Gervase Hollies and the saving of the Taylboys record

I have a passion for family history, and this is aided and supported by one of my other passions: books. I love books, old, new, hardback or paperback, pristine from the publisher or worn over centuries of handling. I do also love the internet, and its ability to find things quickly, but even after 20 years online, I often find things in my thousands of books, which I have been unable to find online.

One example of this is a little book I found in a second hand shop in Horncastle on wet afternoon. I invariably search the local studies section in any bookshop in Lincolnshire, because I am fascinated by the history of the county I live in. (It’s actually on offer at the Lincoln Cathedral Bookshop at the moment.)

The Ivor Taillebois Dynasty – Raithby Old Churchyard, by Dennis L. Armstrong, is a fascinating book, all the more fascinating if you happen to be researching Taillebois, Taylboys or any of the variants. I have one Taillebois in my family tree, but I bought the book for its story of the miraculous saving of the Taylboys history by Gervase Hollies in the 1630s, as the author mentions in the introduction: “It was as if he anticipated the desecration and damage that would be carried out by the Parliamentarians when they came into power.”

Gervase Hollies meticulously recorded the armorial information, family trees and other historic information for the Taillebois or Taylboys (or a lot of other variants) family, which has its roots in Ivo or Ivor Taillebois, who led the army for William I, the Conqueror.  He visited churches all over Lincolnshire, recording the armorial coats of arms in them for all the families he could find.

The Raithby Old Churchyard of the title is not a churchyard with monuments and records, however, it’s a little green triangle of land which Dennis Armstrong and friends have protected against development and farming, because they believed it to be of historic significance.  And it appears that this land was once the Tailboyes Chapel, and may be the burial ground for 550 years of Taylboys, Taillebois or Tailboyes family members.

Put Gervase Hollies into google, even with the addition of “Raithby” and you get two entries, one a property for sale, and another a reference to a book about the memorials of the Hollies family. Searching like a family historian always should, the differential spelling of “Holles” will pull up a Wikipedia entry that gives a very short entry on the man, and dozens of property for sale posts on Zoopla and Right Move for Gervase Holles Way in Grimsby.

For a family historian, the biggest achievement of Gervase Holles or Hollies’ life is that he went around Lincolnshire before the civil war in the 1630s, recording the information that was available in churches – in the stained glass, murals, monuments and other decorative records, making detailed charts, painting the armorial records, saving the information for posterity. As Mr Armstrong says, it was almost as if he knew that in the midst of the Civil War in England, those records would be destroyed as puritans took the opportunity to vandalise the things they considered idolatry and vanity in the churches.

The Cromwell Association are inclined to blame the destruction on military need during the war, when churches were commandeered for their clear view of the countryside, and the wilful vandalism of the average parliamentarian recruit, and to point to the much more widespread destruction which occurred during the reformation, when Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries and rejection of the Catholic church caused many wonderful mediaeval churches to be destroyed.  Indeed, in the case of the Tailboyes’ chapel, it seems that it was already a ruin in the 1630s when Gervase Hollese surveyed the land, and this may have been caused by the earlier catastrophe, not by the Civil War.  But the genealogical and armorial information that Gervase was able to record in the 1630s elsewhere for the Taillebois families and others, certainly became a victim of the Civil war.

The originals of the Gervase Holles survey are in the British Museum; there are copies in the Lincoln Cathedral Library. You won’t find anything on the British Museum website about it. This little book gives you so much more, with information from not just the Raithby Old Churchyard but also genealogies for the Taillebois family and the history of Hundleby Wood Hill. It contains maps, inventories, wills, it’s a collection and an account of the author’s searches for information and it deserves a wider readership. And the prescience of Gervase Hollies or Holles deserves to be wider known as well.

It’s also information which is not to be found on the internet at the moment. Both Gervase Holles or Hollies and Dennis L. Armstrong epitomise the spirit that infects all our researches – the desire to discover and preserve information for future generations. It isn’t yet a part of our digitized world.

I couldn’t find a photograph to illustrate this story related to the Tailboyes, and so the picture shows Lincoln Cathedral, which I will blog about in the near future, and where copies of Gervase Holles’ survey of Lincolnshire churches may be found in the library.

2 thoughts on “Gervase Hollies and the saving of the Taylboys record

  1. Good Morning I was out walking my dogs this morning not always keeping to the footpath and noticed a small white a4 piece of paper that was washed out the I noticed another one with the history of this pocket of land that is over grown with blackthorn. This type of history should be kept to make people aware of local family’s and the history other wise this could be ploughed by mistake (?)

  2. I was delighted to read your article on Gervase Hollies and the saving of the Tallebois records. I am Dennis Armstrong’s daughter. He passed away in October 2018 and I am saddened that I am not able to read your report to him but I know how pleased he would be that interest in The Old Churchyard/Quaker Burial Ground and all its history is being continued – it was a labour of love for him and he passionately hoped that his contribution would keep it alive and save the little patch of hallowed ground from ever been ploughed up and forgotten.
    I am still getting enquiries for copies of his book. I donated many of them to Lincoln Cathedral and Jews’ Court bookshop in the hope that the information will continue to circulate to younger generations.
    Thank you so much for your very positive contribution towards keeping it alive.

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