Guest post: Francis and Michael Holmes
Ahead of the official launch of their new book - Norwich 1945-1960: A Journey from Austerity to Prosperity, authors Frances and Michael Holmes explain why heritage is so important
We are excited to stock your new book Norwich 1945 to 1960 – A Journey from Austerity to Prosperity after your previous books were well received – what’s the premise behind this new book?
The basis of the book is that the 15 years following the end of WWII was a time of great change when the City was rebuilt and reinvigorated after years of war.
The premise of the book is that to bring this period alive you can’t just examine text books, you need to hear from people who lived here at the time, read the stories that headlined in the EDP and EEN and collate photographs. From these source you really learn what the era was like. For example: How did young men feel when they were called up to national service? What was it like working at Caleys chocolate factory? What was discipline like? Where did teenagers hang out?
The aim was to produce a book that really brings the era to life. We are pleased to say that already people ‘of a certain’ age, tell us they are finding the book ‘addictive’.
Why did you pick this era in particular?
When we researched our previous books, in particularly The Story of the Boot and Shoe Trade, we came to realise that this immediate post-war period was fascinating and was a brilliant subject to research further. In these 15 years as Norwich was rebuilt and recovered after the war, it was very clearly on a journey, but more than that, the City was very different to what it is today. When we talked to people about the era they had clear memories of a manufacturing city, of swathes of bikes in the streets, of dancing in the City’s ballrooms and of childhood visits to the Cattle Market and Cinema on a Saturday…and the list goes on.
All your books – Norwich Pubs and Breweries past and present, The Old Courts and Yards of Norwich and The Story of the Norwich Boot and Shoe Trade – celebrate Norwich’s rich heritage – how did you get into researching and writing about the history of Norwich?
Michael worked for the Norwich Union and I for Barclays Bank. Neither of us were in any way involved in writing or anything remotely artistic. We were more used to writing concise business reports rather than great prose. When Michael retired in 2007 I decided that I would as well. Hence we found ourselves no longer needing to work for money but with time, energy and a bit of ability to do something completely different.
I have been involved with Business in the Community and knew Rory Quinn the Chairman of Norwich Historic Churches Trust through that link. A chance meeting with Rory gave Michael an opportunity to go back to his computer programming roots and build a web site for the Trust, which was the beginning of the network of websites exploring the heritage of Norwich. These sites now all come under the umbrella of www.norwich-heritage.co.uk
In 2009, together with a group of friends from the Norwich Society we embarked on our first project on the Norwich Yards. At the time the intention was to produce websites, backed up by a few talks, although a friend, Brenda Reed, did write a booklet which was sold locally.
As part of the Yards project we recorded people who remembered them. To do this we were helped by Gary Standley and his team at BBC Voices. In 2005 Gary had videoed the traders on the Market when it was being redeveloped. He asked if we could make the videos available to the public. We willingly accepted the challenge and developed a website on the history of the Market which incorporated these recordings. As we had previously produced the booklet for the 2009 Yards project we thought we should do something similar for the Market, but as it was our second publication and we were becoming more familiar with desktop publishing software we published a ‘proper’ book.
We were delighted at how well the Market book was received, and became friendly with Mike Butler, manager of Jarrold’s book department. ‘What we really need is a good pub book,’ he said. We had our next project. He was right, and the book was again well received and sold out in just over a year. In 2015, after many requests, we published a second edition, and are very pleased that it continues to sell well.
In 2011 we embarked on telling ‘The Story of the Norwich Boot and Shoe Trade’. It was only after we started, that we realised that there was very little written documentation on the trade after WWII. We based much of our research on personal memories, coupled with newspaper reports, photographs etc. We hopefully did justice to the many craftsmen and women who worked in that industry. It took nearly two years to complete the book, but we are very glad we wrote it.
By the end of 2013 we needed to start our next project which really picked itself. Although we thought we had left the old courts and yards behind, we constantly received questions and stories about them. Thus, we decided to go back and complete a detailed look at the yards. With the experience built completing our other projects we significantly extended our original research, placing a lot more emphasis on the interwar slum-clearance schemes. We published in 2015 and were amazed at the response to the book, with the original edition selling out in six months, and so, we had to do a reprint.
Which leads us to 2015 when we started researching ‘Norwich 1945 – 1960’.
