Norton Priory, Cheshire
- Site Location
- Norton Priory
- National Grid Reference
- SJ 521 773
Lichfield to 1075
Chester to c.1086
Coventry and Lichfield to 1541
now: Chester from 1541
now (or name of monument): none
- Type of building/monument
- Augustinian Priory, now owned by Norton Priory Museum Trust
II General Description
What survives is the undercroft of the west range of the cloister, once the west front of the house. A portico was added to the west front in 1886, and at the S end is a late-12thc. doorway assumed to be the reset chapter house doorway of the priory. At the N end of the portico is a replica of this doorway dating from 1886. The 12thc. doorway gives access to bay 3 of the undercroft, and the 19thc. copy of it to bay 4. Slight remains of an earlier doorway can be seen behind the replica. To the E of the undercroft, entry to the cloister is by large unarticulated arches in bays 2 and 3.
The undercroft itself is rib vaulted in seven pairs of quadripartite bays, supported on a central row of piers with wall- and angle-responds. The bays are numbered (following Thompson) from S to N. The undercroft consisted originally of two compartments, and the division is marked by a rectangular central pier between bays 3 and 4, with responds to N and S to carry the longitudinal vault ribs, and transverse arches springing to E and W linking the pier with the E and W walls. A much later transverse wall has been inserted in bay 5, dividing the undercroft into a N and a S section with a narrow arch between the two. Brick wine bins have been built into the N section, on the N and E walls. To the N of the undercroft a vaulted passage runs through the range from W to E. This must have been the parlour between the cloister and the outer court of the priory, providing the meeting place for monks and laymen. A hole has been knocked through the N wall of the undercroft to allow access to it. At its E end the passage opens into the NW angle of the cloister. The W end is now blocked. The passage is rib-vaulted in two quadripartite bays, and along the N and S walls are blind arcades built on benches running the lengths of the walls, with 4 arches per bay.
III Exterior Features
(i) W range bay 3, W doorway
Three orders, round-headed.
1st order: continuous with a design of point-to-point centripetal chevron on face and soffit with tips resting on a keeled angle roll, running up the jambs and around the arch. Each chevron unit has its triangular field filled with a half-daisy design with fluted petals radiating from a boss.
2nd order: en-delit cylindrical nook-shafts on attic bases supporting capitals with a flat leaf on the main angle and crockets on the angles to either side. in the centre of each face is a narrower flat leaf. They have roll neckings and imposts with a lower roll, then a chamfer, quirk and vertical face. The arch has an angle roll, and on face and soffit the same design of recessed lozenges with one edge parallel to the roll, outlined by rolls.
3rd order: each embrasure is supported on a pair of cylindrical en-delit shafts on the W face, with attic bases. The inner capitals are the same as those of the 2nd order, except that the S has additional trefoil leaves at the lower centre of each face. The outer capitals have keeled flat leaves without crockets. The arch has point-to-point centripetal chevron, the tips meeting over an angle roll. The triangular fields in the chevron units are treated as the 1st order. The label has an angle roll and face hollow.
|h of opening||2.46 m|
|w of opening||1.25 m|
(ii) W range bay 4, W doorway
The present doorway is a replica of (i), but behind it is the N springer of the label of a 12thc. doorway, with a short return at the end. It is chamfered and decorated with a row of lozenges on face and chamfer.
IV Interior Features
4. Vaulting/Roof supports
(i) W range undercroft
Seven bays long (S to N), 2 bays wide, rib-vaulted in quadripartite bays with heavy, square-section transverse and diagonal ribs. The general layout is described in section II. In the descriptions below, piers are numbered from S to N.
C2: cylindrical pier with octagonal multi-scallop capital, one scallop in the middle of each face and one at each angle. The shields are left plain and there are wedges between the scallops. The necking is a plain roll, and the impost is chamfered with a quirk at the bottom of the face and a roll below the chamfer. The lower roll is unusual.
C4: rectangular pier carrying transverse arches with responds to S and N to carry the vault ribs. The S respond is half-round for its two lowest courses, then transposes to a semi-octagonal section for the three upper courses. There is no capital, but a chamfered semi-octagonal impost as C1. The N respond is a slender cylindrical en-delit shaft, and its capital is a plain concave bell with a tall square abacus and roll necking. The impost is plain and chamfered.
C5: as C3.
C6: as C2.
C7: as C3.
E wall responds
E1 (SE corner respond): as C1, possibly a replacement.
E2: as C1.
E3: as C1
E5: as C4, N respond.
E6: as C4, N respond.
E7: as C4, N respond (partly concealed behind later brick wine bins).
W wall responds
W1: as C1.
W2: as C1.
W3: as C1.
W5: as C4, N respond.
W6: as C4, N respond.
W7: ss C4, N respond.
