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Gwynneth Brenda Holroyd née Dumville (1924-2023)
A Short Autobiography

photograph: Gwynneth Brenda Dumville in the WRNS
Brenda Holroyd
(née Dumville)
in the WRNS, 1944-1946

Born in the Victorian School House, Bankfoot, Bradford, Yorkshire, attached to St. Matthew's Church of England School where my father was headmaster. My mother 'lost' me one morning, well before my third birthday, and eventually found me in the first class in the Infants' School – where she decided to leave me. Thus began my school career.

Moved to Wibsey, a few miles away, when my father became head of Buttershaw Church School, in 1930. Lived in a brand-new semi-detached house built on a hillside – which meant a large cellar, serving as a laundry, drying room, store room, and play room and, during the war, as an air-raid shelter. (But during the only raid on Bradford, down in the valley, we all went into the garden to watch the effects of the Odeon Cinema and Lingard's department store going up in flames.) The cellar was also the place where my father's beermaking experiments came to naught when all the bottles exploded in rapid and – to those of us who heard the noise upstairs – alarming succession.

The fact that no fewer than three headmasters lived within a few hundred yards of each other (my father being one of them) gave rise to some speculation on the part of the residents at the foot of the hill. There was serious talk – of 'spies at t'top o't'ill.' (Even though there were never any chinks in our blackout curtains).

From 1935 to 1941, I attended Bolling High School with its ghastly bottle-green gym slips and black lisle stockings – but also with an attractive modern building and good facilities in pleasant and extensive grounds next to a Tudor mansion reputedly haunted by a Civil War victim but enjoying popularity as a museum where we sometimes had art and history lessons.

Resisting the pleas of my headmistress to take up a teaching career, I joined the staff of the Bradford and District Newspaper Company in January 1942, thereby obtaining experience of working on morning, evening and weekly newspapers. My first day was spent in the Coroner's Court, attending twenty inquests – with a senior reporter to introduce me to the routine. That day taught me more about the facts of life and my fellow men and women than I ever dreamed possible. Thereafter I covered everything, from court cases, interviews with celebrities, Army press conferences (the war was still going on), funerals, political meetings and the occasional Royal Visit, to flood damage (as I saw it from a little Auster aeroplane swooping over the East Riding).

I met Ken, my husband, when he joined The Yorkshire Post – a year after my own entry into journalism. We met in Bradford Police Station (studying the court lists in the Charge Office) which was then part of the majestic Town Hall but is now in its own impressive premises some distance away. The old police station is no more; the door by which one used to enter now bears a sign indicating the public toilets.

I joined the Wrens (Women's Royal Naval Service) in September 1944; saw nothing of the sea for the first six months or so – but had a memorable few months in London, where I was able to attend performances by Glenn Miller and the Band of the A.E.F. at the Queensberry Services Club – and even see Ralph Vaughan Williams (at the Albert Hall) conduct one of his own compositions. I did eventually see the sea at Devonport, where I spent 18 months as an Educational and Vocational Training Instructor (in French, English and Current Affairs). Demobbed late 1946.

Married a year later; a year after that Jill was born; then a year later we went to Kenya, travelling by flying boat. This was surely the best possible way to travel – even though it was also probably the slowest. It took us nearly two days to fly from Southampton (taking off from the Solent) to Lake Naivasha, Kenya, stopping en route, on the sea or river, in Sicily, Alexandria and Khartoum, for tea, dinner and breakfast.

Ken having preceded me in November 1949, I took Jill – aged 16 months – in the following February. She objected noisily when, late at night, the air hostess dimmed the cabin lights. The other passengers were not amused but the air hostess provided us with a cabin to ourselves, where, immediately, Jill fell asleep, and I soon followed suit. Our final touch-down was on Lake Naivasha, in Kenya, where Ken was waiting for us. This was 50 miles from Nakuru where we were to spend the next four years, Ken as Rift Valley Representative of The East African Standard and me as an occasional deputy and assistant. His vast territory included Uganda.

During this time Ken covered – among many other things, of course – the upcountry terrorist activities of the Mau Mau with all its ghastly horrors. He also covered the arrival of the then Princess Elizabeth in February 1952 – and her departure a few days later as Queen Elizabeth II.

