Holt History

View Holt, a fine Georgian town – map leaflet (pdf)

Holt, a fine Georgian town - map

Holt in Roman times

The town dates back to Roman times. Peacock Lane is part of a Roman Road from Salthouse. Roman remains are to be found mainly to the North of the town. Holt is mentioned in the Domesday Book. Holt appears in William the Conqueror’s 1086 Domesday Book as a settlement. There were 60 adult males, 90 sheep, 60 pigs, 1 carthorse, 5 mills, a port (Cley) and a market.

In early maps it often appears as Holt Market. It was a thriving community one thousand years ago. This is attributed to it’s geographical position, importance in trading terms and proximity to natural springs.

Shirehall Plain, with the old water tower and Byfords (ironmongers) in the background

Shirehall Plain, with the old water tower and Byfords (ironmongers) in the background

The Great Fire of Holt 1708

On 1st May 1708 a terrible fire broke out amongst the market stalls. It swept through the town and its wooden buildings. Even the Church was reduced to a ruin.

Over the next 100 years it was rebuilt using brick, stone and flint. This is why the Market Place and High Street are predominantly Georgian. The back lanes, streets and yards are predominantly Victorian. Evidence of earlier dwellings were discovered when these areas were rebuilt.

The town has many flint stone ‘yards’, originally small Victorians homes. These have now been put to other uses, as shops and offices. They provide a labyrinth of surprises for shoppers and visitors. One such example can be found in Chapel. Some of these buildings date from the 16th century.

The town celebrated the 300 year anniversary of the Great Fire of Holt over the weekend of the 1st May – 5th May 2008. In preparation for that event many more historical facts were uncovered. The event on 1st May 1708 was described “there happened a sudden and lamentable Fire at Holt market which in the space of three hours burnt down to the ground almost the whole Town and the Parish Church standing there.

Georgian characters

The Church was described as being a “a well-built Fabrick, kept in very good Repair and consisted of three large isles covered with lead.” According to Tom Martin’s Church Notes of 1734 the fire “took hold of the Chancel first being thatched, and burnt down the whole roof, melted all the lead. The lead fell on the stones and cracked them them all in pieces. There were two bells which fell down, the frames being burnt in the Steeple.

The Town was rebuilt, at an estimated cost of £11,258, with the help of a royal brief. The parishioners raised money enough to repair and seat the chancel, but it would not hold a quarter of the congregation. In 1723 the new rector, Dr. Briggs, obtained a second royal brief for the rebuilding of the Church, which was estimated at £1,229 or more. The brief produced £1,178, of which nearly half went in fees and agents’ commissions. But the work was done in two years. Among the chief benefactors of the church were Sir Robert Walpole, then Prime Minister as well as a Norfolk Squire, who gave £50 and a silver plate.

With the rebuilding of the town went a desire for better fire protection, and the original local fire station is now a shop. A tall three storey House was built in 1744 in Bull Street and over the front of the door is an early fire insurance plaque. In the 18th century displaying such a plaque was the only way of ensuring assistance from the local fire wagon in case of disaster. The church was restored in 1864 by the great church Architect William Butterfield. The Market Place has a fine war memorial unveiled in 1921.

Holt War Memorial

The majority of war memorials in our country were created by public subscription through committees formed for their commissioning, and usually dissolved after their completion. We have a photograph of the Holt peace celebration service held on July 19th 1919 in the Market Place around the Jubilee column.

1919 Peace Celebrations

The Queen Victoria 1887 Jubilee Column – the lantern referred to as “Blind Sam” was moved to Obelisk Plain to make room for the memorial. Such was the importance of the War Memorial.

1921 Unveiling War Memorial

The War Memorial was designed by the Architect Mr J Page from Langham near Blakeney in 1919 and erected in 1920. It is a magnificent 20 foot high spire erected on a square plinth. The spire is engraved with four crests. Three stars and Ermine Chevron. This commemorates the dead from Greshams School. Three crowns on a small shield imposed on the Cross of St George. This represents our region. The Norfolk County Council shield in use today. This represents Norfolk County Council.

The Chequers. This represents the establishment. On its west face at the base of the spire is the inscription “THEIR NAME LIVETH FOR EVER MORE”. On its east face are the dates of the wars 1914 – 18, and 1939 – 45. It is made of Clipsham Stone. Names of the 63 men who died in the Great War are inscribed on the upper course of each face of the plinth. On the middle course are engraved the names of the 32 men who died in World War II. Later additions, on the west side, are those who fell in Korea in 1952 and Northern Ireland 1991. The carved lettering on the War Memorial is a raised pattern.

The War Memorial was re-dedicated in January 1995 and again in October 2010 following its refurbishment. The original manor house situated not far from the Parish Church was the home of Sir John Gresham. He was a wealthy Tudor merchant who was a one time financial agent of Cardinal Wolsey. He also became Lord Mayor of London. The manor house became a Free Grammar School in 1562.

Sir John persuaded the Fishmongers Company of London to accept charitable and managerial responsibility for the School. This trust that has been kept to this day. Above the doorway of the present entrance in Station Road is a plaque bearing the coat of arms of the Fishmongers Company and the Gresham family probably dating from the 16th century. The pupils of Gresham’s (as the school is now called) still wear a badge bearing the two crests on their blazers. The School was rebuilt in 1858. In 1900 the school was said to be the wealthiest educational charity in the country.


Remains of the old Holt Railway Station

Remains of the old Holt Railway Station

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