Holt Church & Grimly Church, Worcester, UK  







History of St Martin's    

General Introduction

               The Church is dedicated to St Martin, the 4th century Bishop of Tours, whose patronal festival is celebrated at Martinmas, November 11th.

               There has been a settlement at Holt since Saxon times, when a village grew up around the castle and church. The name 'Holt' comes from the Saxon word meaning 'wood'. The location was well chosen for its defensive position against Welsh marauders. Nothing remains of the original buildings, which were made from perishable materials, nor is there any documentation to provide precise dates when the church was built. [i] However, we believe that work was begun shortly after the Norman Conquest of 1066. We know the manor of Holt was granted to Urso D'Abitot who built the castle [ii]. The Domesday Book records that the village then had a population of 12 villeins (the highest grade of peasant bound to the lord and farming about 15 acres of land) and 24 bordars (lower order of peasant).

               After his death, the manor passed to Walter de Beauchamp, who had married Urso's daughter. The Beauchamps were the first of the great families to rule over the church and estates (1120 – 1420). The others, also with approximate dates, were the Bromleys (1575 – 1750), the Foleys (1750 – 1850) and the Wards (1850 – 1920): all have left their mark.

               The church and castle, once the centre of village life, has now become a separate hamlet. The building of the Telford bridge at Holt Fleet in 1826 resulted in a population shift to present day Holt Heath.

Church Floor Plan

The Tower

               The church is built from local sandstone. Entering the church by the south door and turning to the left you reach the Tower. This is considered the oldest part of the church (late 11th – 12th century) – first because an opening in the east wall of the Tower above the ringing chamber floor (not visible to the visitor below) tapers from the base to square head [iii]. This is a feature of Saxon work or very early Norman work when Saxons were employed to erect Norman buildings. Secondly, it was necessary to reinforce the exterior of the Tower before raising a belfry in the late 15th century: this suggests that the Tower may have been earlier than the rest of the Norman work. The windows in the ringing chamber and the staircase to the belfry date from the 14th century [iv].

               The belfry houses five bells, a small sanctus bell and four large ones. Three of the large bells are dated. The earliest is the 'King James' bell, so called because it bears the inscription 'God Save Our King James' and dates from the early years of his reign (1603 – 1625). [v] Of the other bells, one is dated 1632 and inscribed 'Jesus be Our Speed', and one is dated 1713.

               Major repair work costing £1400 was undertaken in the church between 1932 and 1943 during the rectorship of William Herald and one of the bells in the belfry is inscribed accordingly. There is also a plaque on the north wall of the Tower (hidden by curtains) recording the restoration work.

               The table of the donatives on the south wall listing the early patrons of the church records the gift of altar silver by Margaret Bromley in 1699. The chalice, paten and flagon have been carefully preserved but are now held in bank premises and used only on special occasions. Floor monuments to Margaret Bromley and her husband William can be found in the Lady Chapel.

               Leaving the Tower, we pass the font. This could be dated as early as 1120 – 1130 [vi]and is an excellent example of Norman sculpture. The font was moved from the tower to near the south door in the 19th century by the then Rector John Foley. [vii] The white wash covering the grotesque heads and swags was also removed hence the old surface is lost and the work now looks cruder than it originally was. The 'eyes' of the font are probably sockets for coloured glass. The Creed and Lord's Prayer to the left and The Ten Commandments to the right of the font originally hung either side of the altar but were moved to accommodate the mosaics in the 19th century.

The Nave

               Moving now to the Nave, we have to imagine it in its original state. There was a solid wall from the south door where now we see arches and the Chancel arch itself was smaller [viii]. Experts are divided in their dating of the Nave, most opinions ranging from 1120 to about 1160: all however agree that it is an admirable example of Norman building at its best. [ix] The north and south doors are set in walls thickened out to receive them in typical Norman fashion. The roof of the Nave dating from about the 15th century is a trussed rafter roof constructed using seven timbers to form the supports. Two of the windows, one on the south wall between the door and the Tower, the other on the north side and adjacent to the pulpit were added in 1859; these are not true to the Norman style.

               A list of Rectors is displayed on the wallboard to the left of the south door. Holt Church initially had no priest and was a chapelry belonging to the Church of St. Helen in Worcester. The appointment of a Rector by 1269 indicates a change in the status of the church.

               The most striking feature of the nave is the mosaic above the chancel arch commemorating the restoration of the church. (The total cost of the restoration was £500 [x]). The Rector of the day, Rev. Sale, and his wife went specially to Ravenna to choose the mosaic [xi], a copy of the 5th century mosaic in the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, and an Italian craftsman was appointed to undertake the work. The proposal to place the mosaic in the church raised considerable opposition at the time [xii]and even today the purist may not agree that it is appropriately placed over a Norman arch.

