Aylsham Local Meeting

Biddy Holman

These are the memories and tributes to Biddy's life, given at her memorial meeting.

1. Biddy's Early Life (Tim Holman)

Mum sometimes described herself as “an afterthought”.

She was born in 1929, 13 years after her older sister (who died in 1969) to parents who married in the early years of the 1914-18 war when my grandfather had already enlisted. Mum felt that, by her arrival, their marriage had deteriorated and possibly her conception had been an attempt to rekindle it. She said that if divorce had been easier in those days that might have helped them, but with her father the headmaster of a village C of E sponsored primary school in west Norfolk and her mother as his assistant both of them were likely in that event to lose their jobs.

Sometimes she spoke about her childhood in positive terms: there were trips in a pony and trap (but that was against a background of a TB infection from unpasteurised milk fresh off the farm), in either the Brownies or the Girl Guides she had been “Sixer of the Imps”, she had competed for her village school in the county athletics championships and could still remember the shouts of “Run, Biddy Plaice, run” in encouragement. With her mother as the youngest of twelve and her father as the oldest of a similar number (they were both from farming families), there were relatives throughout the surrounding area and big family get-togethers.

Yet there were also hints that childhood was a lonely and emotionally neglected experience.

By the time she went on to Grammar School at King's Lynn war had intervened again. Petrol shortages and lack of public transport meant that she had to cycle from Middleton and back every day and in all conditions. Please try to picture this next time you travel along that section of the A47.

Undoubted academic ability was mitigated by lack of application, perhaps lack of interest, and at the age of 16 she went off to Art School in Norwich and then at Hornsey in London. By chance, a history of the latter compiled by Clive Ashwin contains a photograph in which she features. She looks young, happy and pretty. I think these must have been among the happiest years of her life. She loved design and theatre; she was a talented amateur actor and singer.

After graduating with a qualification as an art teacher, she went to teach in the Medway towns in Kent. At the time she met my father through a theatre group there in 1953, her adventurous life was continuing and she was living with another teacher and her family in a barge on the River Medway itself, from which she had to be rowed ashore every morning to go to work. She was 6 years younger than my father and, unusually for the time, slightly taller but the mismatch obviously worked and they stayed together until parted by my father's death in 2008.

With marriage in 1954, as with women of her generation, work had to give way to domesticity. Children followed in 1957, 1959 and 1963 – all boys. How she would have loved a daughter! As with women of her generation, she followed my father as his career took him to different locations in Kent and then to North Yorkshire. In the early years of their marriage they joined the Society of Friends and were members of meetings in Maidstone and Ashford, then at Great Ayton and at Carperby in Wensleydale. When unable to pursue her career as a teacher, she ran successful nursery schools from the front rooms of her homes. In the case of one family, children's names were being put down for “Mrs Holman's” at the same time as they were for traditional public schools.

She continued to be dogged by occasional serious ill-health. Successive hip replacement operations in consecutive years around 1980 led to her separation from my father while he continued to teach at the Friends' School at Great Ayton and she attempted to run a village shop from the family home in Wensleydale. The separation did neither of them good and shortly afterwards my father took early retirement from teaching, only to emerge from that to accept the wardenship of Goat Lane.

2. Biddy and Peter in Norwich (Lucy Parker)

Biddy and Peter came to Norwich as wardens in the mid 80s. I remember Biddy telling me that she and Peter had had an agreement that if they spent their working life in Yorkshire, which was home for Peter, they would spend their retirement in Norfolk where Biddy had grown up.

My mother was clerk then. They came to replace Margaret and Donald Jones who had retired after many years as wardens at Goat Lane, so it was a hard act to follow in some ways, and Margaret in particular, found it quite hard to let go. She would follow Biddy around the Meeting House kitchen, just slightly changing what Biddy had just done. There were times when Biddy's smile was a little bit fixed, but she always understood why and never let her feelings show.

Peter was harder to get to know at the beginning, but very good at the practical side of wardening. Biddy was warm and friendly and welcoming. The Meeting greatly valued their enthusiasm and energy, and the new ideas they brought which enriched and enlivened the community of the Meeting. Such as the art exhibitions she organised, when we learnt about the unknown and sometimes unexpected talents amongst us.

