Holbeach Church, Lincolnshire

This handsome 14th Century church was built partly with the stones of Thomas de Moulton’s 13th Century Castle which stood close by. It has an unusual “double porch” but is otherwise yet another of Lincolnshire’s many handsome Decorated-style churches.

More interesting than the fairly normal history of the church is the story of The Holbeach Card Players. In either 1783 or 1800 (depending on which of the many versions you believe) a bunch of four men left a hard drinking session at the nearby Chequers Inn and broke into the church, playing whist on the altar and fooling around with a corpse awaiting burial.

There are various versions to believe, but the most vivid is perhaps the tale of a man seeing a light in the church, peering through and seeing the four with the corpse propped up in a chair all apparently playing whist together. Eliza Cook, a poetess, goes one step further and has the revellers digging the body up from the churchyard – but this seems to be a case of literal poetic licence.

Cook also probably stretches the truth when she has one of the three struck dead when the church clock chimes one. The truth is no one knows and it seems likely that the four men just ambled off drunkenly with very bad hangovers the following day. One of the four, Dr. Watson, committed suicide in 1803 by slitting his wrists and so was denied burial in the very church where the revel had taken place.

Another tale, slightly less likely, dates to the early 1800s when yet another bunch of drunks dismantled a friend’s wagon in the town and rebuilt it atop the north aisle roof of the church.

All of these goings on in this quiet and isolated little Lincolnshire village point to a time when it was not as quiet hereabouts as it is today!

Photo - Andrew J. Müller

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