The Water Features at Norton Priory

For years, one of the mysteries about Norton Priory/Abbey came from the contents of a letter which Sir Piers Dutton wrote to Thomas Audley, the Lord Chancellor to Henry VIII. In this letter he, Dutton, tells how he came to Norton Abbey and rescued the King's Commissioners, who had been sent to take over the Abbey and close it down at some date around the 3rd. October 1536. The commissioners had been forced to take refuge in "a tower", which was probably the Abbot's Tower which is shown in the Buck drawing of Norton Priory. The commissioners had managed to get a message out to Dutton, who received it at about 2200 hrs of that same day. Immediately Dutton gathered as many men as he could and arrived at the Abbey at about 0200 hrs. of the next morning, some 4 hrs after receipt of the message. He said that he had found a crowd of between 200 and 300 persons there. When Dutton arrived he said that "the company that weare theare fledd and some of them took pooles and waters". Dutton arrested the Abbot and three canons and placed them in nearby Halton castle, ( today this is a ruin ).

Today, the only "pooles and waters" that can be seen are the nearby canals, which certainly didn't exist in the medieval age. It appeared that Dutton might be telling a few 'porkies' in his letter, in order to impress. By the late 1750's the Georgian house had been built, but the surrounding land features had not changed too much. An estate map from this period was found during the 1970's . Here is a portion of that map.

From the 1750's estate map of Norton Priory

I have added some text to show important points. The areas which are marked in blue, were found to be ditches, 2m. deep and 9 m. wide., with a large lake (mill pool) on the west side of the house, and a water mill. The old Runcorn to Warrington road runs from bottom left to top right, and passes close to the house at this time. The water filled ditches could have been used as defences as well as fish ponds. They were certainly connected to the main drain of the old Abbey, so that this could be sluiced out with water whenever needed.

These water features also proved that Dutton did not lie with his description of events when he rescued the King's commissioners. Soon after this estate map was published the ditches and the lake were filled in and forgotten.

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