A Walk Around Norton St Philip
over 500 years of history in these streets (Part 1)
Norton St. Philip is a Somerset village lying between Bath and Frome. The village has some beautiful buildings originating from when the wool industry brought wealth to the area. The wool trade has long gone, but thankfully, time has been kind to Norton St. Philip, and today, we can walk around and consider the rich and sometimes bloody history that would not be expected.
The Domesday Book (1086) lists the village as Nortune. It was a very small place with three villagers, 13 smallholders and three slaves. The Lord in 1086 was Edward of Salisbury. The land included a mill. Later, it became known as Philips Norton until the reversal of the two words. Those interested in the Monmouth Rebellion, also known as the Pitchfork Rebellion, will be aware of the battle of Philips Norton (1685). More about that later and in a future story.
Norton St. Philip lies on a hillside. The main crossroads is the Trowbridge to Midsomer Norton road, which heads down the hill and crosses the Bath to Frome road. Traffic is discouraged from coming through the narrow village road and encouraged to use the A36. I will start my walk at the crossroads.
On two corners are the pubs, The George Inn and the Fleur de Lys. Both are very old, but The George battles with Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem in Nottingham for the title of Britain’s oldest pub. The latter comes out on top, according to the historians. The George was originally the wool store for the priory. The upper floors were added to accommodate the many travellers attending the annual wool fairs. The wool fairs ran from the late 14th century right through until 1902. The upper floors are still ancient, as seen in the photograph, and are from the 15th century. The building goes back to at least 1397 and has been a pub for much of that time.
Opposite, The Fleur de Lys, also dates back to the 1500s. This area around the crossroads was one of the marketplaces, and this one most likely also ran along the street. Many of the buildings are closer to the road now than in medieval times, having been extended forward. A fair was granted by Royal Charter in 1255, and a market in 1291. It would have been a bustling place in its heyday in the 16th century and regarded as a town. There are historical references to a market cross that stood before the George Inn, which was demolished in the 19th century.
Click on any image for a full-size version.
My first steps will take me to the left of the frontage of the George Inn and along the High Street, heading towards Frome, to look at some of the fine old cottages. There is some modern housing in the village, but thankfully, that is off to the side, and one area off the High Street has been built with a shop that reflects the style of the area. Many properties are listed to ensure they are conserved for the future. A Baptist Chapel is located down the hill on my left before the road rises again.
Upon reaching the relatively new Co-operative store and the new houses to its rear, I retrace my steps towards my starting point at the crossroads.
Reaching The George Inn, an alleyway sign points me to the church. This walk takes me across an open space, Church Mead; an area to my right, Fair Close, was used for the annual fairs, and some homes have now been built using the same place name.
The Church of St. Philip and St. James
The church has elements dating back to the 13th and 14th centuries, but it did undergo a major restoration in the 1840s. The Victorians loved renovating churches. When Samuel Pepys, famous for his diary, visited Norton St. Philip, he visited the church.
In Pepys’ diary, entered on June 12th 1668, is this entry.
At Philips-Norton I walked to the Church, and there saw a very ancient tomb of some Knight Templar, I think; and here saw the tombstone whereon there were only two heads cut, which, the story goes, and credibly, were two sisters, called the Fair Maids of Foscott, that had two bodies upward and one belly, and there lie buried. Here is also a very fine ring of six bells, and they mighty tuneable.
It has been established that this tomb is not of a Knight Templar but is most likely that of a lawyer or merchant from 1460. The Fair Maids of Foscott, a village now called Foxcote, are believed to be conjoined twins.
Opposite the church is the school, dated 1827, and still in use today. I am now at the bottom of Bell Hill, at the top of which is The George Inn, my starting point. Crossing the road, I walk along Ringwell Lane, where once there was a mill making use of Norton Brook, which flows alongside it. The quiet lane reaches a crossroads, meeting Wellow Lane and Chevers Lane, known as Lyde Green. It is said that Chevers Lane flowed with blood in 1685 when Monmouth’s men stood their ground against the Royalist forces. They used the lanes for cover, and battle formations were drawn up at the top of the road. I will write more about this event in a future story.
For now, I turn right and head along The Barton, passing Manor Farm House and bringing me back onto Bell Hill. The area around Manor Farm House is medieval and forms an early part of the village.
I head up the hill and then along North Street, which goes on to meet Chevers Lane. This area was the centre of the fighting during the battle. A barricade was placed across the top of North Street.
I hope you enjoy the photos. As mentioned earlier, more details about this village will be published fairly soon.
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