ONE MAN IN HIS TIME
A SHORT AUTOBIOGRAPHY
by FRANK H. W. HOLMES
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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).
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Pontefract Part One
Recollections of Pontefract Part Two
Recollections of Pontefract Part Three
2352 Sapper Frank H.W. Holmes