A History of the County of Bedford: Volume 3. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1912.
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Holcot is a small parish covering an area of about 904 acres, 279 acres being arable land, 555½ permanent grass and 42 woods and plantations. (fn. 1) The soil, which, like the subsoil, is strong clay, is chiefly suitable for grazing. The crops are wheat, barley, beans and peas.
In the north-east of the parish the land, which lies 386 ft. above the ordnance datum, is covered by the plantation called Holcot Wood. The ground falls away to the south-east, the village lying 250 ft. high in a small valley.
Holcot itself barely deserves the title of a village, consisting as it does of the church, with the rectory across the road, a building of some pretensions, dating apparently from the first half of the 19th century, two cottages, Holcot Mill and a few scattered farms. Of these, the Church Farm lies to the north of the church, and is reached by a road leading on to Rooktree Farm. Holcot Farm is half a mile south of the village, and beyond this again is Brook Farm. In the north-east of the parish is Holcotwood Farm, and from here the land falls sharply away across Holcot Moors to the house called Holcot Moor, inhabited by Mrs. Chernock Smith.
The parish is watered by a small stream, which forms its western boundary. Where it passes the rectory grounds there is a small waterfall. Further up the stream is Holcot Mill, a modern building, with its mill-pond. As stone-ground flour has fallen into disfavour, this and many other mills in the neighbourhood are chiefly utilized in grinding barleymeal for feeding pigs, and even this occupation shows signs of failing, the larger farmers now grinding their own barley-meal by means of gas and steam plant.
The site of the old manor-house built by Richard Chernock, who died in 1615, (fn. 2) is still to be traced to the north-east of the church, now only used for burials. The house itself was pulled down at the beginning of the 19th century. A magnificent avenue of limes still marks the position of the entrance drive. The site of the garden can be plainly identified to the north-east of the church. The former terraces are still visible where the ground slopes down towards a pond, drained within recent years, which formed an ornamental feature of the now vanished garden. The modern buildings on a portion of the site are known as Church Farm.
A reference in 969 to the boundary of Holcot (fn. 3) is evidence of the existence of the village at that date.
At the survey of 1086 HOLCOT MANOR, assessed at 4 hides, belonged to William Spec, whose predecessor in the time of the Confessor was Alward Belrap. (fn. 4) The overlordship of this manor is found later attached to the barony of Beauchamp of Eaton, and is so described in 1284 (fn. 5) and again in 1428. (fn. 6)
Ralph Passelewe (Passaquam) held the manor of Holcot at the time of the Domesday Survey, (fn. 7) and in the 13th century Gilbert Passelewe, his descendant, held by knight's service here. (fn. 8) The early history of the lords of this manor follows the same descent as that of Biddenham (q.v.), passing from the Passelewes to the Fermbauds. (fn. 9) In 1330 Nicholas Fermbaud claimed free warren in his demesne lands of Holcot. (fn. 10) His death took place shortly after, for in 1332 his widow Amabilia and his two sons Thomas and John were concerned in an action for trespass. (fn. 11) Katherine daughter of John Fermbaud and her husband John Woodville acquired rights of free warren in 1366. (fn. 12) Thomas Fermbaud or Woodville (fn. 13) held in Holcot in 1428. (fn. 14) His successor, Richard Woodville, who was made a Knight of the Garter in 1449, was the ancestor of Margaret Helwell, who married Thomas Sherard (fn. 15) and had two sons Richard and George. (fn. 16) In 1541 George Sherard alienated Holcot Manor to his brother Richard, (fn. 17) who in the same year sold it to Robert Charnok or Chernock. (fn. 18)
He died in possession of the manor in 1549 and was succeeded by his son Richard, (fn. 19) whose son John Chernock and his wife Elizabeth held it in 1617. (fn. 20) His son Sir Robert Chernock, kt., held it in 1627 (fn. 21) until about 1648, when his son Sir St. John, created a baronet in 1661, was owner. (fn. 22) Sir St. John's son Villiers succeeded to the baronetcy in 1680–1 and died in 1694, leaving as heir his second son Pynsent, who died in 1734, at which date his son Sir Boteler succeeded. (fn. 23) On his death unmarried the baronetcy passed to his brother Villiers, who died without heirs in 1779, when the title became extinct. (fn. 24) Sir Boteler's estates in Bedfordshire went to his nephew Edward Hervey, son of his sister Helen. Edward left no male heirs, so a portion of his estates passed to Mrs. Elizabeth Chauncey, only surviving daughter of Sir Pynsent Chernock, father of Sir Boteler, who divided it amongst her great-nieces Barbara cousin of Edward Hervey (fn. 25) and his four daughters. (fn. 26) Barbara, who died in 1813, (fn. 27) left her share to William Montague, to whom she was betrothed, and his heirs. (fn. 28) He was probably a kinsman of George Henry Montague, who held a moiety of the manor of Holcot in 1826 (fn. 29) and whose heir, Mr. Bennett of Oxford, still holds this share at the present day. (fn. 30) The rest of the estate is divided amongst the descendants of Edward Hervey's daughter Charlotte Orlebar Smith, the widow of her great-grandson LieutenantColonel Charles Villiers Downes owning some part of it, and Mrs. Boteler Chernock Smith, present lady of the manor, widow of Charlotte's grandson Boteler, owning the rest.