               However it is clear that the Sales loved their church. Mrs Sale was a self - taught artist and personally knew many artists of the day [xiii]. She carved the pulpit: this replaced an oak pulpit [xiv]. The brass book rest and reading lamp on the pulpit were given to the Church by Rev Sale in 1893. Mrs Sale also carved a stone reading desk: this stood where the lectern is now sited but was removed in the 1970s. Both the reading desk and the pulpit were copied from Ravenna [xv].

The Chancel

               The chancel too has undergone many changes. It originally had solid walls on both the north and south sides and was smaller. It was enlarged eastwards by 6 or 7 feet, in square form, in the early 15th century. The chancel also contained two tombs [xvi]- that of an unknown lady of the Beauchamp family dated 1325 - 1340 [xvii](the effigy now located in the Lady Chapel) and the Scull tomb. The latter was probably designed as the final resting place of Sir Walter Scull and his wife Margaret Beauchamp. However, she pre-deceased him c1450 and he subsequently remarried and was buried with his second wife at St. Mary's Church, Worcester [xviii]. The Scull tomb was dismantled during the Rectorship of Rev. H. Foley (1764 – 1812) and encaustic tiles from the dismantled tomb can be seen on the floor of the chancel. One, to the right of the altar, is dated 1456 and reads:

'Miseremini mei: miseremini mei saltem vos amici mei quia manus domini tetigit me: Marc' Mathe' Lucas Joh AD MCCCCLV1 IHS' (Pity me, pity me you my friends for the hand of the Lord has touched me'  Job 19 v 21).

The Arms of Westminster and the Royal Arms appear on some of the tiles but the link with Westminster has yet to be established although it is known that Malvern Priory, where the tiles are also found, was attached to the Abbey.

               Of the windows, two on the north side only are original but a keen eye can trace the outline of one on the south side blocked up when the arches were created for the Lady Chapel. In the 15th century two side windows were introduced, made to assimilate the Norman style. The coloured window to the right of the vestry (the vestry itself is comparatively modern) is composed of remnants of old glass brought by Mrs Sale from Nuremburg and remade in 1906 [xix]. It represents the Transfiguration and shows a relic of the Ecco Homo (Behold the Man): spears raised aloft and the heads of soldiers can also be seen. The stained glass windows behind the altar were commissioned by Mrs Sale in memory of her husband who died in 1896. It is the work of Herbert Bryans [xx]whose trademark or rebus (a greyhound or running dog) can be found set at an angle near the words 'Nunc Dimittis' (lower right hand window). The design is not unique to Holt church [xxi]. Mrs Sale commissioned a further work by the same artist in memory of Rev. Sale: this can be seen in the transept of Worcester Cathedral and is dated 1900.       Little is known about the reredos, made of semi-precious materials and set in limestone, but the influence of the Sales is evident elsewhere in the chancel. The 'Fra Angelico' angels [xxii]are the work of a Venetian artist, F. Novo, 1886 and are made from vitreous glass set in cement. The brass altar rails replaced old oak ones [xxiii]and commemorated the 30th year of Rev. Sale's incumbency, 1877.

               The chancel contains some interesting floor monuments. Unfortunately the choir stalls, introduced in 1897 [xxiv], cover many of these. To the right of the altar is a wall-mounted monument to Henry Bromley, who died in 1615. This has scrapwork with a skull below, a pair of columns surmounted by allegorical figures, between which is the Bromley cartouche shield partially covered with draperies. Henry Bromley's father, Sir Thomas Bromley, was Lord Chancellor during the reign of Elizabeth I and presided over the trial that sealed the fate of Mary Queen of Scots. Sir Thomas, as befits his importance, is buried in Westminster Abbey. Sir Henry's claim to fame is his arrest of some of the Gunpowder Plot conspirators. He married 4 times and his last wife, Anne Beswick, caused a sensation in 1628 when widowed and aged 80 she married John Thornborough, Bishop of Worcester [xxv]. He was then aged 77. The bride survived the happy event by only a few months.

               Other features of the chancel include aumbries on either side of the altar, a piscina on the south side and a lowside window now blocked up to the left of the vestry. The latter matches one now re-used in the Lady Chapel. They have often been described as 'leper' windows but nowadays it is thought more likely that their purpose related to the ringing of the sanctus bell (at the elevation of the host) by a person outside the church.

