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An error on a "Blue Plaque" turns up on inspection of the Old Kings Head in Bridge Street.
Towards the end of the fourteenth century a moiety of the manor of Tranmere (aka Tranmore or Tranmole) in "Wirrall Hundred" (sic) was acquired by Robert de Holme on his marriage to Matilda, one of the two daughters and coheirs of William de Tranmole, lord of that manor. His descendants for some eight or nine generations continued to hold and occupy that estate untill the reign of James I when it was sold by William Holme, of Chester, who had succeeded to it on the death of his young nephew, John Holme, who died in 1611. The father of this William Holme was Richard Holme, of Tranmole, gentleman, whose younger brother, Thomas Holme, was the first of his family, to settle in Chester, about the middle of the reign of Elizabeth I. The family were to provide four Cheshire antiquaries and "heralds" all with same name.
The College of Arms, sometimes referred to as the College of Heralds, is a royal corporation consisting of professional officers of arms, with jurisdiction over England, Wales, Northern Ireland and some Commonwealth realms. The heralds are appointed by the British Sovereign and are delegated authority to act on behalf of the Crown in all matters of heraldry, the granting of new coats of arms, genealogical research and the recording of pedigrees. The College is also the official body responsible for matters relating to the flying of flags on land, and it maintains the official registers of flags and other national symbols. The College of Arms is overseen by the Earl Marshal. In the Middle Ages, the Earl Marshal and the Lord High Constable were the officers of the king's horses and stables. When chivalry declined in importance, the constable's post declined and the Earl Marshal became the head of the College of Arms, the body concerned with all matters of genealogy and heraldry. In conjunction with the Lord High Constable, he had held a court, known as the Court of Chivalry, for the administration of justice in accordance with the law of arms, which was concerned with many subjects relating to military matters, such as ransom, booty and soldiers' wages, and including the misuse of armorial bearings. One of the most celebrated decisions of this court was that of Scrope v. Grosvenor (1389), Grosvenor maintained his ancestor, Gilbert, had come to England with William the Conqueror. The case was brought before a military court and presided over by the constable of England - and the first sitting of the Court of Chivalry, which decided the Scrope/Grosvenor Armorial Bearings, was held at St Johns Church, Chester. Several hundred witnesses were heard and these included John of Gaunt, King of Castile and Duke of Lancaster, Geoffrey Chaucer and a then largely unknown Welshman called Owain Glyndŵr.
No "patents of arms" or any "ensigns of nobility" could be granted, and no "augmentation, alteration, or addition" be made to arms, without the consent of the Earl Marshal. The College of Arms comprises thirteen officers or heralds: three Kings of Arms, six Heralds of Arms and four Pursuivants of Arms. Norroy and Ulster King of Arms is the King of Arms at the College of Heralds with jurisdiction over England north of the Trent and Northern Ireland. The two offices of Norroy and Ulster were formerly separate, but were merged in 1943. Norroy King of Arms is the older office, there being a reference as early as 1276 to a "King of Heralds beyond the Trent in the North." The name is derived from the French nord roi meaning "north king". The office of Ulster King of Arms was established in 1552 by King Edward VI to replace the older post of Ireland King of Arms, which had lapsed in 1487.
Prior to the establishment of a central office for recording births, marriages and deaths, the College of Arms played an important part in recording pedigrees. Having a "coat of arms" became something of an obsession with the gentry. By the fifteenth century, the use and abuse of coats of arms was becoming widespread in England. Officers of arms had made occasional tours of various parts of the kingdom to enquire about armorial matters during the fifteenth century, however, it was not until the sixteenth century that the process began in earnest. In 1530 one such officer was commissioned to travel throughout his province (in his case, south of the Trent) with authority to enter all homes and churches. Upon entering these premises, he was authorized to "put down or otherwise deface at his discretion... those arms unlawfully used". He was also required to enquire into all those using the titles of knight, esquire, or gentleman and decided if they were being lawfully used. These "visitations" continued until the late 17th Century as gentry enthusiasm for coats of arms as an enhancement to social standing persisted before waning.
The Holme family made their money from the organisation of funerals and the production of funerary hatchments or memorial boards. A funerary hatchment is a depiction, often within a black lozenge-shaped frame, generally on a black (sable) background, of a deceased's heraldic achievement, that is to say the escutcheon showing the arms, together with the crest and supporters of his family or person. The funerary hatchment was usually placed over the entrance door of the deceased's residence at the level of the second floor, and remained in situ for six to twelve months, after which it was removed to the parish church. The practice developed in the early 17th century from the custom of carrying a heraldic shield before the coffin of the deceased, then leaving it for display in the church.
