St Giles Church

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Holme is a sleepy small village off the main road on the banks of the River Trent, surrounded by fertile farmland. We’ve often driven past the road end on the way to Newark but have had no call to visit – until today.

I had picked up a leaflet about an Open Churches Weekend in Nottinghamshire. We fancied a day out so I spent hours with the map and internet deciding which to visit.

St Giles in Holme features in Simon Jenkin’s “England’s Thousand Best Churches”, so we added it to the list.

It was a glorious day – hottest of the year with temperatures hitting 90?. The church is set in its graveyard with ancient headstones all leaning to the east. It is an attractive building with a square tower with pointed roof and large nave and side aisle with a big porch. Above is a Nan Scott’s Chamber. According to the local legend, she left her home in Holme in 1666 to escape the great plague. When forced to visit her house for supplies she found the parish deserted except for herself and one other. She was so horrified she returned to the chamber and lived there until she died.

The tower was built between 1250-1350 and the windowless north wall of the nave is 13thC. The rest of the church was built about 1485 by John Barton, a prosperous wool merchant, who wanted a church grand enough for him to be buried in. He pulled down the south side of the church, rebuilt the nave and added a south aisle with Lady Chapel for his tomb.

It is worth having a walk round the church before entering and having a look at the small carved heads under the window arches at the east end. The north wall is gradually collapsing outwards and now has massive brick buttresses built along the outside to try and stop further movement.

Above the south door there is a row of seven Barton shields above the south doorway, with sheep and two bales of wool. Just inside the door, a spiral staircase leads up to Nan Barton’s chamber.

It is a lovely church inside and deliciously cool after the heat outside. It is unusual as the nave and the south aisle, separated by pillars and pointed arches are the same size. There is an old wood beam ceiling and whitewashed stone walls. The old wood pews have carved tops.

Across the nave and south aisle is a beautiful rood screen with panel base and open carved arches above topped with a decorative gilt frieze with different bands of colour underneath. Between the panels are tiny red flowers with white leaves. Above the nave is the rood with a crucifix and the figures of the Virgin Mary in blue with a gilded cloak and St John in green with gilded cloak.

Wooden doors lead into the Lady Chapel. Turn round and look up to see the carved heads at the base of the arch. There are lovely old oak pews here with highly carved tops called poppy heads although there isn’t a poppy in sight. Instead they are carved with birds, beasts, lions and angels. The word is a corruption of the French ‘poupée’ which means puppet or figure head.

Pride of place is the Barton tomb between the Lady Chapel and the chancel. This has a carved effigy of John Barton and his wife Isabella lying above a corpse dressed in a shroud at the base. The Latin inscription translates as “Pity me pity me you at least my friends for the hand of the Lord has touched me”.

Their heads rest on a pillow. John Bartons feet rest on a tun (barel). The blank shields round the base of the tomb were painted in the 1930s restoration with heraldic copies of the shields on the porch.

On the south wall is a memorial to John Belasys, a descendant of the last of the Bartons and his wife Catherine.

On the south wall is a small piscina under an arch with small finials. On the wall is a painted statue of the crowned Virgin Mary holding the Christ Child, standing on a base supported by angels with a crocketed pinnacle above. On the wall above are three crudely painted figures holding shields, again painted during the 1930s restoration.

There is a small stone altar. On either side of the window is a carved base with flowers. Above is a series of carved and pointed arches forming a canopy. There is a statue of a lady on the left and the remains of a stone pinnacle on the right. The east window has bits of medieval glass including a bishop’s head, angel and bits of figures and old testament prophets. A tiny engraved panel of glass explains that the two centre lights include 12thC glass from Salisbury and 16/17thC glass from Beavais. Round the edge are modern bulbous four cornered roundels with a blue rim and oak leaves and acorns in the centre.

The nave has an oak altar rail. The woven altar cloth has a design of flowers, birds and urns. The east window also contains medieval glass with saints and shields. The outer lights have medieval glass from Annesley church. In the centre are fragments of glass 15thC John Burton glass. Engraved is a small “pray for the souls of John barton of Holme, merchant of the staple of Calais, builder of this church who died 1491 and Isabella his wife”.

On the north wall of the chancel are painted shields, the paint again being part of the 1930s restoration work.

This is a delightful church and well worth seeking out. It is usually kept locked, but a key can be obtained from the cottage across the road from the church. Visit website.

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