Holcombe Old Church
A mile from its village down a farm track through fields, Holcombe Old Church is set beautifully against a backdrop of tall trees, with the great Abbey of Downside towering beyond.
The church is in a tranquil setting surrounded by a peaceful church yard containing a memorial to Antarctic explorer Robert Falcon Scott whose father ran a brewery in the village. The churchyard also has a tragic grave memorial to five children who perished in 1899 when ice gave way on a local pond.
The original village surrounding the church was abandoned and buried during the Great Plague (1665–1666) and the mounds in the fields around the church bear testament to this. A local myth is that the rhyme Ring a Ring o’ Roses began here.
This small, atmospheric church is of late Saxon/Norman origin and was rebuilt in C16th.
The nave has a delightful pre-ecclesiology feel with flagstone floors, plastered walls and wagon roof, Georgian box pews, Jacobean pulpit, C18th western gallery, hat pegs and Royal Arms dated 1726. The chancel roof and most of its furnishings are C19th and include choir stalls, altar rails and altar table.
Although dedicated to St Andrew the church is called Holcombe Old Church to distinguish it from the parish church of St Andrew’s in Holcombe village. It became a Redundant church in 1985 and was adopted by The Churches Conservation Trust in 1987.
Since being a location in the TV series Poldark, Holcombe Old Church has experienced an uptick in visitors.
As well as some pipistrelles, which roost in the porch without causing any problems, the church shelters a small number of lesser horseshoe bats, thought to be a satellite of a much larger colony centred on nearby Downside Abbey.
A number of years ago the lesser horseshoes moved from the tower, where their presence was barely noticed, into the chancel, gaining access under the main door of the church where the doorstep has been worn down by footfall over many centuries.
Covers were draped over the choir stalls and altar, but bat droppings and urine stains were scattered throughout the church. A “bat nappy” in the chancel roof caught some of the droppings and urine.
Working collaboratively with the Bats in Churches project, The CCT and ecologists from ecological consultancy Country Contracts enhanced the tower space as a roosting site and opened up bat access to the nave roof void, accessible from the tower, to provide a free flying access and additional roost space for the lesser horseshoes.
Once the bats were using these areas of the church, the bat access point under the door was blocked and the bat nappy and covers in the chancel removed. This work, done under licence from Natural England, was completed in October 2023.
The church continues to provide a safe haven for the lesser horseshoes in the tower and roof void. A bespoke interpretation board tells the story of the church bats.
In May 2022 children from Bishop Henderson Primary School visited to learn all about bats in churches, the wonderful world of bats, why bats roost in churches, and the work of the project.