The following is an extract from the NCAG book ‘Norton Manorial Court Records 1540-1752’ in which light is shed on the origins of Nortonbury (probably formerly known as Halleorchard):
The first mention of Norton Bury in the court records was made in 1583 (the Bery grounds were first mentioned in 1580). From 1606 the name of the manor of Norton itself changed to become Norton Bury and continued to be called that throughout the rest of this period until 1749, after which it reverted to just Norton.
We know from the archaeology that there was an important building at Norton Bury. To the east of the current building of Norton Bury lies what appears to be a rectangular moat, measuring c45mx30m, which at its centre has a raised area forming a rectangular platform. Two test pits dug in the area of this platform in 2003 uncovered a tiled floor in mortar that sealed fifteenth century pottery, suggesting that the original building was abandoned around the time the current farm house was built (Hertfordshire County Council Historic Environment Record no 1931, Moated site, Norton Bury). The whole manorial complex may once have been more extensive, possibly enclosing the current house.
As the name Norton Bury is not mentioned before 1583, this suggests that the building there was referred to by another name. In 1542, John Bowles acquired the manor of Norton including the rectory and advowson (see section on lords and ladies of the manor). It is reasonable to assume that the building at Norton Bury was included in this package. The Victoria County History for Hertfordshire states that:
In 1533 the Abbot granted the rectory with tithes and a messuage called Halle Orchard, and a croft called Hallecroft to George Hyde for a rent of £17 13s 4d paid to the refectorar, and Hyde was the tenant of the rectory at the time of the Dissolution. The rectory and advowson were granted in 1542 to Sir Richard Williams or Cromwell, who conveyed them in the same year to John Bowles.
It is likely that the building which Bowles acquired called Halleorchard (not mentioned in the court records after Dissolution) was that which was subsequently known as Norton Bury.
Halleorchard was a significant building which was first mentioned in the court records in 1343, held by Ralph Boueton, and later in 1391 and 1393. It was acquired by Norton’s farmer, John Bradeweye, from John Boton senior in 1391 and Bradeweye and Margery his wife were given rights in 1393 (as villein tenants) ‘to one hearth called Halleorchard newly built’, rights which extended to all their rightful heirs. Unfortunately, John’s son Walter ran into debt with the abbey and had to give up the tenancy in 1423 (again, it was described as newly built). Further documentary evidence is found in the accounts of John Whethamsted, Abbot 1420-1440. They record that Robert Ownesby received £100 for building a barn with dwelling house for the farmer at Norton. This would have happened before 1428 when Robert Ownesby was discharged from his position as cellarer and bursar to join the Bishop of Lichfield (Annales Monasterii, ii App A 273). The building then became associated with the rectory and stayed with the rectory until acquired by George Hyde (who surrendered it at Dissolution in 1539).
It is always pleasing for an archaeological group to align evidence on the ground with what is written in historical documents. It is not unreasonable to believe that the re-building of Halleorchard for the Abbot’s newly installed farmer in the period 1393-1423 co-incides with the test pit findings of the former building being abandoned in the fifteenth century about the time a new house was built.
The following is a short history of Nortonbury which was written by Kenneth Johnson in 1978. He wrote the piece without the knowledge of what had been recorded on Nortonbury in the manorial court records:
Kenneth Johnson © 1978
Until a history of Norton bury is written, the following fragments may help to show a sketchy outline.
Mrs Hilda Bailey, wife of the Vicar of Norton, wrote a short history of the parish, Norton in Hertfordshire in 1931. In this she said:
Both farm-houses (Norton Hall and Norton Bury) are comparatively modern, though the one at Norton Bury undoubtedly stands on the site occupied by former Lords of the Manor. Bury or Burgh means a house or houses surrounded by a moat.
The Victoria County History, published in 1908, describes Norton Bury as “the present manor-house”.
In front of the house is a rectangular moat about 150 feet by 100 feet having an arm connecting it with a pond nearby, which shews that it may at one time have been more extensive, and perhaps inclosed the manor-house. There are no manor courts held.
