11TH - 14TH CENTURY
The village of Lawton itself can be reliably traced back as far as the Norman invasion in 1066. Prior to then, during the time of Edward the Confessor the lands were possessed by ‘Godric’ and recorded as Lauton-under-Lyme. By 1086 when the Doomsday Book was completed by William I (William the Conqueror) the parish name was changed and entered as ‘Lautune’ from hence records exist.
The township, as part of Cheshire then passed (with half of the rest of southern england) through a long succession of the Earl’s of Chester.
Saxon and Norman Earls of Chester (formally a window of Brereton Hall)
The first Earl of Chester Hugh de Avranches 1047 – 1101 (William’s nephew), established several monasteries and bequeathed much of his newly gained lands to them. Specifically, he established the Abbey of St Werburgh in Chester and bequeathed them half of Lautune amongst other lands. It was the monks from the Abbey who built the original church in the township.
At that stage of Norman rule Cheshire was divided into 12 sections known as ‘Hundred’s to make administration easier. Church Lawton fell within the ‘Northwich Hundred’ and the lands are recorded as being a small township of about two and a half square miles, split into two parts by a tributary of the river Weaver, with one half being twice the size of the other, situated on the south east edge of the Mara and Mondrem forest. It is not totally clear from the Doomsday record, but it is generally thought that the smaller section referred to is actually the neighbouring township of Buglawton as it is known today.
Around 100 years after the Northern invasion, the 5th Earl of Cheshire Hugh de Keveliok 1147 – 1181 ‘gifted’ 1000 acres of his Lautune estate (the remaining part not owned by the Abbey) to Adam de Lautune 1154 – 1212. Prior to the 15th century people only went by a first name, and were normally known by where they lived. Adam would have been known as Adam of Lautune, but because of his Norman background - Adam de Lautune.
It is not known precisely when this land transfer took place but it must have been between 1172 -1181. The reason ‘why’ it took place is even less clear. Earls were not in the habit of giving away lands to people they didn’t know and certainly not without a very good reason.
There is a well recited ‘myth’ regarding how Adam de Lauton came to acquire what became the manor of Church Lawton. The legend in its various forms states that: Adam de Lauton happened to be in the right place at the right time to save the life of Hugh de Mara (1st Earl of Chester) who had fallen from his horse having been startled by a wounded wolf. Adam saved his life by killing the wolf and was rewarded with as much land as he could walk in a day (which conveniently came to 1000 acres). 1000 acres is only slightly more than 1.5 square miles and is the size of the portion not held by the monastery. It is reasonable to think that he would have been able to walk much further in a day, especially if he was gaining the walked land as his reward!
It is easy to understand why legends like this spread and become fixed in local folklore when you consider that the populous were highly superstitious and also illiterate. Everything was passed by word of mouth and people believed what they heard and passed it on.
Altough surrounded by the Lawton myth, Hugh de Mara was indeed a real person. He was originally known as Hugh de Avranches prior to the Norman conquest. He was also known by other names including Hugh Fitz Norman, Hugh Lupus (latin for wolf) and even Hugh le Gross by the Welsh on account of his obesity!
Hugh Lupus holding Parliament
In 1070 Hugh was awarded the title and status of the first Earl of Chester under Norman rule for supporting his uncle William the Conqueror. At that time (pre Duke), the rank of ‘Earl’ was the second highest in the land which made him the second most powerful man in England next to the King himself. As ‘King in chief’ he was his ‘right hand man’ and in keeping with due status he was given the whole of Cheshire and major lands in 20 other counties! Obviously one person could not administer such an estate so it was in turn allocated to the Earl’s appointed Barons, who in turn subdivided the responsibility to their Knights. Probably the earliest example of ‘Pyramid Selling’!
Hugh Lupus stained glass window in Chester Cathedral
The ‘myth’ has been linked to Hugh Lupus on the assumption that because the earliest Lawton coat of arms incorporated a wounded wolf, it must have come from Hugh Lupus (who had a wolf’s head on his own coat of arms). In reality, Hugh and Adam could never have met because Hugh Lupus died in 1101 and Adam de Lauton wasn’t born until 1154.
Adam must therefore have acquired the land from the 5th Earl of Chester – Hugh de Keveliok 1147 - 1181. However, the likelihood of the country’s second highest ranking dignitary being allowed to become separated from his huge protective entourage in a lawless hunting forest, resulting in his needing to be rescued by a ‘commoner’ is hard to imagine.
The truth is probably less romantic than the myth, but the fact that Adam had a coat of arms at all suggests that he must have already been either one of Hugh’s Barons or at the very least a Knight, and he simply acquired the lands as part of his patronage.
The Chartulary of St Werburg's, is preserved within the British Museum and contains several deeds of grant etc from the early generations of the Lawton family, which make it possible to trace them through the first seven generations, from the late 12th century to the early 15th century, thus:
On Adam’s death the manor passed to his eldest son who was also called Adam! then to his eldest son who was called Adam too, then to his youngest son Richard, then his eldest son also called Richard then would you believe his eldest son also called Richard! On his death it was passed to Richard’s only child, a girl named Agnes. Being female she was not allowed to inherit the land directly so it was given to the Davenport family as a dowry, Agnes then married Thomas Davenport (who later changed his name to Thomas de Lauton) and produced their only child - Hugh de Lauton 1398 - ? …… who is reliably considered to be the beginning of the modern day continuous Lawton family line.