Lost wells gave Notts villages its name

St Lawrence, Norwell (photo: A. Nicholson, 2001).
St Lawrence, Norwell (photo: A. Nicholson, 2001).

ALTHOUGH Roman origin is sometimes claimed for the road which passes between Mansfield and Newark, skirting Norwell Park on its way, there are no vestiges of that antiquity in the village of Norwell.

Southwell, a few miles away, was undoubtedly existent in that remote age and was so called on account of its several wells, of which one was holy and another medicinal. This parish received the name, of Northwell to distinguish it from the more ancient centre which was of greater renown.

Of any wells or springs at Norwell, no traces or memories remain.

The village appears to be of Saxon creation. It has been suggested (doubtfully enough) that it was founded as one of the results of the baptism by Paulinus of a host of converts in the Trent at a place now identified as Littleborough in the presence of King Edwin about 630 A.D., but proof is entirely lacking.

Saxon Norwell

The theory that the supposed Roman highway marked the boundary between the kingdoms of Lindsey and Mercia is more tenable; but the early history of Norwell is too obscure to be traced. When it began to emerge into twilight, it formed part of a great royal area out of which Sherwood Forest was destined to be be carved.

There is little reason to doubt that Norwell was included in the large territory in and around Southwell, granted by King Edwy, about 956 to Archbishop Oskytel and bestowed by him onto Southwell Minster.

As this prelate is reputed to have built churches in the district, he may have been the founder of Norwell's first church, which was probably a modest structure of timber.

Aldred, the last Saxon Archbishop of York, at his own cost, purchased estates for the foundation and endowment of Southwell prebends and it is thought that these lands lay here, though charters that would have cleared this issue, are no longer extant. By the time of Aldred's death in 1069, the three prebends of Norwell were in existence. That called Overhall was much the richest of those possessed by the Minster. Palacehall was also wealthy; Tertia Pars was of minor value, but together they greatly added to the income of the mother church as Norwell Woodhouse, Middlethorpe and Willoughby, all hamlets of this parish, appear to have been laid under contribution.

In Domesday, the vill figures as Northwell St. Mary's, for so much of it belonged to the Minster, and the details therein given suggest some degree of importance. It had a church and a priest; two manors were each encircled by a moat of which trees are yet visible; a mill and a fishery. The latter belonging to the archbishop, and the Minster's share of the soil extended, to 12 bovates. perhaps some 200 acres. The 22 villeins and three bordars (near slaves) mentioned in the survey seem to imply  absence of Danish influence and may represent about 125 inhabitant.

Forest rights

Here were 73a. of meadowland and a woodland six miles long and three miles wide into which the villagers turned their swine to feed. In addition, Norwell had soc in Caunton, Hockerton, Osmundthorpe, Willoughby and the more distant Woodborough. The 12 bovates pertained to the prebendal manors and for centuries to come, the prebendaries were the chief local lords and proprietors.

The Saxon church gave way to a Norman successor of stone, and Henry I granted that the secular canons of Southwell should have the woods of their prebends in their own custody quit of interference by royal foresters with the right of taking whatever they desired from the woodlands. The privilege extended to their tenants, but it was stipulated that that King's rights in Sherwood Forest should be in no wise infringed. The grant of an annual fair of three days and of a weekly market on Thursdays made by Henry III in 1256, is evidence of Norwell's development.

Dickinson, indeed, states that it was then larger than in 1801 when he wrote his "History of Southwell," and the jurisdiction of the Southwell Chapter here was increased when Edward II granted it the assize of bread and beer and survey of weights and measures.

It took two men to carry the beer

Edward III conceded to the prebendaries at Southwell in 1329 the valuable 'view of frankpledge' for the preservation of law and order among their tenants, and they held their half-yearly courts to administer justice, receiving the profits and fines from offenders; the prebendaries also enjoyed the exclusive right to hunt smaller game upon their lands.

Norwell's Pentecostal offering at Southwell was the modest sum of 1s. 8d., and small as this was it slightly exceeded the average received from parishes in the neighbourhood and it remained constant and unchanged from 1171 until the time of George III, when it was allowed to lapse although a recent bishop humorously averred that he still hopefully expected a postal order for that amount at Eastertide.