Of the two buildings in Bridge Street where the Holme family are known to have lived the Old Kings Head (which they leased) is the surviving example while Old Lamb Row (which they owned) collapsed in 1821 and no trace of it remains.
Ye Olde King's Head
The Old Kings Head or ("Ye Olde Kynges Head") is first mentioned in 1208 in written records which refer to a stone-built house belonging to Peter the Clerk (an administrator at Chester Castle). Stone-built houses were uncommon in late medieval Chester and therefore served as significant landmarks. In June 1424 the men who took part in the Corpus Christi Day riot were said to have attacked the king's ministers at Castle Lane End: "iuxta le stouneplace que quondam fuit Petri de Thornton chivalier". Peter de Thornton is none other than Peter the Clerk. Piers (Peter) le Clerc, was granted Thornton-le-Moors, which was confirmed by Sir John de Arderne, in a charter attested by Philip de Orreby, Justice of Chester; Roger de Montalt, and others, after the succession of Sir John de Arderne's to the Lordship of Aldford, by grant of Ranulf de Blondeville, Earl of Chester. Peter was the secretary to this Earl of Chester. Curiously, the church of St Mary at Thornton-le-Moors has painted memorial panels and hatchments, some of which may be by members of the Randle Holme family.
Harlean MS 2022 records a number of early deeds relating to this property. In 1524 the land, described as including two gardens, was sold by two brothers Joseph and Thomas Aston to Randle Brereton then Vice Chamberlain of Chester:
- "on these garden places Randle Brereton, Esq., late Vice Chamberlain of Chester, built severall houses now inhabited by William Ball, Randle Holme, Thomas Wright and Margaret Hooker."
The Aston family was first documented during reign of Henry II, whose charters record one Gilbert de Aston, Lord of Aston juxta Sutton (he is mentioned in AD/IX/7). The family built up a large estate in Cheshire and in Berkshire, Warwickshire and Leicestershire, through the marriage of their male heirs to female heiresses. Thomas Aston (married Bridget Harewell of Warwickshire in 1512), was Sheriff of Cheshire in 1551. Thomas died in 1552/3.
Sir Randle was the Chamberlain of Chester (according to Boyer, from 21 Henry VII (1505-1506) to 23 Henry VIII (1531-1532), though Boyer also states that he died in 1530). He was a "knight of the body" to Henry VII. He was made knight banneret by Henry VIII as reward for his conduct at Thérouanne and Tournai, France (this would be referring to service at the Battle of the Spurs in 1513). According to Merriam-Webster, a knight banneret was:
- "a knight of an ancient English order of knighthood that was commonly conferred as a reward for valor on the field of battle and that entitled the holder to bear a banner rather than the pennon of a knight bachelor"
The property was subsequently sold on the 4th November, 22 Elizabeth (1580), by Richard Brereton, of Eccleston, Esq., to Robert Ireland, of Halewood, co. Lancaster, gentleman. On the 7th July, 12 Charles I (1636), John Ireland, of Halewood, gentleman, leased one of these houses to Randle Holme for the term of three lives, himself, Randle Holme his son, and Randle Holme his grandson, in consideration of the surrender of an earlier lease made by George Ireland (father of John), for the lives of Randle Holme, Elizabeth his wife (who died in 1635), and Jacob Chaloner. This first lease must have been shortly after his marriage to Elizabeth Chaloner (1598) and before he had any children of his own. A new lease was granted by George Ireland to Randle Holme (III) on the 11th September, 1660 (Harl. MS. 2082, at the beginning), and it is probable that Randle (III) lived there until his other residence, "Lamb Row" in Bridge Street, was built by him about 1670.
There is a clear confusion between the date on the blue plaque (1633) and the date over the door (1622). The blue plaque appears to contain the error, as the record books of the Painters, Glaziers, Embroiderers, and Stationers Company contain the following entry, dated 1622 (this presumably dates from when William became a member of the Company and was required to entertain the existing members to a dinner):
- Payd for Sacke and Claret wine at William Holmes dynner (to ye Company at his fathers new buildinge in Castle Lane)
William Holme was made “clerk” of the Company, to make all entries in the books, and his untimely death in 1623 is there duly noted. His successor was his brother, who is subsequently described as “Randle Holme clerke and steward of the Company,” and for many years all the entries in these books are in the handwriting of Randle Holme (II). When Randle Holme, senior, was elected mayor of the city, in October, 1633, his son was appointed one of the two sheriffs, and the entry in the Company’s books records this double honour as follows:—
- St. Lukes Day 1633 Randle Holme Esquier, Maior of ye Citty of Chester, Mr Randle Holme, painter, his sonne and Mr Richard Bryd, merchant, sherives of ye sayd Citty.
