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Mary Keay

Mary Keay has kindly provided the Norton website with a compilation of her memories of village life going back to the 1920s. She has a phenomenal memory, has obviously always been very observant, and, for her whole life, been a pillar of Norton social activity.

The Memoirs of Mary Keay, lifetime resident of Norton in Hales


Born on March 4th 1925, I was a little girl destined to follow in her grandfather’s footsteps. It was a Wednesday and the weather was awful; blizzards, and I can say snow has been about on March 4th nearly every year since. In the poem,

Monday’s child is fair of face

Tuesday’s child is full of grace

Wednesday’s child is full of woe

Thursday’s child had far to go.

I hardly think I could be classed under Wednesday’s child; that would be right out of character. I had a very happy childhood, and I put this down to having ideal parents and grandparents, all who had a very strong religious faith and a great sense of humour.

I started at the local school at the age of 4 years, where my grandfather was headmaster, and I continued on at 11 years to the Grammar School. During my time at the Grammar School, war broke out and we inundated with evacuees. The school was bursting at the seams.

I left school at 15 owing to war conditions and became a telephonist at Tunstall Hall, which had been taken over by the Air Ministry. In 1944, I moved to Manchester and was a telephonist at Telephone House. This was a very interesting job, especially if you were on overseas calls. A friend went with me, so we found digs and worked the same shifts. Sometimes we would come home on the train at weekends if off duty, and sometimes we came by bicycle. Truck drivers would give us a lift sometimes (not recommended these days!)

In Manchester you could get things on the Black Market in exchange for fruit and vegetables we had brought from home.

After 3 years in Manchester I decided to move back to Norton and took a job at the garage and corn merchants Griffiths and Simpson in Market Drayton. I left there when I reached retirement age, 60.

Village life has always held my attention. I really enjoy working for Norton. I ran a Youth Club for many years; also a group called ‘League of Light’. This was attached to Dr Barnados. I was secretary of the Conservative Party in Norton, Secretary of the Village Hall (later, in 1979, rebuilt and called the Jubilee Hall. My grandfather had previously held this job. I was secretary of the WI for many years, my grandmother having been a founder member. I have been in the choir all my life, my grandfather and mother having been choirmaster and organist. I attended Sunday School regularly. and I have typed and photocopied the monthly ‘Messenger’ since 1950. I still have the very first 2 I did.

Home and Family

The Home

Sundays were always very strict; no extra jobs to be done, no bills to be paid no games of any sort to be played. It was traditional for ladies to wear hats when attending church. Sunday School twice a Sunday and also choir at 11.00am and 7.00 pm. You had to attend church because Mr Chadwick was Headmaster and Choirmaster, and, if on a Monday morning you hadn’t been to church, you would have to explain to him why not! After supper on a Sunday night hymn singing generally took place around the harmonium.

Times have changed in Norton in Hales, home life does not now exist as it used to. I recall Monday mornings when one had to be up with the lark to start the fire going under the boiler, so that washing could commence at 7.00 am. Granny always wore a starched apron.

Fireplaces were always black-leaded. All the cooking was done on ranges and toast and crumpets done in front of the fire. Water was heated in a side boiler at the side of the range, having been collected from a pump in the yard. Sometimes the pump wouldn’t work and it had to be primed by pouring a bucket of water out of the rain tub into the pump. You had no bathroom and a bath 9usually of tin) was put on the hearth and filled from the boiler in the grate. The lavatory was also a ‘mile’ away down the garden and newspapers were cut into squares for the use thereof!

There were no washing machines or cookers. . All cooking was done with the fire oven. The ashes from the fire with all your tins and refuse were taken to the cinder hole down by the Forge. In about 1940, a wooden shed was erected with 2 side doors, about 3 feet up either side, and all our rubbish was taken there. It was sited down Forge Lane opposite the tall poplar tree on the left and was emptied about once a month.

There were more family get-togethers, meeting to play cards etc, around the Aladdin Lamp, which usually went out because the wick needed trimming. Cards are rarely seen these days, everybody glued to the TV .

