A Lifetime of Service
Frank will celebrate his 90th birthday this year and his 25th anniversary as a Lay Reader shortly before that – his ‘Silver Jubilee’ as he calls it. It seemed only right that we should find out a little bit more about this reserved, but much-loved man, who has served the Church both here and at Walthamstow for most of his life.
“I was born at Walthamstow, which was in Essex then, on the 27th November, 1926.”
So began my conversation with Frank about his life. We did try to keep it in chronological order, but that proved more difficult than we’d thought. This was largely because Frank has done so many things and had so many interests, but we’ll try to keep some order in what follows.
Frank’s mother was a daughter of a Suffolk farmer at Kenton (which becomes important later on), before marriage she had worked at Eye and Harleston. “My father was born within the sound of Bow bells – a proper Cockney” and was an accountant. They had three sons of which Frank was the eldest, his middle brother, Peter, died in 1978, but Frank’s younger brother, Michael, still visits him weekly to do little jobs around the cottage for him. It’s his birthday soon and Frank is looking forward to taking him out to lunch to celebrate.
Frank was educated at Walthamstow leaving school at the age of about fifteen years when he took up evening classes in bookkeeping and accountancy at Southwest Essex Technical College at Walthamstow and Sir George Monoux Grammar School. Frank continues: “my father was a qualified company secretary and member of ACIS, and he was very keen for me to get into that line as well.” Frank worked for a gold mining company in the City of London as a junior clerk at the beginning of his career. He was called up into the army in January 1945 – “when I went in the war was nearly over!”. A sight problem restricted what he could do in the forces and he was placed in the Royal Army Pay Corps based at London and Whitchurch, Hampshire.
When demobbed, Frank’s job at the gold mining company was no longer available, but they helped him to get a job with Stewarts and Lloyds, steel tube manufacturers, subsequently taken over by the British Steel Corporation. Frank stayed there until he was made redundant in 1982. “Then I decided that, coming from a farming family on my mother’s side, it’d be nice to move to Suffolk because I had aunts, uncles and cousins in Suffolk and Norfolk. So, I moved into this cottage on the 18th October, 1982.” Frank then worked part-time as Eye Town Clerk for about five years before retiring.
Frank’s interests outside of his career and the Church
Here we need to take a slight diversion into Frank’s wide-ranging interests outside of his career and the Church. He played football and cricket for local teams for considerable periods of time, he also liked to play table tennis, snooker and darts. He was a member of the MCC for thirty-five years, only relinquishing his membership in the last few years because he was no longer able to make use of the benefits of membership. He felt that it was better to give it up in favour of someone younger because the waiting list for membership is several years long. Whilst at school, his curiosity was piqued when he saw a chess set for the first time and his history teacher taught him to play. Frank still plays chess now and uses a computerised game – and sometimes beats the computer!
Frank’s involvement with the Church
I asked Frank about his involvement with the Church and his reply was very interesting. “My father was a church warden for a time, secretary to the Parochial Church Council and deputy organist at Walthamstow”. Frank had always been a church-goer, his parents took him to Sunday school at first when he was about eight years old, “and I’ve been connected with the Church ever since. I was a choirboy, server and a churchwarden. Later I ran the Sunday school at that church and another in Walthamstow.” For us now the numbers sound colossal: about one hundred children and twelve Sunday school teachers. These churches were St Paul’s then St Saviour’s, Walthamstow, St Paul’s closing after reorganisation.
“I was very keen to become a Lay Reader and the Rural Dean, the Reverend Canon Kenneth Harwood-Druitt, vicar of St Mary’s, Walthamstow, got all the forms for me from Chelmsford Diocese. But I had a full-time job involving travel, and was taking an accountancy course. I was also regularly playing cricket and football and my mother wasn’t too well at times; I wasn’t able to find the time to study the Lay Reader’s course. But once I’d been made redundant and early retired, I thought it would be nice to do something. So, I started here as a Lay Elder and then became a Lay Reader.” Frank was commissioned as a Lay Elder at Oakley on Sunday, 8th December 1985, and licensed as a Lay Reader on All Souls Day, 2nd November 1991. “I have always regarded being a Lay Reader as a vocation – very much so.
