Midsomer Norton facts for kids

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Midsomer Norton
A river running between pavements with railings. Shops behind
River Somer and War memorial at Midsomer Norton
Midsomer Norton shown within Somerset
Population 10,997 (2011)(2011 Census)
OS grid reference ST664540
Civil parish
  • Midsomer Norton
Unitary authority
Ceremonial county
Region
Country England
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Post town RADSTOCK
Postcode district BA3
Dialling code 01761
Police Avon and Somerset
Fire Avon
Ambulance Great Western
EU Parliament South West England
UK Parliament
  • North East Somerset
List of places
UK
England
SomersetCoordinates: 51°17′03″N 2°28′54″W / 51.2842°N 2.4817°W / 51.2842; -2.4817

Midsomer Norton /ˈmɪdsʌmər ˈnɔːrtən/ is a town near the Mendip Hills in Bath & North East Somerset, England, 10 miles (16 km) south-west of Bath, 10 miles (16 km) north-east of Wells, 10 miles (16 km) north-west of Frome, and 16 miles (26 km) south-east of Bristol. It has a population of 10,997. Along with Radstock and Westfield it used to be part of the conurbation and large civil parish of Norton Radstock, but is now a town council in its own right. It is also part of the unitary authority of Bath and North East Somerset.

Midsomer Norton is characterised by the River Somer which runs the length of the town centre, the river itself was regenerated with new plant life during the summer of 2012 in a bid to improve the aesthetics of the town centre. The Town has a long history which can be seen through a number of early churches which remain, but really started to grow and become a transport hub with the development of the Somerset coalfield. For many years the coalmines provided employment for local men until they ceased operations in the 1960s, around the same time that the town's two railway stations also closed. Afterwards, good employment opportunities still remained for the town with elements of the print industry, and although some of these plants have also now begun to close, overall employment levels in the area remain very high.

Midsomer Norton provides shopping and service industries for the surrounding areas and supports several music venues and bands. The town has four primary schools and two large secondary schools. Midsomer Norton is home to a leisure centre, several sports clubs and provides youth opportunities such as Scouts and Guides. It has been the birthplace or home to several notable people.

History

"Norton" means 'north enclosure' from the Old English, while the use of its forename to distinguish it from other 'Nortons' is of late origin and not mentioned until 1334. Sources point to the town being situated midway between two branches of the River Somer; the Somer itself and Wellow Brook, which joins the Somer a short distance to the east near Radstock.

The spelling "Missomerys Norton" may be a variation

Eilert Ekwall wrote that the village "is said to be so called in allusion to the festival held at midsummer on the day of St. John, the patron saint."

John Wesley wrote of the appalling local road conditions which ensured it was reachable "only in midsummer." As Simon Winchester notes in his book The Map that Changed the World, "...the roads on this part of Somerset were atrocious, thick with mud and as rough as the surface of the moon".

In some church records the town is referred to as 'Norton Canonicorum' as an alternative to Midsomer Norton, and this may be because of the local Priory's link to Merton Priory in London until the dissolution of the monasteries in 1546.

The parish was part of the hundred of Chewton.

Following the Norman Conquest William the Conqueror gave large parts of north Somerset, including the manor or Norton to Geoffrey de Montbray, bishop of Coutances, and Norton was held under him by Ulveva. From about 1150 until 1300 the manor was held by Alured de Lincoln. From 1387 the manor was held by the family of Thomas West, 1st Baron West and his descendants.

The Duchy of Cornwall owned most of the mineral rights around Midsomer Norton and various small pits opened around 1750 to exploit these. Coal mining in the Somerset coalfield gave the town and area its impetus as an industrial centre.

Midsomernortonstation
Somerset & Dorset Railway Heritage Centre in former goods shed at Midsomer Norton

Around 1866 an obelisk Crimean War monument with two marble plaques, was built at the site of St Chad's well, by the mother of Frederick Stukeley Savage for the benefit of the poor. The obelisk was in the grounds of Norton House, a Georgian mansion built by Thomas Savage, an investor in coalmines in the area, in 1789. The house itself has since been demolished but other features of its estate are still visible at Silver Street Nature reserve (see below).

Geography

Silver Street Nature Reserve
Silver Street local nature reserve

The main geological feature in this area of the Mendip Hills south of Hallatrow consists of Supra-Pennant Measures which includes the upper coal measures and outcrops of sandstone. The relics of the industrial past are very evident within the area, including the distinct conical shape of the Old Mills batch overlooking the town. Midsomer Norton lies on the River Somer which rises to the west of Chilcompton and on the Wellow Brook which rises near the village of Ston Easton. The town therefore occupies two valleys of the Mendip Hills and these merge west of Radstock. The combined river then flows east reaching the River Avon near Midford, thence to Bath and through Bristol into the Bristol Channel at Avonmouth.

