The story of Norton Priory

Norton Priory first opened to the public in 1975 and an attractively laid out museum followed in 1982.

An Augustinian Priory it was founded by the Baron of Halton in 1115 and moved from Runcorn to Norton in 1134. For four centuries it flourished, mainly through hard work and the gifts of wealthy landowners. In 1391 the Priory became an Abbey, a distinction unusual for an Augustinian foundation.

Its role as a religious house was abruptly halted in 1536 through the Dissolution of the Monasteries. In 1545 the buildings and lands were bought by Sir Richard Brooke, whose family was of ancient descent from the Nantwich area.

Sir Richard built a Tudor mansion here, which was replaced by a classical Georgian country house in the eighteenth century. At length rising costs. and the increasingly industrial nature of their surroundings, caused the family to move South and the house was pulled down in 1928.

The site was left to become overgrown and derelict, until the Runcorn Development Corporation took it over in the 1970s, to turn it into a public park. They appointed a team of archaeologists and they carried out one of the most thorough excavations of a monastic site in Britain.

Little was known about the Priory, but gradually a picture of life began to emerge. At the height of its prosperity the Priory would have probably accommodated twenty-four canons, together with an Abbot. There would have been servants, looking after the manual side of the work and farm labourers working the land.

The buildings housing the canons were grouped around a central square cloister garden. To the north of the cloister was an enormous church, with a length of about 290 ft, which the canons used for their daily services. A series of chapels were added on to the church, for the burial of wealthy local benefactors. On the east and south sides of the cloister were other important buildings including the Chapter House and the Refectory.

The excavations have ensured that the overall plan can be picked out from the surroundings. The only part of the Priory still standing today is the Undercroft. This was incorporated into the entrance hall of the Georgian mansion, when a porch was added to the west front in 1868. The porch made use of a magnificent Norman doorway, which must be one of the finest examples in Cheshire, as its carving is well preserved. Alongside it stands a Victorian replica.

A superbly decorated passage, linking the central cloister to the outer courtyard has also survived.

Visitors can then wander amongst the beautiful woodland gardens,covering 16 acres, which were laid out in the Georgian period.

Walking along informal footpaths, you will come across two pretty summer houses, which have recently been restored. The small summer house dates from the late 18th century. The floor was laid in 1978, with replica medieval tiles fired from an experimental kiln, to reproduce the area of mosaic tiling found in the nave of the Priory church. The large summerhouse was built in 1829 and is referred to in a journal kept by Mary Brooke.

There is also a replica of a medieval bell, cast in 1977, using the remains of a 13th century bell mould, discovered during the excavations.

There is also a walled garden, fashionable and popular in the Georgian period. These were often situated close to the Manor house and performed a variety of functions. The Walled garden at Norton was built as an estate improvement by Sir Richard Brooke between 1757 and 1770.

A wonderful, sometimes forgotten corner of Cheshire...always worth a visit.