The winters were generally bad, snowed up roads, which meant no deliveries of bread or milk. We had to collect milk from the nearest farm and bread was usually fetched from 3 miles away with a pony.

Food and drink

Milk deliveries were made by a local farmer, T Batho of Forge Farm, who came round with a horse and cart and delivered butter and milk. He just dished it out from a measure from the churn straight into your jug. Surplus milk was taken to the local railway station to go to the milk factory at Pipe Gate. This was axed by Mr Beeching on May 7th 1956.

Bread was delivered straight to the door from the bakery. The butcher also delivered into the village, so did the fish cart. The paraffin man also came round with paraffin and oil for Tilley lamps and stoves. Old clothes were cut up and pegged to make mats fro the hearth and clothes that were not suitable for rugs were sold to the rag and bone man in exchange for goldfish or a few coppers. Bricks were put in the oven during the daytime and wrapped up in a cloth and put in the bed at night.

The men of the village would catch rabbits with ferrets or wire hangers and most people kept hens and a pig. The pig was eventually killed and salted by John Southerton who lived in the village and then the hams were hung up in muslin bags in the kitchen. Brawn and sausages were also made; in fact everything except the pig’s squeak was used. Eggs were preserved in Ising Glass and kidney beans were salted and put in stone jars.

Church Festivals and other Social Events

Plough Sunday

This was held in January and a local farmer would bring his plough down to Church on Saturday. At the service the plough would be pushed down the aisle by a farmer and farm labourers. The lessons read by farmers. Harvest hymns were sung and the congregation was large.

Mothering or Refreshment Sunday

This was always the highlight in Lent when nearly all the village gave something up and put the money saved into missionary boxes. It was at this time of the year when the missionary people would come and visit the village for a week, sleeping in a caravan parked up the Churchyard. The villagers usually provided a lunch for them. They visited most houses during their stay. For Sunday tea on Mothering Sunday we usually had a Simnel Cake decorated with marzipan.

Passion Sunday

This was always marked and it was a very dismal day doing nothing.

Palm Sunday

The Choir used to carry palms round and everybody in the congregation was given a palm cross.

Good Friday

Good Friday was even stricter; church was marked by a 3-hour service, 12 noon till 3 pm. After this, the villagers would usually go out into the woods and collect pussy willow, bluebells and primroses for decorating the church for Easter. Decorating was done on the Saturday morning, a band of about 10 ladies meeting to decorate pulpit, font and pews etc.. Everybody had their own place to decorate, not like today’s dismal showing.

Easter Day

Bells pealing, lovely joyful Easter hymns, the church was packed for 11 am and 7pm service. The collection on Easter Day was always for the Rector. Rev. Edward Wright in his May 1960 Messenger thanked everyone for their generous Easter collection for £34-19-7.

Rogation Sunday

This was usually in May and all the congregation and the choir went out in procession to the fields. We visited pasture, plough fields and crops; sang an appropriate hymn and had prayers at each, finishing up on the green and churchyard.

Whit Sunday

Whit Sunday was s also observed and there was always a holiday on Whit Monday.

Ascension Day

This was always when all choirs and congregations in the Deanery met at a church appointed for the All Choirs Festival, held at 7.30 pm. A bus was always arranged from Norton and it was always very enjoyable.

There was also a 9 am service in the church, the school children filed down and partook in the service. When we got back to school at about 10am, the rest of the day was a holiday.

Harvest Festival

This was always in September, with a Friday evening service, full with farmers from around the parish and 2 services on Sunday. The church was beautifully decorated by the dedicated lady’s band. There was a special Children’s Service at 3 pm when all the children brought produce etc. On Monday, the produce was distributed around the village to people in need. Prior to 1920 there was also a harvest supper called ‘Harvest Home’. This was either at the Norton Villa or the Rectory.


