What’s in a name? Norton Disney

Featured in:
February 2024

Continuing our series on Lincolnshire villages with unusual names, we turn the spotlight on Norton Disney.

Tucked between Lincoln and Newark, this small village has deep roots steeped in history.

Originally known as Norton, the ending -ton indicates Saxon connections but the discovery of a late Bronze Age axe head in the Potter Hill area of the parish in 1910 suggests an even earlier, possibly Norman occupation.

History suggests that following his victory over King Harold at Hastings in 1066, William the Conqueror moved north with his army to subdue any rebellious activity and establish his own barons across the country.

The village name is believed to originate from followers of William the Conqueror who came from Isigny-sur-Mer, a small Normandy fishing village close to Bayeaux in France. On ancient tombs in Norton Disney church the name appears as D’Isigney (subsequently spelled variously as d’Isigny, D’Iseny, D’Isney, Dyseny).

The first mention of D’Iseny appears in Inquisitions of Feudal Tenures at the time of King Henry III, who reigned from 1216 to 1272.

Over time the Disneys intermarried with powerful families, served as knights of the shire and became people of opulence and distinction in these parts. Although it is uncertain exactly when the Disneys acquired the land, it was probably held by them for at least 450 years until Molineux Disney sold the estate to the Duke of Albemarle in 1674.

Not only did this bring to an end the Disney ownership but this line ended with the execution on Kennington Common (now the home of The Oval cricket ground) of Molineux’s only surviving son, William Disney, for producing subversive literature in the cause of the Monmouth Rebellion.

Norton Disney lies close to the A46 ‘Fosse Way’, which was originally a Roman road of great importance as a route from Exeter to Lincoln via Bath, Cirencester and Leicester – especially for soldiers heading to Lincoln and further north.

In 1933, a fortified Roman villa was identified in Abbey Field, just south of the A46, after part of a mosaic and other Roman artefacts were discovered and it is thought that the area was probably occupied by the Romans between 70 and 360AD.

Disneys were reportedly settled in this corner of Lincolnshire by the turn of the 14th century and as they rose to local power, the parish soon incorporated their name.

By 1300, the D’Isney family lived in a moated mansion which has since fallen into ruins and in 1532 William Disney became Sheriff of Lincolnshire, while his son Richard Disney held this office in 1556 and 1566.

Many Lords of the manor were buried in the Mortuary Chapel on the north side of Norton Disney’s Grade I listed 13th-century Anglican church of St Peter, which has monuments of the D’Isigny family.

Restored in stages from 1858, the church features five effigy tombs of the Disney family in the north chapel, hence its alternative name of the Disney Chantry.

A prosperous family of some significance, they were forced out of England after a failed rebellion against the king in the late 1600s and moved to Ireland, France and later America too.

Whether there is a connection between the village name and famous filmmaker Walt Disney is much debated. However, in the 1940s, Walt Disney visited Lincolnshire on a mission to discover his ancient ancestors, which included a visit to Norton Disney.

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