From left to right (or top to bottom): London Street in the 1950s; seaside fashions; Prince of Wales Road in the 1960s. Courtesy of Francis and Michael Holmes and featured in their new book Norwich 1945 to 1960: A Journey from Austerity to Prosperity
Michael has lived in Norwich all his life, but you came to Norwich for a year in 1983 and never left! Why did you come to Norwich and what made you stay?
I came to Norwich to work immediately after graduating from Nottingham University. I had never been to the City before, but soon realised how lovely it was and immediately settled.
Soon after arriving I was at the Murderers pub when a mutual friend introduced me to Michael, and asked him to look after me – unfortunately Michael didn’t realise quite how long the commitment was for!
Since then, my mother and sister have both relocated to Norfolk, and so it is now very much my home.
Why is it important to preserve and promote Norwich’s rich heritage?
We are very lucky to live in such a beautiful, interesting city. The City’s heritage and many historic buildings makes it unique. They attract visitors to the City which in turn contributes to its prestige and wealth.
But we also consider it important to look at our recent history. When we do our research we talk to people and pull together stories and photographs, which may not have huge historical importance but add to the essence of the age. We are very conscious that unless we record what people remember, an important part of the City’s heritage will be lost. Over the years we have met some wonderful people and heard some brilliant tales – unfortunately not all of them have been repeatable.
How long does it take you to research and write a book – and what are the stages you go through from idea to publication?
We now allow around two years per project. It takes about 2,500 hours to research and write one book. Frances concentrates on the words and Michael on pictures and layout.
Once we’ve decided on a subject we start to gather information. We spend a lot of time at the Norfolk Record Office and the library. For our current book, we are particularly grateful to Archant for allowing us access to their archive, which is a brilliant source of information. We also start interviewing as soon as possible. Interviews take us a long time, as after we have spoken to people, we type them up, check details etc. It is also important at this stage to start locating photographs. In this respect we have had much help from Philip Armes, who was a photographer at Norwich City Council and has been very generous with his time and sharing images with us. We also look at George Plunkett’s photos, the Picture Norfolk website and trawl through Archant’s photos. Over the years all these groups/ individuals have been really helpful. We also gather and store personal photos.
As we are collating the information we start to get an idea how we are going to construct the books. As well as having the main text, we always have ‘vox-boxes’, and so must decide what these are going to be. In the case of ‘Norwich 1945 – 1960’, we include boxes on ‘Would This Happen Today?’, ‘Ordinary People Living in Extraordinary Times’ and ‘In The News’.
By the time we start writing we have a lot of information which we need to trawl through.
Our first draft will be very long, we then have the difficult decision of what we abandon, and how we re-construct the information to make it entertaining and readable. We often change tack after spending a lot of time on a subject, it can be demoralising but we have to be ruthless.
We also spend a lot of time working on graphics and illustrations. We want the books to be attractive, and constructed in a way that readers can easily dip in and out.
Once we are sorted, our friend Penny Clarke helps with editing. Her advice over the years has been invaluable. She has taught us a lot about structure and layout. She also arbitrates if we are unable to agree on any point – it doesn’t happen often, but when it does it is always helpful to have a referee!
Finally we need to sort a cover. It is essential that we get this right, because once in the shops it is what will first attract readers. It took a long time to decide on the cover of ‘Norwich 1945-1960’, but we have been delighted at the reaction to it. Our ‘cover models’ – who are now a little older than when their photos were taken - are also very pleased to feature. Lynn Preston, is particularly delighted, as her coat and hat were green, but we have coloured them pink – which she likes much more.
We’re currently sorting out the talk that we’ll be giving at the Jarrolds launch on August 3. It will include lots of recordings, visuals and of course 50s music, and so will hopefully bring back lots of memories for our audience.
We will then be having a break!
From left to right (or top to bottom): Rampant Horse Street, May 1952; Jarrold Father Christmas promoting the toy fair. Courtesy of Frances and Michael Holmes and featured in their book Norwich 1945 to 1960: A Journey from Austerity to Prosperity
Norwich 1945 to 1960: A Journey from Austerity to Prosperity, by Frances and Michael Holmes is available now instore.
Join us for an Evening With Frances and Michael Holmes on Thursday August 3, 6.30pm, The Pantry, 3rd Floor.