HOLMES PRINTERS, PONTEFRACT
by JEAN NORFOLK
I was fifteen-years-old I started work as an office junior / shop
assistant from Mr. F.H.W. Holmes, printer and stationer at 13 Gillygate,
office was on the third floor of the building and the shop was at street
level. I must have run up and down that couple of flights of stairs
hundreds, if not thousands of times whenever the shop doorbell rang to
signal the arrival of a customer or company representative. Hardly a day
passed by then without a visit from some salesman or other hoping to
extract an order from Mr. Holmes.
when another assistant was taken on, I spent more time in other parts of
the building whilst the new arrival worked in the shop. During my time
there the shop assistants came and went. I made friends with Marina
Jarvis from Featherstone, who stayed a few months then left to work
elsewhere. Our friendship endured for many years until sadly she died. I
still keep in contact with her husband Les occasionally.
assistants I remember were Myra Beanland from Pontefract and Esther
Greenhalg from Badsworth. A very pretty young woman named Valerie
Sheldon also worked in the shop for a few months. A local artist who
lived in Horsefair or thereabouts, obviously smitten by her good looks,
asked if he could paint her portrait. She agreed and although I never
saw the finished painting, I often wonder if it was ever finished, and
what happened to it. I can’t recall the artists name but I believe his
Christian name was Ken.
those days a large part of Mr. Holmes day would be spent on the top
floor which was two floors above the office. He spent hours seated in
front of the keyboard of a huge linotype machine preparing copy for
printing. Wearing a fawn coloured smock to protect his suit he would be
typing away totally oblivious to what was happening in other parts of
the building because of the terrific din emanating from the machine. If
he was ever wanted either in the shop or on the telephone, I had to run
up to the top floor and give him a tap on his arm and then yell in his
ear to make myself heard.
toilets were in the cellar which also housed the coke-fired boiler that
heated the radiators throughout the building.
to most folk it would have appeared to be a rather drab and dingy place
to work, in the few years I spent there I gained a wealth of knowledge
in a hug variety of subjects. Working there was far from dull, and Mr.
Holmes was a brilliant man who genuinely loved sharing his wealth of
expertise. To me, a naïve fifteen-year-old, he was a never-ending
source of wisdom and information. He taught me to type on a huge old
Remington typewriter and soon I was allowed to type out the many
accounts that went out to customers in those days for printing work.
from his love of life and the pleasure he got from passing on what he
had learned however, Mr. Holmes was a very canny man when it came to
saving the odd bob or two! Nowadays there is an ever increasing
awareness of the need to re-cycle and protect our environment and
rightly so, but I was made aware of these issues by Mr. Holmes – a
very forward thinking man – over fifty years ago.
whatsoever was ever wasted. Whenever he received mail through the post,
each envelope was carefully opened and then kept for re-use.
Consequently all the accounts I had typed out for customers would be
delivered in used envelopes!
paper wrapping from huge bales of paper and card in the printing room
was carefully folded ready to be used either for customers orders, or to
wrap item sold in the shop. Everything that could be salvaged for re-use
was kept even though the items concerned were kept as stock items. If it
had a use it was kept. I don’t ever remember using a new box of paper
clips or rubber bands, there was always an abundance of second hand
ones! Mr. Holmes wasn’t a miser, he just hated unnecessary waste.
can still remember his generosity to me at Christmas. He called me into
the office on my first Christmas there and presented me with £10 and a
big bag of toffees. I was speechless – ten pounds in those days
represented a months wages for me.
week he would read the Pontefract and Castleford Express from cover to
cover, then it was carefully folded and placed on a shelf in the
printing room with the dozens of copies from weeks and years earlier.
All were filed neatly in date order, some yellowing with age, so that if
he ever needed to look anything up he knew exactly where it was. He was
an agent for the ‘Yorkshire Post’, the ‘Yorkshire Evening Post’,
‘Yorkshire Evening News’ and the ‘Pontefract and Castleford
Express’. I accepted many advertisements from customers, mostly
obituaries or items for sale, and in return Mr. Holmes was paid
commission for them. I was taught what to look for in an Obituary notice
for example, and I remember being ‘told off’ in a small way once
when I accepted one that failed to include the deceased persons age. If
the advertisement was for the Pontefract & Castleford Express, I
would be sent to their offices in Front Street and always reminded by
Mr. Holmes "Don’t forget the Commission.
year he was elected Secretary for the Pontefract & District Musical
Festival, and the stock room/ print room over the shop was used to store
all the cups, banners and trophies that were presented to competition
winners. I helped to carry them all across to the Town Hall in time for
the festival. In those days, Gallons the grocers occupied the shop at
the top of Gillygate and at the side of the shop was a footpath and
passage that led to the rear entrance of Holmes Printers. It was mainly
used for deliveries of paper and card which was very heavy and bulky,
but it simplified the task of transporting all the Festival prizes
across to the Town Hall.
day he told me to close the shop and accompany him to see the
Proclamation for our present Queen being delivered from the balcony of
the Town Hall. "It will probably be the last one I will see,"
he said wryly.
shop sold every conceivable thing you could imagine. Stationery of every
description from brown business envelopes in boxes of thousands, to
Basildon Bond for the private letter writer. Pens, pencils, erasers,
office supplies, duplicators, Remington, Underwood and Olympia
typewriters and many more. Ledgers, account books for every trade from
milkmen to hairdressers. Typing paper, greeting cards (Holmes was still
known locally for having a large and varied selection of cards for every
occasion) Pillars and cake boards for wedding cakes, birthday cake
candles and decorations, confetti, soaps, toiletries, toothpaste and
brushes. The list of stock items was endless and new items were
constantly being added.
firm named Sadler’s from Leeds, supplied us with games and novelties,
playing cards, canasta, dominoes etc., and anything else that appealed
to Mr. Holmes.
lady who lived near Ferrybridge Church, who was a dressmaker, came into
the shop regularly to stock up on Blackmore sewing patterns; I never
knew her name.
got lots of young boys in the shop too who would spend ages poring over
the very comprehensive range of foreign stamps that Holmes stocked. Half
an hour looking at stamps at Holmes’ was a popular after-school
activity in those days, even if you didn’t actually buy any.
