Holme Village

Holme Village, pop.approx 700, found East on the B660 off the old A1, formerly The Great North Road, a small village surrounded by rich agricultural land on the edge of what was once the Whittlesey Mere.

The Holme sign depicts Agriculture, The Holme Post, the Wells family crest and the Fenland Ark, all of which will be explained in the text below.

The village was once owned by the ‘Cotton’ family and was later inherited by the first William Wells in 1752.

Holmewood Hall was inherited by William Wells in 1826, the grandson of Admiral Thomas Wells. The Hall was rebuilt by William jnr, in 1874, designed in the Tudor Gothic style. William was also responsible for draining much of the fens around Holme, he was a keen agriculturalist.

Holmewood Hall had an interesting past, as well as being the home for William and his wife Lady Louisa he died in 1889, the Hall and 6,000 acre estate were brought by a local landowner Lord de Ramsey who in turn sold it to John Ashton Fielden in 1901. Fielden left much of the estate, after his death in 1942 to various hospital funds, the Hall was passed to the Crown Estates when the National Health Service was formed. The current owners are the British Sugar Corporation.

During World War II the Hall played an important role by being used by the OSS (United States Office of Strategic Services) for packing airborne containers to be parachuted into occupied Europe, and was called Area H. It was even used by Agents prior to departing on their secret missions. Many parts of the packing buildings remain in the area around Holmewood.

Holmewood was an area, again used during World War II, where Nissan Huts were constructed by the U.S. Army Eighth Air Force, 1st Air Division 94th Combat Wing, to provide accommodation for military personnel and after the War converted into ‘Bungalows’ by the Council for use of local families. This area was affectionally known as ‘The Camp’, the children who lived in Holmewood had many adventures among the remaining military buildings. The Guard house, at the entrance to Holmewood was turned into a small shop.

At the heart of the village is the church of St Giles built in 1862 replacing an earlier one with the same dedication. It has a bell-cote containing 2 bells, which date from the previous church. On the small green outside the church stands the village sign showing a man leading a horse towing a boat. This boat dates from Victorian and early Edwardian times and is famous in the area as being called the Floating Church of Holme (The Fenland Ark). It was the idea of the Revd. G Broke the rector of Holme and sanctioned by the Bishop of Ely in the 1890’s the purpose being that it could get to the areas of the fens which were difficult to reach to allow the dwellers who lived there to worship. The boat was dedicated in April 1897, it had no bell but displayed 2 flags, one the flag of St George and one of St Andrew, these flags could be seen for miles in the flat lands of the fens. Between April 1897 and 1904, 74 baptisms took place and a special card was issued to those baptised . The Boat was 30 feet long and about 10 feet wide, it boasted an alter, font and cross apart from a lectern which doubled as a pulpit and a harmonium, it could accommodate up to 50 worshippers, several large windows could be opened outwards to allow the people on the banks of the river to hear the service.

A choir was made up from three families along with bible classes and needlework lessons for the girls.

Opposite the church is the Primary school, a modern extension built on the original house and classrooms. Until approx 1963/64 children of all ages attended the school. When the Sawtry Village College was built, the Holme School converted to a primary school . A plaque, dated 1891, on the wall of the existing building states that a School Van was started by William Wells of Holme in 1877 to carry the ‘little fen children’ to and fro school in the winter months. Lady Louisa Wells, anxious that it be continued in her husband’s memory,  bequeathed the required sum of money for this purpose.

Halfway along Church Street is the War Memorial which stands in front of The Reading Room. This building was once used as the school canteen and a shop, the original purpose of the building, as the name suggests, was possibly a small library.

At one time the Post Office and Village shop were separate buildings, but were amalgamated many years ago, unfortunately in these modern times the Post Office has closed but the shop remains set back from a small green on which stands a second Holme sign and an original road sign showing directions to nearby villages.

Further on from the village shop is an area called Pingle Bank, a road leading to the old Glatton Airfield, home to the 457th Bombardment Group (H) Glatton Station 130 during the 2nd World War. Locals tell of watching the planes take off and waiting many hours to watch them come home again after another mission. The Airfield is now the Peterborough Business Airfield, and is used by light aircraft and hosts display events.

On the corner of Pingle Bank is a large white house which was formerly a public house called The Railway Arms, now a family home, beside Pingle Bank is the Pig and Whistle yard, where the coal merchant stored his coal, and from where he loaded the sacks and delivered to local homes, he also had a small shop where you could get your cycle mended and buy soft drinks.

Also in this area used to be a Blacksmith shop and at the back of the former public house was the village bowling green. Further along on Station Road, set back off the road surrounded by trees to provide a peaceful setting is the village Cemetery.

Just before the Holme Railway crossing is the public house, The Admiral Wells, named after the former owner of Holmewood Hall, the pub sign showing a dashing figure of the Admiral. Inside the public house are photos of activity at the Airbase, the planes used during the war and of the local Home Guard, bringing back many memories of the war years.

Before the closure of many railway lines, Holme had a station on the main Edinburgh to Kings Cross line, where locals would catch the train to Peterborough or to Ramsey which was run on a little branch line running across the fens. During World War II the sidings were used for military transportation of goods for the airbase and Holmewood Hall. There was once a footbridge over the main tracks, a popular place for train spotting and watching the steam trains puffing their way to London or Edinburgh, many a child going home covered in black sooty smuts after a busy day playing on the bridge. Cottages where the station workers lived remain today beside the track and along Yaxley Road.

There was no purpose built Doctors Surgery in the village, so a Doctor would come once or twice a week and hold surgery in a designated house, the patients would sit in the occupants living room and wait to be called into the ‘front room’ to see the Doctor. A good excuse for a  gossip and catch up on local news.

Holme Fen, which lies east of the village hosts the ‘Holme Post’, a post which was originally driven into the peat and cut level with the ground to measure the shrinkage of the peat due to the drainage of the fens. This post was inserted in 1851, and a few years later was replaced by a cast iron one. In 1957 steel guys were added to stabilise it and this post still stands today marking the impressive shrinkage of the peat.