The Norris Family
Bottesford Builders: late 1800s to 2004
By Sue Middleton
Ian and Joan Norris have kindly provided these recollections of the Norris family trade as builders and undertakers in Bottesford.
The name Norris has been connected with the carpentry and building trade in Bottesford since the nineteenth century. In directories of the time, in 1863, Francis Norris was a joiner, living on Back Street and by 1877, had premises on High Street. The business was founded in 1881 and in a 1900 directory Mrs Hannah Norris had her carpentry business on the High Street and lived on Back Street. In 1908, Frank, John and George Norris are listed as carpenters and wheelwrights.
The family business suffered a severe set back in the early 1900s. Ian recalled a family story concerning one of his great uncles. “This family member was sure that he had a certain winner for one of the races at Barrowby where horse racing was held at that time. He removed the firm’s equity from the safe and placed his bet. Unfortunately, the horse is still running.”
The family business recovered and in the 1930s, John Norris and his twin brother Frank were in the family firm together, trading as Norris Brothers and working out of a builder’s yard on the corner of High Street and Barkestone Lane. When John and Frank Norris decided to develop their own separate businesses, Bill Roberts bought their yard and set up his building firm there.
The firm, now called J. Norris and Sons began working from the yard behind Nos. 16-18 High Street in the late nineteen thirties.
J. Norris and Sons
There were eight children in the John Norris family including five brothers. Ian Norris remembers that the firm used to slake lime in a large tank in the builders yard in order to prepare lime wash paint for houses.
One of Ian’s father’s more memorable employees was Barker Winn. He was born in about 1867 to John and Ann Winn and the family were living on the High Street in 1871. According to the 1881 Census, Barker was a ‘farmer’s boy’ and his father was a bricklayer. Close neighbours on the High Street were William Sutton, Hannah Pickering, the postmistress and George Sherwin the innkeeper at the Rutland Arms. By 1891, Barker was 23, an ironstone worker and had moved to Frieston, Caythorpe. By 1901, he was married to Harriett Foulkes in Bingham. They had a son Robert and Barker worked as a bricklayer in Cropwell Butler.
Harriett died in 1908 and whatever happened, Barker Winn was back in Bottesford and working as a general labourer for John and Frank Norris in the thirties. Ian recalled that he was “a rather rough and ready man” and that he called Gerald ‘scrap iron’ and might give children rhyming names such as ‘Eileen Kerosene’.
As well as labouring work, he reared rabbits for sale at the Bull Yard market and was always willing to sell rabbits for a few pennies to the children.Two rabbits quickly became more rabbits and they were a welcome addition to a family’s menu. Rabbits also needed feeding so the dandelions in the churchyard provided rabbit food and the weeds were kept down!
Barker lived in both the Rectory stables where the carriages were kept and then in a workshop at the rear of the Norris builder’s yard. There was no heating or water in either place so he would spend winter evenings in the Red Lion by the fire and would use the toilets there. Mrs Norris would cook him a dinner and would make him a rice pudding. However, by the early 1940s, with Barker in his late seventies, John Norris went to see Barker’s son who agreed that Barker should move to his home at Owthorpe. Barker had a few possessions including a chest of drawers and a piano. These were moved there in Tommy Samuel’s lorry. In time Barker Winn died and was buried at Langar.
When Ian, George and Gerald did their National Service in the 1950s, Bernard and Geoff worked for their father in the family business.
In Bottesford, it has been customary for builders in the village to be undertakers as well and during the Second World War and after, there were three funeral directors in Bottesford – W.J. Roberts, H. Doubleday and J. Norris and Sons.
Rose Dyer who ran a general store on the corner of Queen Street and Chapel Street was also called upon to sit with the dying and undertake the laying out of the deceased. Ian Norris helped his father with funerals. His father made coffins at night and made sure that the graves in the churchyard were neatly cut and that the coffin would fit.
Tommy Robinson, the verger and sexton would remove the turf first and then dig a foot a day until he had dug six feet down although a grave often had to accommodate three or four coffins. Bottesford has a high water table and this could make made grave digging difficult. It was often necessary to pump water out of a grave.
It was generally understood by customers having building done that a call for undertaking services would always take priority.
A small Chapel of Rest was built in the 1960s. When asked by Bill Mathews, who lived nearby, how they might cope should there be a ‘rush on’, John Norris replied that if necessary, it could be standing room only!
The Norris brothers closed the building side of the business in 1999. However the funeral business continued until 2004 when it was taken over by Geesons of Denton.