In preparing for services, I always give plenty of time to think about things and then I leave it in God’s Hands and it always seems to turn out all right. I always hope that the sermon that I preach will help those listening.”
But his service didn’t end there: “I was secretary of the Brome and Oakley Parochial Church Council for twenty years. That came to an end in about 2005 when I wasn’t feeling too good, I found that I had too much to do because I was doing all the fabric work for the churches and getting all the grants as well. It was quite a lot of work and in the end I decided that I had to give something up.” Nevertheless, Frank remains an active member of the Brome and Oakley PCC and attends every meeting.
When talking about the changes that had taken place in his lifetime, Frank gave a very good example from his experience. “When I was a choirboy at St Paul’s, Walthamstow, I think I joined the choir in about 1935. The patronal festival was for the conversion of St Paul on the 25th January and we always had a service on that day at 6 am. This was because in those days a lot of people went to work early and they also fasted before Communion and so they had to get home to have breakfast before going to work. All the choirboys turned up and most of the parents – there were no girls in the choir in those days. (They did have a mixed choir, but only the men used to robe, the ladies wore their everyday clothes.) At that time of year, it could be raining hard, snowing, icy, cold and windy, so you never knew what weather we would get, but we had a very good congregation. Including the choir, there must have been a hundred people there.”
Friends and neighbours
From his first arriving in Suffolk as a resident, Frank has always found the local people to be very friendly and he is very appreciative of his neighbours and friends for all the help they give him and for their friendship. He remembered going to the village hall on Friday evenings for a drink and getting along with everyone and having some laughs. Alan Wright was also a visitor to the village hall on Friday evenings, “he used to tease me quite a lot – he used to hide my drink or sandwiches! I hadn’t been here very long when I first went to the village hall one Friday evening, I knew some of the Church people, and Alan Wright was at the bar so I introduced myself and we had a drink together. I didn’t know much about what went on Friday evenings, so I asked Alan what time the bar closed. He thought for a moment and said ‘’bout 3 o’clock and that’s if he’s tired!’. He was quite a character.”
Frank’s sense of humour extended to a quite stressful occasion. As mentioned, Frank was licensed as a Lay Reader on 2nd November 1991, which was to take place at St Edmundsbury cathedral – a very important and sombre occasion. As he drove out of Oakley on his way there, he was held up by some of Peter West’s cattle crossing the road from one field into another. “There looked to be about a hundred of them, so I phoned Sylvia West and told her about all these cattle and how many I thought there were. ‘Oh no,’ she said, ‘ there are over two hundred’! I must have waited for about ten minutes, which is a long time when you have an appointment to keep.” So, even Frank’s famous equanimity was tested to its limits, but how can you argue with two hundred cattle! After the service, Frank was recounting his frustration to Peter West who replied, “It’s good training for you Frank when you join the clergy in processions, you’ll know how it feels to shuffle along!”.
Past, Present and Future
I remarked that he never seems to look backwards, “I do look forwards rather than backwards, and I think that one could say it’s always nice to look back sometimes because one has happy memories, then there’s the present and I think that it’s important to use the present to plan for the future. So you’ve got past, present and future.” I then asked Frank a difficult question: if you were to have to choose just one part of the Bible, which part do you think expresses Frank Hollidge best? “I think the words in St John’s Gospel (20:21) when Jesus said: ‘As the Father has sent me, even so send I you.’ That’s one of the verses I like. My Church and my faith have meant a lot to me, every day of my life and I’ve tried to live it.”
Afterword: Throughout our meetings, Frank made it clear that he wanted everything to be kept ‘low key’ and that he didn’t want ‘a big thing’ to be made of anything he told me. I hope that I have kept to his instructions, but should you, dear reader, find anything that might sound at all like self-aggrandisement, please accept my apologies as the owner of that error. (Sue Ward)