Another big celebration. The week before Christmas, carol singers went round and in the 1930’s the bell ringers went round to houses where they had been invited with hand bells and played carols. Mince pies and drinks were provided to them by the parishioners. Towards the end of the night you might imagine what the bell ringers were like! I remember my Granny dreaded the state my Grandad would roll home in, usually in the early hours of the morning

The children’s presents were not as big as they are now, we usually had two sugar pigs and mice (white and pink) and an orange and dates

Education Sunday

Here again the school took a big part reading lessons etc..

Scripture Inspection

This was held in the school, when a visiting Rector came and asked questions of the children on the prayer book and bible. The children doing well received a scripture certificate and when you left school, if you had a few certificates, you were presented with a prayer book. The inspection was from 9-12 noon and after this, the remainder of the day was a holiday.

Empire Day May 24th

This was a big day at school; all the pupils had to wear a daisy (the petals represented the dominions of the Empire). We then paraded outside the school and saluted the Union Jack which had been hoisted up the flag pole, which was situated in front of the school. Also in front of the school was 3 very big monkey puzzle trees. We then sang the National Anthem; all the verses. At about 10.30 we all went home to get ready for the afternoon celebrations, which were at Norton Villa. The boys had to decorate staffs and the girls flower baskets. These were judged by notable characters in the village. Sports followed and then sweets were thrown all over the lawns and the children scrabbled for them.

Oak apple Day May 29th

The girls of the school, before 9am, would go down the back lane and find an oak leaf and wear it, because if you hadn’t got an oak leaf, the boys would sting you with a nettle, which they had gathered earlier.

All Souls Day Nov 2nd.

The children would go round singing, or souling as it was called. They sang the following ditty for a few coppers:

My clothes are very dirty, my shoes very thin

I’ve got a little pocket to put a penny in.

Soul, soul for an apple or two

If you haven’t an apple, a pear will do

If you haven’t a pear, a halfpenny will do.

If you haven’t a halfpenny, God bless you.

This is the Norton in Hales Song composed by Rev. PC Pearce and sung regularly at functions

“May the Church and Homestead be ever united

For faith is our fortress and Love never fails

We’ll be true to our Master, Whatever befalls us

And keep the Lamp burning in Norton in Hales”

Garden Fete

This was always held at the Bran Hall prior to 1939. There were plenty of stalls and also baby and Commical Dog shows.

My brother took our neighbours (Mr Dickens) dog up and entered him for the fattest dog, but unfortunately when he loosed him, the dog went home and we thought we had lost him.

In later years it was held on the Rectory lawns with still the same stalls etc..

Flower, Fruit and Vegetable Show.

This was started by the WI in 1969 and ended in 1993 when the WI closed. It ran for 24 years. Prior to this, in 1925, and for several years, a Horticultural Show was held at Brand Hall. The show was open to anyone resident in the village and entries were always over 100 entries. (At the Brand they had a Dovecote with very attractive Fantail doves).

Silver Jubilee 1935

This was for George V and Queen Mary. And was quite a big event. Each child had a commemorative jubilee mug. There were sports in the afternoon and a tea for children and OAPs in the village hall at 5pm. At night there was a big bonfire and plenty of fireworks and large rockets.

Election Day

Not exactly a social event, but a big one none the less, was Election Day. This was nothing like the ones held now. The Clerk to the Parish would have his office, at 39 Main Road, open from 6am to 10pm. Mr W Malkin was the clerk for a good many years. Tellers stood outside the Polling Station, which was the school, checking over each person from the voting list as they came to vote. You usually had a 1hr stint on the door and when you had done your turn, you took your names of the people who had voted back down to the clerk at his office. He would then check the names off against his Electoral list. Towards evening the roll was checked and the people who had not been to vote were visited and collected by car in order that they could vote. There were about 40 people from the village engaged in this operation. It was very exiting as I recall and I did take a few hours standing outside the Polling Station. Tory and Labour candidates visited during the day. The police also patrolled around, especially between 9pm and 10pm when the station closed. The ballot boxes were sealed and collected at 10.30pm.