They stayed for about 18 months, I think, and the bonds formed in that period were very strong, particularly perhaps for my mother and me, as well as others, as between the four of us, we had a lot of shared interests.

When they retired, the Meeting gave them garden chairs with other things for their new garden at their new home, and I remember them reclining in the Large Meeting House, at their retirement party, while my mother was formally thanking them for all they had brought to the Meeting.

They bought a house in Aylsham, but since there wasn't yet a meeting there, they continued to come into Norwich most Sundays.

Peter was PM clerk, and it became a tradition that they came to lunch with us on PM Sundays and often at other times.

Later Biddy became MM Clerk. Paddy Watkins became her co-clerk and they made a very successful team, working well together and balancing the aspects of the role to match their strengths.

3. Biddy and Aylsham Meeting (Wil Ching)

To speak about Biddy's life we have to start with Aylsham Meeting and the purchase of the Meeting house.

In the early days Aylsham did not have a Meeting House, people gathered at the Friend's World College, Bayfield house in Red Lion Street Aylsham, but the Meetings were not a recognised Meeting and the house closed a year later.

Following this, Meetings were held at Jane and Frank Nolan's house, at this time Biddy and Peter Holman who had been wardens at Norwich came to Aylsham. Already there, among others were Will and Valerie Ching , Pauline and Cliff Godbold, Jan and Tim Leadbeater, Rosemary Roth, Ralph and Winifred Harding.

The Meetings numbers grew and a larger meeting place was needed. The Friendship club was used but the chairs were too comfortable and people fell asleep around the hissing gas fire.

The Green Room at the Town Hall smelled of beer and cigarettes from the previous night and in summer with the windows open the noise of traffic and passers by was too much.

By this time the Meeting had grown large enough to warrant a Meeting House, so Peter Holman, Cliff Godbold and Will Ching set out to look for a suitable building, they were told by Mr Ducker that a building in Pegg's Yard could be suitable, and it was!

The building was purchased by the Area Meeting with generous donations from the local Friends as well as curtains, chairs, carpets, cupboards and crockery. The table in the middle of the room was given by the Holman Family

Biddy, Peter and Jan painted the walls ......sometimes not up to Peter's standards!

The history of the Meeting House is in the library.

At last the Meeting House was finished and three months after purchase the first Meeting was held here..... so you can understand how indebted we are to Peter and Biddy, and the first members for this beautiful building for worship.

Biddy was such a vibrant lady and one of many talents. She was such an asset to the Meeting as she held so many posts, supporting and nurturing the members.

As a clerk we felt we were in the presence of a good and weighty friend. Her minutes were written in her distinctive handwriting and were very concise.

When Biddy gave Ministry she often spoke about the world around us leading us to see things more clearly, she could be thought provoking and gave clear leadership and valuable help to new members.

As an Elder Biddy gained respect from everyone, she had very definite ideas on so many subjects, but was not dogmatic, she listened to other people's opinions and encouraged members, especially new ones to follow in the Quaker way.

Biddy and Peter lived happily in Manor Park Aylsham after moving from the Wardens House at Norwich. There were no happier times than when their children and grandchildren came to visit, they were all loved dearly.

Biddy had many interests, she loved nature and especially enjoyed her garden which was beautiful in all seasons, even creating a mini garden outside her room at the Manor. Her love of nature showed in her art work, as Biddy was a professional artist producing the most beautiful illustrations for books.

She also painted many pictures and often generously gave them to friends.

As well as this Biddy loved books, she was an avid reader, but this was not enough for this vibrant lady, she started a book club which ran for many years and opened the eyes of others to new and unusual books.

Sadly Peter died and Biddy became more infirm through arthritis, she could no longer manage her house, so she moved with her son Crispin to a small bungalow; here she had Meetings in her house and of course her beloved greyhound Goldie attended as well.

Eventually Biddy became too infirm to keep her bungalow and she moved to Aylsham Manor where she was looked after with care and respect, enjoying visits from friends, as well as gifts of grapes and chocolate which Clive brought making sure she was always well supplied.

We are indebted to Biddy for her hard work and loving care throughout her days at this Meeting House. She will be sadly missed but remembered with love.

Back to Aylsham