The cellars behind the range facing Lower Bridge Street contain medieval stone walls, probably a survival from Peter the Clerk's "domus lapidus", but are much altered later. They form an irregular group of small rooms, but appear always to have been sub-divided, unlike other Chester undercrofts, which tended to one large space. The house was rebuilt from the former Row level upward and refronted probably in part 15thC, 16thC and early 17thC for Randle Holme I, first of four generations of heralds and armorial painters. The building was first licensed as a pub in 1717.
The structure of the Old Kings Head is unique in Chester, and the original hall was quite unlike that of later buildings as it lay behind rather than above the row and therefore had no windows to the main street. The Castle Street elevation of the rear wing is the oldest surviving part of the building and can be dated to the late medieval prior to the period of intense rebuilding of 1550-1640. The sill-beam is of two pieces joined by a simple through-splayed scarf joint, and some studs have been removed for the insertion of later windows. One remarkable example of the re-use of former woodwork in moderisation is found in the arcade post which has been laboriously re-carved into a Tuscan column and an "abacus" inserted: this sort of abacus is a flat slab forming the uppermost member or division of the capital of a column, above the bell. Its chief function is to provide a large supporting surface, tending to be wider than the capital, as an abutment to receive the weight of the arch or the architrave above.
The premises were heavily renovated in 1935 and during this refurbishment a sword was found hidden under the floorboards of bedroom number 4. The said sword can now be found hanging proudly above the bar.
Old Lamb Row
Hemingway writes as follows:
On the site of some new buildings which now stand between Grosvenor Street and Cuppin Street formerly stood that old edifice called Lamb Row beneath which I conjecture that there was anciently a subterraneous passage In the Polychronicon the existence of these passages is maintained and Stukeley in his Itinerary supports this hypothesis. Mr Pennant however seems to doubt the fact but without giving satisfactory reasons for his opinion beyond this that he had never been able to discover any of these hollow ways. Upon application to an intelligent gentleman for information on the subject of the Lamb Row and the passage found under it I received the following account which I give in that gentleman's own words:
- "I have been informed that the building was formerly the residence of one of the celebrated Randle Holmes as a slight corroboration of which I found a stone in one of the walls: inscribed HRM1609 and it appears by the corporation books that on the 10th January 1667 Randle Holme was fined 3 6s 8d for contemptuously proceeding with his building in Bridge street contrary to Mr Mayor's command This I suppose was the young Randle Holme and one would incline to believe that the order applied to some alteration at the Lamb Row as none but an antiquarian would have put together such an heterogenous jumble of antiquity as it presented at the time it fell and the tremendous overhanging of the upper story fully justified the infliction of a penalty even in those times when deformity and obstruction seemed to be the order of the day The present building is retired from its original front about eleven feet and the overhanging projected into Bridge street upwards of ten feet more in some parts making a projection of 21 feet from the present site a fact which we can hardly reconcile to credibility though so recently witnessed The old building formed a square with an area of about 14 feet by 30 in the centre partly galleried round and on the north side was a large room open to the roof with an immense fire place It had undergone the vicissitudes of a private house an inn a chapel a theatre a mart for the sale of Welsh salt butter a leather maket a currier's workshop and a common lodging house besides the various occupants of the ground story in retail shops It is not possible now to say at what period the old wood building was erected as I fancy it must have been of a date nearly a century antecedent to that inscribed on the stone before alluded to but previous to that erection there had evidently been a stone building on the spot of considerable magnitude probably connected with the adjacent church as in enlarging the cellars we came to the foundation of a stone pillar about four feet high and five feet in diameter covered over with rubbish and unattached to any walls of the building though nearly in the centre of it There is a singular excavation running through the whole building to the extent of upwards of 100 feet and not terminating at either extremity of the premises It is perhaps a branch of one of those subterraneous ways alluded to in our ancient histories it is uniformly through its whole extent about five feet wide and 16 feet deep in the rock as I have ascertained with iron rods and in one place where I had the curiosity to sink to the bottom I found it filled with soil and at the depth of eight feet it appeared to have been boarded across with three inch oak plank dividing it into an upper and lower road each eight feet high The direction of it is nearly due east and west rather inclining to the left of the line of Cuppin street and at intervals there are small square enlargements as if intended to admit a passing It would be gratifying to curiosity to trace this road or aqueduct which could be done particularly at the east end where the ground is not high above the rock at a trifling expence with a common iron rod if permission could be obtained where it was necessary for there can be no doubt but such an excavation must have been intended for some public purpose the nature of which by following the direction of it some distance might possibly be pretty accurately surmized"
Old Lamb Row was a tumbledown wreck of a building and eventually colllapsed, fortunately without injury. Hughes appreciates the comedy value:
- Just behind where we have been standing is a curious relic of the timber architecture of Chester the Falcon Inn A few yards higher up than the Falcon the street was for nearly two centuries blocked up by a strange looking timber building erected by Randle Holme in 1655 called the Old Lamb Bow While this house was in being it was the greatest curiosity of its kind in the city but in 1821 the decaying timbers suddenly parted from their bearings and the entire pile fell in with a great crash to the unspeakable relief of the pent up thoroughfare but to the great chagrin and regret of the antiquary.
