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Holman Bros., Millwrights of Canterbury

Hello everyone! You might remember me briefly mentioning Guy’s presentation at the SPAB meeting a few months ago on the Holman Brothers, Millwrights of Canterbury. Well I am pleased to announce that Guy has created some webpages related to the months of work on the completion of the book on the history of the Holman brothers by Guy, Elizabeth and Mildred. The pages are incredibly detailed and when I initially viewed them to do a quick overview, I ended up sitting down and reading the entire project. It is absolutely fascinating and consists of various stories and memories from the people who worked with the Holmans or as Guy mentions, other ‘nuggets’ of information that he found particularly fascinating which bought the history to life.

Poster Image

This all began in 2012 when Geoff Holman’s collection was donated to the Mills Archive by his widow Lynn after his death in 2011. Before his death, Geoff had been writing a book about his family’s business, naming it ‘Holman Bros., Millwrights of Canterbury’. The Holmans began as millwrights and engineers during the early 19th century before expanding into agriculture. Guy, Elizabeth and Mildred worked together for 4 months to form a narrative for the book using all of Geoff’s original notes and interviewing previous staff and friends.

The web pages are unbelievably detailed, so I just want to highlight a few pages I found particularly interesting. Firstly, ‘The Holman Family Origins’ section. This consists of detailed clear diagrams of family trees, obituaries and old photos of members of the Holman family which are in extremely good condition on the page so you can view them clearly. I like this page because it showed the document that Geoff based his research around to write his book. The document was written in 1800 by Captain John Holman in which he describes the family history and from that document, Guy created a clear family tree. Also on the page are timelines and descriptions of varies Holman family members and one I found particularly unusual was Thomas Richard Holman who claimed to be one of the only people who had driven a car down the nave of Canterbury Cathedral whilst delivering materials when the firm was carrying out bomb protection work!

In the section, ‘The History of The Business’, there is a photo compiled of all the different business cards for the seven different trade names the Holman Bros. changed to over time, beginning at T.R.Holman and finishing at Holman Bros. And for all the typography fanatics and art historians out there, you can see how the first type face is very old fashioned and calligraphic compared to the last, more digitalised one. I asked my friend Amy, who studied graphic design, what she could tell me about this particular old fashioned type face on the first business card and she told me that the ‘T.R.Holman’ font is a classic type that would have been commonly used in advertising and in newspapers in the 19th century.

Liz showed me a section that she thought I might be interested in and gruesomely she was spot on! – The ‘Accident and Deaths’ section. Many of the injuries were due to the collapse of heavy machinery and structures but one injury, which was particularly grim, was that of John Fry who was moving a piece of heavy machinery when it fell with such force on his right foot it ‘burst it’! He did survive but that really made me shudder!

‘Staff Recollections’ is another chapter that you should check out. This section transcribes documentation such as letters and interviews conducted previously by Geoff himself with former employees. Bob Fryer wrote in 1993 in a letter to Tom Holman about some of the various members of staff he encountered whilst working with him, adding at the end ‘PS – I can still remember when you caught your hand in the drill grinder’. Ouch! In an interview with Chris Richardson, Geoff documented Chris’ memories of working with the Holmans. Chris started working for them in 1955 at the age of 15, hoping for an apprenticeship. Chris built up a good relationship with Tom Holman. He stated, ‘the problem was having three bosses, but men were told that what Mr Tom said went.’ It is a really interesting chapter so please check it out, but my personal favourite moment was one in which Chris describes an old Austin York saloon belonging to Tom Holman that the two used to go out in. Chris describes how sometimes ‘Mr Tom’ would say ‘You in a hurry to get home?’ and would park somewhere with a view, light up his pipe and sit for about an hour in silence, deep in thought.

Some of the staff at the Holmans taken from the webpage:

I won’t tell you anymore because I don’t want to spoil it for you, but Guy has worked so hard on getting all of this fascinating history onto the webpages so that the story of the Holman Bros. can be seen and recognised all over the world, not just here in the archive library! The webpages are clear and beautifully illustrated and I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.

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