Village Sports

Cricket Club

There has been a Club in Norton for a very long time; they used to play cricket on the field at the back of Griffin Close (Terrace Farm Field). This was during the 1920’s and 30’s when it was very strong. It was disbanded during the war, but afterwards, in about 1945, a few local boys decided to re-form and started playing cricket in the Church Meadow behind the bus-shelter. This caused a bit of a stir because windows in the Council Houses were continually getting broken. After this, the Church Commissioners let us play on the Glebe land behind the church; no pavilion or groundsman! No match could be played during church services on a Sunday and as cattle had previously been on the field, the lads had to rake, shovel and remove the mess each time before a match.

The teas used to be taken in a shed across at Yew Tree Farm. Later a pavilion was erected, in about 1950. This wooden pavilion disintegrated and a new one was built in 1976, still standing now.

Sir George Wade provided a cup and a knockout was organised and about 18 teams from around the district competed. The final was quite a big day with 2 innings

In 1994 the field was eventually purchased from the Church Commissioners at a cost of £20,000. This was paid for by a £15,000 grant from the National Playing Fields and a £5000 loan, which has all been paid back.

I was secretary of the Cricket Club from 1947 to 1979 – 32 years.

The Bowls Club

The bowls club was formed in 1985 when the first turf was laid. The cost of the green was £6500 which was raised by loans etc. During 1986 the green was laid and in 1987 play commenced. We had 70 members the first year and several cups were donated, but since then we average 60. A small pavilion, called the Wendy House was erected. The cost to join in 1994 was adults £15, students £7.50 and children £3. I am treasurer of the club.

The Tennis Club

The club was formed in 1939, the president being Capt. J Radford Norcrop, Hon. Sec. Miss N Simpson and treasurer Miss F Whateley. They were well supported and several cups were provided and played for each year. . It struggled during the war and, eventually, 30 years later, folded up. The courts lay dormant for a number of years and eventually it was started up again, I think about 1988. It took a number of years to get established, but is now again in full swing.

Sports and Social Club

This is a club with 2 trustees and a committee, which is an umbrella over all the clubs and has the last say in anything appertaining to the clubs.

Sunday School Treats

These were held at Christmas and as far back as I can remember, in 1930 and for about 10 years, Mrs Radford Norcrop from the Brand Hall would provide a tall Christmas tree have it erected in the Village Hall, and provide presents for each child. After tea, Mrs Norcrop would arrive, probably with her 2 daughters, and give each child a present. Sometimes we went to Trentham Park or Chester for a summer outing.

Village People

There was always a resident roadman in the village and ditches were always kept open and no litter allowed to be thrown about. It was always a bit difficult for the smallholders who had to take their cows to fields using the roads, because the roadman did not like the mess. There was a resident policeman who lived at 25 Main Road with Mr & Mrs Hamlett, a Blacksmith at the Smithy, a butcher and 2 public Houses. We also had a very good Home Guard who met every week in the lodge at the entrance to the Church. (It has since been pulled down.) One night they were called out because a German plane dropped bombs in the vicinity and later came down. We also had about 50 evacuees from the Moss-side area of Manchester who were placed in homes in the village. Several of them still keep in touch (50 years on.)

There was a man named John Southern who could charm warts. I have seen this done; he just rubbed them and muttered something. The person went away and forgot about it and in about 3 weeks they had gone away. They never knew when, but went they surely did.

The smallholders used to sit hens on eggs to hatch them. First of all the broody hen sat on a pot egg to test her capability for sitting. After 2 or 3 days the eggs were put under her and she sat there for about 3 weeks. If, however, she went off being broody before hatching, there was a mad scramble around the village to borrow another broody hen. An old lady named Mrs Cherrington used to push the eggs up her jumper to keep them warm till they were hatched! There were no incubators in those days. In later years an incubator was put in the hen pen and what a lovely sight to see all the chicks hovering around the light and warmth.

Charlie Mason was a character working on farms and sleeping rough. He died outside the blacksmith’s shop.