Hemingway describes events as follows (finding an opportunity to complain):
- The accompanying sketch of this old structure will convey a better idea of its dangerous and dilapidated state than any written description by which it will be seen that the upper part overhung the base and bent forward in an alarming position In May 1821 Time the slow but certain conqueror of all human skill with an invisible hand touched the edifice and the whole front of the upper apartments with the fore part of the roof fell suddenly into the street Although this happened while several of the inmates were in the interior and at the noon time of day when many persons were walking to and fro in the street not the slightest injury was sustained by any one The ruins and the ground on which they stood were purchased by Edward Roberts Esq who built several good shops upon the site but it will be a subject of lasting regret that some amicable arrangements were not come to for these buildings being thrown further back so as to widen the street which in this part is the narrowest and most inconvenient.
The most detailed account of Lamb Row comes from The Gentleman's Magazine, and Historical Chronicle, Volume 94, Part 2 (1824) in which is written:
- We are now arrived to the period of its fall which happened in 1821. It took place in the afternoon the projecting portion at the South end where the four quatrefoils are seen in the engraving suddenly gave way and tumbled into the street with a loud crash. An immense volume of dust rose from the ruins and it was some time before the bystanders could ascertain what damage was done. Happily no injury was sustained by the inhabitants. An old woman named Sarah Adams was sitting in the upper room at the moment the over hanging roof bore down the trembling building beneath the wall, if such it may be called, of the apartment separated within six inches of a chair on which she was seated and she fortunately escaped, had she removed that distance further she would inevitably have been precipitated into the street. Although the Lamb row projected so fearfully it was thought by some able builders to be perfectly safe and likely to remain a century to come .One of its late proprietors was decidedly of this opinion and answered all observations on its insecurity by saying "it will last longer than thou wilt". A short time proved his remark ill founded.
Randle Holme I (c1571-1655)
The first of the four Cheshire antiquaries and heralds who bore this distinctive name, was the fourth son of Thomas Holme, and, as he is described as "dying in the eighty-fourth year of his age" in 1655, was probably born about the year 1571; but the existing registers of St Michael's do not begin so early. He took up the trade of an arms-painter, and was enrolled as a member of the Company of "the Painters, Glaziers, Embroiderers, and Stationers" of Chester, of whom not only he, but his son, grandson, and great-grandson were all distinguished and influential members. He was apprenticed on the 10th January, 1587, to Thomas Chaloner, of Chester, arms-painter (and a distinguished antiquary and herald), for the term of ten years, and some eleven years later married his master’s widow Elizabeth, the daughter of Thomas Alcock, of Chester. By this marriage he succeeded to the papers of his wife’s late husband, and it is very probable that the possession of these collections led to his taking up the study of genealogy and family history as a profession, in conjunction with his other business as an arms-painter.
The four crafts of Painters, Glaziers, Embroiderers, and Stationers developed in the early 16th century. The painters were heraldic painters: the glaziers catered for the growing use of glass; the embroiderers embellished materials and the stationers were concerned with bookbinding and book selling. In 1534, members of these crafts successfully petitioned the Mayor, Aldermen and Common Council for a charter of incorporation. In their petition, they cited their long association with the production of ‘The Shepherd’s Offering’ in the Chester cycle of Mystery Plays.
In March, 1600-1, William Segar, "Norroy king of arms", appointed “Randall Holme resident in the citty of Chester” as his deputy, to keep a “regester booke of Funeralls” in the counties of Chester, Lancaster and North Wales,” wherein “I will that he shall truelie enter, from time to time, the Armes and Creastes, Match, issue and decease of all such persons of Coate Armor and worship as it shall please God to call out of this transitory life, and shall receave worshipfull enterment according to their estates and degrees.” He was also to demand and collect the “due fees” as stated in the schedule to his appointment, and "to account for the same to the said Norroy king of arms". This appointment was confirmed by Richard St. George, Norroy, on the 20th May, 1606.
