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Holme

Dedication : St Giles                            Simon Jenkins: *                              Principal Features : Almost Unchanged c16 church; Superb Poppy Heads; “Nan Scott’s Chamber”; Original stained glass.

Few churches have been more trouble to find than Holme - see below. Few are more rewarding. I have been to a few Norman churches where time seems to have stood still, but few precious few Gothic churches. To be here is to be transported back to the c16. Holme is as much in “the back of beyonds” as it is possible to be in Nottinghamshire, despite the proximity of Newark. Yet it had a man called John Barton who made his fortune in the wool trade and who left his mark all over this church. Few churches are as much the legacy of one man as this one. If he were to come back from the dead he would still feel perfectly at home here!

Holme isn’t just about timelessness, however: it is full of interest. Let’s start with the lovely poppy heads on the old benches in the south chapel. Simon Jenkins aptly describes them as a “menagerie”! The outside has a number of interesting carvings, executed in exuberant style. The Barton family had seven coats of arms carved over the porch door, showing the family connections that they were able to make. Inside, the memorial to John Barton and his wife dominates the sanctuary. There are carved corbels in the chapels, delightfully repainted during the 1932 restoration and leaving us bereft at the realisation that the carvings in all of our churches would have once looked like this.

The rood screen survives, albeit restored and repaired. The Lady Chapel has an ancient altar slab hidden during the Reformation. It still has its five traditional crosses symbolising the wounds of Christ.

The fabric of the church is unremarkable - one might even say higgledy-piggledy! . There is some Norman masonry within the walls but for all practical purposes it is the rather rustic-looking tower that is the oldest part. The Church Guide says it is Decorated period, and I would suggest that it was very early in that period. John Barton was responsible for the considerable rebuilding work commenced, according to the Church Guide, in about 1485 - the year when Henry VII was putting an end to Richard III and the Plantagenet dynasty at the Battle of Market Bosworth about 50 miles away. This work added the Lady Chapel and the North aisle. The aisle, in fact, is at least as wide as the nave and chancel and also as long, which is a little confusing visually!

The parvise room above the porch is known as Nan Scott’s Chamber and is viewable by visitors. Legend has it that during the Black Death of 1666 one Nan Scott locked herself away in this room for several weeks, watching her fellow parishioners buried one-by-one in the churchyard below. When she was driven from her refuge by lack of food and water she found only one other survivor. Horrified at what she found, she returned to the chamber and stayed there for the rest of her life. Well, it is easy to be sceptical but I, for one, don’t find the story totally implausible. All credit to the churchwardens here for keeping it as it might have been in Nan Scott’s day, complete with truckle bed and old bible.

Both the east windows contain mediaeval glass. As in many churches, some of it is fragmentary and has been re-assembled rather haphazardly. The chancel window, however, has three readily-distinguishable figures of saints and also (perhaps inevitably) coats of arms associated with the Barton family! Some of the glass, including four quatrefoils, were donated from the ruined church at Annesley. The Lady Chapel window also had prophets in its top lights and parts of these remain.

This is not a beautiful church: it looks a little “thrown together”, to be honest. It is special because it really does feel as if you are standing in a c16 building. This is no “single treasure” church: it is just packed with interest. And it feels loved. You will know what I mean when you visit it! As a last word I will quote Simon Jenkins from his “England’s 1000 Best Churches”: “Running my fingers over the benches at Holme is the nearest I have come to feeling time”. I know exactly what he was talking about.

At Holme, you are hard-pressed at first to decide which side is the nave and chancel (left) and which is the aisle and chapel (right). Indeed the aisle seems wider than the nave. Note the original, if restored, screen.

The chancel with the John Barton monument intruding to the south.

The lady chapel with the John Bartom monument to the north.

The monument to John barton and his wife, Isabella. Note the skeletal (and anatomically incredible) figure below. There was a fatalistic fashion at the time for acknowledging the mortality of the flesh as a warning to others - “As I am so shall ye be”.

The original mediaeval stone altar now reinstated into the south chapel.

 The Church Guide suggests these are eagles. If they are then they are very badly drawn!

Angels

Two lions - or perhaps fantastic creatures.

Two dogs - note the feet that are rather similar to those of the lions! Note also the creature amidst the foliage on the right-hand side and upon which the dog obviously has wicked designs!

The Mediaeval Poppy Heads

A rather peculiar figure: the Church Guide suggests a “salamander”. Hmmm.

One of the angels, front view. He is rather delightful: more like a tonsured priest with wings!

Front view of the “salamander”

Three of the lovely painted corbels. This is not the original paint (obviously!) but the restorers have given us a tantalising insight into how colourful our churches would have been when every surface was thus painted. The dragon (left) speaks for itself - but what a corker he is: like something from out of a child’s picture book! Those central and right are less fun but historically fascinating. In the centre is the arms of the merchants of the Calais Woll Staple. On the right the rather cherubic figure holds arms bedecked with John Barton’s trademark. Wool was the wealth of England. In other parts of England, especially Gloucestershire and Suffolk, the richly-endowed “wool churches” are huge in proportions and grandeur. Churches such as Lavenham and Northleach put Holme in the shade. Yet Holme is invaluable (and in my view more interesting) for showing us the difference that a single wealthy wool merchant could make to a rural backwater. It is John Barton’s wool church and reflects his idiosyncrasies rather than the fashionable “good taste” of those others where one merchant would seek to outdo another.

