LESLIE ‘PEM’ HOLLIDAY
Pem Holliday was born and educated in Skinningrove and continued to live in the village throughout his life, apart from two years of national service. He was a highly creative person and is probably best known for his writing and publication of children’s stories and verse. Pem was a passionate advocate of his native village, perhaps best expressed in his verse Skinningrove:
Our valley starts near the sea then stretches far inland
It is our home our heritage something we understand.
From here we helped to build the world and really proud we feel;
Famous for our mermaid and famous for our steel.
We played our part in days gone by, with Romans maybe most
With their camps and settlements, and lookout on our coast.
John Paul Jones paid his respects with cannon from the sea
But we survived from his broadside and now it’s history.
We dug for iron, dug for jet, a harbour once had we
And through this work this toil and strain, our village always free.
A village, that is all it is, we cannot say a town
But we have lived so happy here, so why come pull us down.
They give us reasons by the score, they say no natural light
Just take a short trip, look around, then come back and fight.
Our valley is wide open, fame and fortune all have we
Surrounded by the countryside yet living by the sea.
A wealth in itself our Skinningrove, the place where we all dwell
A greatness we could never buy, nor ever want to sell.
Pem wrote this in 1975 when plans were in motion to demolish a large part of the village; it’s taken from Shadows of Life, a collection of poetry and verse that he wrote between 1948 and the 1980s (see below).
“Pem was a proper grover” and “He was a legend” are some of the comments people have said of my dad. They ring true for me as living in Skinningrove was integral to his very existence; he lived here all his life, apart from two years of national service. He was born at 18 Cliff Terrace on 20th July 1933 and had six sisters and two brothers. I loved to listen to his stories of childhood days such as when he was about seven years old and got a cowboy outfit for Christmas. He was running along the sea wall and slapping his thigh, pretending he was on his horse, when his hat blew off and landed in a puddle. It just about disintegrated as it was only made from cardboard! Dad would talk about Aunt Annie Jeffels who lived at 40 High Street; she had a parrot that he was scared stiff of when he was a little lad. Apparently, this parrot had been around during the first world war and it used to say “Put Polly in the pantry: the Billy Zeppelins are coming!” He also told me that, during an air raid in the second world war, they’d taken shelter in the backyard and my grandad leaned over his family to say “I think we’ve had it this time!” Dad had a tear in his eye when he told that story.
After World War Two, dad still lived in Cliff Terrace but by then he was working on ‘the belt’ at the local steelworks and keeping pigeons. Corn was still rationed and Bill Dawson would inform dad when beans were being sold at Hinderwell. Dad said he would walk there and back (about 14 miles) to make his purchase; sometimes he looked for ears of corn and peas in the fields so he could feed his pigeons.
As a young man, dad loved the outdoor life; he used to dive off the grey boards on the jetty and would often swim out to the boats fishing off the ‘grove. He also had a passion for cycling, some days riding many miles; one day he pedalled to Scarborough – about 35 miles away – for an ice cream!
Dad bought his first house, 10 Marine Terrace, in about 1960; he borrowed £20 from his dad to pay the solicitor’s fees and deposit, the house costing £137. Mam, dad and we kids lived there, looking out over the sea; in winter the northerly wind blew around the windows, the cold seeming to creep in everywhere, biting at little fingers and toes. Dad gathered sea coal, as did everyone else in the village, to keep us warm. He worked tirelessly in his beloved garden that seemed to be full of magic. Miss Jordan used to take the whole class there on a nature walk; I think she was intrigued with all the produce that dad’s hard labour gave up.
Dedicated to his ever expanding family – he was to have eight daughters and one son, Leso who tragically died at sea – dad could turn his hand to most things; he used to make us toys and was a dab hand with a sewing machine. He was also a great cook and trained as a chef in the Army. We often reminisced about our time living on Marine Terrace; they were happy days and we always referred to it as “down home” or “on the sea wall”.
As well as being highly resourceful, dad was very creative, having several of his poems published over the years. The 3rd of January 2008 was a special day, for after 31 years dad finally saw his book, The Adventures Of Jack Of The Lamp, in print. He was immensely proud of this achievement and cried when he held his first copy; there was champagne and celebrations all round that day! Copies of Shadows of Life were to follow, a compilation of poems he wrote over the years.
People often ask where the name ‘Pem’ comes from; dad said it started in the playground but I don’t think even he knew for certain the exact origin of his name. The years pass quickly and decades seem to tumble into one another, during which time dad’s health deteriorated. Sadly, this compromised his independence but I had the privilege of spending lots of quality time with him over the last twenty years or so. He really was a “proper grover” who was loved, cherished and respected by the people of Skinningrove.