HEARTFELT congratulations filled Ashbourne Care Home in Dudley last Wednesday (July 23) as resident Hilda Holden reached the dizzy heights of 100 years old. She was surrounded by family and friends plus a visit from Dudley's Mayor Councillor Margaret Aston as Hilda played queen for the day.
Care home manager Annette Gough said: "Hilda's a splendid resident with a wicked sense of humour and has been looking forward to this day for a very long time. We tried to invite the Irish singer Daniel O'Donnell, Hilda's favourite, but unfortunately he was otherwise engaged. But he sent a signed photograph and the beaming smile on Hilda's face when she received it was an absolute picture. It will certainly compete with the Queen's congratulatory message on the bedside table."
John Holden, Hilda's son, told us a little of Hilda's life story, which began just a few days before the outbreak of the First World War. "Mom was born on July 23, 1914, to Solomon Tolley and Mary Rose (née Grainger) in Prince's End, Tipton. There were two sisters, Elsie and Rose, and a brother George.
"My grandfather Solomon worked for the Great Western Railway as a plate layer and the family lived in Bradley's Lane next to Prince's End and Coseley railway station. Solomon returned from the war in 1919 but sadly died in December 1922, and this inevitably meant that life would be tough for Hilda's Mom Mary Rose and the rest of the family.
"At still a relatively young age Hilda held down a regular job cleaning a neighbour's bedroom once a week for sixpence, and also ran errands for the same person for an additional sixpence a week. And during dinner time at Christ Church School, Coseley, she often went coal picking with her Mom, sometimes getting into trouble for having dirty fingernails.
"Mom left school at 14 and started work at a pawnbroker's in Hall Green Street, Bradley, and almost immediately spotted the young man who would become her husband. He was Frederick Holden, then aged 17 and brother of the great Black Country athlete Jack Holden. At the time he was working at a local bakery run by the Higgins family.
"Aged 16 Mom was involved in an armed raid at the pawnbroker's one Friday evening. A masked man was demanding the week's takings, but the quick-thinking manager, a slightly older woman, threw the money under a table that was covered with a large tablecloth. Hilda had ducked under the counter and ran outside the shop, leaving the would-be robber to flee empty-handed.
"It was a scary incident, but unfortunately the local constabulary were somewhat sceptical about the whole affair and asked the two young women if they had been watching too many films. At least the owner appreciated their actions that day and rewarded Mom with a ten bob note for helping to safeguard the takings.
"A move to another pawnbroker in Ocker Hill occurred when Mom was 21, as her employer would not pay the adult wage after she had served a seven-year apprenticeship. But it turned out for the best as she was made manager until she left to marry Fred. The wedding took place in March 1939 at Christ Church, Coseley, and the newly-weds moved to a house in Legge Lane, eventually raising a family of one son, me, and a daughter Mary.
"Living close to Christ Church Mom and Dad were active participants in all sorts of ways. After a number of years as a housewife and rearing a family Mom became a dinner lady at Christ Church school and was a founding member of the Mothers' Union at the church. The group was launched on May 11, 1944.
"She also managed to fit in some home working for local firm Newey's. Dad was an enthusiastic bell ringer for many years.
"After Dad died in October 1992 following a marriage that had lasted 53 years, Mom continued to live in her beloved home right up to the age of 97 and has since been looked after by the caring folk at Ashbourne.
"Her 100th birthday is a day none of the family will ever forget, a tremendous landmark occasion, and we are all proud of Mom and what she has done for us over so many years. Cheers Mom."