In October, 1615, Holme I was elected one of the two sheriffs of Chester, and in 1622 he rebuilt or enlarged his house at the Bridge Street end of Castle Street. This is now the "Olde Kings Head" named after Charles I. During the 1620s and 30s, Randle exchanged letters with the College of Arms in which he explained the problems he was having in obtaining the necessary fees from the gentry and of unlicensed painters offering to arrange funerals and to paint heraldic decorations for them at a reduced rate, thus undercutting the College’s fees. On one occasion, about November 1630, he wrote to Sir Gilbert Houghton of Houghton Towers, Lancashire, requesting that he send his father’s funeral certificate and the appropriate fee of £6, 13s and 4d forthwith or else find himself in danger of appearing in the Earl Marshal’s court. Likewise, in March 1637/8 he wrote to a Mrs Mainwaring desiring her husband’s certificate and the fee of £3 6s 8d. This amount was due to the College of Arms because he had been a gentlemen buried with an armorial display, had the funeral not had such a display the fee would have been £2. In this letter he complains that the shields of arms had been prepared by a man named Dutton, when it ought to have been his business as a Deputy herald to have done them and he intended to take action against Dutton.
Charles I was an almost bankrupt monarch. A large fiscal deficit had arisen in the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I. There was little financial capacity for Charles I to wage wars overseas. Throughout his reign Charles was obliged to rely primarily on volunteer forces for defence and on diplomatic efforts to support his sister, Elizabeth, and his foreign policy objective for the restoration of the Palatinate. England was still the least taxed country in Europe, with no official excise and no regular direct taxation. In 1625 Holmes was one of those in the city of Chester who were asked to contribute to the exchequer of Charles I, the "loan" as it was termed, demanded from him being £10. Holmes preserved a note of the “privy seal” sent to him about this loan, which reads as follows:
- To our Trusty and well beloved Randle Holmes of Chester, gent. By the King. Trusty and welbeloved having observed in the presidents and customs of former tymes that the Kings and Queens of this our Realm upon extraordinary occasions have used to resort to those contributions which arise from the generallity of subjects or to the private helpe of some well affected by way of loane ec, the sumrae which we require is ten pounds, the person to collect it is Sir Georg Booth Knt and Bart, with promise to repay it within 18 months &c. Given under our privy seale at Hampton Court 19 November in the first yeare of our reigne, 1625.
To raise revenue without reconvening Parliament, Charles I resurrected an all-but-forgotten law called the "Distraint of Knighthood", in abeyance for over a century, which required any man who earned £40 or more from land each year to present himself at the king's coronation to be knighted. Relying on this old statute, Charles fined individuals who had failed to attend his coronation in 1626. A copy of the receipt given to him by Sir George Booth, is preserved in Harl. MS. 2022, as follows:
- Com. Cest. 15 Oct. Ano. R. R. Caroli Angl’ &c Ano 1631. Received this day and yeare above saide of Randle Holme cittizen and Alderman of the said citty the sume of ten pounds. And is in discharge of a composition made with myselfe and other his Majesties Commissioners for his contempt in not attending and receiving the order of Knighthood at his highness Coronation according to the law in that case provided. I say rec the sume of £10 by me G Booth
During the Civil War, when Chester was besieged by the parliamentary army, Holme "was living at his ancestors' house in Bridge Street". Some sources state that the house had come to him on the death of his elder brothers, but this does not fit with information from deeds/leases. For twenty years he had not been twenty miles from home, as a rupture made travelling painful; besides, departure from the city would have necessitated ‘great loss of his estate.’ Throughout the siege he was ‘well affected’ to the parliament. Sir William Brereton looked upon him as ‘a friend of trust’ and set him at work, so soon as the parliamentary forces had entered the city, to superintend the repair of breaches in the walls. He took the national covenant and negative oath on 5 April 1645, and was afterwards placed by the parliament in the commission of the peace. A nephew, Thomas Alcock, officiously took upon himself, on pretence of ‘tender care’ for his uncle, and of a fear that he had committed some act which might render him liable to sequestration, to arrange that Holme should pay a composition fine of 160l. for his property. The fine was not paid. Holme died, after suffering heavy pecuniary loss, in January 1655, aged 84, and was buried at St. Mary-on-the-Hill, Chester.
Holme's apprentices included the painter John Souch.
