Our September 2006 talk - reviewed by Mary Champion
We had a good meeting on Tuesday 26th September. Kathy Williams gave an illustrated talk entitled 'Norton Priory: Life and Times'. Kathy is very involved with the Priory Museum and steeped in knowledge.
Ethelfreda, a daughter of Alfred the Great, built a fort in about 911AD, more or less where the railway bridge at Runcorn is now. Then, after the Norman conquest, Halton Castle was built. Baron Halton founded a Priory near the river, for a community of Augustinian Canons, and in 1134 he moved it to Norton. The team of master masons, whose personal marks can still be seen on the stonework, took 45 years to complete the church, then started work on new living accommodation for the canons - with a sanitation system well ahead of its time.
The canons ate well in their refectory, and because the water was not safe to drink they each had a beer allowance of 8 (weak) pints a day. They worked in teams copying books, and took in boys from the age of 12 for training. In 1390 the Priory became an Abbey. A cross was acquired, containing a portion of the 'true cross' brought back from the Crusades, and also a large statue of St Christopher.
In 1536 Henry VIII closed the Abbey down. All the canons were given livings elsewhere in Cheshire. The ruins and grounds were sold to the Brooke family. The buildings were demolished, except for the undercroft - no-one knows what happened to the wooden cross - and 200 years later a Georgian house was built on top. By 1928 this had become an empty shell.
About 1970, curiosity led people to investigate what was left. A Norman arch was found, leading to the undercroft, and also the statue of St Christopher in the original entrance to the Abbey. This became the biggest archaeological excavation of its type in Europe. As well as the Abbey ruins (now a Museum) there is a herb garden, ice house, sculpture trail, laburnum arch, herbaceous border - and wonderful bluebells in the spring. Definitely worth a visit!