The Lady Chapel

               Towards the end of the 14th century a great change was made to the church by the addition of the chapel. To achieve this, a large arch was formed between the chancel and the aisle and the old walls on the side of the nave were removed. The old facing stones were re-introduced over the new arches.

               The Lady Chapel is probably more accurately described as the Bromley Chapel (as many of the floor and wall monuments are dedicated to members of the Bromley family) or the Talbot Chapel. Branches of the Beauchamp family married into the Talbot family although the exact relationship in connection with Holt church has yet to be established. Sir John Talbot's name appears on encaustic tiles on the floor (now covered by the altar) and twice in the stained glass windows in the east and south east windows.. The Talbot crest is a mastiff's head with protruding tongue. [xxvi]

               The windows of the chapel are of particular merit. The window on the south side is outstanding. The Talbot achievement (i.e. escutcheon or armorial shield) features in the tracery, below which is a scene of the Annunciation. Although now incomplete the Angel Gabriel can be seen on the left and the Virgin on the right below an inscription [xxvii]. The jewelling of the Virgin's cloak is particularly interesting as the 'jewels' are leaded into the sheets of glass by first cutting apertures in them. The window dates from c.1450 and is dedicated to Margaret Beauchamp, Lady Scull.   The Talbot Arms can be seen in the perpendicular east window which is an excellent example of this style. The newer brickwork around the window indicates the former place of the organ, in the days when Mrs Sale was the Choir mistress and forbade the choir children to wear ribbons or feathers in their hats. [xxviii]

               Moving towards the western end of the chapel, we pass, on the north wall, a tablet to another Henry Bromley (there were several!). He died in 1670. The monument has cartouche arms within a curled pediment supported by columns with Ionic capitals. We can also see that there was once a side door (narrowed and now blocked up). At the west end there was a small window, called a 'squint' or 'hagioscope' to enable those prohibited from entering the church for some reason to witness the elevation of the host during services. Looking up, the Bromley helmet and tabard can be seen. The helmet features a pheasant crest: this also appears on the floor monument to William Bromley.

               Mention has already been made of the effigy, formerly at rest in the chancel, but removed in 1878. For some years after its removal it lay on the floor of the Lady Chapel before being raised onto its plinth in 1938 through the good offices of Earl Beauchamp. Unfortunately, the inscription bears an incorrect attribution. The effigy dates to the period 1325 – 1340 and Margaret Beauchamp died c. 1450. The effigy is therefore more accurately described as that of an unknown member of the Beauchamp family. It has been in its present condition for many years. [xxix]

               On the west wall there is a splendid wall monument to Mercy Bromley, who died in 1704. It has a rare broken segmental pediment (broken at the sides not at the top) from which curtains, clouds and cherub heads grace the inscription. Two exotic twisted columns support a forest of garlands around the coat of arms, below which there are cherubs.

The Church exterior and the Churchyard

               Both the north and south doors have sculptured representations; the splendid carvings on the south door are worth a second look. The style, similar to that of the Herefordshire school, shows some evidence of working in the chevron (zigzag) decoration of the arch. The carvings on the south door are said to represent the devil laughing at /assaulting worshippers; the north door depicts the fox and stork from Aesop's fables. The south door was formerly protected by a porch. It was not uncommon when porches were dismantled in the Victorian period for their materials to be used to construct a lych gate. One supposes that this may have been the fate of the porch as 18th century paintings include a porch but no lych gate. [xxx]Adjacent to the lych gate is an old millstone, perhaps used as a mounting stone by those arriving on horseback.

               The south wall of the chapel was the site for a scratch dial (now barely visible): a central peg was pushed into the wall and scratched radii catching the sunlight were used by the priest to determine the correct timing of Mass.

               On the north side of the church the visitor is treated to a very fine example of an ancient string course. This is no longer complete, part of it having been used up and built into the Tower staircase.

The headstones in the old part of the churchyard were moved to the edges in the 1950s, including that of the Rev. and Mrs Sale; this can be found on the west side wall facing the tower. This leaves only two chest tombs. That nearer the church commemorates Ann, the Dowager Countess of Coventry, who died in 1788, aged 96. She survived her husband by 69 years but after over 30 years of widowhood married Edmund Pytts, M.P. for Worcester, who also predeceased her. The old Countess was a familiar sight in Worcester and when she was unable to leave her home she nonetheless had her coach and four grey mares driven through the streets, lest she be forgotten. [xxxi] The second chest tomb, the Webb memorial is early 19th century.