Randle Holme II (c1601–1659)
Randle Holme (II) the second of that name, was, the second son of his father by his first wife, and was baptized at St Mary on the Hill, on the 15th July, 1601. He followed his father’s business of a “painter” and was also a partner with him in his official duties in connection with the Heralds’ College. On the 29th September, 1625, he married Katherine, eldest daughter of Matthew Ellis, of Overleigh (see; Cowper), gentleman, by whom he had a family of three sons and five daughters. After the death of his first wife he married secondly, in September, 1643, Elizabeth, daughter of Thomas Dodd, of Chester, and the relict of Samuel Martin, of Chester, merchant, but had no issue by her.
In 1633–4 (during his father's mayoralty) he was sheriff of Chester, and ten years later was himself mayor. On 1 Jan. 1644 his name occurs in the king's commission (Harl MS 2002)) dated from Oxford, directing the seizure of the rebels' goods in Chester:
- "the Commission of King Charles I., empowering Randolph Holme, Mayor of Chester, Sir Robert Brerewood knt., Recorder, Sir Orlando Bridgeman knt, Attorney of his Court of Wards and Liveries and Vice Chamberlain of Chester, NicholasInce, Richard Dutton, Charles Walley, Randulph olme senior, Colonel Francis Gamull and Thomas Thorp Aldermen of the said city, to seize upon the effects of absent rebels, within the city of Chester, or within five miles of it. Dated at Oxford 1 Jan.19 Charles [1643-4]"
After the surrender of the city to the parliamentarians, an order, dated at Westminster 1 Oct. 1646, directed his removal from the office of alderman. In 1655 (soon after his father's death) he petitioned Cromwell to remit the unpaid fine of £160 levied on his father through the intermeddling of his cousin Thomas Alcock (see above).
An aside: the Phoenix
Also known as: "King Charles' Tower", this north-east corner tower was probably built in the 13th Century origin, was altered in 1613, damaged 1644-6 during the Civil War, largely rebuilt 1658 and during the 18th Century (around 1773), and repaired thereafter (by 1838, the tower was described as being in a dilapidated condition), most recently in 2012. Above the doorway to the lower chamber the carved phoenix dated 1613 is the emblem of the City Guild of Painters, Glaziers, Embroiderers and Stationers who occupied the tower as a meeting place. The fourth stage has a boarded door and four 3-light casements leaded with octagonal and lozenge panes. A plaque above the door states that King Charles stood on the tower on 24th September 1645 to see his army defeated at Rowton Moor. Above the plaque is a second carved stone phoenix (there is a third carved phoenix inside).
Garter King of Arms, A. Colin Cole, gave an address on 27th May 1986 in which he describes the origins of the arms of the London Painters Company in 1486. The granting "King of Arms" was Sir Thomas Holme, Clarenceux King of Arms. From the similarity of the coats of arms of this much earlier Holme and the later Holmes' in Chester there may be a relationship (or evidence for a heraldic pun). Cole writes:
- "Azure - The Shield is blue, the colour of the sky, of the heavens, coming from the Arabic “lazura”, Persian “lazurd”, Italian “azurro” and in French “azur”; combined with gold for the chevron and phoenix heads, the effect is rich indeed and suitably inspiring to a Painter in the exercise of his art: blue being the colour, which according to the old writers “sheweth the bearer to be of goodly disposition and in renowne to the end of the world. Phoenix Heads - The chevron divides the shield nicely into three portions, into which the phoenix heads neatly go. The chevron appears more often than the cross in heraldry, having this useful characteristic of partitioning the somewhat awkward shape of a Shield so as to make it tractable and the better to accommodate the emblems with which it is combined.. The phoenix, a mythical creature, consecrated to the sun, is much rarer than the chevron but with the latter, three phoenix heads make a unique and lovely composition. Clarenceux Holme knew what he was doing. Why the phoenix heads however‘? The simple reason is that legendarily this mystic bird is ablaze with colour, hence suitable for Painters, apart from its religious signiﬁcance, as typifying the Resurrection and symbolizing heavenly and earthly love."
It may be a simple co-incidence that the Phoenix was chosen as the symbol of the London painters (in 1486) by a Holme and that the date (1613) on the Chester Phoenix is the same year that Randle Holme (I) was granted similar arms to the earlier Holme. It is worth noting that the earlier Holme was not, in fact, the first person to associate the phoenix with printers. Giovanni Giolito was using it as a printers mark in 1539. The stone on the Phoenix Tower appears to have been made and set in place around 1658 (the year Oliver Cromwell died). Wenceslaus Hollar's etching of Sir William Dugdale of Blyth Hall in 1656 already shows the phoenix emblem.