Scenes of violence disturbed the serenity of Norwell in 1335 when two rivals claimed the Overhall prebend, which a pope, who had recently died, had promised to a priest named Denton. But John de Thoresby asserted a right to it and entered into possession. He was forcibly ejected by an interloper, William de Norwell, who intruded himself into the prebend and appropriated its revenues until he was ex-communicated. In the end Denton fled abroad, the clerks who had represented the late pope were maltreated and peace was not restored until Thoresby was established. In 1358 he became an exemplary archbishop of York.

A chantry for two priests was founded in the Minster by Robert de Wodehouse, Archdeacon of Richmond, in 1340, and was endowed with considerable gifts of land at Norwell and the nearby Willoughby.

Ere the ravages of the Black Death had ceased as a peril there was a dispute between the prebendary of Norwell and the vicar of Cromwell concerning tithes from the later parish. Their differences were settled by a friendly compromise and it fell to the lot of Archbishop Thoresby to confirm the settlement.

To sow and more

A fifteenth century Southwell record tells that here each prebendal tenant of a bovate of land or messuage had to render customary service as part of his rent. In spring, they had to harrow, sow, weed and hoe their lord's arable land; in summer they mowed his grass and carried his hay, in autumn they reaped and garnered his corn and in winter they ploughed the soil.

In return, they were regaled at a yearly feast at which they were served with abundance of ale, wheaten bread such as they rarely tasted at home, and courses in which appeared herrings, broth, roast beef, mutton, veal and ducks.

The men, 24 in number, dined in the prebendal hall, and after the meal they spent the rest of the day in sports on the mown meadow to which two men carried a large pail of beer to slake their thirst and their lord who presented two pairs of gloves as prizes.

The various changes of lay ownership during that century and the lawsuits that so often ensued possess little abiding interest and call for little notice. They are recorded in "Early Chancery Proceedings," and the [?Patent] Rolls of the time, and [..] chronicled in Dr. Thoroton's [..] pages.

To the damage of the Crown

In 1440, a John Tissing laid [..] mation that certain lanes and [?tene] ments late of William de Northwell [?had] been granted to Southwell Minster without royal consent and to the damage of the Crown. The informant was rewarded by a life tenancy of [..] property upon condition that he should strive to establish, the king's right thereto, but upon a plea of poverty by the Chapter, Tissing's grant was revoked and the estate was restored by the Minster.

Norwell men gained pardon by war service

The archbishops of York had not only a palace of Southwell but also four parks in its vicinity, and that known as Norwell (or Norwood) Park was probably formed about 1282. The Close Rolls record the gift in that year, by Edward I, of four bucks and eight does with which to stock his park of "Northwell" the deer being sent from Sherwood Forest.

Two years later the vicarage at Norwell was restored after a vacancy of 40 years. It was divided into medieties within the patronage of the prebendaries of Overhall and Tertia Pars, as it long continued to be sharing the tithes.

The parish shared in the disorders and outlawry so rampant in medieval England. In 1300 the sheriff and coroners were commanded to enquire whether Robert Golding of Northwell had killed Robert Fish in self-defence as he alleged, or otherwise. A few years later a local parker who had committed murder gained a pardon upon pleading that he had faithfully served the king in war. One who had been convicted of vert and venison in Sherwood Forest similarly was freed upon condition that he joined the king's army. In 1360 and again in 1369 a fugitive finding escape impossible took sanctuary in Norwell church and in each instance the sheriff assigned Dover as the port from which he was to abjure the realm.

Clad in distinctive garb and each bearing a cross, they were allowed seven days for their journey without any rights of life or liberty if they strayed from the appointed routes.

The period of the Wars of the Roses was locally marked by disorders other than political. In 1456 it was ordered that Robert Ireland of Norwell and others be released from Nottingham gaol. In 1458 Hugh Hede was one of the many esquires and yeomen of Norwell and its vicinity imprisoned until they found sureties not to hurt Thomas Neville (who may have been a kinsman of the warrior Earl, of Warwick).