Harry and Tom Hamlett were the mole catchers and permission had to be given to catch moles on the surrounding farms. If permission were not given, they used to take moles and put them along the windowsills of the houses that would not allow them to catch.

Mrs Rathbone laundered surplices from the church; there were 6 men’s and 12 boys. These were sent up in a washing basket at Easter and Harvest. At the end of World War 1, the choir partly dispersed, but was soon reformed by Mr C Chadwick, organist.

Charlie Jones from the Forge and a lady by the name of Miss Naggington came to church every Sunday night and competed with each other as to how loud they could say the General Confession; it was amusing to us children.

Mr Jess Rathbone was the butcher who lived at Terrace Farm in about 1920. He killed his own beasts on the premises. In those years any villager who had a pig could get a butcher to kill it.

The war years didn’t make much difference to Norton really, although we did have about 50 evacuees from Manchester. These were billeted out around the residents. They used to have a schoolroom down in the Parish Room at the Rectory because they brought 2 teachers with them. Their ages ranged from about 5 years to 12 years. Norton seemed to be full of children.

The Village as it used to be

Where the car park is now opposite Norton farm was a large pond, where the horses from the farm used to drink at night after a long days work. There were always ducks on it and plenty of children collected frogspawn. There was sliding on the pit in winter and there were also 2 more ponds in the field in Forge Lane, where the houses Linley and Dunstampyn are now built. I can remember at least 8 or 9 ponds that have since gone and where we used to go fishing.

Around 1940 and before, Forge Lane was called Back Lane. The lane opposite Norton Farm leading to 60 Brand Cottages was called Cow Lane.

An outbreak of Foot and Mouth disease was very bad in 1957. All the farms in Norton had it and the cattle had to be burned. A team of men from Market Drayton and around went to farms and dug pits, threw the cattle in and then set fire to them. The smell in Norton hung around for several days; it was very depressing. You couldn’t start up again for several months. Another outbreak in 1967/68 was again a bad one all over Shropshire, although Norton Farm this time escaped.

The playing fields used to be behind no’s 37, 38 and 39 Main road. You got to it by going through the gate at the bottom of the village and through the field called Church Meadows. It was the village and school playing fields until after the war. The field had to be ploughed up during the war for potatoes to be planted. Down by the smithy, which is now called Old Post Office, there were about 4 Conker trees. . Now they have been fallen and flowers put there instead. The bumping stone used to have railings round it, and shrubs and bushes in it. Also along the footpath from the Church Meadow gate to the top of Mucklestone road were iron railings and in front of the bus shelter, which of course was not there then. The railings were all taken during the war.

On the village green there is a Bradling Stone believed to have come down from Scotland during the Ice Age. People found working on Shrove Tuesday were bumped on it. There is also a Murrain Stone, which was placed in a field at Norton Farm as a monument to the Great Cattle Plague in 1866. On the edge of the village is a remarkable new Stone Age Monument known as the Devil’s Ring and Finger. Its name alone is enough to ensure it is surrounded by stories of magic. According to one legend, people cured ill babies by passing them through the hole called the Devils Ring.

The Newport and Market Drayton Advertiser, as it was called in 1935, was 2d old money and now is called the Market Drayton Advertiser. This reports all local news around the town and villages. Usually there is someone resident in the village who does all the local gossip; weddings, funerals, special events, etc..

Games played at school were hopscotch, marbles and shag.

Everyone had a spinning top which they thrashed about with a rope. Iron hoops were hit with a stick and bowled down the road. Conkers were was a big game. In order to get yours to become an eighter or niner (had broken 8 or 9 others), you had to put it in the oven and harden it up; then it would smash other children’s conkers and yours became the master.

