A VERY SPECIAL LADY
MRS MADGE HOLMAN
Recalled by JEAN NORFOLK
Having lived here all my life I know that my brief account about
a wonderful lady from Knottingley is typical of many such stories of
this lovely old town of ours.
We may not live in the most picturesque part of Yorkshire but what we
lack in visual beauty is more than compensated for by the richness in
character of it's inhabitants, both past and present. My story concerns
a very special lady who was well known and will almost certainly be
remembered by many Knottingley residents.
For some time now I have wanted to write about her because she made
such an enormous difference to my life when I was at my lowest ebb and
desperately in need of help. Her name was Mrs Madge Holman.
At that time I lived in Broomhill Square and Mrs Holman lived next door
to us, along with her husband Ned and her youngest son Geoff. Her eldest
son George then lived in Australia with his wife and family. Their daughter
Audrey (Greenwood) lived on Englands Lane, and still does. Jean, Mrs
Holman's adopted daughter, lived with her husband and three children
in Warren Avenue.
In 1966 people had very little money to spare but it was typical of
Mrs Holman when I received news that my husband had died to come straight
round to my house and press a £5 note into the palm of my hand - in
those days a very generous amount. I remember how she stayed with me
and took charge of everything - the welfare of my three children, the
funeral arrangements and the organising of a caterer to provide refreshments
after the funeral service. She sat up through the long dark nights with
me, chatting quietly whilst working on her crochet, and knitting, making
me endless cups of tea and trying to tempt me to eat her home baked
cakes and scones. I just wouldn't have known what to do if she hadn't
Later I was compelled to find a job because in those days a widow's
pension wasn't sufficient to live on and support three children. (It
was about £9 per week then). I started working part time at the newly
opened Knottingley High School for which I received a weekly pay cheque
of £4.2s.6d. Not much, but it contributed a great deal to our grocery
bill. The headmaster, Mr Clayton, arranged my working hours so that
I could finish work at 3.15pm which meant I had just enough time to
race down to Chapel Street School to collect my three children. I had
been forced to ask Mrs Wake, the headmistress, to allow Steven to start
school, even though he wasn't yet five years old, so that I could take
a job, and thankfully she agreed. This worked fairly well during term
time but I was worried about what I would do during school holidays
when the children would be at home and I would have to work. I couldn't
afford not to.
I needn't have worried. Before I even mentioned it, Mrs Holman volunteered
to look after them. She had an instinct for anticipating other people's
needs, even before they themselves did. During school holidays I only
worked from 8am to 11am, so that wasn't too bad, but I was concerned
that adding my three children to her own grandchildren was perhaps expecting
too much of her, but she insisted. I would often arrive home from work
to discover Julie, Michael and Steven (my own three), along with Audrey's
two boys Barry and Stephen, and sometimes Jean's children, Pamela, Wendy
and Stephen too, having a 'tea party' with pop and biscuits provided
by Mrs Holman.
Sometimes when the weather was fine she would take them all out for
a treat to the Greenhouse, or occasionally to Valley Gardens in Pontefract.
She was a familiar sight pushing a pram with the youngest ones inside,
and the other children following on behind, all eager to sample the
picnic lunch she had packed away in her shopping bag. She booked places
for me and my children on an outing to Roundhay Park in Leeds one Sunday,
and I remember sitting on a seat watching the kids feed the (red!) squirrels
while we chatted. Later whilst strolling, we passed a young woman by
the lakeside who was fishing. Mrs Holman said to me "I couldn't sit
there all day doing that - could you?" "You would if you tried it love",
replied the young woman with a grin!
At Christmas she never failed to bring a present for each of my children.
I still have books that were gifts from her - 'Children of the New Forest',
'Gulliver's Travels' and 'Little Women'. If she went away on holiday
she always gave me a little memento when she came back. One year I received
a china salt and pepper set in the shape of two cats. One day, about
a year ago, as I was dusting I accidentally smashed one and was most
She was a great animal lover and always had a dog and various cats when
I knew her, but her special love was cats. She was passionate about
them. One year when she went away she put her pets into boarding kennels
as she normally did, and was devastated when she arrived back home to
discover that 'Bobby', her lovely tortoiseshell, had died during her
holiday. I'll always carry a picture in my mind of her surrounded by
her beloved cats. I can picture her now, wearing a flowery apron, as
she chatted to me over the fence, hugging one of them in her arms.
