Oxford Inscriptions: Catholic Martyrs, Holywell

Catholic Martyrs, Holywell

Near this spot





were executed for their
Catholic Faith
5 July 1589


This plaque was erected in October 2008
on the outside wall of 100 Holywell Street
(the nearest house to Holywell Gallows)

These four men are also included on
a plaque commemorating all the martyrs of the Reformation (both Roman Catholic and Protestant) erected inside the University Church on 19 June 2008

All four men named on this plaque were Roman Catholics living in Oxford: the first two were priests, and the second two laymen. Here are brief details on their backgrounds:

  • George Nichols was born at Oxford in 1550 and was a student at Brasenose College. After working as Usher (teacher) at St Paul's School in London, in 1853 he was ordained a Roman Catholic priest at Reims in France. He was sent on a Roman Catholic mission the same year and converted many people to the Roman Catholic faith including a convicted highwayman at Oxford.
    See his Wikipedia entry and Catholic Encyclopaedia entry
  • Richard Yaxley was born in Boston, Lincolnshire. In 1585 he too was ordained a Roman Catholic priest at Reims and left for England on 28 January 1585/6.
  • Thomas Belson was born at Brill in Buckinghamshire, and Nichols was his confessor.
    See his Catholic Encyclopaedia entry
  • Humphrey Pritchard was a Welsh servant at the Catherine Wheel Inn.

The four men were arrested at the Catherine Wheel Inn in Magdalen Street. (Owned by Balliol College, this inn was opposite the east side of St Mary Magdalen Church, and was demolished in two stages in 1720 and 1826 to expand their college.)

Initially all four were sent to the Bridewell Prison in London, but the two priests were later moved: Nichols to the Tower of London, and Yaxley to the Gatehouse. On 30 June 1589 all four were ordered back from London to Oxford for their trial. The priests were condemned for treason, and the laymen for felony, and they were executed at the Holywell Gallows. The heads of the priests were set up at Oxford Castle, and their quarters on the four city gates.

In 1610 another famous Roman Catholic martyr, George Napier, was also executed in Oxford, this time at the Castle Gallows, and he has a separate plaque there.

The site of the Holywell Gallows is marked on this 1876 map, outside the city wall at the point where Broad Street, Longwall Street, and St Cross Road meet:


Stephanie Jenkins, 2013