Above: The roof is rustic to the last degree! It looks more like the roof of a barn than of a church! Yet what a delight it is visually; and it adds to the impression of a church that the world more or less forgot for 500 years.

Right: Two examples of carvings that, rather oddly, adorn the screen at floor level. These were originally part of the mediaeval choir stalls. They add to the overall impression that the church was decorated with rather more enthusiasm and exuberance than skill!

The east windows of (left) the chancel and (right) the Lady Chapel.

Detail from the chancel window. As with so many mediaeval glass windows, restoration has meant that the recovered fragments have been re-assembled as a kind of patchwork. This, however, is a very fine “collection” and serves, in my view, to show how mediaeval glass had an artistic finesse and good taste that compares very favourably to the trashy, gaudy factory-produced Victorian glass that disfigures many English parish churches. On the left is the central figure of a bishop. Top right is a delightful cluster of three heads to be seen at the bottom of the window itself. What were they, I wonder? The panels centre top and bottom are coats of arms which show similarities to those carved above the church porch by one of John Barton’s descendants (see below). The quatrefoil design (bottom right) is one of the c14 panels donated to the church when Annesley Church was abandoned.

The interior of Nan Scott’s Chamber above the porch. It is for you to decide whether you believe the legend. Certainly it is not so implausible but even if you are a sceptic the room does make you think about the horrors that the Plague brought to the world. I found it a very spiritual place to be.

Above the porch are these seven coats of arms intended to show off the “good connections” the Barton family managed to make through their wealth. The stag emblem of Nottinghamshire is much in evidence.

Barton Family Arms

When I saw the Barton Family arms above the porch I remember thinking “they’re rather nice”. It was only after blowing up the pictures to make close-ups that I realised that they are quite stunning.

In all but two of them we can see the initial “B” on the right hand side, denoting “Barton”. Two are “JB” denoting John Barton. Note the Barton trademark in the picture above, matching the painted corbel on the inside of the church. At the bottom of this shield there are two wool sacks. Again, the Calais Wool Staple is shown above left complete with a falcon and two curiously-arranged dolphins..

Oak leaves are prominent at the bottom of four sculptures, some with acorns.

My favourite is second row down on the right where there are two chained and muzzled bears clutching barrels of some sort. It has been suggested that this was a “rebus” (a sort of pictorial play on words) because a “tun” was a measure of wine or a cask in England at this time (The “Three Tuns” is still a fairly common pub name in England) If you put the bear together with a tun you get: “Beartun”!

This is high quality sculpture. It is believed to date from 1550, some 60 years after John Barton’s death, commissioned by the subsequent generation. Whereas the internal carvings are quite crude and exuberant, these arms are much finer work. Just look at those initials!

The exterior of Holme Church also has some quirky carvings, scattered rather haphazardly! On one corner of the porch (left) are two monsters fighting with each other. At the west end of the south side is this large and rather unusual carving of a cowled monk in prayer.

Two more fairly random carvings on the south side of the church. On the left is an extremely peculiar-looking lion. I’ve seen a few curious carvings of lions but I think this one might take the prize - unless of course the head is supposed to be some sort of satirical representation of a man. Note the tail curling up between the legs! On the right is a Tudor rose complete with stem and thorns. We might suspect some sort of declaration of loyalty is implied here.

Three carvings on the east end of the church.

Right: The church from the north side. The Barton-funded improvements are clear to see. It is perhaps a little unfortunate that they contrast so starkly with the very plain and exceedingly well-buttressed nave!

Footnote - Finding Holme

Holme is within the substantial and historic town of Newark. Yet my SatNav refused to plot a journey there. If you try to plot a course using the AA website it will tell you that it also can’t plot a route “perhaps because of a road with restricted access”. The roads from Newark to Holme are a bit of a mystery but, believe me, Holme is perfectly accessible! My advice is to plot a course to Collingham and look for a signposted left hand turn to Holme.

Heavens knows why poor old Holme is a navigational black spot, but it’s right up there with some of the hardest-to-find churches I know - and I know a few!

Footnote 2 - the Mystery of Langford Church

As you leave Holme (there’s only one road out, I think) if you keep your eyes peeled you will spot another church almost completely hidden on the left hand side next to the road. Diana thought I had been imagining things when I reversed the car and went back. But sure enough, there’s a church there. It turns out to be Langford Church, which was locked. It had no name board or parish notice board that we could find. It seemed to have no car park and was tucked in behind a private house.In  fact, we weren’t sure at first if it was deconsecrated, but it seems not.

Not only that, but it seems to be no more than half a mile from Holme Church, and closer to Holme than it is to Langford! These are tiny villages. How odd that two churches were needed and odder still that it’s not in Langford itself. It’s also odd that nobody thinks it worthwhile to advertise its existence.

It’s actually in better condition than Holme externally - but I bet it’s not a quarter as interesting inside.

Above: The east end, again, has a rather “thrown-together” look and the incongruous brick restoration doesn’t help. This is very much an “enthusiast’s” church. Outward appearances would tempt few passers-by within - not that Holme has many passers-by! But there’s much to enjoy for those who look.

Left: The early Decorated tower. Like the rest of the church it has a rather “rustic” look and its stucco is in a parlous state. Curiously, however, it has a grotesque cat-like  sculpture at each of the corners above the parapet (below). Nothing about Holme is “normal”!