(ii) W range, passage at N end of undercroft
Rib-vaulted in two quadripartite bays, but the original vault survives for only a few courses above the springers. There is a chamfered transverse rib between the bays, the diagonal ribs are keeled rolls, and the formerets are plain rolls. The vault is carried on six en-delit shafts on attic bases (except for the SC base - see below): one at each corner of the passage, carrying diagonal ribs and formerets, and one in the centre of each of the N and S walls, carrying the transverse rib, diagonal ribs and formerets. The bases stand on stone benches running the length of the N and S walls. All capitals have roll neckings and imposts carved from the same block as the capital, with quirked hollow chamfers below a flat face. Individual capitals are described below.
SE angle capital: central flat leaf with flat filleted spine, crockets to either side. The tip of the central leaf is broken off.
SC capital: the front face is lost, to either side a flat leaf terminating in windblown stiff-leaf, probably the same design as the wall-arcade capitals alongside it. The base has a lower roll with sawtooth, then a row of cable and a roll necking.
SW angle capital: a broad flat leaf on the angle, with a grooved spine, with to either side a flat leaf terminating in a crocket, the W crocket lost.
NE angle capital: waterleaf.
NC capital: damaged on main face, possibly stiff-leaf.
NW angle capital: as SE angle.
5. Interior Decoration
a. Blind arcades
(i) W range, passage at N end of undercroft
The S and N walls are decorated with blind arcading above the benches; four units per bay, integrated with the vault supports and clearly built at the same time. Like those, the arcading is carried on en-delit shafts with attic bases (with two exceptions: NE1 and SW2). The arches are round-headed. The arch designs vary from bay to bay and are described below. All capitals have roll neckings and imposts carved from the same block as the capital, with quirked hollow chamfers below a flat face. Individual capitals are described below.
S wall, E bay
SE1 (E capital): crocket, the leaves with a row of beading along the spine, the central crocket broken off.
SE5: carved on two faces with leaves at the central angle and those to either side. The central flat leaf has a fillet along the spine and a crocket. Those flanking it have flat leaves topped by windblown stiff-leaf.
S wall W bay
SW1 (E capital): as SE5.
SW2: multi-scallop with 4 scallops on the main face with pointed shields and sheathed scallops with drilled notches in the centre of each sheath. The base is tall and chamfered with a roll necking and spurs.
SW3: triple scallop, the shields slightly pointed and each scallop decorated with a stepped leaf motif.
SW4: double scallop, the shields triangular and decorated with nested triangles, the outer with a row of beading. The scallops also triangular in section, with thin fillets between them. Above the necking is a single row of zigzag.
SW5: as SE4.
N wall E bay
NE2: crocket with the bell rim visible between the crockets. The leaves have fillets along their spines and defining their edges.
NE3: plain trumpet scallop with 4 scallops on the main face and 3 on each side face.
NE4: waterleaf with beading along the spines of the leaves.
NE5: as NE2.
N wall W bay.
NW1 (W capital): crocket with the bell rim visible between the crockets. The leaves have fillets along their spines and defining their edges, as NE2, but additionally pointed leaf tips appear between the crockets on each face, and the crockets themselves have scalloped edges.
NW2: above the necking a short collar, fan-folded with zigzag upper edge. Rising from this is a row of connected flat leaves with drilled junctions. The leaves are flat with a spine on each face, alternating with multilobed palmettes with fluted lobes and scalloped edges on each angle. Above these, filling the space between the upper edges of the leaves and the lower edge of the impost is low-relief foliage scroll with furled leaves.
NW3: a concave bell capital, decorated on the main face with a five-petalled flower on a short stem rising from the necking, apparently shown from behind. Then on each angle a flower with furled and spade-shaped petals radiating from a central flat boss.
NW5: as NE1.
Now owned by Norton Priory Museum Trust.The priory was first founded at Runcorn as a house of Augustinian canons in 1134, and was moved to Norton in 1135. In 1391 its head was given the title of abbot. Norton was dissolved in 1536 and sold in 1545 to Sir Richard Brooke, who built a house on the site incorporating some of the monastic buildings. The house was rebuilt by Sir Thomas Brooke c.1750, and at that time the remaining monastic buildings except for the W undercroft were demolished. A portico was added to the west front in 1886. The family left Norton in 1922 and the house was demolished in 1928. The site has been open to the public since 1975.
Thompson describes the doorway as 'the finest decorated Norman doorway in Cheshire'. It is certainly more elaborate and finely carved than anything at the cathedral. In the delicacy and virtuosity of its carving it compares with the treatment of the N passage, or parlour with which it shares capital types, but both contrast with the solid simplicity of the main undercroft itself. Thompson suggests that the change in character between the undercroft and the passage may indicate that the campaign was in progress over a period of years, but brackets both within the period from 1140 to 1190.
- P. Greene, Norton Priory: The Archaeology of a Medieval Religious House. Cambridge 1989.
- F. H. Thompson, 'Norton Priory, near Runcorn, Cheshire', Archaeological Journal 123 (1966), 62-66.