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Wiltshire Community History

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Norton

This page is one of 261 pages covering every community in Wiltshire, and is provided by Wiltshire Council Libraries and Heritage. A project to provide a fuller picture of each community is in progress, working on the larger communities first. When these 261, which are modern civil parishes, are completed we will begin work on a further 180 villages and hamlets to provide comprehensive coverage of Wiltshire communities large and small.

From Andrews’ and Dury’s Map of Wiltshire, 1773:

From Andrews’ and Dury’s Map of Wiltshire, 1773


Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre, Chippenham



Map of the Civil Parish of Norton:

Map of the Civil Parish of Norton

1890s
Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre


From the Ordnance Survey 1890s revision of the one inch to one mile map. The modern civil parish boundary has been superimposed.


From Andrews’ and Dury’s Map of Wiltshire, 1810:

From Andrews’ and Dury’s Map of Wiltshire, 1810


Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre, Chippenham


This is a corrected and updated edition of the 1773 map that includes the recently built canals.


Thumbnail History:


Norton is a civil parish in the north of Wiltshire. It comprises the two small villages of Norton and Foxley and is approximately three miles south-west of Malmesbury, two miles north of Hullavington and eight miles north of Chippenham. In 1840 the parish just contained Norton and covered 990 acres. This was reduced in 1884 when some land was transferred to the separate parishes of Foxley and Hullavington. The ecclesiastical parishes of Foxley and Bremilham were united in 1893. In 1934 Foxley (now including Bremilham) was transferred into the civil parish of Norton and the parish then contained 2,063 acres. The parish boundaries are marked by ancient roads, including the Fosse Way. The land at Norton is varied; clay can be found in the west, Cornbrash in the centre and Kellaways clay in the east. The land is flat; its peak is only 100 metres above sea level.

The population of Norton has always been small. The highest level in the 19th century was 123 in 1851; in 1891 there were 99 people in the parish. There was a large increase from 1931 (90 people) to 1941 (170). This leap is explained by Foxley joining the parish of Norton in 1934. In 1971 there were 134 people in the parish while in 2001 there were 127 people.

The parish of Norton is certainly small, in a population sense. Author Brian Woodruffe describes it thus: “Peace and quiet also is the most notable feature about Norton, which lies in an off-the-beaten track situation north of Hullavington. The village comprises no more than 20 households loosely grouped around the lane to the church or a lower one which fords a tributary brook of the Avon on its way to Foxley. This equally small village has as a centrepiece a triangular green or common, which is occasionally mown for hay though no longer grazed.”

It is thought that there could have been settlement in the parish from as early as the 8th century. In 1975 some crop marks were noticed at Foxley which led to further aerial photography of the area around Cowage Farm, showing that there were once buildings there. In 1983 a three week excavation began, with four trenches dug, and the dig showed that the site once held at least seven large wooden buildings from the 7th or 8th century. This site is now officially a scheduled ancient monument.

The name 'Foxley' is thought to derive from 'Foxle' or 'Foxslea', meaning 'Fox Wood'.
In 1042 Aldret held the manor of Foxley, but by the time of the Domesday survey in 1086, it had passed to Roger de Berkley. At this point Roger also held a house in Malmesbury. The population of Foxley would have been between 35 and 50 people at this time and they had five plough teams and a mill. By 1242 the manor was in the hands of Simon of Eldersfield, having prior to this passed down through the de Berkley family. It stayed in the hands of de la Mare family (Simon being married to Parnel de la Mare). In 1377 there were 12 poll tax payers (aged over 14 years) resident at Foxley. In 1485 the manor was John Moody of Eldersfield's; presumably he was a relation of Simon of Eldersfield, so the manor stayed in the family; the Eldersfield family held the manor until 1549. In the 18th century, the manor of Foxley was held by the Ayliffe family. After Judith Ayliffe died in 1737, Foxley passed to her cousin Susanna Strangways. In 1758, Susanna died and Foxley Manor was given to Henry Fox. Fox's elder brother was the famous Sir Stephen Fox, 1st earl of Ilchester. In 1763, Henry became Baron Holland of Foxley. He also became high steward of Malmesbury in 1751. It continued in this family. The manor house was lived in by the Carter family in the 19th century; the Carter's were a Foxley family who had lived in the parish for hundreds of years. When Lord Holland died in 1840 the manor passed to his wife and then their son, also Henry.It passed through the Holland family, and through its extended family, into the Lilford family. In 1902 Lord Lilford sold much of the land at Foxley to Wyatt William Turner of Pinkney Park.

The early information about Norton is less plentiful than for Foxley.In 1086 Norton was assessed as having land for eight plough-teams, although there were only five on the estate, and the population would have numbered between 50 and 65 and there was a mill. We also know that there were 23 poll tax payers (aged over 14 years) in 1377. Norton was granted to Malmesbury Abbey by King Athelstan in the 930s. It remained in the hands of the abbey until the Dissolution. After the breakdown of the monastic system, the Crown granted the manor to Sir John Brydges. Through his son, Edmund, Lord Chandos, the manor became part of the Chandos family estates. It passed to the Estcourt family, then to the Creswells. At the start of the 19th century, the estate was sold off in parts. The farms were bought separately and run by different families. Manor Farm consisted of 305 acres in 1840. It belonged to the Walker family in the 19th century and was owned for a time by Exeter College, Oxford. In the mid 20th century it was sold to Mr C. D. Smith. Norton Manor is now lived in by Countess June Badeni.

