West Yorkshire market town of Pontefract
 
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Pontefract Memories and Recollections

ONE MAN IN HIS TIME


A SHORT AUTOBIOGRAPHY

by FRANK H. W. HOLMES

1981

When, rather late in my life, I set down a few recollections of my boyhood, I was surprised (and flattered) to find how interesting some people seemed to find them. A little later I recorded something of my experiences during the Kaiser’s war, and still more of my friends and acquaintances showed even more interest in these.

Now, on the eve of my Diamond Wedding Anniversary, the time seems to have come when I should put together a little summary of the events (such as they have been) in which I have been involved.

For almost all of my life I have been known as FRANK HUBERT WORRALL HOLMES, but it was not until I took out an insurance soon after leaving school that I discovered my birth certificate recorded me as ‘Frank Hubert Holmes’. My curiosity aroused, I found that the ‘Worrall’ (my mother’s maiden name) had been added unofficially by my parents, and so it has stayed.

I was born on March 3rd 1897 at Walsall, Staffs, where my father was in charge of a local newspaper, widening his experience. We moved within about three months to Pontefract, so that my grandfather, Richard Holmes, the historian, could retire and hand over to his fifth son, Oswald, my father.

In due course I was enrolled on September 16th 1904, at the King’s School, then in Back Northgate, and remained a pupil there until July 29th 1911, after which I attended evening school (in the same premises) for a year or two.

Immediately after I left school I went full time into the family business of printing and stationery, with a local newspaper, The Pontefract Advertiser. I was already familiar with what went on, for I had spent many hours in the works – not only in my school holidays.

Having progressed from pedal cycling to motor-cycling, I read the motor-cycling journals and from them I learned early in the Kaiser’s war of a call for young men with motor-cycling experience to serve as dispatch riders. Already I saw that it was almost certain I should sooner or later be required for national service and I decided that dispatch riding would suit me better than any other branch.

Accordingly, when the war, which had commenced on 4th August 1914, was but eight months old, I enlisted (a year under the minimum enlistment age) at Sheffield in the 2nd line of the 49th (West Riding) Royal Engineers Signal Company. This 2nd line subsequently became the 62nd Division, and with it I served in several parts of England, France (from the first week of 1917), Belgium (merely passing through), and Germany. I was awarded a Military Medal in 1918, and after seven months in Germany in June 1919, I came home via the Rhine, Holland, Harwich and Ripon.

I re-entered at once the family business, which Richard Holmes had acquired in June 1862, when it was already nearly a century old, and had amongst its former owners George Fox, also a historian.

On 1st September 1920 my father retired from printing and passed it over to me, and I ran it for nearly forty-two years. The Advertiser had been suspended in 1918 when my father (although Mayor of Pontefract at the time and really over military age) responded to Haigh’s "backs to the wall" call by joining the Army Service Corps as a Private.

I resumed publication of The Advertiser on 4th September 1920 but eventually had to give it up, and on 4th February 1937 sold the copyright to the Pontefract and Castleford Express – our much more powerful competitor.

Meantime, on my father’s death in 1929, my brother Gurnie had assumed his freelance journalistic connection, but when he entered the Probation Service in 1941 I took over the connection with the press photography which he had added. This I continued until 31st May 1946.

At the end of June 1962 I retired entirely from business and passed the firm to my son John, who is the fourth Holmes to head it, taking over exactly a century after the first Holmes came in.

It has been said that a journalist comes to know less and less about more and more until he knows almost nothing about nearly everything. My hobbies, though few, have been very varied. I have laid concrete and flags, and built in brick and timber, with a little dry-stone walling. It is possible that I have planted, lopped, or felled more trees in my own ground (the Priory Wood) than any other non-professional woodsman. For many years my Christmas greetings have included a light-hearted verse, sometimes personal, sometimes more widely topical.

I was a Sidesman at Pontefract Parish Church from 1930 to 1939, a Churchwarden from 1939 to 1943 and a member of the Church Council from 1930 to 1951.

When Pontefract Music Festival was established in 1903, my father was its first (joint) Hon. Secretary, and I was entrusted with programme selling in the Assembly Room. The movement was suspended in both the recent wars, and in April 1948 I was appointed Hon. Secretary to the committee which organised its revival. I remained Hon. Secretary until June 1955 and had another spell in that office from September 1962 to June 1966 when I was made Chairman, finally retiring in June 1976.

