled and edited in 1956 by Jean Sanderson gives the following:
“The Tower; In some St Albans Wills there were bequests in 1430, 1432 and 1450 towards the building of the tower. It was not built directly against the west end of the nave but about eight feet away, and by 1453 when the tower’s three stages were completed, the nave had been lengthened to join the tower, the extension giving more than 40 square feet extra space.”
On 15 May 1464 the following appeared in Norton’s Court records: “Next they present that John Fyshe surrenders into the hand of the lord one toft and two acres of land formerly of William Geiard situated between the tenement of Thomas Rashe on the south side and the land of the lord on the north side Bakkerseslane and the land of the lord, of which the heriot this time in money is 10d. And the lord has granted the said toft and land with appurtenances to John Neel and Richard Rowenhale, churchwardens of the parish of Norton to hold to them for services, to be sold and the money raised to be spent for the benefit of the new belltower of the aforesaid church to be newly built. For these agreements 10d, and it is given by the lord to the aforesaid works. And they do fealty.”
The above suggests that in 1464 the belltower is still to be built, some eleven years later than originally thought.