The manor house at Foxley consisted in the mid 16th century of a house and north wing.
In the early 17th century a stone dovecot was built. It could hold 1,000 nest boxes and around 2,000 birds. It collapsed in the 1980s because of constant exposure to rainwater. A barn for the manor house was built during the Elizabethan period, although it is now part of a separate property called Manor Barn. It is constructed out of Cotswold stone. At the start of the 20th century, the manor house was lived in by Captain Algernon Turner and his wife Beatrice. They made many changes including an extension to the north of the house, the planting of lime trees and the building of iron railings in the grounds. The house itself was repaired and renovated.

The Rectory at Foxley was built in the late 18th century and extended at the start of the 20th.By 1947 it had been empty for some years and had no running water or electricity. It was purchased that year by Mrs Elizabeth Pitman and was soon renamed Foxley House. Foxley Park had walls built around it in 1675 and trees to the west of it were planted in the 1680s. There was a steady stream of new houses built at the start of the 20th century at Foxley and 1950 two council houses were built near to Bridge Cottage. Bridge Cottage itself dates from the 18th century, with extensions in the 1820s. It was divided into two houses at the end of the 19th century. At the end of the 20th century, there was a fair bit of building done at Foxley; Lime Tree Cottages were extended and renovated, farm buildings at the manor were converted into houses and the former schoolhouse was extended and a new garage built.

Norton Manor was built buy Thomas Workman at some point in the early 17th century, perhaps 1623. The main body of the house ran east to west, with a short wing on each end of the house; here were additions 1652. By the beginning of the 18th century the house was occupied by tenants. The house was purchased in 1900 by C. H. Fenwick, who repaired the house and demolished parts that were beyond saving. A two storeyed porch was added to the house in 1925.

Maidford and Gorsey Leaze are Norton farmsteads that are thought to date from the 17th century. The farmhouse at Gorsey Leaze was rebuilt in 1877. The north-west of the parish was, starting from the late 16th century, farmed as Norton Farm, part of the manor. The farm comprised approximately 177 acres in 1631, growing sharply to 244 acres in 1652.By the 18th century there were nine farms at Norton; Norton manor held seven of these. The majority of the land was used for meadow and pasture. Only a small proportion was actually dedicated to growing crops. By the mid 19th century the parish had 550 acres of pasture land and 380 acres of arable, so quite an increase in crop production. The farms in 1840 were; Manor Farm, Norton Farm, Maidford Farm, Gorsey Leaze Farm, Buckland Farm and Fosse Farm. Norton Farm later kept cattle and
Gore Leaze employed Jewish refugees during World War Two. By the end of the 20th century the farming in the parish was split roughly evenly between arable and pasture.

An 18th century cottage was used as a public house known as the Royal Oak until 1925. There was a mill at Bremilham standing in the 1550s.

In April 1929 the Beaufort Polo Team held the inaugural polo tournament at Norton on the land known as 'Big Field', near to where the present day Vine Tree is. The club was started by members of the Beaufort Hunt and the Duke of Beaufort acted as President. This was seemingly very popular, as a regular guest to the tournament was the Maharajah Bahdur of Kashmir. The tournament lasted three days. The polo team is now based at Westonbirt, Gloucestershire.

There were once lime trees on the village green at Foxley but they died of Dutch elm disease. In July 1999 the Foxley Green Millennium Project began to plan what to plant to celebrate the year 2000. They decided on planting three oaks, and this was duly done of 27th February 2000 at the village green. The Vine Tree is the remaining pub in the parish; built at some point in the 18th century, it was first licensed as a public house in 1890.

CouncilWiltshire Council
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Parish CouncilNorton & Foxley Parish Meeting
Parish Web Site 
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Churches: Information on both current and disused churches and chapels.

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Population 1801 - 2011

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Archaeological Sites: A Sites and Monuments Record (opens new window) is maintained by the County Archaeology Service and covers some 20,000 sites. The Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Society was formed in 1853 and have been publishing an annual journal since 1854. The journal contains both substantial articles and shorter notes on archaeological excavations, finds, museum objects, local history, genealogy and natural history.

Folk Arts:

Folk Songs from Norton

Folk Biographies from Norton

Folk Plays from Norton

History of Buildings: The collections of the Wiltshire Buildings Record are housed in the Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre at Chippenham.

Listed Buildings: The number of buildings, or groups of buildings listed as being of architectural or historic importance is 18. There is one Grade I building, the Parish Church; and one Grade II* building, Norton Manor.

English Heritage and National Monuments Record

Local Authors: There could be an author who was born or has lived in this community.

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