Part 5 The Gentry, Mrs H. Furniss remembers

Up until, perhaps, the beginning of the last War the 'Gentry' (people next below the nobility in position and birth) meant bread and butter to many of the people living in Britain -especially in rural communities. Greens Norton was no different in this respect and the livelihood of a large number of its inhabitants depended upon the local gentry. .The 'big house' included The Court, The Hall, The Manor, The Chantry, Littleworth, Duncote Hall and The Rectory. They often employing a butler, footman, cook and several maids inside the house; the large grounds outside having gardeners, of varying grades, to tend them. Local builders found work in maintaining the fabric of the houses, both inside and out.

Greens Norton is in Grafton Hunt country (it used to be said that there were more horses in the area than people) and the gentry naturally had a string of horses, needing constant attention and exercise for their hunting. This meant employment for stud grooms, second horsemen and numerous grooms, not to mention the village blacksmith, who was always busy keeping the horses shod. 

Dorian Williams, the well-known 'Horse of the Year' commentator, lived at The Court for a number of years.

The Windmill Field (what is now Bradden Way would have formed its southern boundary), was rented by Major Williams of The Court and he frequently used this area to 'break-in' his mounts. I remember on one occasion playing an organ in the windmill while the second horseman held a horse nearby to get it used to the sound of music -it was being entered at a show and there would be bands present.

On Sunday mornings the congregation in church consisted mostly of the gentry, each family having its own particular pew.

Lace Making in Greens Norton 

The making of pillow lace in England was confined to the area around Honiton in Devon and to the East Midlands and started up as a result of refugee lace makers arriving from the Continent to escape the religious persecution in the Netherlands and France in the last part of the 16th. Century. By 1698 there were over 100,00 people employed in the trade and during the 18th. Century the number increased still further, with Towcester as one of the main centres. It is easy to understand, therefore, why lace was made in Greens Norton, and we know the Brookside Cottage in Bengal Lane was a lace school. Lace schools were generally the living rooms of small cottages and were renowned for being overcrowded, badly lit and often insanitary. Girls and some boys were put to work at the age of six or seven and spent long hours bent over their pillows, learning the craft, until they could produce a marketable product. Some of the children were also taught elementary reading, but on the whole there was little other general education. The health of the children suffered from their immobility and lack of fresh air, although they would often work outside, ranged along a village street, in order to have better light. When they worked inside they sat in a circle with a flask of water in the centre, with a candle behind it. The water increased the light from the candle flame. Proficient workers sat nearest the flame, with the learners furthest away. 
By the 1830's complete production of lace by machine was possible and so the industry declined; however, some lace was still made by hand and we know that it continued to some extent in Greens Norton. 

Mr John Brown of Home Farm (now Mansfield Court) remembered his uncle going to France to bring back the patterns for the lace. The kitchen floor of his house at Paulerspury was scrubbed and the patterns laid out on the floor. The patterns were then pricked out on to parchment, and the lace makers given orders for so many yards of this or that pattern, so many collars, and so on.

By 1930 only two lace makers remained in the village, though several people made it for their own enjoyment. Mrs Hornsby used to sit on the Post Office steps to make her lace and Mrs Pilgrim made a lace handkerchief for Princess Mary. 

In the 1970's there was a revival of interest in lace making in the village, through classes started by the W .1. In 1980 it was decided to have a special meeting annually on St. Catherine's Day (she being the patron saint of lace makers). Research revealed that lace makers traditionally ate a type of cake called Cattern Cake on this day. This was a kind of sweet bread containing caraway seeds. 'Wigs' were also eaten, and were small cakes also containing caraway seeds with treacle as an added ingredient.

There is still a keen interest in the making of pillow lace in this village today.


The main source locally was always the land. Farmers and farm hands as direct labour, but transport of their produce as well as of other goods, services and people provided a great deal of indirect work and consequent wealth in the community. 

When horses were the main hauling and carrying power, their feeding, stabling, grooming, etc. was closely linked to agriculture and many local fields are still identified by the names of the people -Doctor Watson for example -whose horses were kept in them.