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Old footsteps in Essex, UK

2 Aug 2018

Two years ago, during the American Travelling Morrice’s Cape Ann (Massachusetts) tour, I took an afternoon to visit Plymouth, adopted home of John Holmes and birthplace of Nathaniel, Elisha, Elisha, and Samuel; coming home from that tour I swung through Montville, CT, where Samuel settled and presumably where Nathan and Hiram were born.

This year’s ATM was in Derbyshire, UK, and by delaying my return a few days I was able to extend the list of ancestral Holmes home towns I’ve visited.

Sunday I rode trains on my first class rail pass from Hathersage to Manchester to London Euston, took the Underground and walked to Liverpool Road, and took the train to Colchester, adopted home of one ancestral Thomas Holmes (the tailor) and birthplace of two more plus John.

Once established in my room I walked into Colchester’s city center. Dinner at the Victoria pub, then I pressed on to Colchester Castle, the twelfth century edifice which for many years was used as the Essex County gaol (jail, for us Americans). Gaolkeeper from 1624 until his death in 1637: the third Thomas Holmes, the maltster, father of John, my ancestor. The castle is now a museum. It was closed by that time of day, of course, but I walked around it, then went back to my room.

A Holmes returns to Colchester Castle

Monday was quite a day of walking. I logged just under 14 miles on the pedometer.

I walked into town, getting a convenience store breakfast on the way. First destination was St. James’s church, though not neglecting to inspect the Roman wall along the way.

Roman wall, Colchester

Roman wall, Colchester

Roman wall, Colchester

St James’s is where John Holmes was baptized in 1603 and I’d hoped to get inside it. Not only did I not, I didn’t even get into the churchyard; the gate was closed and locked. Oh well.

St James, Colchester

St James, Colchester

St James, Colchester

Next the castle.

Colchester Castle

Foundations, Colchester Castle

Door, Colchester Castle

Window (showing wall thickness), Colchester Castle

Model of Colchester Castle circa 1086

Colchester Castle, hall interior

Colchester Castle, pigeon in a garderobe

I was in it about three hours including a tour of the Roman vaults (the castle was built on the foundations of a Roman temple dating to about 40 AD)

Roman vaults, Colchester Castle

Roman vaults, Colchester Castle

and the roof.

Tree, planted early 19th century, on Colchester Castle roof

View from Colchester Castle roof

Tower, an 18th century addition, Colchester Castle

Colchester Castle roof, northeast corner

View from Colchester Castle roof

The prison exhibition was in a part added in the 1700s so unknown to Thomas Holmes,

Colchester Castle, prison display

Colchester Castle, prison display

Colchester Castle, prison display

Colchester Castle, prison display

but a nearby room was called out as having been used as gaol space in the 1600s.

Colchester Castle, Lucas Vault

Colchester Castle, Lucas Vault

Also this quote was displayed:

Colchester Castle quote

Sheesh. Never meet your ancestors. 1631 was, as indicated above, right in the middle of Thomas Holmes’s tenure. I was unfamiliar with this report but it’s in the Essex Records Office (T/A 418/108/10). Evidently its recommendations (including putting the gaol in the middle of the county and appointing an “honest gaoler”) were not implemented in full, if at all.

I hit the shop and bought a booklet on the castle, a coaster depicting it, and a set of “dungeon keys”. The latter I would guess are mass produced generic decor items which you can probably find on Amazon or eBay at half the price but I couldn’t resist.

Souvenirs, Colchester Castle

I had lunch (McD’s, worst meal of the trip) and walked back to the train station to begin the next adventure. Took trains to Wickford. Walked to Ramsden Bellhouse, about 2.6 miles.

View toward farms south of Ramsden Bellhouse from the road to Wickford

Welcome to Ramsden Bellhouse

Ramsden Bellhouse was the birthplace of John’s great grandfather Thomas, the tailor, who moved to Colchester, and home of Thomas’s likely father John Holme(s). William Holme, possibly that John’s father, bought property there in 1499.

The old church there, St. Mary’s, like St. James’s in Colchester, was closed, but it was not fenced in. (Had I done more homework I’d’ve known the church is open for visitors on Saturdays, but getting there on a Saturday would not have fit with my travel schedule anyway.) I hardly expected any of the gravestones to date from the 16th century but was surprised to discover most of them, even ones that by style and decrepitude I expected to be a couple hundred years old, were 20th century. In fact most of the visible stones are in an expansion of the cemetery that was made in 1913. The older section is estimated to have been used for more than 5000 burials over the centuries but there are few stones. About five older stones are close to the church and the one least illegible seemed to date to 1720. Anyway, no Holmeses I noticed.

