The 'Holliers' of St Mary's church tower

Where does the name it come from?

By Neil Fortey

Sergeant Arthur Bradshaw on point duty in Bottesford around 1950, with St Mary's tower and spire in the background. The term 'holliers' refers to the parapet at the top of the tower, surrounding the base of the spire.
St Mary's parish church depicted in a lino-cut print created by Bottesford School children in the 1930s.
In this old post card the parapet, or 'holliers', with pinnacles at its corners, surrounding the church tower, is seen clearly,
One of the 'views from Holliers' taken by Sgt Bradshaw, ca.1950.

Scenic photographs taken in the 1950s by the late Sergeant Arthur Bradshaw have been called the ‘views from the Holliers’, with the understanding that this term refered to the parapet around the top of the church tower. However, some have commented on this, saying they have never come across the usage despite living in Bottesford for many years. So where does the term come from?

As Mr Stuart Hollyer, of Denton, Lincs, pointed out to me, his is a well-established family surname. Mr Peter J Walker, in the Hollyer One-name Sudy gives two possible origins; (1) relating to Old English or Old French words meaning ‘Dweller by the holly tree’; (2) ‘dweller by the hole, cavity or hollow place’. He adds that the names Hollier and Ollier also occur in France, where they are probably indigenous.

A distinctive alternative has been given by Mrs Betty Friesse, from Grantham, who pointed out that the name ‘ollyards’ was also given to the area where tower and spire meet at St Wulfram’s in Grantham, and that it probably comes from medieval french. She says that her edition of Chambers Dictionary defines ‘holliers’ as being derived from medieval french and meaning a view point or look-out place, and she suggests that the term may have been given by medieval anglo-french church builders. St Mary’s is still the tallest building for miles around, and in the middle ages it would have been a prominent landmark to travellers making their way across the flat marshy lands of the Vale of Belvoir. St Wulfram’s is even taller, though its position surrounded by hills would perhaps have made it less of an “inland lighthouse”.

Another comparison might be with the middle french ‘oeillere’ (with a grave accent over the second ‘e’), meaning blinkers (as on a horse), or an eyebath. Could this suggest that the Holliers refers to the use of the tower as a signalling place, wherer a shutter was employed to produce an intermittent or flashing light.

A further comparison might be with ‘oeillade’, which Collins and other dictionaries define as ‘an amourous, suggestive or flirting glance: to ogle’. Shakespeare used the word, as in King Lear Act IV scene IV:

I know your lady does not love her husband.

I am sure of that, and at her late being here

She gave strange oeillades and most speaking looks

To noble Edmond.

This page was added on 10/01/2010.

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