Holcot, like Biddenham (q.v.), was attached to the honour of Gloucester, (fn. 31) whose paramountcy is found continuously mentioned down to the 15th century (fn. 32); the last reference to it is in 1459–61. (fn. 33)
The Abbot of Woburn held 6 virgates of land in Holcot in the reign of Henry III (fn. 34) and in 1302–3 Nicholas Fermbaud held a fourth part of a knight's fee of the abbot. (fn. 35) In 1337 he had £3 8s. 4d. in land, meadows, rents and mills, (fn. 36) and a fourth part of a knight's fee in 1346 (fn. 37) and 1428. (fn. 38) At the Dissolution the rent of Holcot, as possession of the monastery of Woburn, was £3 13s. 4d. (fn. 39)
One mill is mentioned as belonging to Holcot at Domesday. (fn. 40) In 1600 three mills and one water-mill were attached to Holcot and Bedlow, and free fishery was conveyed with the manors. (fn. 41) In 1614 Robert Greene and others had free fishery in Holcot. (fn. 42) A mill also was parcel of the manors in 1648, (fn. 43) and in 1826 there were two water-mills in Holcot and Bedlow. (fn. 44)
The church of ST. NICHOLAS consists of a chancel 18 ft. 6 in. by 16 ft. 3 in., a nave 28 ft. 9 in. by 16 ft. 3 in., and a west tower 9 ft. by 8 ft. The church is now only used for burial services. It is a very interesting and complete specimen of a late 16th-century building, Gothic in general form, but with a certain amount of Renaissance feeling. The roofs are steep-pitched, that of the nave being of lead, with a parapet, while that of the chancel is of tiles, with eaves. The east window is modern, of three pointed lights, with a transom under a square head. On both sides of the chancel is a rectangular window of two lights, also divided by a transom, and beneath that on the south side is a round-headed doorway, the door being decorated with scrolled ironwork.
There is no break in the walls between nave and chancel, a plain arch springing from moulded corbels serving to mark the division. The north and south walls of the nave are divided externally into two bays by buttresses in two stages; in the east bays are rectangular windows of three lights, and in the other bays similar windows of two lights, all divided by transoms; in the west bay of the north side there is also a blocked doorway with a four-centred head, now covered by a buttress. In the opposite bay on the south side is a doorway with a flat head, the upper half of the jambs being moulded, and over it a rebuilt porch, with a shield over the head of the doorway. The outer door is studded with nails and has old hinges and furniture.
The tower arch is in two chamfered orders springing from moulded capitals. The tower is small and is divided by strings into three stages, with diagonal buttresses at the west angles; the walls terminate in a plain parapet with modern crocketed pinnacles at the angles; on the north side is a circular stair turret. On the west side in the lowest stage is a window like the side windows of the chancel; the lower half, however, is blocked up. The belfry windows are rectangular and consist of two lights each.
The walls of the church internally are colourwashed, and there is a semicircular plaster ceiling. There is a small plain font under the west gallery, which is of the 17th century, supported by Doric columns. The nave is panelled in oak of the same date, and there are also two benches with carved oak backs. The communion table and rails are also of the 17th century, the latter with spiral oak balusters. A painting of the Last Supper is used as a reredos, and behind it is a brass mural tablet to Richard Chernock, 1616. On the north wall of the chancel is a fine Corinthian monument to the same Richard Chernock, divided into three stages; in the top one are the kneeling figures of Richard with his two wives, six sons and eight daughters; in the middle stage figures of his father Robert and his two wives, and at the bottom are figures of the ten children of Robert, six by one wife and four by the other. On the top in the centre is a shield of Chernock quartering Argent a cross engrailed gules, with a helm crested with a lapwing. To the left is a shield with the above impaling Ermine a chief indented gules with three crowns or therein, quartering Argent three cinquefoils gules, for Frances Ackworth, his mother. Below are more shields, one of which appears to be that of Pettit impaling Chernock; but all the heraldry has been repainted and errors have as usual been made in the process. To the right the centre coat impaling the arms of Mary Puttenham his wife, Argent crusilly fitchy and a stork sable, quartered with Checky or and azure.
There are four bells, the treble inscribed 'Chandler made me 1653.' The second and third bear three lines of inscription, with the arms and name of Richard Chernock and 'Johannes Dir [sic for Dier] me fecit A.D. 1593,' 'Be all Honor, Glorie, Duty to God.' The tenor is by Richard Chandler, 1723.
The church plate consists of a flagon, date letter 1739, maker's mark J S, 'The Gift of Mrs. Adrian Chernock, the Daughter of Sir Villiers Chernock Bart. of Holcut'; a communion cup and foot-paten cover, date letter 1641, and a large flat paten with the Chernock arms, 1685.
The advowson of Holcot Church appears to have descended always with the manor (q.v.), first mention of it being found in 1361. (fn. 45) The patron at the present day is Mrs. Chernock Smith. In 1291 the church was valued at £8, (fn. 46) and in 1535 at £7 15s. (fn. 47)
The rent of 3 acres of land, value 1s., in the tenure of Robert Charnocke was given yearly for the maintenance of a light. (fn. 48)
In 1809 Mrs. Elizabeth Hervey, by her will proved in the P.C.C. 21 February, bequeathed £600 to be laid out in consols, and the dividends to be laid out yearly in bread and clothing to be equally divided between the Holcot and Salford poor. The legacy is now represented by £888 17s. 6d. consols with the official trustees, who also hold £43 16s. 8d. like stock arising from a legacy in 1854 by will of Mrs. Charlotte Smith, and £108 18s. 1d. like stock, representing a legacy in 1867 by will of Rev. Edward Orlebar Smith, making together £1,041 12s. 3d. consols. The dividends, amounting to £26 0s. 8d. a year, are applicable, in pursuance of a scheme of the Charity Commissioners of 13 April 1883, as varied by an order of 2 November 1897, for the benefit of deserving and necessitous persons resident in the two interested parishes frequenting the church or churches thereof or any registered place of meeting for religious worship therein.