The Post Office, Telephone, School and other services

In 1933 Mr E G Keay had the Post Office and telephone exchange moved into his front room at 37 Main Road. (The Post Office ran the telephone service then, and to make a phone call in Norton, you had to lift the receiver and wait for the operator to connect your call). When he took it over there were 33 subscribers, but this increased to 61. During the war years 1939-1945, the government insisted that a 24-hour telephone service be provided and a camp bed was put up each night behind the Post Office counter and in front of the telephone exchange switchboard. This was for all emergencies and it was quite busy some nights. The pay increased of course. The telephone exchange itself ran on batteries, about 50 of them that were installed, in racks, in a shed adjoining the house. These had to filled up with acid once a month. Nowadays it is all-electric. In about 1950 the exchange was taken away and a new building put up on the site of where the new bungalow, appropriately called The Exchange, is now built. All the calls went automatically through this. Now we all go through the Market Drayton set-up.

The Post Office still went on till 1961, when it became too much for Mr Keay and it moved to Central View, now called The Old Post Office. In 1981 the post office moved again to No1 St Chads Way. Mr & Mrs Bloor had it for 9 years and in 1991 Mr Bloor sold and Mr & Mrs Jones took over. It was only open for 2 ½ days, but the shop side was open 6 days. When Mr Keay had the Post Office it was only that, no shop; the shop was at Central View and had been there for many years. There were petrol pumps there, at what was the Blacksmiths shop. We had 2 shops in Norton, selling groceries etc one at the top of the village alongside 51 Main Road and the one down by the village green.

The water and sewerage mains were put in during 1935. Before this, everyone in the village had a pump in their back yard and earth closets. The cottages used to have a pump between 2 or 3 residents. In the summer, when there was drought, the pumps never ran dry, but sometimes had to be primed – which meant putting a few buckets of water from the rain tubs into the top of the pump and pumping the handle vigorously. This then started the main flow of water, you hoped. The only hot water was available from boilers at the side of the grate, or kettles. We thought we were in heaven when the water mains were switched on.

The electricity mains came into Norton in 1939, just before war commenced. Before this, we had lamps that stood on the table and had to be filled with paraffin and their wicks trimmed. They did give out some warmth as well. Candles and candlesticks were all the rage, especially when going to bed. During the war you had to have black curtains because you could not have any lights showing. The ARP (Air Raid Precautions) Warden used to patrol the village every night watching for lights.

I think of the electricity and water, water was the best, because you needed water 24 hours a day and lights were only used at night. With the coming of electricity of course, the fire ovens more or less went out of use also, kettles were no longer seen on the hobs. Everybody purchased electric kettles and electric cookers. Electric irons replaced the fire irons, which used to be put on a frame in front of the range fire.

The new school was built on the site where it is now in 1879. There had been a National School prior to this, in 1851, when the headmaster was John Wickstead. There were 50 pupils in 1851 according to records. When the new school was built it held 150 pupils. Average attendance was 97.

Mr William Thomas was headmaster and Mrs EA Thomas junior mistress. In 1917 Mr Charles Chadwick took over as headmaster and Mrs Chadwick junior mistress. When Mrs Chadwick finished, Miss Elliott and Miss Cope became junior and middle school teachers.

Miss Annie Mycock became headmistress in 1939 after Mr Chadwick retired. Following Miss Mycock, Miss Brown took over and remained there for several years.

In 1930, when I was going, up till 1939 0r 1941, the children went up to the age of 14.

In about 1939 the school went to a junior school only; pupils 11 and over went to the Alexandra Road School and some to the Grammar school. A bus was put on to transport them.

In 1939 the school was in two parts, the big school 8-14 yrs and the little school 4-7 yrs. Both the schools had coke stoves which got really red and hot. The schoolhouse was in the middle where the headmaster lived. The playground was all in one at the back and the 2 doors at the front were also used.

All sorts of crafts were taught in school (not as after school projects). We learned crochet work, knitting, darning and smocking, but not cookery. The boys did woodwork and fretwork Country and maypole dancing was also taken

Our village is a peaceful place,

With noble church and ancient Inn,

With house and farm to add their grace

To hedgerows, gardens and their kin.

But its folk who make our village life

Not sheep and cattle, grassland loam.

Its friendly neighbours quick to give

Who make our village, make it home.

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