Norton Priory

I went to do a book signing at Norton Priory yesterday as it has close connections with the story of The de Lacy Inheritance. Part of the novel is set at nearby Halton Castle, the home of the barons of Halton, and it was the second baron, William fitz Nigel who founded the community of Augustinian canons in 1115 on the south bank of the River Mersey, near Runcorn in Cheshire.

It is of special interest to me as this is where Richard, who is one of the main characters in my story, was buried. Priory records record:

‘Iste eciam Rogerus habuit quendam fratrem, Ricardum nomine, cui dedit villam de More; et hic postmodum fuit leprosus, et sepultus est in capitulo canonicorum de Northton.’

This seems to confirm that Roger de Lacy had a brother named Richard who died of leprosy and was buried under the chapter house at Norton. When the priory was excavated a burial was uncovered in the chapter house and the skeleton showed signs of Paget’s disease. NB: Later evidence shows that this burial was of a later date and did not show signs of any disease

Paget’s disease is a disease of the bones and in days when treatment was impossible it led to deformities and was sometimes confused with leprosy.

Norton Priory: The Archaeology of a Medieval Religious House by J. Patrick Greene says of this burial:

“In a sandstone coffin with an impressively carved lid was the skeleton of a man who had suffered from Paget’s disease.”

It’s clear that this man was someone of importance and records suggest that it probably was Richard.

Here is my photo of the grave site:

And this is a photo that was taken during the archaeological excavations showing the skeleton in situ:

The three smaller coffins contained the remains of children and were the only stone coffins for children that were discovered.

The only other member of the de Lacy family known to have been buried at Norton Priory is Alice, who was the first wife of John de Lacy.

* In June 2011 I received a message from Virginia Mylius who told me that Alice was the daughter of Gilbert d’Aquila and his wife Isobel whose first husband was Robert de Lacy.  See the messages below for more information.*

Norton Priory is a very interesting place to visit and apart from the excavated ruins and the well preserved remains of the medieval undercroft you can see the huge 14th century statue of St Christopher. It’s a rare survival of a pre-reformation religious statue. So many were destroyed on the orders of Henry VIII. This one once stood in the courtyard of the house of the Brooke family – a house built after the dissolution of the monasteries. When the Brooke family left the house the statue remained. It was given to Liverpool Museum in 1964 and has since been restored and moved back to the priory where it is displayed in its own purpose built gallery.

The statue is thought to date from around 1391 when the priory was raised in status to an abbey. It is huge, double life size, and traces of paint show that it would originally have been painted in bright colours. It depicts St Christopher carrying the Christ child across a river filled with fish and is an appropriate symbol for a monastery that was close to the river crossing of the Mersey at Runcorn.

If you are in the area do go and see the real thing. It is amazing.

There’s more information here:
http://wapedia.mobi/en/Statue_of_St_Christopher_(Norton_Priory)

5 thoughts on “Norton Priory”

  1. If you need any help on the ‘de Warenne’ / de l’Aigle-Aquila’ dynasty please get in touch. Gislebertus (Gilbert) lll de Aquila, who married Isabel de Warenne Plantagenet, daughter of Isabella de Warenne of Lewes and Hameline Plantagenet, half-brother of Henry ll, King of England 1154-76, their father was Count Geoffrey V Plantagenet of Anjou.
    Gilbert lll & Isabel de Aquila are my 23rd great grandfather and mother.

  2. Hello Virginia,

    Thank you for this information!

    I’m sure that you are right. I know that Isabel, the widow of Robert de Lacy did marry Gilbert d’Aquila. That their daughter should be married to John de Lacy makes complete sense.

    It also makes sense that John’s daughters were by Alice. I have a question mark by the name of the daughter Alice in my notes as it seemed odd that she should have that name unless Alice was her mother.

    I can’t find the reference for my naming her father as Peter d’Aquila, but from what you say this seems incorrect and I will edit my information to correct it.

    I’ve just been looking at your research paper about the l’Aigle family and I am in awe of the amount of research and work you’ve put into it. If anyone else wants to read it the link is: http://oursoutherncousins.com/Honour%20of%20the%20Eagle.pdf

    Sadly, it seems that if Alice d’Aquila’s remains were still at Norton then she too will have been removed from her original burial site. I must say that I am unhappy about the moving of the remains from the site. Some have been reburied but others are either on display or in boxes and the historians at the Priory seem to have little interest in the early burials.

    If I discover anything else I’ll get in touch with you. In the meantime, thanks again.

    Elizabeth.

  3. I read about your visit to Norton Priory with great interest. The de l’Aigle’s are a particular study of mine, and I believe Alice de l’Aigle was the daughter of Gilbert de l’Aigle and his wife Isabel (Elizabeth) de Warenne. The Parochial History of Ackworth, Yorks, discusses this, stating Alice was their daughter, who married John de Lacy the Constable. The History of Pontefract states: Roger, surnamed Helle, had one son named John, who married the lady Alice, daughter of Gilbert de Aquila; and after her decease he married the lady Margaret, daughter and co heiress of Robert, son of Saher de Quincy, Earl of Lincoln. Elizabeth de Warenne, Alice’s mother, had first been married to Robert de Lacy, son of Henry (they married when both were very young). Elizabeth/Isabel and Robert de Lacy had no issue when he died in Aug 1193, and she then married Gilbert de l’Aigle (Aquila). Norton Priory, by J. Patrick Greene, states that Alice was the niece of William, Earl Warenne, the 6th earl of Surrey, who granted the prior of Norton in order to maintain a pittance for her soul, naming her mother as “Ela” –but I have never seen a reference that Ela had a daughter named Alice…..while we certainly know Isabel did, and that William was the brother of both Ela and Isabel… and thus Alice’s uncle. Personally, I also feel that Mathilda and Idonia (Alice) de lacy were Alice’s daughters, not Margaret de Quincy’s. If you have any further thoughts on this, I would be very interested. Thank you, Virginia Mylius

  4. What an intering place. I think the history of this Island is a great and as wonderful as any of the ancient civilisations of the world.

    best of luck with your book,

    Jarmara

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