“Holt lions, Farndon bears
Churton greyhounds and Aldford hares”
(J.C. Bridge no.190, page 73)
Joseph Bridge devotes over a page to the content of this very local proverb, but he focuses exclusively on the Holt lions and by the end of it neither he or I are any the wiser about what the bears, greyhounds and hares refer to, or what the overall meaning might be.
Holt was originally in Cheshire, an English borough in Wales, so although it was the only of the villages to the west of the Dee, it was not entirely the odd one out in this list of local place-names.
Previous writers suggested that the Holt Lions might refer to Roman tile and pottery works to the north of Holt. John Ray’s A Collection of English Proverbs (1670), quoted in Bridge (p.x) provides a plausible if completely unverifiable example: “I conjecture that the Roman name had been Castra Legionis, and the Welsh Castell Lleon, or the Castle of the Legion; Because it was garrisoned by a detachment of the Legion at Chester. The English borderers might easily mistake Lleon for the plural of Llew, which signifies a lion, and so call it the Castle of Lions.” Bridge provides a convincing list of references that associate the two during the Middle Ages. The Reverend R.H. Morris’s The Diocesan of History 1895 reinforces this message, saying that as late as the Elizabethan period the alternative name, Castrum Leonum or Castle of Lions was in general use and that its seal incorporated a Lion Rampant, suggesting that there was a heraldic link between Holt and lions.
None of this, however, accounts for the greyhounds, bears and hares, although Latham speculates that these too might have been associated with family coats of arms, now lost. I originally wondered if the Churton greyhounds might refer to the hounds shown on Aldford road and house signs, but only a few of those are in Churton and are, anyway, much later in date. Latham adds “It can be said in support of this suggestion however that the base of the font in Holt church, which dates from 1490, includes what appear to be carvings of all these
creatures. This was examined by Mr. E. E. Dorling in 1908, and his findings were published in Vol. 24 of the Transactions of the Historical Soc. of Lanes. & Cheshire. He mentions a hart’s (not a hares) head with reference to the house of Stanley, and considers that the collared hound sitting in a panel on the font is ‘none other but the greyhound badge of King Henry VII’.”
Any ideas? If you have more information, please get in touch.
For more about this Cheshire Proverbs series, see Cheshire Proverbs 1.
Bridge, J.C. 1917. Proverbs, sayings and rhymes connected with the city and county palatine of Chester. Phillipson and Golder.
Latham, F.A. 1981. Farndon. The History of a Cheshire Village. Local History Group