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Waterloo Veteran James Norris (1785-1842)

Kindly contributed by Neil Thomas of South Australia

James Norris was a Wiltshire man, baptised on 20 November 1785 in Sedgehill parish, the fifth child of William Norris and Elizabeth Crane. At a younger than usual age he managed to join the 1st Wiltshire Militia, in Captain John Dugdale Astley’s Company, which was embodied  on 5 September 1801and disembodied in May 1802. The 1st Wiltshire was later commanded by Captains J.B. Bayly and Walter Coleman; James was in Coleman’s company at Black Parr on the Isle of Wight between December 1803 and January 1804. He was also for a time in the 2nd Wiltshire Militia, before rejoining the 1st Wiltshire in July 1805 as a private soldier, rising to corporal. On 11 May 1812 he volunteered for the 95th Regiment of Foot (95th Rifles) at Shorncliffe in Kent, for “limited service only”. From this date he was paid as a corporal. From 16 June to 16 July 1812 he was on furlough, when he may have returned to his family at Sedgehill. He was recruiting for the 95th Rifles in Shrewsbury from November 1812 to June 1813, then in Wem, Shropshire until April of 1814, when he returned to Shorncliffe. He embarked at Ramsgate on 8 November 1814 as part of a party of 68 men sent to Flanders. He joined the Provisional Battalion 95th Foot at Diksmuide, Belgium, appearing on the pay list from 9 November 1814.
On 18 April 1815 the two companies of the 3rd Battalion, 95th Rifles met up with five companies of the 2nd Battalion that had arrived from England and were camped at Leuze en Hainault. Two days later they were inspected by the Duke of Wellington. The companies of the 95th set off from the vicinity of Leuze on 12 June and reached Waterloo on 17 June. At Waterloo James Norris was in the 3rd Battalion in the company of Captain William Eeles, which comprised 100 NCOs and private soldiers. James Norris’ fellow corporals were Joseph Charles Cawthorn, John Ward, John Wilson and James Woodley. The other company of the 3/95th was led by Captain Fullerton; the battalion’s total force numbered 200 officers and men. Both were under the command of Major and Brevet Lieutenant Colonel Ross. Together with the companies of the 2nd Battalion, and the 52nd and 71st Light Infantry, they formed the 3rd British Brigade commanded by Major General Frederick Adam, which was part of the 2nd British Infantry Division commanded by Lieutenant General Sir Henry Clinton.
On the morning of Sunday 18 June, Wellington’s army prepared to meet the French. The army was arranged on the northern side of two farmhouse complexes, Hougoumont and La Haie Sainte. Napoleon did not begin his attack until nearly midday. Adam’s brigade was kept back in reserve until 4 pm, stationed behind Hougoumont, and sheltered by a ridge. At 4 pm, the French made their attack on the farmhouse of Hougoumont, and a crowd of French skirmishers advanced towards the brigade. The regimental historian of the 95th Rifles, Rev Sir William Henry Cope of Hanwell, 12th Baronet, writing in 1877, says that Wellington himself, who was close by, ordered them to form into a line four deep. This they did, with the two companies of the 3/95th on the right. Cope continues that Wellington pointed to the French skirmishers and ordered them to ‘Drive those fellows away’. This the Battalion did ‘with a cheer’, driving the French up the crest of the hill and down the other side. Now they were in a hollow where they were threatened by French cavalry. The 3/95th had moved forward with the rest of Adam’s brigade, but the separate battalions in the brigade now formed four separate squares (2/95th, 1/52nd, 1/71st and 3/95th) which left the last in a tiny square  with its two companies and less than 200 men. They defended their position in the hollow for more than two hours, being alternately shelled by French guns and charged by French cavalry. Colonel Ross was wounded and Captain Fullerton took command. About an hour later, Fullerton was wounded and William Eeles took command. Eeles later wrote…

"…kept every man from firing until the Cuirassiers approached within thirty or forty yards of the square, when I fired a volley from the company which had the effect, added to the fire of the 71st, of bringing so many horses to the ground, that it became quite impossible for the company to continue their charge."