From an old book of parish customs, the VCH deduced that “the tenants seem to have performed the usual services of carrying poultry and eggs to St Albans, and of doing harvest work, boon work and ploughing.” Boon work was simply the special jobs they did when the lord of the manor asked them, and they could hardly refuse.
Carrying eggs to St Albans is explained by the fact that in 795 King Offa of Mercia granted Norton manor to St Albans Abbey. After about 200 years, an ealdorman named Leofsig obtained the manor for himself, but after he had been banished for murder, King Ethelred II returned Norton to the Abbey of St Albans. The Saxon families lining around the river valley here were known as the Gifla. This name later changed to Yifla, and eventually as Ivel became the name of the river itself.
John de la More, form one of the conquering Norman families, probably lived at Norton Bury. When he died in 1306 he left all his lands in Norton to be added to those already held by the monks of St Albans. More than 200 years after this, the Act of Dissolution in 1536 was a sort of compulsory nationalization of all monastery lands. In 1542, King Henry VIII gave Norton manor to Sir Richard Williams (also known as Cromwell, whose great-grandson Oliver later made a name for himself). Very soon, however, Sir Richard sold the manor to his bailiff, John Bowles from Wallington, and for the next century it passed from one family to another.
Norton Church Terrier (meaning a land survey of the parish) in 1637 refers to “Norton-Berry Land on the North” of the Great, or White, Field. The feudal strip system was still operating here, as everywhere else, when William Pym of St Martin’s in the Fields bought the manor in 1662. It stayed in the Pym family until the twentieth century.
Francis Pym was lord of the manor when the enclosures were enforced and the open fields of Norton were divided by fences and hedges in 1798. An another Francis Pym still owned Norton Bury in 1903. He then sold it with all his Norton and Radwell estates to the new company called First Garden City Ltd.
The Pyms did not live here at the time, for Norton bury was held by tenant farmers. From various directories we see that Nicholas Stick was farming here in 1899 (probably much earlier), and was still here as the tenant of First Garden City Ltd in 1912. By 1923, and at least until 1937, the farmer was Charles Webb. After the second world war, Alfred Bertram Sapsed was the tenant of Norton Bury, as he was when Letchworth Garden City Corporation became the lords of the manor in 1963.
When the Corporation rationalized its farming policy throughout the Garden City agricultural belt, Norton Bury fell vacant, until in 1978 it was leased to the Letchworth and Baldock Scout District. By a happy coincidence, the District Commissioner at this time was named Peter Norton.
Looking at Norton Bury farmhouse, or activity centre, you mainly see the late Victorian yellowish-grey brick walls, very similar in style to the village school, which was built in 1877. The farmhouse, however, has one chimney stack of red brick which is much older, and it seems likely that there are red brick walls hidden from sight – possibly from the Stuart period, and perhaps built by William Pym. Even these, however, cannot be called the original walls of the house, for Norton Bury has obviously been altered, added to, and rebuilt, many times since the fourteenth century. In the topmost room there is an access to the inside of the roof, where the beams appear to be medieval. And even these must have been put up over surviving parts of earlier farm houses from Saxon times.
The remains of the moat are still here, though no longer surrounding the old manor house. If Mrs Bailey and the Victoria County History are right, it seems that manor courts may have been held at Norton Bury. These courts began when the Norman barons were the only kind of local authority in England, and only gradually lost their powers as the King’s courts took over the administration of justice.
Norman Manor Courts continued to be held until August 1916, but for their last 50 years were mostly brief formalities in solicitors’ offices in Baldock. In 1977, however, Messrs Balderston and Warren discovered the Manor Court books dating back to 1757. The first of these hand-written accounts begins:
The Special Court Baron of William Pym Esquire Lord of the said Manor there held in an for the said Manor on Thursday the Twenty Fourth Day of March in the Thirtieth Year of the Reign of our Sovereign Lord George the Second by the Grace of God of Great Britain France and Ireland King Defender of the Faith and so forth and in the Year of our Lord One Thousand Seven Hundred and Fifty Seven Before Isaac Wilkinson Gentleman Steward there.
“In and for the said Manor” certainly suggests that the courts were held at Norton Bury, which will be an impressive thought for any future meetings to be held on this historic site.