Holme Church Presentation and Social Event

1st September 2021

Report by Pat Smedley

On a dull evening we congregated at 6pm at St Giles Church, Holme which was packed, to learn more about this unique, fascinating building – and the intriguing history that lies within it.

The sun shone, annoyingly just when we wanted the audience to see the screen set up with a background video showing St Giles from the air, and focussing on its various features. No matter – it did not last and we were soon being thoroughly entertained by Nigel Priestley who has been the warden of St Giles for many years, and knows every inch and cranny.

Nigel focussed on the history of the building, the last major rebuild being in 1485, and its role as a chantry of rest for John Barton (died 1491), a wool merchant. Over the centuries since it has been left, untouched [even by the energetic Victorians], in effect to gather dust and age gracefully over four long centuries. In 1932 Neville Truman [a Nottingham Accountant] discovered this gem and made it his mission to bring it back to life. He collected money and carefully restored it keeping all the original features. Now it is acknowledged as one of the 1000 best English churches by Simon Jenkins. Of particular note is the original 15th century glass work studies by many students of the last few decades. You cannot fail to feel the distant shadow of 15th century England as you run your hands over the old gnarled pews and poppy heads.

Jeremy Lodge followed to give us an insight into the character, career and family of John
Barton himself, a self made man dealing in wool and seemingly proud of it given the plainness of the garments on his tomb. But underneath this modesty, Jeremy questioned whether Barton was a man given to a certain degree of ostentation. Certainly everywhere you look there are signs and symbols of John Barton. As you approach the church you are greeted by carvings of John and his two of his four sons who greet you as you approach the porch. These sons proved quarrelsome and Barton was scrupulous in making the clauses of his will conditional on their good behaviour and cooperation.

Jeremy skilfully described and brought to life a typical service dating from the 15th century. The congregation were carefully seated according to social rank, the Barton family alone sat in the lady chapel screened off from the public to enjoy the inner sanctity of holiness, near the alter. We were made aware of the rank smell of some of the unwashed bodies in the back pews of the public area! The point was strongly made that for most of the poor illiterate folk, the readings and prayers of the service were removed from their understanding as they were conducted in Latin. They had to focus on the painted walls of the saints and the bible stories which adorned the walls to gain any appreciation of the bible story.

Pat Smedley then read Di Slaney’s excellent poem about the Will of John Barton [published in Irregular 4] which brought to life some of the family quarrels to which Jeremy alluded.

People were then free to walk around and examine church details both internally and
externally – and to enjoy a picnic and a glass of wine. Many were still there at 9pm.

Most people agreed that the evening was a great success, and asked that the CDLHS can do more presentations of this nature, in different locations to reflect the subject.