On the southern fringes of the town is the 2 hectares (4.9 acres) Silver Street Local Nature Reserve, on the site of the estate of Norton House, an eighteenth century mansion built by the coalmine-owning Savage family but demolished in 1937-8. It contains a broad-leaf woodland around several ponds, a restored nineteenth-century wellhead that supplied water to the house, and a grassland field. The woodland is leased to the Somerset and Dorset Heritage Railway Trust by Bath and North East Somerset Council and the meadow in the stewardship of Somervale School.

Along with the rest of South West England, the Midsomer Norton has a temperate climate generally wetter and milder than the rest of England. The annual mean temperature is about 10 °C (50 °F) with seasonal and diurnal variations, but the modifying effect of the sea, restricts the range to less than that in most other parts of the United Kingdom. January is the coldest month with mean minimum temperatures between 1 °C (34 °F) and 2 °C (36 °F). July and August are the warmest, with mean daily maxima around 21 °C (70 °F). In general, December is the dullest month and June the sunniest. The south-west of England enjoys a favoured location, particularly in summer, when the Azores High extends its influence north-eastwards towards the UK.

Cloud often forms inland, especially near hills, and reduces exposure to sunshine. The average annual sunshine is about 1,600 hours. Rainfall tends to be associated with Atlantic depressions or with convection. In summer, convection caused by solar surface heating sometimes forms shower clouds and a large proportion of the annual precipitation falls from showers and thunderstorms at this time of year. Average rainfall is around 800–900 mm (31–35 in). About 8–15 days of snowfall is typical. November to March have the highest mean wind speeds, with June to August having the lightest; the prevailing wind direction is from the south-west.

Midsomer Norton flood alleviation scheme

For many years, the centre of Midsomer Norton was prone to flooding. Sometimes several times a year, the Somer rose up during prolonged rainfall and flooded shops, particularly where the high street is at its lowest point in the middle between Martin’s newsagent and the former Palladium cinema.

To prevent future deluges, a major flood alleviation tunnel — completed in 1977 – was constructed beneath the high street to remove excess water when the town centre was threatened with flooding. The infrastructure comprises a sluice gate situated at the top of the high street near Somervale School through which the water is carried under the town via a pre-cast concrete culvert several metres in diameter to an outlet further downstream at Rackvernal. Since it began operation, no flooding has occurred to the high street and an Environment Agency report confirms that the relief scheme remains in good condition and continues to serve to its 100-year standard.

Despite the success of the scheme, some outlying areas of the town are now rated at increased risk of flooding from Wellow Brook due to climate change and the increased provision of housing in the vicinity. In 2008 a new monitoring station was installed at nearby Welton through which data on water pressure and flood levels can be collected via metal tubes placed in the river linked to a telemetry box. This facility is now providing the Environment Agency with extremely useful information for use in future assessments of flood risk.

The railways

The town was previously served by a station on the Somerset and Dorset Railway (S&D) but this closed in 1966, and by a second station on the Bristol and North Somerset Railway at Welton in the valley. The railways were separate, the S&D being administered by the Midland Railway and the London and South Western Railway companies (later the London Midland and Scottish Railway and the Southern Railway) and the North Somerset being run by and then owned by the Great Western Railway. The stations were both called "Midsomer Norton and Welton" (the B&NSR station was originally called just "Welton"); under British Railways, the S&D station was renamed as Midsomer Norton South after a short period as Midsomer Norton Upper; and is currently being restored with occasional open weekends with engines in steam. The Somerset & Dorset Railway Heritage Trust one day hopes to operate steam trains for a mile up to Chilcompton Tunnel but there remains much to do before this can happen.

Culture

Midsomer Norton’s railway station has been memorialised, along with many other stations, in a famous song associated with railway closures, Slow Train, with lyrics by Michael Flanders and music by Donald Swann:

No more will I go to Blandford Forum and Mortehoe, on the slow train from Midsomer Norton and Munby Road

No churns, no porter, no cat on a seat, at Chorlton-cum-Hardy or Chester-le-Street
We won't be meeting you, on the slow train ...

Children’s author Roald Dahl, prior to his writing fame, used to sell kerosene in Midsomer Norton and the surrounding area in the 1930s. He described the experience vividly in his autobiographical work Boy: Tales of Childhood (published 1984):

My kerosene motor-tanker had a tap at the back and when I rolled into Shepton Mallet or Midsomer Norton or Peasedown St John or Huish Champflower, the old girls and the young maidens would hear the roar of my motor and would come out of their cottages with jugs and buckets to buy a gallon of kerosene for their lamps and their heaters. It is fun for a young man to do that sort of thing. Nobody gets a nervous breakdown or a heart attack from selling kerosene to gentle country folk from the back of a tanker in Somerset on a fine summer’s day.

The Waugh family connection with Midsomer Norton began when Dr Alexander Waugh, father of Arthur Waugh and grandfather of Evelyn Waugh and Alec Waugh moved to Island House, which had been built in the early 18th century, in The Island in the centre of the town in 1865. The family later moved to a house in Silver Street. As a boy, Evelyn Waugh spent his summer holidays in Midsomer Norton with his maiden aunts. He later described his visits there: “I suppose that in fact I never spent longer than two months there in any year, but the place captivated my imagination as my true home never did.”