In 1965 I was a founder member of Pontefract Local History Society and chairman from 1967 to 1982. In this capacity – and as a member of Pontefract Archaeological Society, it is perhaps appropriate that I should have lived (since December 1929) in a building (The Priory and The Priory House, 5 and 7 Wakefield Road) which incorporates what may probably be the oldest dwelling house in Pontefract.

My affairs were disorganised in December 1950, and in June and August 1951, by operations at Pontefract General Infirmary for osteomyelitis; and by surgery at Leeds General Infirmary in December 1954 and January 1955 involving total cystectomy – from which I have been blessed with an unusually long survival.

It was on 14th June 1921 at Pontefract Parish Church that I married Miss Doris Maude Clarke, only daughter of Mr. Edmund H. Clarke, sales manager for Glass Houghton Colliery, who lived at Thornycroft, Halfpenny Lane, which went on to be the Coal Industry Social Welfare Institution.

During the then recent war, Miss Clarke, whom I had known since our teens, had been a member of Queen Mary’s Sewing Guild, and then a V.A.D. hospital worker at Darrington Hall. She had a spell in Somerset as a voluntary mobile flax picker, and her activity in Hitler’s war was well indicated when she answered her call-up by producing the dozen ration books for which she had responsibility. She was one of the founders of Pontefract Townswomen’s Guild and remains a member at the time of writing this article.

We have one daughter, Joyce, wife of Mr. D. A. Harvey, a concrete company manager, of Bardsey; and one son John, the printer. We have one grandson, four granddaughter’s, and two great-grandson’s.

It is likely that I have had more contacts with Courts of Justice than falls to most people. Whilst still a very young schoolboy I frequently collected at the Courthouse door my father’s reports and put them on a train at Monkhill Station, for the Leeds evening papers.

Immediately on leaving school, I myself began reporting proceedings in the Magistrates Courts, the Borough Quarter Sessions, the County Court inquests, the Police Court Mission, an enquiry into electricity charges, and a wartime gathering of pigeon fanciers organised for emergency communications.

I was once a member of a Grand Jury (one of the last before such bodies were abolished) and once foreman of a Petty Jury. In the Magistrates Court I presented an appeal on behalf of my father’s executors against an order by the Borough Council to provide a fire escape. I was successful, but the order was upheld when the Council took the matter to the Quarter Sessions. The only effect was that we moved out the tenants and sold the building (which still has no fire escape).

In the County Court (again unassisted) I won an appeal against an order by the Borough Council requiring me to close three ancient almshouses – which I transformed into two comfortable flats (largely by my own hands).

Also in the County Court (unassisted) I succeeded in a debt claim against a prominent Magistrate, but lost when I disputed a claim by a builder.

Recently, again conducting my own case, after nine appearances in the Magistrates Court and the Crown Court, I succeeded in bringing about the quashing of an order by the County Council which would have involved me in work to make safe a roadside cliff at a cost of several thousand pounds, even though I had contended all along that it was not my responsibility – a contention which the Judge accepted.

Football, cricket, racing, bingo, pools and the like have always left me cold. In my teens I swam with Pontefract Water Polo Club, and not only have I sailed my toy home-made boats across Pontefract Park lake, but have rowed on it, skated on it and swum in it.

It was in 1938 that I joined the Air Raid Precautions Organisation, taking up first-aid, and in the same year, by my recollections of first war experience, I began digging a shelter in the Priory Wood. The site proved unsatisfactory and I abandoned it. In the spring of 1939 I commenced operations nearer to the house, but soon reached hard rock. Hand work was useless, so after much enquiry, I organised conversion of a Jowett van to serve as an air compressor, procured an air-pick, and (with a negligible amount of assistance, all voluntary) ultimately attained a shelter with fifteen steps down from the surface, eleven more in a second flight, and a passage twenty feet long at the bottom, all of it in rock and not less than six feet high. It is still there today.

In early boyhood I commenced drawing up a family tree which now, very much augmented and several times re-written, extends to twenty sheets, covering about 48 square feet. Based almost entirely on the works of grandfather Richard Holmes, I wrote a condensed history of Pontefract Castle and I have addressed many local bodies on Pontefract’s history.

Frank H.W. Holmes, 1981.


Further reading from Frank Holmes:

Recollections of Pontefract Part One
Recollections of Pontefract Part Two
Recollections of Pontefract Part Three
2352 Sapper Frank H.W. Holmes


 

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