Wedding quarrel led to war

The baronial cleavage is said to have begun in 1453 at the wedding of a niece of Lord Cromwell (of Lambley and Tattersall) when Thomas Neville provoked a quarrel which, in 1455, culminated in war, and it was through that marriage that the Cliftons and Cromwells gained interests here. In 1461 Neville's widow wedded Sir Gervase Clifton who before his death in 1491 purchased properties in Norwell and Woodhouse to which Robert his son and successor had to defend his title.

John Cromwell then owned property in the parish and was also lessee of Palacehall prebendary lands, but in or about 1461 he removed to Wimbledon where his fulling and other businesses prospered. Sir Thomas Cromwell, the Vicar General of Henry VIII and destroyer of the monasteries, was his son, and from him descended Oliver Cromwell. Wolsey's illegitimate son, Thomas Wynter, was its 1522 appointed to the Overhall prebend, but immediately vacated it: he was but 14, and while yet in his teens became Dean of Wells.

Another person of note, Stephen Hatfield, was a lessee and local owner, and it was here that Agnes Hatfield, mother of Cranmer, is said to have been born and resided.

In 1539 the famous archbishop-martyr was licensed to exchange lay properties here with Southwell Minster.

Three shrews

The days of organised banditry were then over, but in 1526 the local peace was disturbed when three women of the village were charged with the offence of slander. To avoid scandal, the matter was referred to the arbitration of the vicars of Norwell, their husbands undertaking to pay 40s. to the Minster fabric fund if they failed to abide by their award. What befell the shrews is not recorded. Of much more importance was the suppression of Southwell Minster and its prebends in 1541, but within two years, these were all restored, and for a few years the old order was fully resumed.

Under an Act of Edward VI, the Minster was again suppressed and in the Great Pillage that followed, its temporals were seized by the grasping Protector Northumberland, the value of the Overhall prebend being £50, that of Overhall £29 odd, and Tertia Pars, £9; the prebendaries were pensioned. off and their estates sold.

Two London tailors were among the purchasers of  the Norwell manses with appurtenant orchards gardens, and other lands.

The archbishops park and little park at Norwell, then in the tenure of Geoffrey Lee; two mills "under one roof" on the river: the manor of Palacehall, leased to the Sturtevants and others (whose names are recorded in the Patent Rolls of 1551). were sold with chantry lands to laymen, but upon the accession of Queen Mary in 1553, the Minster and it prebends were again restored as before.

Witchcraft in the treasure hunt only brought trouble

Quickly following upon the accession of the Protestant Elizabeth, the Act of Uniformity reversed the position once more. Southwell Minster, with its prebendal system, was reinstated in its functions and possessions. Most of the prebendaries continued their positions, but he of the Palacehall prebend who, we are told, had "weathered all the storms and changes, and veered with every change of doctrine," declined to subscribe to the new creed and was ejected.

It may be worth noting in passing that Elizabeth Lee of this parish married Sir John Lyon, the London alderman, who founded Harrow School, and died in 1559.

The Dissolution was attended by rumours of buried treasure, and here in 1560 John Cowpe found himself in trouble for resorting to witchcraft in his search for hidden valuables. The Southwell Chapter sent him to Lincoln for trial and there he had an "unpleasant interview" with the judge the results not now known. The [..] was further disturbed by [..] governed tongue of Mar[..] happell, a scold whom the [..]corrected.

Attendance at church was compulsory: all were expected to follow the service and it is evident that sluggard-wakers were yet unknown as three persons were prosecuted for sleeping in Norwell while the service was in progress. Upon another occasion residents at Woodhouse were cited for absence from their parish church: they pleaded that the old road to Norwell was stopped up and was often impassable and they usually worshipped at Caunton, but they paid the church dues and partook of the Sacrament here once a year, and it was left for the curate to deal with them.

The local highways were in such a poor state that presently the magistrates issued an order for the Northfield here to be available for traffic until Thief-lane was repaired.