Palladium Midsomer Norton
The Palladium cinema to-day

The Palladium cinema was opened as the Empire in 1913 in a building which had previously been a brewery. It closed in 1993 and various attempts were made to turn it into a club and shop, before Wetherspoons announced in January 2015 that they had acquired the site and intended to seek planning and licensing permission to convert it to a pub. The town was left without cinema for almost two decades. Cinema was brought back to the town under the Palladium name in 2012 with a new community cinema at the Town Hall. In 2013, permanent cinema equipment was installed in the building and there are now regular film screenings of both modern and classic films.

The town is commemorated in “The Sheriff of Midsomer Norton” a song by local Somerset band The Wurzels. Midsomer Norton hosts the only unofficial carnival on the West Country Carnival circuit. Originally, floats travelled through the main High Street but road improvements put paid to the larger vehicles and for many years the procession was held on the main Fosseway through Westfield. Since 2014 however, the carnival has returned to the High Street following changes made to the traffic layout.

The town’s free newspaper is the Midsomer Norton, Radstock & District Journal. The other local weekly paper is the Somerset Guardian, which is part of the Daily Mail and General Trust. The monthly magazine, the Mendip Times, also includes local features. Somer Valley FM (97.5FM and online) is the Community Radio for the district. There is also a community website where residents can discuss local issues called Midsomer Norton People.

ZAA 5266 copy
Midsomer Norton Pride Bake-Off.

On 17-18 June 2016 the town's first ever LGBT Pride celebration event was held.

Music scene

Regular concerts and events are held in the town in both local community buildings and local pubs and bars.

A popular live music venue in the town is The Wunderbar. It is a small bar located in the cellar of an estate agency on the High Street, which has been open since October 1994 and hosts regular concerts by local bands and regional touring acts as well as 'open mic' events. It plays host to its own internet radio station that specialises in playing local underground rock and punk music.

On the first Friday of every month the Paradis Palm Court Trio perform free classical concerts in the Town Hall. Choir concerts (male voices in particular) command a local following and the Lions club is a promoter of such attractions usually held in the Methodist or Parish churches.

There are a number of thriving local brass bands. In 2006 Midsomer Norton hosted the European Open Marching and Show Band Championship which saw many bands from all over Europe visit the town.

Midsomer Murders

Anthony Horowitz, the original writer of Midsomer Murders, borrowed part of the name of the town when he adapted Caroline Graham’s Chief Inspector Barnaby series for television in 1997. Although the series itself is primarily filmed in picturesque villages in Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire, Horowitz chose the name after looking at a map of Somerset, believing that it sounded quintessentially English. Although no filming of the show has ever taken place in Midsomer Norton or the surrounding parishes, some names of other nearby locations have been used by the producers in creating their fictional county of Midsomer, including Midsomer Wellow (Wellow), Midsomer Magna (Chew Magna), Midsomer Morton and the main settlement of Causton (Corston). Despite some occasional confusion, there is no other link between Midsomer Norton and the television series.

Religious sites and communities

Midsomer Norton parish church
St John's church

The Old Priory, which was a hotel and restaurant, dates from the early to mid 17th century. Another old building is the Catholic Church of the Holy Ghost, which is a 15th-century tithe barn converted by the famous architect Sir Giles Gilbert Scott. It is a grade II* listed building. The local Catholic community are served by Benedictine monks from nearby Downside Abbey, coming under the Diocese of Clifton.

The Anglican Church of St John the Baptist has a tower dating from the 15th century, although the upper stages are from the 17th century, but the rest was rebuilt in Gothic Revival style by John Pinch the younger in 1830–1831 and was extended in the 20th century with new chancel and lady chapel. It is a grade II* listed building. The churchyard includes a memorial to the 12 miners killed in 1839 when their rope was severed. St. John's is part of the Diocese of Bath and Wells. The Patronage vests in Christ Church, Oxford.

The Methodist Church in the town's High Street celebrated its 150th Anniversary in 2009. In 1746, John Wesley's travelling preachers, based in Bristol were invited in the mid-1700s to support the local society, the man himself first coming in 1767. By the middle of the 1800s, the congregation had outgrown the original chapel erected in 1775 in Rackvernal Road (now demolished). In the 1990s, the present church building and adjoining hall were totally refurbished and linked, the facilities being well used by the local community. Local Methodists are part of the Bristol District of the Methodist Church and in the North East Somerset & Bath Circuit.

The Baptist Church have their building in Welton but hold their Sunday morning service at Somervale School now in order to accommodate their congregation.

The Salvation Army meet in their citadel at Stones Cross. There is a successful Scout group, the 1st Midsomer Norton Scout Group based at Radstock Road, providing scouting to around 140 boys and girls per week, and a similarly popular Guide group a short distance away at Rock Hall.

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