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June 2000

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From ag lab to County Constable

Carolyn Boulton

In the spring of 1870 a boy was born to the Norris family at Dean Place, Hurley (now a stud farm). He was baptised in May of the same year at the picturesque church of Hurley on the banks of the River Thames. He was the sixth child of ten and named John, as was his father and grandfather before him. They all lived in the rolling chalk downland in the hundred of Beynhurst (Bernersh) in a village called Warren Row on a road which ribbons the hillside from Knowl Hill to Hurley. The Norris family had worked the land for generations. Many of John's ancestors travelled to Reading St. Mary's Church to be Confirmed by the Bishop of Sarum. One Confirmation is noted in the parish register:

"begun at half past eight o'clock in the morning of 27th July 1808, 44 persons from the parish of Hurley attended each with a cart similar to 1804 (when there were 70 persons). The females were conveyed and refreshed with cheese, cold meat and the men with beer by Mr. Dancer and his charge for the whole is 2.2s.0d. for his time and trouble and disbursements."1

In 1804 the Confirmation Service had been taken by the Bishop of Norwich who officiated for the Bishop of Sarum. What a spectacle it would have made to have seen the troop of children, young people and parents on the road making the trek of 12 miles each way.

Many of his extensive family had worked in the area. John's greatgrandfather, Nathaniel Keeley, was the village blacksmith at Wargrave; his great-uncle, William Keeley, was a whitening maker, used for whitewashing walls and sometimes for improving clay soils. William's wife's great-aunt Sophia (nee Norris) ran the 'Old House at Home', a beer house in the village, for many years. She was called robust, swarthy and formidable, for after the death of her husband in 1869 she took over the running of the horsedriven grinding mill. Chalk had been excavated in the area since the tenth century and tunnels and caves dug deep into the hillside of Bowsey (45 feet above sea level) high to the west of Warren Row, where it is said seven counties can be seen from its summit. During the Second World War art treasures from London were stored there for safe keeping.

As a boy John's father had joined others of the family at 'Pudders' at Warren Row, a charming Tudor farmhouse and sizeable farm, which belonged at one time to Hurley Priory and is shown on the tithe maps of 1843 when it was owned by the Micklem family. Thomas Norris his great-uncle had worked there for over 30 years as did his cousins. It is now renamed the Juddemonte Estate with restricted access behind high electrified gates and is owned by the Saudi Arabian Prince Khalid Bin Abdullah. Close by are other large houses owned by Elton John and George Harrison.

The parish magazines of Knowl Hill give an insight into village life2. A report on the horticultural show held in September 1874 in the grounds of the Vicarage says 'it was remarked that a large proportion of the exhibitors came from Crazies Hill and Warren Row'. The 'best kept garden 'was won by Morina Norris and she received a prize of l0 shillings. She also won second prizeof 2s. 6d. for a home made loaf. William Norris won a prize for a dish of plums at the Autumn Show of 1888 and Mrs. William Norris won first prize for 'the cleanest and best kept cottage'. She received 10 shillings.

After a spell in the hamlet of Swyncombe, where they grew watercress in the fresh clear streams, the family moved to Sonning near the French Horn Inn. As his father was a carrier, John went to Sonning School in the 1880s, but by the 1890s they were off again this time to Crazies Hill (named after buttercups). John senior worked at Gibstrode Farm and John jnr. was employed at Hennerton House (now a golf course) by John Rhodes. The estate dates back to the fifteenth century and was named after the backwater that it looks down on.

As John had benefited from a good education, probably with the help of his employer, he applied to the County Police to join the Constabulary. John Rhodes was a magistrate and gave John a glowing reference. He passed through his training at Reading and by 1892 had become a first class PC, earning 1.15s.ld a week by 1896. He married Selina Marshall at Reading St. Lawrence in August of that year and the following year moved to Brightwell-cum-Sotwell, near Wallingford, where they stayed for over five years with a growing family. This attractive and historic village with its moated house and flint and timber framed thatch cottages later became the home of Dr. Edward Bach, one of the first modern pioneers of healing with flower essences.

A move to Windsor by 1903 may have been prompted by the newly crowned King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra. John and Selina moved to Sawyers Gate, overlooking Primrose Hill on the edge of Windsor Great Park. His tours of duty included Ascot, on race days, Henley Regatta, and no doubt other royal events. Then when he was 38, after sixteen years service, he injured himself when he fell off a bicycle and retired on a pension. The family moved back to Reading where in 1908 Rube Norris my grandmother was born at Church Road, Earley. The children arrived at two yearly intervals until there were 12 in all. As the house could no longer hold them all, they made a final move to 'Hillbrow', Pitts Lane, Earley.

John and Selina Norris

John found work for many years as a steward at the Reading Gas Company Club. Sadly he died suddenly while his wife was on a char-a-banc outing. His obituary in the Berkshire Chronicle included his photograph and a detailed list of tributes by his colleagues and friends. He was buried at St. Peter's, Earley, on 25th June, 1937.

1 BRO D/P/72/1/3
2 BRO D/P/164/28A/2 and 3 etc.


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