At around 6 pm the charges of the French cavalry petered out. This made the squares of Adam’s brigade more vulnerable to bombardment (artillery ceased bombardment when its cavalry was charging). At that point Wellington withdrew the brigade behind the crest of the slope to be protected from the cannonade. At 7 pm the 3/95th took part in the famous charge against the final attack of Napoleon’s Imperial Guard. The Guard were advancing in column formation making them vulnerable to an attack on their flank. On his own initiative Colonel Colbourne of the 52nd made that flanking attack, supported by the 2/95th. The rest of Adam’s brigade, including the 3/95th, followed up. The success of this manoeuvre triggered the final retreat of Napoleon’s army. Of the 3rd Battalion, one officer, Captain Eeles’ brother Charles, and three privates were killed, four officers and 36 others injured, and seven men were missing. 

After Waterloo, the 3/95th spent several months in Paris. This must have been an exciting time for James Norris. William Surtees, the battalion quartermaster, described in his memoirs how they were camped at first on the Champs Elysée, and how they got to view the sights of Paris, including Versailles and the Tuilleries. They also saw a spectacular grand review of the Czar of Russia’s guards. Later the 95th took part in reviews of British troops, but they were very conscious that for appearance and smartness they could not compete with the Russians. Then their camp was moved to Montmartre where the battalion was given leave by Louis Philippe III, Duke of Orleans, to shoot and fish on his estate. This was an undreamed of freedom for common English men, who in their own country could be prosecuted for poaching if they were caught hunting game. They also enjoyed horse racing and boxing matches.

The 3/95th left Paris on 3 December 1815 and returned to Shorncliffe. James Norris was among a group of 329 men who marched from Dover to Ramsgate in Kent on 1-2 March 1816. He was on board ship from 2 -24 March, en route from Ramsgate to Cork in Ireland; the 3/95th went on to Dublin after landing. In Ireland the 95th Foot was renamed the Rifle Brigade. (Another unrelated regiment then took the number 95.) In Dublin on 15 April 1817, James was promoted to Sergeant. By the end of the second quarter of 1818, the battalion was at Birr, county Offaly, stationed in barracks (probably the Crinkill Barracks) built at the instigation of Lawrence Parsons, 2nd Earl of Rosse, between 1809-1812. From there James Norris was on detachment at Maryborough in county Laois until 24 November 1818. The 3rd Battalion was disbanded, with some junior officers put on half pay by December 1818, and NCOs and men either drafted into the 1st and 2nd Battalions or discharged. James Norris was discharged at Birr on 26 November 1818 and given enough money to return to his native parish in Wiltshire. An examination of his final muster roll shows James was discharged a week or so earlier than some others, along with a Thomas Harrison. There may have been a reason for this.

James and a woman named Mary (her maiden name and their marriage date unknown) had a son William born in Ireland about 1817, and Mary was pregnant with their second child at the time of James’ discharge and the Norris family’s return to Wiltshire. A daughter Elizabeth was born at Bristol before they arrived back in Sedgehill parish in late December 1818. The boat bringing back the Norris family would have sailed from Ireland across to Bristol (or Avonmouth) before a coach brought them across Somerset to Sedgehill. Elizabeth Norris was baptised in St Catherine’s Church on Christmas Day 1818. In his own parish again, James Norris became an agricultural labourer. No known mention of any earlier army service seems to have been recorded in his later life, except for his profession given as ‘soldier’ on the marriage certificate of his son William and Eliza Short from Motcombe, married at St Catherine’s on 23 January 1844. The Rev Charles Henry Grove, who had arrived in the parish 11 years after Waterloo, may have heard of James as a Waterloo veteran, and added this detail to the certificate; it could also have been William his son who wished to record this fact.

There are no individual papers for James Norris’ militia or Waterloo service as he died in May 1842 at Sedgehill of phthisis (consumption), and had never received a pension. His papers would have been part of Army records routinely destroyed at the time. Records of all militia and 95th Battalion musters mentioning James Norris’ service were researched at the National Archives, Kew on my behalf. James Norris was my four x great-grandfather; I am descended from his first son William, who emigrated to South Australia with his wife and three children in 1854. James’ seven children who remained in England would have known of their father’s Waterloo service. In Australia I first heard of a possible Waterloo veteran ancestor in 1980, but research confirming James Norris as the soldier was not begun until 2015. The whereabouts now of his Waterloo medal is unknown. Like many soldiers, he may have sold it in order to be married or to raise some money for his growing family. His wife Mary died in the County Hospital in Winchester in 1849 of cholera, aged 56. 