Randle Holme III (1627–1700)
In November 1664 he was appointed by Charles II "sewer of the chamber in extraordinary, in consideration of his losses". As such he was given freedom from arrest and exemption from serving on juries or from holding public office. So, although, like his father and grandfather, he held the official post of Deputy Herald for Cheshire, Lancashire and North Wales, he never held civic office in Chester.
Like his father and grandfather, he was an heraldic painter, professional genealogist, and acted as deputy Garter for Cheshire, Shropshire, Lancashire, and North Wales. His conduct in office appears, in the new Norroy King of Arms (1660–77) Sir William Dugdale's opinion, to have been irregular. In 1638 through the influence of his friends Dugdale was created a pursuivant of arms extraordinary by the name of Blanch Lyon, and in 1639 he was promoted to the office of Rouge Croix Pursuivant of Arms in Ordinary. The accommodation in the College of Arms and the income from his post enabled him to pursue his research in London. According to his later account, in 1641 Sir Christopher Hatton, foreseeing the war and dreading the ruin and spoliation of the Church, commissioned him to make exact drafts of all the monuments in Westminster Abbey and the principal churches in England. In June 1642 he was summoned with the other heralds to attend the king at York. When war broke out Charles deputed him to summon the castles of Banbury and Warwick to surrender. He witnessed the battle of Edgehill, and later returned with a surveyor to make a survey of the battlefield. He arrived in Oxford with the king in November 1642 and he was admitted MA of the University. He worked as a bureaucrat in the royalist capital, especially after December 1643 when Hatton was appointed Comptroller of the Household. In 1644 the king appointed him Chester Herald of Arms in Ordinary. During his leisure at Oxford he collected material at the Bodleian Library and college libraries for his books. It was during these years that he met Elias Ashmole, who later became his son-in-law. Following the surrender of Oxford in 1646 Dugdale returned to Blyth Hall and compounded for his estates under the terms of the Oxford articles. Hatton, who had opposed the surrender, went into exile in France, where Dugdale visited him in 1648. He recommenced his antiquarian researches, collaborating with Roger Dodsworth on the Monasticon Anglicanum, the first volume of which was published in 1655. In the following year he published his own Antiquities of Warwickshire, which was soon recognised as a model county history. In this work he was one of the first to consider the significance of stone tools, stating these were "weapons used by the Britons before the art of making arms of brass or iron was known". At the Restoration Dugdale obtained the office of Norroy King of Arms through the influence of the Earl of Clarendon. In the office of Norroy he undertook heraldic visitations of the counties north of the Trent. In 1677 he was knighted and promoted to the office of Garter Principal King of Arms, which he held until his death. In his last years he wrote an account of his life at the request of Anthony Wood.
In December 1661 Randle wrote to Dugdale on behalf of a ‘Gentlewoman liveinge in Chester’ of an illegitimate line of the Aldersey family, who was about to be married. Being of an illegitimate line her father’s arms had been marked with a baton and, as such a mark would be an embarrassment, he asked whether the colours of the arms and crest could be altered and all other marks of cadency or illegitimacy be removed. He suggested that the leopards’ faces on the shield be changed from green to blue and the crest from red to blue and that a form of words accompany the approval to suggest that the grant had been made be to Thomas Aldersey, Alderman of Chester. He forwarded £5 as a ‘reward’ for this his ‘first fruites of my endeavours for the advance of the Credit of the Office’. Some have seen this as an inducement, although a fee would normally have been due for such a service in any event. In a post script Randle added that he had been in correspondence with another alderman’s son whose great grand father had been base born and was endeavouring to amend his coat of arms for a cost of at least £10, but as the young man could only offer £5, Holme wished to know if that amount would be acceptable to Dugdale.
Dugdale has a roundabout connection with Chester in that he was portrayed in a 1656 etching by Wenceslaus Hollar who produced Hollar's Map of Chester in the 1660's. Hollar's etching of Dugdale shows him surrounded by coats of arms and piles of apparently ancient documents.
In 1668 Dugdale—who in his diary contemptuously refers to him as ‘Holmes the paynter’—caused him to be indicted for illegally marshalling the funeral of Sir Ralph Assheton: or, as Dugdale puts it having
- boldly invaded the Office of him the said Norroy, by preparing achievements for the funeral of Sir Raphe Ashton of Middleton, Kt
Randle Holme II and Randle Holme III each had the misfortune to succeed his father during the Commonwealth, in 1654/55 and 1659 respectively. He was tried at the Stafford assizes and fined £20. Holme may well have been appointed deputy by one of the Commonwealth Norroys, William Ryley or George Owen, whose acts as such were now declared void. Dugdale’s pursuit included forays into the north to destroy Holme’s monuments, but fortunately several of them still survive. Also, it seems Randle had been arranging funerals for the gentry and painted their memorials without recourse to London and sending the appropriate fee of £40.