Holmes also ran a flourishing lending library and customers paid
threepence a week to borrow a book. One day I remarked that some of the
books were a bit old and tatty and suggested getting out some of the new
ones that were packed away upstairs but he wouldn’t hear of it. I
believe they were still there some years later when I left.
of the shops in Gillygate were owned by him in those days and I was
often sent to ask shopkeepers if they had a ‘message’ for Mr.
Holmes. I later discovered that I was in fact collecting the rents for
shop that sold groceries, sweets and fruit and vegetables was run by a
nice man called Mr. Garnham. Next to him was the toy shop run by the
William’s sisters and a shoe-repair shop was the domain of the Morley’s.
They dabbled in other things too and my friend Marina and I bought
tennis rackets there once, so that we could take tennis lessons in
door to Holmes was Mr. Welburn’s electrical shop, and further down the
street of course was Harker’s the Jewellers. Opposite Holes was ‘The
Playhouse’ cinema and I remember Maud (I never knew her surname) a
lovely lady who worked there for years would occasionally cross over the
road to give us a couple of free tickets for the latest film. Happy
shop opened at nine o’clock and I was given a key to the door almost
from my first day there. My first tasks were to mop the shop floor and
light the boiler in the cellar if it was cold. One morning I switched on
the light in the lobby at the top of the cellar steps and there was a
terrific bang and a flash, and the glass light shade shattered and fell
down in pieces around me. I had to wait an hour or so for Mr. Holmes to
arrive so that he could fix it. He never used outside tradesmen if he
could do a job himself!
cold weather he would come downstairs and stand in the shop with his
backside resting on the piping hot radiator, whilst he read his ‘Yorkshire
Post.’ I would be busy marking up newspapers and magazines for our
lovely lady named Miss Purchon who lived in Badsworth, came into
Pontefract once a week to do her shopping and pick up a copy of the ‘Christian
Herald.’ A young man named Mr. Mountain had a regular order for the
‘Musical Express’ and a motoring magazine. I remember seeing the
first copy of ‘The Eagle’ comic and recall a couple of customers who
bought it regularly for their children.
me it was a joy to be able to read all my favourite magazines ‘for
free’ when I had a few quiet moments to myself.
Holmes was a despatch rider during the First World War and I remember
seeing photographs of him with his motor-cycle in France.
the time I worked for him he was diagnosed with Osteomyelitis and had to
go into Pontefract General Infirmary for a chest operation. On his
return to work he proudly displayed photographs taken during the
operation. He had take them himself using mirrors!
was often sent across Market Place to G.T. Smith’s to pick up a
wholemeal loaf for him. Even then, years before ‘healthy eating’ was
promoted, Mr. Holmes would insist on wholemeal bread, never white.
even kept me informed on progress regarding his coffin! A huge tree had
been cut down in the garden of his home and he said the timber was
reserved to be made into his coffin when he eventually died. I wonder if
occasion I remember vividly is being taken to Mr. Holmes house after
work one day to meet his mother who was then in her nineties. She
possessed a very old bible which consequently had become rather the
worse for wear. Mr. Holmes had taught me book-binding and asked me to
re-cover the bible for his mother. I repaired the spine, secured all the
loose pages and added new fly-leaves. Then I covered it in black
leather. His mother was very pleased with the end-result, hence my being
taken to his home to meet her. She had insisted on thanking me in
met Mr. Holmes wife Doris on numerous occasions and also his daughter
Joyce, who at that time lived in Guernsey, although she visited
Pontefract fairly regularly. His son John eventually joined his father
in the business when he left the R.A.F. and I recall that on our first
meeting I sold him a Waterman’s fountain pen for 12/6d!
my mind I can still see the many drawers beneath the counter of that
lovely old shop, and if it were still there untouched by time I could go
directly to the drawer that held rulers or protractors, or the larger
drawers whose contents held such delight for little schoolboys –
remember the beautiful cards supplied by a firm named John Dickinson
(who still exist today, over fifty years later!) They always used real
photographs on their greeting cards and were truly exquisite.
Printers and Stationers was a household name in Pontefract then, and Mr.
Holmes was a very well known and respected figure in the town. A town he
loved very much. A keen historian, he wrte a small booklet entitled
"A History of Pontefract Castle" whilst I worked there. I
remember collating and stapling hundreds of copies together. I believe
it sold for two shillings or maybe half a crown. Do any still exist I
so glad that I was able to spend a few short years there, discovering
the secrets that were hidden away beneath the surface of this lovely old
building. I wonder if the windows in the printing room still bear the
signatures of past generations of the Holmes family? Scratched into the
glass they had remained undisturbed for many years before my arrival and
I was fascinated by them.
will always remember what I learnt there from Mr. Holmes. A man who was
always truly altruistic in his every thought and deed. A gentleman.
Further articles by Jean Norfolk:
M.L. Jennings, Ropergate
Tribute to Gillian Lesley