One of James and Mary Norris’ sons, Samuel, born in the parish in 1826, enlisted in the East Surrey Regiment in September 1843, after being rejected by the Royal Marines. He was medically discharged from service in Dublin on 27 November 1848, mirroring his father’s army discharge thirty years before almost to the day.

World War 1

At the time of the First World War, the population of Sedgehill was about 150.  Apart from the absence of their menfolk in the village, there would have been few obvious signs to the people of Sedgehill that the country was at war.  But it was not only sons, husbands and fathers who had gone leaving a shortage of labour in the parish, most of their horses had gone too - from lightweight hunters to heavy cart horses, all required for the war effort, leaving the farms bereft of their best working animals


During harvest time the children had to help on the farms so the school closed; in Autumn they picked blackberries and horse-chestnuts to be made into jam and chutney to send to soldiers serving overseas.


The school log book records that both boys and girls were knitting garments for soldiers in September 1914.   By Christmas they had completed three pairs of socks, a body belt, a scarf and a jersey.  In the new year they began making shirts for the soldiers.


Sedgehill seems to have had an uncanny connection with the sea considering its rural location in landlocked Wiltshire;  5 families had a sailor in their midst, 3 of whom lost their lives in WWI.  Sedgehill Sailors


The Memorial Plaque in St Catherine’s Church commemorates 3 men who lost their lives in the war -

George Robert Batson, Charles George Parsons and Niel Shaw-Stewart.


The School

In 1808 the Parish Clerk of Sedgehill kept a school but within 10 years it had lapsed. Another opened in 1825.  The following year a schoolroom and cottage for the schoolmistress were built. A "motherly woman of humble attainments" taught between 15 and 20 children in 1858. A new school replaced it in 1873 but the numbers attending gradually declined and it finally closed in 1922; since then the younger children of Sedgehill have been educated in Semley; the school in Sedgehill is used today as the village hall.


The school log book, a daily journal written by the Headmistress' during the 1800's (held at the Wiltshire Archives) makes fascinating reading; it details the curriculum for the year, the weather, illnesses suffered by the children, attendance levels, absences, admissions and visits by the Rector and other local dignitaries, etc.  One entry reveals that parents were not happy with their daughter being given poetry to learn for homework because "she had better things to do" and another tells how a boy is sent home for disruptive behaviour and bad language!   Are your ancestors mentioned?  The pages from the Sedgehill School Log Book cover February 1884 - December 1892.

The Parish Church

Shaftesbury Abbey administered a church at Sedgehill in the early 14th century.  A graveyard was established in 1395, the inhabitants of Sedgehill had, until then, been buried in the Abbey churchyard.


St Catherine's church was partially rebuilt in 1845, the west tower is early C16th.  There are 5 bells - the original three date from 1553, the other two were added in 1892 when the bells were last rehung.  An ancient Preacher's Cross stands in the churchyard; the cross itself is medieval, the remainder is C19th. 


Sedgehill is in the Benefice of St. Bartholomew.  The Rector is the Revd Richard Warhurst.  Please note that the church is kept locked.  If you are visiting you will need to make arrangements in advance with the Churchwarden.

Newspaper Articles

Newspapers are a treasure trove of information for family history researchers and social historians.  Primarily, the articles selected are those that contain names of parishioners to assist family history researchers, however,  the articles shown should not be presumed to be all that appear in the newsapers in the given years, or that there are no articles in the years omitted.

Revd Charles Henry Grove

Rector of Sedgehill from 1826-1872, Charles Grove was the cousin of the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley.   Charles' sister Harriet was said to have had a youthful romance with Shelley although this came to nothing and she married William Helyar in 1811; they lived at Sedgehill House (now Hays House) in the early years of their marriage.