There is no evidence to suggest that Dugdale's clear dislike of Randle (III) was in any way due to Randle's use of the phoenix symbol in relation to the Chester Painters and Stationers, but it is possible that there my be more to the Hollar/Dugdale/Holme story than has been recorded. The co-incidences are as follows:
- In 1486, the phoenix was chosen as the symbol of the London painters by an apparently unrelated Holme;
- In 1613 (the date on the Chester Phoenix) Randle Holme (I) was granted similar arms to the earlier Holme;
- In 1656, Dugdale is portrayed by Hollar, together with phoenix symbol;
- In 1658, the stone on the Phoenix Tower appears to have been made and set in place on instructions by Holme (III) - the year Oliver Cromwell died.
- 1660-1665, Hollar draws his map of Chester, with Holme's house given special prominence;
- In 1668, Dugdale—who in his diary contemptuously refers to him as ‘Holmes the paynter’—caused him to be indicted for illegally marshalling a funeral;
Another possible area of contention between Dugdale and Holme may have arisen in 1659 when Sir Philip Mainwaring (great-uncle to Thomas Mainwaring, see Amicia) proposed that Dugdale should write a county history of Cheshire along the lines of his successful publication on Warwickshire which had been published in 1656 and was highly succcessful. This proposal reflected the interests and concerns of Mainwaring, his relatives and wider circle during the troubled 1640s and 1650s. Those who regarded themselves as the rightful governors of the county had been profoundly disturbed by a series of challenges to their status and authority during the Civil War and its aftermath. The projected county history, intended to be richly illustrated with engravings of coats of arms and funeral monuments, would have emphasised the elite families’ claim to be the county’s legitimate governors. In the event, Dugdale’s ‘History of Cheshire’ was never written, but if it had been Holmes and Dugdale may well have viewed each other as competitors for being "the only source of truth" about antiquarian matters in Cheshire.
Randle (III) was the principal contributor to the Holme collection of manuscripts. He was the author of a work—now exceedingly rare—entitled: "The Academy of Armory, or a storehouse of Armory and Blazon containing the several variety of created beings and how borne in Coats of Arms, both Foreign and Domestic, with the Instruments used in all Trades and Sciences, together with their terms of Art," printed for the author at Chester in 1688, in three books, ending with an address to the reader promising a fourth book.
Randle III married three times. First, in 1655, he married Sarah Soley from Forton, Shropshire, by whom he had a son and four daughters before she died ten years later. Next, he married Elizabeth Wilson of Chester by whom he had seven sons and two daughters. Lastly, he married Anne Birkenhead. Randle III died on 12 March 1699/1700 and was buried at St Mary’s three days later.
Randle Holme IV (c1659–1707)
Son of the foregoing, continued the family collections of manuscripts to 1704. He married Margaret, daughter of Griffith Lloyd of Llanarmon, co. Denbigh. He died and was buried at Chester in 1707.
The Holme collection of manuscripts, chiefly consisting of heraldic and genealogical memoranda connected with Cheshire and North Wales, in 260 volumes, were, after the fourth Randle Holmes's death, purchased by Francis Gastrell, bishop of Chester, acting in behalf of Robert Harley, first earl of Oxford. In 1753 they were sold to the British Museum trustees, and are now stored as numbered Harleian Manuscripts 1920–2180.
Sources and Links
- Earwaker, J. P., (1891). The four Randle Holmes, of Chester, antiquaries, heralds, and genealogists, c 1571 to 1707. Journal of the Chester Archaeological Society 4. Vol 4, pp. 113-170.
- The life, diary, and correspondence of Sir William Dugdale ... : with an appendix, containing an account of his published works, an index to his manuscript collections, copies of monumental inscriptions to the memory of the Dugdale family, and heraldic grants and pedigrees
- Squibb, G. D., (1969). The Deputy Heralds of Chester. Journal of the Chester Archaeological Society 56. Vol 56, pp. 23-36.
- Printers and Stationers of Chester;
- Cheshire and Lancashire Funeral Certificates A.D. 1600 TO 1678. Edited by John Paul Rylands. First Published in 1882 - reprinted 2018;