               Other features of the old churchyard include a sapling millennium tree opposite the Lady Chapel and conservation areas designed to attract wild flowers, insects and bird-life. The new graveyard lies behind the west wall of the churchyard. The Garden of Remembrance can be found on the north side of the churchyard.

Copyright © 2004 Denise Hewitt



Cupboard for church vessels, usually found on the north side of the chancel


The part of the tower in which the bells are hung


A scroll-like ornament or decorative border with rolled edges


The eastern part of the church separated from the Nave


District over which a chapel has authority


A gift

Encaustic tile

Decorative and glazed tile with patterns of different coloured clays inlaid and burnt in


The vessel for baptismal water


A squint (an oblique opening in a wall) in a church giving a view of the high altar


Reading desk or stand from which lessons are read in church


The main part of the church (from Latin navis meaning a ship)


A structure, often triangular, placed over a door, monument, window or niche, or crowning the front of a building


A basin/drain into which water used in the washing of sacred vessels was emptied


Representation of a word or name by pictures


An ornamental screen behind an altar

Sanctus bell  

A small bell rung to call attention to solemn parts of the mass

String course  

A projecting horizontal course of bricks or line of mouldings running along the face of a building


A knight's short sleeved or sleeveless coat/tunic bearing a coat of arms


Part of the church at right angles to the nave or a wing to the main structure


Ornamental fine decorative patterns especially in the upper parts of windows





[i]   General dates are therefore best regarded as 'informed' opinions.

[ii]   Victoria County History (VCH) Vol. 1.

[iii]  Holt Church History, W.D. Caroe 1916.

[iv]   Holt Church History, W.D. Caroe 1916.

[v]   'The Church Bells of Worcestershire' provides the date 1608 but an early version of 'The Guide to Holt Church' gives a date of 1605. Other sources suggest 1603 is correct. The last digit on the bell is badly worn and it is now difficult to verify a date.

[vi]  Holt Church History, W.D. Caroe 1916.

[vii]  'Illustrations of Baptismal Fonts' T. Combe pub. John van Voorst 1844;'Rambler in Worcestershire', Vol. 1, John Noake.

[viii] Church History, undated.

[ix]  'If the two modern windows could be swept away, it would be almost perfect'. Holt Church History,  W.D. Caroe 1916.

[x]   'Rambler in Worcestershire', Vol. 1, John Noake.

[xi]  'When I was young', Mrs Berkeley, Worcester Archaeological Society Vol. XV1.

[xii]  'When I was young', Mrs Berkeley, Worcester Archaeological Society Vol. XV1.

[xiii] The Sales art collection was bequeathed to the British Museum and Worcester Art Gallery.

[xiv] Transactions of Worcestershire Archaeological Society, 1933 describing the church in September 1814.

[xv]  Mrs Sale's efforts were not always appreciated. A comment in the Building News, 1858, records “We refuse to criticise [them] as they are the work of a lady and it is pleasing to find them taking such an interest in such matters.”

[xvi] 'A Survey of Worcestershire' Thomas Habington Vol. 2 part 1 c1570 – 1580.

[xvii]Correspondence with Victoria & Albert Museum and The Royal Armouries, Leeds, November 2002.

[xviii]Church correspondence with Record Agents, September 1927. Further research is needed. Neither St Mary's Church, Worcester, now converted into flats, nor the Cathedral hold records relating to Sir Walter Skull.

[xix] Guide to Holt Church, J.E.H. Blake 1927.

[xx]  Bryans' work is sometimes confused with that of Charles Kempe, a Victorian contemporary. They each had Glassworks.

[xxi] Conversations with Mrs Lampitt, great niece of Herbert Bryans.

[xxii]cf Angels decorating the frame of the Tabernacle of the Linaivoli, 1433, Museum of San Marco, Florence.

[xxiii]Transactions of Worcester Archaeological Society 1933, describing the church in 1814.

[xxiv]Church History pamphlet 1955.

[xxv]His effigy can be viewed in Worcester Cathedral.

[xxvi]In Heraldry Talbot means a mastiff.

[xxvii]         Ave;Gra;P[lena Dominus Tec] um (Gabriel):[Ecce] Ancilla Dominus Fiat (Mary). Hail thou that art highly favoured: behold the handmaiden of the Lord. 'Worcestershire: Little Guide Series' F.T.S. Houghton, 1952.

[xxviii]        When I was Young, Mrs Berkeley, Worcestershire Archaeological Society Vol XVI.

[xxix]'Collections of Worcestershire History' Dr Prattinton referring to Holt Church September 1814.

[xxx]cf watercolour painting of the church by E.F. Burney c 1783.

[xxxi]Berrows Worcester Journal, April 1930.