Harriet and her sister Charlotte kept diaries making mention of local people and places.  Their cousin Emily Grove married the Revd Charles Townsend (Rector of Mere) in 1866 at St. Catherine's in Sedgehill. Emily's sister wrote an account the betrothal day which includes this extract:


"There were four bridesmaids viz Emily's four sisters, Henrietta, Grace, Bar and me.  The bridesmaids wore double skirted plain white grenadines, waterlily, coral, fern and dewdrop wreaths and coral coloured sashes.  Emily wore rich white silk, Honiton lace over her shoulders, a white tulle veil trimmed all round with myrtle and a wreath of orange flowers and myrtle.  She looked very nice and bright and happy.  About half past three Emily & Charles went off to London.  Emily wore a rich brown silk seal skin jacket and muff and a light blue bonnet with blush roses. Charles gave each bridesmaid a crystal locket with coral set in it."   Marriage of Miss Emily Grove 1866

Sedgehill's Neighbours

Motcombe (Dorset), East Knoyle and Semley are within 2 miles.  The nearest towns are Shaftesbury and Gillingham, both in Dorset.   


Population Figures

1941 - No census taken due to WW2

1981 - The last year that a separate count for Sedgehill took place  

1986 - Sedgehill merged with Semley to form the parish of Sedgehill & Semley 


1811 -190     1821 - 213    1831 - 235    1841 - 198    1851 - 179    1861 - 194    1871 - 216   1881 - 192   1891 - 176    1901 - 154    

1911 - 160    1921 - 154    1931 - 120    1941 - n/k     1951 - 144    1961 - 130    1971 - 143   1981 - 161   1991 - 584    2001 - 601    2011 - 647     


Civil Registration District

July 1837 to January 1978 Mere Registration District, then Salisbury


Parish Registers held at WSHC

Baptisms    1759-1992

Marriages   1755-1988

Burials        1763-1992

Misc Information

Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre hold nearly 100 wills for Sedgehill folk dating before 1800; some can be downloaded from their website for a small fee.

Contributing to Photo Galleries, etc

The information and images on this page are of great interest to researchers in the UK and worldwide who are tracing their family history.  If you would like to share photographs of your ancestors who were born or married in Sedgehill, picture postcards, or other information relating to the village, please contact us.   Your contribution really will be appreciated.  Thank you.

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In 1986 Sedgehill ceased to exist as a parish in its own right when it merged with its closest neighbour to become the civil parish of Sedgehill and Semley.


Sedgehill is not a village in the traditional sense. There is no pub, shop or village green although a school and post office did once exist. This is a small rural farming area with about a dozen or so farms and houses scattered around the fields and woods nestling cheek by jowl with the Dorset village of Motcombe. 


The only focal point is the church where tombs and headstones chronicle the passing of great and humble Sedgehill families alike from the 18th century to the present day, among them Grove, Maidment, Merryweather, Napier, Snook, Bracher, Harding and King.


Long ago Sedgehill manor was an estate of Shaftesbury Abbey;  after the Dissolution it was briefly owned by Sir Thomas Arundell until his execution for conspiracy in 1552.  The manor was then in the ownership of the Grove family from the late 1500’s down through successive generations until 1932.

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Baptisms                     1607-1669      1715-1799      1800-1837      1838-1908 

Marriages                    1607-1638     1722-1798      1800-1837      1838-1908 

Burials                          1607-1670     1710-1798      1800-1837 


Census                         1841       1851        1861        1871       1881       1891      1901      1911  


Voters Lists                 1874        1878       1880        1883        1900       1912     1915   

Electoral Registers     1918       1952        1953        1954        1960


Kelly's Directories      1848       1855        1867        1875       1880       1898       1915       1923       1931      1939 



This page is dedicated to Ann Merryweather of Sedgehill 1859-1901 


Beneath the rugged elm and yew tree shade

Where heaves the turf in many a mouldering heap

Each in their narrow cell forever laid

The rude forefathers of the hamlet sleep

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Family & Parish History : Sedgehill : Parish Chest 1991
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Sedgehill People

Another 8 casualties have been identified with very close ties to Sedgehill - 

7 were born in the parish and 1 had been resident for some time prior to the outbreak of war.

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