The Guild of St Catherine
Holsworthy's Mediaeval Guild
Take a look at the long brown sandstone building, nestling between ‘Food-On-The-Go’ and the estate agent. Built in 1863 - by Mr S Hooper of Hatherleigh – as the town’s first Police Station, the land on which it stands has a much longer history.
On the site, for centuries, there stood the town’s Guild House. Dedicated to St Catherine, otherwise known as St Catherine of the Wheel, (from whom we get the name of our fireworks) the Guild might have been connected with the Royal Chapel of St Katherine by the Tower, London, where the bodies of John Holland once Lord of the Manor of Holsworthy (died 1447), and his wife are buried.
For most, the founding of a private Chantry was far too expensive, but the desire to have masses said for people's souls after death was, nevertheless, popular. In consequence, many joined religious guilds, such as that at Holsworthy.
A cross between a social club and a friendly society, members paid a fee, often giving a gift of property (St Catherine’s Guild owned land in Chilsworthy, Soldon and Holsworthy); in return the Guild employed a Chantry priest to say masses for the souls of its members at the Guild Altar in the Church
Although we have no date for the institution of the Guild, we know it was well established by as early as 1418 (when it received a gift of two bullocks, two cows and twelve sheep from Thomas Raymond ‘to maintain his own obit’). Masses at the altar of St Catherine in the church ceased in about 1540 and the guild was abolished in 1547 by King Henry VIII.
The building remained tied to the church for many years, and later appears to have become a private dwelling - in 1610 Nicholas Prideaux (Lord of the Manor) granted a lease of the house, on the understanding that the tenant undertake to repair the church roof.
Finally, the building became the town poor house – or ‘mumper’s lodge’ (mumper – beggar) - in which guise it continued until the 1830’s when it was replaced by the Union Workhouse at Dawfield.
Demolished in the 1840’s the vacant plot was purchased in 1857 by the newly-formed Devon County Constabulary who, six years later, built the building that we see today.
S. P. Dymond
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