Holcroft, Francis (DNB00)

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HOLCROFT, FRANCIS (1629?–1693), puritan divine, is said to have been the son of a knight, perhaps Sir Henry Holcroft, and to have been born at West Ham in Essex. Tillotson, afterwards archbishop of Canterbury, was his ‘chamber-fellow’ at Clare Hall, Cambridge, about 1650. While at Cambridge he embraced puritan principles, and became a communicant with the congregation of Mr. Jephcot at Swaffham Priors. He graduated M.A., was elected fellow of his college, took holy orders, and for some years voluntarily supplied the parish of Litlington, Cambridgeshire. About 1655 he accepted the living of Bassingbourne, Cambridgeshire, where he was a successful preacher, and, was assisted by the Rev. Joseph Oddy, fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge. Holcroft eventually formed a church on congregational principles, and, after being ejected in 1662 from Bassingbourne, became a bitter opponent of episcopalianism. After his ejectment he formed his late parishioners into congregations at convenient centres, and acted as their minister, with the assistance of Oddy and S. Corbyn, both ejected fellows of Trinity College, Cambridge, who were appointed at a general meeting at Eversden. In 1663 Holcroft was imprisoned in Cambridge gaol, by order of Sir Thomas Chickley, for illegal preaching, but he was occasionally allowed by the warder to visit his congregations. At the assizes he was sentenced to abjure the realm, but on the Earl of Anglesea representing his case to Charles II he was allowed to remain in gaol. He was released at the Declaration of Indulgence in 1672, returned to his labours, and was again imprisoned. By means of a writ of certiorari he was removed as an insolvent debtor to the Fleet prison, London, and frequently preached there to large crowds of people. On discharging his debts he was released. During both these imprisonments he experienced much kindness from Tillotson. Until 1689 Holcroft took general charge of a number of congregations in Cambridgeshire and the adjoining counties. Soon after 1689 his health gave way, and he became a prey to melancholy, ‘which was promoted by grief for the headiness of some of his people, who turned preachers, or encouraged such as did so.’ His organization quickly came to grief, and he died on 6 Jan. 1692–3 at Triplow, Cambridgeshire, where he was buried. The inscription on his tombstone gives his age as fifty-nine, but a funeral sermon says he was in his sixty-third year. He left ‘a small estate’ to the poor of his congregations, and a piece of ground at Oakington for a burial-place. Calamy states that there is scarcely a village in Cambridgeshire in which Holcroft did not preach, and he was generally considered to have been the chief promoter of independency in that county. He wrote a tract called ‘A Word to the Saints from the Watch Tower,’ 1688. It appears to have been written while he was in Cambridge gaol.

[Palmer's Nonconformist's Memorial, i. 259; Wilson's Dissenting Churches, iv. 412; Walker's Sufferings of the Clergy, pt. ii. p. 143; Calamy's Baxter, ii. 86.]

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