The resuscitation of the Norton Motorcycles brand took another step forward last week with the announcement it has purchased a new facility to house its production and design offices. And as an allegory for Norton’s commitment to advancing into the modern age, the company has purchased an 18th-century gothic manor. Presumably Norton will experiment next with drum brakes, pushrods, exposed valve-gear, and girder front suspensions.
To be fair, the company’s new home is not just any ornate residence from the 1700s; Donnington Hall was most recently inhabited by British Midland International and housed operations for BMI’s airline business. Along with the stately mansion comes 25 acres and the 45,000 sq.-ft. Hastings House, a contemporary industrial building. Donnington Hall sits in the same rolling hills as the Donnington Park Grand Prix circuit, and not far down the road from Norton’s previous home at Donnington Park, which will reportedly still house machining and fabrication facilities for Norton. Somewhere, no doubt, there’s a pub.
At first sight it’s easy to scoff at the photo of Donnington Hall and think that Norton is simply clinging to an antiquated notion of British greatness that doesn’t exist anymore. Retro is Norton’s bread and butter these days, but moving into an estate dripping with ancient imperialism will just further the perception (especially in the U.S.) that British people all wear three-piece suits to breakfast, comb their hair with whale oil, and don’t brush their teeth.
However, the glass-half-full view of Norton’s moving news is that it’s more coincidence than anything. This property is essentially next door to Norton’s previous home, and while Donnington Hall and Norton both arguably embody more of Britain-gone-by than the cutting edge of Britain-to-be, there is potential for more than just symbolism in the hills of Leicestershire. The facility has room for progress to be made, while staying quintessentially “Bri’ish”.
However you feel about Norton’s new haunted house, expansion should be seen as a good thing for any lover of the motorcycle industry. Seeing anything other than a round headlight on a Norton is probably as likely as the Hall being painted Manx silver and pinstriped, but it’s not clear the world is ready for either of those things.