Denton a village in South Norfolk, England

Dorothy Holmes 1920 – 2001

From the Parish News – February 2002

17 May 1920 - 14 November 2001

Dorothy and Oliver Holmes came to retire to the "Old School" Denton in 1987, following their active life running a bakery business in Leatherhead, and in later years a fish restaurant in Welworth Road, London; "When her feet were led to Denton". Dot was soon taking an interest in village activities, regularly attending the fundraising events; she was a member of the Friendly Club and particularly enjoyed taking part in quiz events, when she was a valuable asset to any team.

Born in Alfreton, Derbyshire, a daughter of a coal miner who was a staunch Methodist, Dot experienced the "Great Depression" of the 1930s and gave an interesting account of this in an autobiography (See below) she wrote of her childhood. In later years she became a Quaker, and until recent years attended meetings in the area. She always had a ready sense of humour and quite a literary flair, which she used to compose some entertaining poems.

Dot was deeply affected by a series of events following the loss of her husband Oliver, when she had two robberies at her property, followed by a flood in the house which caused her great concern. The stress of this caused a recurrence of an illness she had five years previously. She died in All Hallows Hospital following treatment at the Norfolk and Norwich. Family and friends gathered at the Earlham Road Crematorium for the service, when the Minister read a humorous version of the "Ten Commandments" she had written, which brought a smile to the congregation.

Our sympathy and condolences are extended to her son Robert, and daughters Heather and Gillian and their families, as well as her dear friend Frances Durack.

In conclusion, the epitaph she wrote recently sums up in many ways her personality:

"The Tired Woman's Epitaph"
Here lies a poor woman who always was tired,
She lived in a house where no help was hired.
The last words she said were "Dear friends I am going
Where washing ain't wanted, nor sweeping, nor sewing;
And everything there is exact to my wishes,
For where folk don't eat, there's no washing of dishes.
In heaven loud anthems for ever are ringing,
But having no voice, I'll keep clear of the singing,
Don't mourn for me now, don't mourn for me never,
I'm going to do nothing for ever and ever."

The Life and Times of Dot Homes

This was published in the Parish News in March and April 2002.

I was born two years after the end of the Great War. The scars of that terrible conflict were everywhere - in the mourning clothes of the sorrowing, in the terrible hacking coughs of the men with "gas in their lungs", in the wrecks of men suffering from shell shock and in the empty sleeves and flapping trouser legs of the amputees. However, not all the amputations were the result of the war as ours was a mining town and the fall of roof or rock dealt mercilessly with human frailty.

All through the industrial north and midlands the non-conformists had taken a strong hold and our town boasted a number of tabernacles, citadels and chapels. The Church of England had of course been there for much longer, but class as well as a different form of religion separated the people. Most children attended Sunday School, the older ones then going on to morning service where the sermons could be long and tedious.

The highlight of the year was the Whitsuntide procession. The local farmers lent their drays and these were decorated to represent a biblical scene. There was great competition between the churches and for weeks the mothers were busy making decorations. On the great day the men took the drays down to the horse wash to be scrubbed clean with yard brooms, the local lads helped and everyone got very wet. Great ingenuity was shown in making the tableaux. Tea towels for head dresses and striped sheets for robes, cocoa and Vaseline mixed together to denote a dark skin! The whole town came out to watch as the procession made its way along the streets, collection boxes rattled for offerings for the local hospital (no Health Service then!).

I had not been attending school for long when the General Strike was called. The miners' slogan was "not an hour on the day, not a penny off the pay." The generosity of the "Quakers", shop keepers and some townsfolk made it possible to provide a meal for the children of the strikers, three times a week, but eventually lack of money, food and fuel made it impossible to carry on - the men had to return to work having achieved nothing.

It was a privilege to go to school as free schooling had not long been in existence. Long before we could recite the Lord's Prayer or the 23rd Psalm the most important commandment was engraved on our hearts "Learn All You Can!" Most of us were the children of the miners whilst at primary school and we would meet our dads on their way home from the pit. This was before amenities like pit baths were thought of and one day I was skipping along with my hand in a coal blackened one when a voice from behind said "don't you know you own Dad then?" (they all looked alike).

At eleven years old everyone took the "scholarship exam" but not all those eligible were able to take their place as there was no money for uniform, etc and they had to seek work of some kind to bring in a bit of money. Mothers would do washing, cleaning, ironing, etc to make a few extra shillings.

Times became even harder after the Wall Street Crash in America. Unemployment became rife and only a small amount of dole money was given out. I remember one poor harassed man angrily demanding from the dole clerk how he could feed his wife and children on the pittance he had been given. Against their better judgement many shopkeepers gave credit knowing they would never be repaid. Every scrap of food was put to good use and people went about begging. One woman told mother she wished she had the potatoes which, in better times, she would have put out for he hens.

Gradually things began to improve; the recovery began in the south and slowly moved northwards. The sound of the clacking mills, pit boots on cobbled streets and the steam whistles marking the end of shifts could be heard. In the north-east it was not so good and unemployed shipbuilders decided on their march to Westminster, known as "The Jarrow Marchers." In a wonderful feat of organisation they walked a certain distance each day and relied on the goodwill of local people to provide supper, bed, breakfast and sandwiches for the next day, everybody did their bit. During the march when the men reached a town where there was a co-operative shoe factory, the workers after doing their shift returned to work again to mend the boots of the marchers. At the end of the next day it must have been a weary band of men that trudged home. But the recovery had started and never since, thank God, has there been anything like the deprivation of those years.

It was in the mid-thirties when governments were talking of re-arming and the Peace Movement reached its zenith. To a nation remembering the slaughter of the First World War the thought of it happening again was too awful to contemplate. The leaders of the Peace Movement decided that a national canvass should be undertaken to ascertain how many people would sign up to a Peace Covenant. My mother, with her well honed sense of duty volunteered immediately. With mother's stern warning that I was not to repeat anything I heard in someone else's home, I listened avidly to all that was said. Tears rolled down wrinkled faces as parents told of the sons who should have been their stay in old age, but were now dead, and out came letters and photos sent home before they became just another casualty. One couple whose son, like his father had been an ostler in the pit spoke of the plight of the horses on the battlefield. Widows told of their struggle to bring up the family singlehandedly. One very pathetic couple told of their son, probably more sensitive than most, who after months of shelling had one day turned and run, only to be brought back by his own side, court-martialled and shot. In spite of their desperate desire for peace the nation was soon forced to re-arm. When war came we were dreadfully unprepared. After the war we all went our separate ways and the ties with our native town were all but severed.

Dot Holmes, 1997.

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