There was a church here in 1281 and probably in 1066. The west end of the church including the tower and west door date from the 15th century, the nave and chancel roofs are 15th and 16th century, and the south porch is 14th or 15th century with 20th century restorations. (See British Listed Buildings page.) So much of what’s seen here would be familiar to Thomas the tailor.

St Mary’s, Ramsden Bellhouse

West door, St Mary’s, Ramsden Bellhouse

St Mary’s, Ramsden Bellhouse

Aside from St. Mary’s I didn’t see anything of obvious antiquity along the main road. Maybe some houses had old bones but most were clearly modern. The village site doesn’t seem to indicate there is much else of note from pre 20th century, other than an Elizabethan manor.

I walked on past the Fox and Hounds pub, which didn’t seem very promising as a resting place, and pushed on to Ramsden Heath, about 1.3 miles north of Ramsden Bellhouse. The White Horse looked better but turned out to have nothing of interest on tap.

The plan had been to retrace my steps to Wickford, but the plan hadn’t been to go as far as Ramsden Heath, and I realized from there the walk to Billiricay was shorter, about 3 miles. Theoretically I could have taken a bus to one or the other (and from, for that matter) but I felt like walking and not like coping with that mystery, so I headed west. I got there about 6:00, had dinner at the Blue Boar,

Dinner, Blue Boar, Billiricay

and then rode the trains back to Colchester and walked to my room for the night. Next day I went to Manchester, and on Wednesday flew home.


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  1. Awesome Pictures Richard 😉 Would Love To Go there someday especially if my 35 year Roadblock ends and I Do find that Missing Link to John Holmes Messenger!!!! Hey Did He Have Just 2 sons or 3 And/or did he have 2 sisters Family Search has his children as John, Nathaniel Josiah Sarah and Mecry?????? I have Trusted an article from A Genealogical Society called “Descendants of John Holmes Messenger Of Plymouth Court” By Eugene A Stratton which I found 30 years ago before the internet!!! That John had just 2 Sons John Jr And Nathaniel .John Married twice Patience Faunce and Patience Bonham and Nathaniel Married Marcy Faunce I know sooooo many records here on the Internet have Him Mixed Up with A REV John Holmes of Duxbury ;( Even has a Holmes line Traced back to 1067 With Mixed up info combining Both John Holmes’ 😦 What do I do I have 3 notebooks Full Of John Holmes’ and 2 books Full Of Jabez Holmes From the States Like I shared with you that I had found my G-G-G grandfather Jabez within 1 week of Researching!! And That is still as far as i have gotten 😦 After 35 years!!!!!!! I have found and upoaded over 300 of my Children’s Ancestors A half dozen back beyond the 1500s But No Accurate Link from Jabez to John 😦 Although The Majority of the DNA matches I have on Ancestry can trace their Lineage to John! I have found nothing substantiating an accurate line I am Desperate to Find The Truth Can You Help I have Written to you and have yourwebsite saved On my Google Account And I enjoy your posts very much I just keeping hoping that you may mention a Jabez Holmes who descended from John but no gooooo I also Have Trusted My very First Homes Contact On the Internet Carroll Holmes Since I did my DNA 3 Years Ago we Matched and he of course can trace his lineage back to John The Messenger As Well 😉 I have not seen your lineage anywhere yet Maybe If you share it with Me Here through E-mail I can get an Idea Do you have your Tree posted anywhere on the net???? I saw one of a Richard Holmes on Wiki Tree would that be you? Have you done A DNA test anywhere I desperately Need Your Help Carroll is getting Quite old and has not returned my past two e-mails 😦 Your sincerely a Desperate Cousin Terry Holmes

  2. PS Richard TY for The Info On Thomas Holmes Ironically Another Common Name in our Family Along With John, William, James Jabez,Hiram, Nathaniel etc etc all names I have Booklets filled with Possibilities!!!!!

  3. Thomas D. Holmes permalink

    Do you have John’s parents, grandparents, etc?

    • There are a couple of Johns mentioned above and the father of one and likely father of another are identified. See Denwood Holmes’s article, ‘“The Black Sheep of Some Good Family”: The Essex Ancestry of John Holmes, Gentleman, Messenger of the Plymouth Court’ in the Spring 2017 New England Historical and Genealogical Register for evidence that John(1), my immigrant ancestor, was son of Thomas(A) of Colchester. (The ‘(1)’ and ‘(A)’ are generational labels, not parts of names.) A followup to that article is in progress but meanwhile you can take a look at Denwood’s 2014 blog post mentioning Thomas(A)’s grandfather, Thomas(C) (in between was another Thomas). As it says there and above, Thomas(C) came from Ramsden Bellhouse and may have been son of a John(D) Holmes from that parish; he in turn may have been son of William(E) Holme who bought property there in 1499. Research continues; some new information just came to light a few days ago.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

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