Miles was born in Nakuru in 1952, and we went home to England in December 1953, sailing through the Suez Canal on the RMS Rhodesia Castle. A year in Bradford (Ken on the Telegraph and Argus) before being tempted back to East Africa in 1955, where Ken became Editor of the Tanganyika Sunday News in Dar es Salaam and I worked for the daily Tanganyika Standard.

This took both of us upcountry and to Zanzibar, the 'Isle of Cloves,' just half-an-hour's flight away. We were both involved in the visit in 1956 of Princess Margaret whose upcountry tour took in the Williamson Diamond Mines on the shores of Lake Victoria.

In addition to the usual daily newspaper routine (including Legislative Council and Police courts), I ran the women's page and even assumed the guise of Uncle Jim in the children's section for a few weeks.

Returned to England in December 1959, anxious that the children's education should not separate us from them. Ken joined the Central Office of Information in London, and for some years I produced a weekly 'Letter from London' for the Tanganyika Standard – until Tanganyika became Africanised. Then I joined Good Housekeeping Magazine as a writer on consumer affairs, being based in the Good Housekeeping Institute itself.

When commuting became difficult, I left, freelanced for the magazine and edited several cookery books for the company, the last one being produced in association with Marks and Spencer – 'Entertaining with Good Housekeeping'. Then I too joined the C.O.I. as an Information Officer, initially as a commissioning editor and later, in the London Correspondents' Service, organising and escorting visits by groups of foreign journalists to many parts of the U.K. – including Northern Ireland – and the Shetlands – to show them that things happen in places other than London and away from the ever-present television and radio networks.

Following compulsory retirement (because of my age) – two years before Ken – I joined the College of Arms as part-time research assistant (three fascinating days a week) to York Herald of Arms, dealing with and delving into Arms, deeds and documents. I at last began to like history!

During this time we were living in the Barbican – where Ken and I became Freemen of the City of London in 1977. This means – among other things – that we can drive a flock of sheep across London Bridge, a privilege of which we have not yet taken advantage.

Now, since Ken's retirement, we live in a delightful village in Suffolk, with the River Stour and the North Sea not too far away. Our house is called Fairview because, when it was built nearly 80 years ago, it overlooked an attractive tree-fringed lake at the back. Now, however, the trees completely obscure the view. So our Fair view is the attractive (indoors and out) pub immediately opposite our front garden. There are Morris dancers in the forecourt several times a year. What could be more typical of English village life, and more suited for a happy retirement?

Published in the December 2007 edition (Volume 7, Number 4) of Bod-Kin,
the Journal of the Bradford Family History Society.

A Follow-up – the Dumville Family

Mrs DM Priestley, now living in Huddersfield, writes:

Brenda Holroyd's family (Bod-Kin, September 2007), the Dumvilles, were neighbours of my uncle and aunt, Jack and Lena Smith, in Briarwood Grove, Wibsey. Uncle Jack was a Chemist (pharmacist) in Little Horton Lane. I don't remember Brenda, but the youngest sister, Paula, was living there in my time. I believe one sister was called Roma, which I always thought a very stylish and adventurous name.

A friend in Wibsey, Valerie Lightowler, had been at St. Paul's Buttershaw when Mr. Dumville was Headmaster. She thought he was wonderful. The school building was very inconvenient as it opened up into a parish hall, so the classrooms were separated by partitions and noise carried. I expect that today it would have been called open-plan. Buttershaw Amateurs used the building for theatricals in the 1950s, squeezing the production between Christmas and the start of the Spring Term.

Later on, doing a six-week supply teaching session at St. Stephen's West Bowling in 1961, I got to know Mabel, Brenda's mother, also a teacher, and a delightful person. Here again, the school was an old building, with partitions and the staff room doubling as a parish room.

Thought the buildings of those little old schools were primitive, the education provided by people like Brenda's parents was disciplined but kind, and above all, secure. I wish I could say the same of today's schools.

See also:

Joseph Dumville (1862-1959), grandfather of Gwynneth Brenda Holroyd née Dumville

Gwynneth Brenda Holroyd née Dumville (b 1924): Books