Life of Our Patron
The patron of our College was born in 1541 in the parish of Acton near Nantwich in Cheshire. His father was the Church of England vicar of Acton. Thomas became a tutor to Sir James Scudamore, teaching the two Scudamore sons at their manor house at Holm Lacy in Hereford.
In 1579 Thomas met another tutor, Richard Davies, who was also a priest in disguise. Father Richard worked as a tutor during the day, but secretly at night worked as a priest. Thomas Holford and Richard Davies became close friends and soon after Thomas was received into the Catholic Church.
In 1582 Thomas had a vocation from God and decided to become a Catholic priest. However, in England during the 16th Century it was impossible to study for the priesthood. The government of Queen Elizabeth I declared all Catholic priests to be traitors who should be put to death if they continued to practice the Catholic faith. Thomas had to travel to Reims, near Paris in France where he trained to become a priest at the English Missionary College. He was ordained a Catholic priest on 7th April 1583 at the age of 42 and celebrated his first Mass on 21st April.
Soon after Thomas’ ordination, he returned to England to work secretly as a priest. He knew that by doing this he was risking his life, yet his faith was so strong that he felt he had to do this. The Crown had priest hunters and spies everywhere, ready and waiting to arrest any Catholic priests they found.
In 1584 Father Thomas Holford visited his old friend Father Richard Davies at Oxendon Manor, Harrow on the Hill, near London, the home of Richard Bellamy. While there, a spy informed the priest hunters that two Catholic priests were present. Luckily they were fortunate to escape capture by using a specially built tunnel which most Catholic families had constructed so priests could escape.
After this narrow escape, Father Thomas returned to his new home near Nantwich. However, being his hometown, he was very well known in that area and it was not long before he was arrested while carrying out his work as a priest. After interrogation by the Church of England Bishop of Chester he was sent to London for trial in May 1585.
On reaching London, the guards who were accompanying Thomas went into an Inn before taking Father Thomas to prison. The guards lost track of time and became completely drunk. Thomas took this opportunity to make his escape. He put a yellow stocking and a white stocking on each leg. This made him look like a lunatic and with people trying to avoid this ‘mad man’ he managed to slip out of London.
He walked barefoot through the countryside to Oxendon Manor where the Bellamy daughters tended to his bleeding feet. After this second escape he went to Gloucester where no one knew him. There he spent three years as a tutor by day and secretly a priest by night.
In 1588 he travelled to London to buy some clothes. Whilst there he said Mass at the home of the tailor, Mr Swithin Wells near to Holborn. During mass he was surprised by priest hunters, arrested and taken to Newgate Prison. He was tried at the Old Bailey and convicted of treason, a crime punishable by death. On 28th August 1588 he was hanged at Clerkenwell.
In 1896 Thomas Holford was beatified, (declared ‘Blessed’) by Pope Leo XIII hence the name of our College ‘Blessed Thomas Holford’.
The life of our college patron show that he was very courageous and not afraid to do what was right, however difficult that may be. May we as members of Blessed Thomas Holford Catholic College always have the confidence to follow his example.