Famous People from the Isle of Ely

Holcroft, Francis (1633-1692)

First founder of churches on congregational principles. He was a fellow of Clare College, Cambridge, who had lion-like courage and was the first founder of churches on congregational principles. The words 'Apostle of Cambridgeshire' are on his tombstone. In 1655 he accepted the 'living' at Bassingbourn and conducted the church on congregational lines, holding to the doctrine of the gathered church.

In 1660 he lost the 'living' at Bassingbourn. Oliver Cromwell had been against the Established church, and whilst he was Lord Protector of England the nonconformists gained precedence in the University. Shortly after Cromwell died, Charles II was restored to the throne, who was a Catholic and he restored 'the Rights of the Established Churches' in 1660. (Holcroft lost his position within Cambridge University, which was linked with being the Vicar at Bassingbourn).

In 1662 he was officially silenced under the 'Act of Uniformity' and in 1663 he was imprisoned in Cambridge Castle for preaching at Great Eversden. He was sentenced to leave the country by exile or suffer death as a felon. A friendly gaoler let him out to preach in Eversden Woods and in Barns at Willingham, Cottenham, Haddenham, Orwell, Histon, Quy and Milton. He established thirty churches in South Cambs alone, even though most of the time he and Joseph Oddy were imprisoned in Cambridge Castle. There is a plaque to Holcroft in Eversden Village Hall, but all reference to him has been deleted from the church records at Bassingbourn - a solemn covenant was made with right hands raised.

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