She was a devoted member of the Salvation Army and attended meetings
regularly. A staunch supporter of the 'Home League', she came to my
house one year and asked if I would do her a very big favour. When I
asked her what it was, she said "Will you come to the Army Hall and
judge our Easter Bonnet Competition?" After all the good things she
had done for me and my children, how could I refuse? I spent a very
pleasant afternoon with a group of lovely ladies, drinking tea and chatting,
and the bonnets were beautiful! I remember wishing I could have given
them all a prize, instead of having to choose just one.
One Christmas I was about to throw away a perfectly good artificial
tree because it was much too big for our living room (no charity shops
in town then!). I had given in to the pleas of my children a couple
of months after their father had died and bought the biggest tree in
Woolworth's in Leeds. The small insurance payment I received on my husband's
death I 'blew' on my kid's Christmas that first year. Mrs Holman told
me that a 6ft tall Christmas tree was just what they needed at the Salvation
Army Hall and asked if she could take it. It was put to good use each
year after that. One Christmas she asked me if I would like to take
the kids to see a pantomime in Bradford. Of course I said yes so we
booked our seats to see Aladdin and had a lovely evening out in the
company of Mrs Holman and various other neighbours.
I spent many happy hours chatting with her over the garden fence or
in our homes. She was a lady of great love and compassion who would
offer help without question whenever or wherever it was needed, but
she also possessed a great sense of humour and loved to laugh. It's
funny how hearing someone's infectious laughter can lift your spirits
when you are feeling low and this is one of the things I remember about
her. I can see her in my mind's eye laughing uncontrollably as she recounted
something silly that her husband Ned had done. "I can't leave him on
his own for a minute", she would say as she wiped away tears of laughter.
She scolded him loudly one day when he lit the grill, totally unaware
that there was a tea towel on top, and he nearly set the house on fire.
She flung open the kitchen door and windows and tried frantically to
clear the smoke by waving a towel around, then seconds later she was
in fits of laughter when she saw the funny side of it.
She had a way of seeking out the best in life as far as her circumstances
allowed her to. She loved life and lived it to the full, but she lived
her life firmly believing that the greatest joy was to be found in helping
She taught my daughter Julie to crochet when she was about eleven years
old, and even now, thirty-seven years later, it's a lesson well remembered
by her. She can still pick up a hook and yarn and put into practice
what Mrs Holman taught her all those years ago.
For as long as I knew them I don't ever recall hearing either Mr. or
Mrs Holman swear or use bad language. Their only 'swearword' was 'loppy'
which Mr. Holman used rather more frequently than his wife!
One thing that stands out above all else in my memories of Mrs Holman,
apart from her kindness and generosity, is her absolute devotion to
her husband and family. She nursed Ned through illness on numerous occasions
and always put his welfare before her own. However, if anyone was ill
or bereaved, no matter who they were, she could always be relied upon
to help. There must be lots of people around Knottingley who have reason
to remember her with gratitude, as the lady who sat up with them through
the night when a loved one was very ill, or the lady who comforted them
and was there for them when they were bereaved.
I remember her as a wonderful friend and neighbour, who came to me when
I needed help. She held my hand and offered me spiritual comfort and
practical help, without which I just couldn't have coped.
In 1979 when my father died, I moved to Ferrybridge to be nearer my
mother, who sadly died the following year. Mr and Mrs Holman visited
me occasionally. By now, Ned was in a wheelchair, so Mrs Holman pushed
him from Broomhill to Ferrybridge; no mean feat for someone of her advancing
years! Then by coincidence, I moved into a flat next door to Miss Gladys
Reed who was Mrs Holman's sister, so I still saw her from time to time
when she visited Gladys.
On the 25th May 1989, Mrs Holman passed away, and although I had only
seen her infrequently since moving to Ferrybridge, I was heartbroken
when she died. She had been such a dear friend and part of my life for
so long, and it was hard to comprehend a life without Mrs Holman somewhere
in the background. Then, on 20th February 1993, Gladys too passed away,
so it seemed that the last slender link had gone.
Mrs Holman enriched not only my life, but the lives of my children too.
I will always remember her with love, deep respect and gratitude. She
shared the hard times with me and made them easier. For that I will
always be thankful.