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Bertha Holder – Irish Singles Champion in 1910

By Mark Ryan

When John Watson Holder died on Monday January 27, 1890, in his native Hull, in what was then the East Riding of Yorkshire, the grief felt at the news was concisely expressed in the form of the following obituary, which appeared in ‘The Hull Daily Mail’ newspaper one day later:

“It is with profound regret that we have to announce the sudden death of Mr John Watson Holder, the late head of the firm Holder Bros., pianoforte dealers, Whitefriargate, yesterday morning. The deceased gentleman, who had reached the great age of 70, was in his usual health on Saturday, when he visited his son's establishment in Whitefriargate. He retired to rest on Saturday night, and on Sunday morning about five o'clock he was seized with a fit from which he never recovered.

“Dr Jackson was summoned with all possible haste, but on his arrival Mr Holder was past all human aid. The death of Mr Holder will create a blank in many of Hull's philanthropic institutions where his name was greatly revered. He was a Christian man and devoted a great deal of his time to all religions and charitable movements. Not only in Hull but in nearly every part of the country Mr Holder has sent books and tracts week by week with unfailing regularity for the benefits of inmates of charitable institutions. In his early days he was a professor of music, and founded the business in Whitefriargate as far back as 1840. He retired from active business about six or seven years ago.”

John Watson Holder left a widow, Ann Holder (née Snell) and six children, all of them natives of Hull: George Frederick Holder (b. 1846); Emmeline (Emily) Annie (b. 1849); Alfred John (b. 1850), Frederick Watson (b. 1853); Adeline (b. 1858); and Artemus William (b. 1861). The fourth of these six children, Frederick Holder, would become a partner in the pianoforte business originally established by his father, but would outlive him by a mere four months, dying in Hull on May 4, 1890, at the age of 46.

The National Probate Calendar of England and Wales mentions that Frederick Watson Holder left more than £9,000 in his Will, a very large sum in those days. One of the executors of the Will was Frederick’s widow, Mary Holder (née ?), another native of Hull, with whom Frederick had had seven children, all of whom were also born in Hull: Bertha Mary (b. November 8, 1877); Mabel (b. 1878); Violet (b. 1880); Reginald William (Will) (b. July 18, 1884; later emigrated to the USA); Marguerite (probably popularly known as ‘Peggy’; b. 1885); and Gerald Norman (b. 1888).

Coming from a family where musical instruments and music played such an important role, it is not surprising that Bertha Holder and her siblings grew up with an interest in and a gift for playing such instruments as well as for singing and even acting on stage in amateur productions. ‘The Hull Daily Mail’ newspaper of the late 1890s and the early 1900s features numerous articles reporting on performances by Bertha and her sisters in and around Hull during these years. The following are just a few examples of such articles:

From ‘The Hull Daily Mail’, April 29, 1898: “Musical & Dramatic Mems.: The amateur season is in full swing. Next Monday and Tuesday some of the best known of the fraternity will in appear in ‘Trial By Jury’ and ‘A Blighted Being’ at the Kingston Square Lecture Hall in aid of the Saint James's Church Choir Fund. Mr Ernest Manston, Mr J.C. Lloyd, Miss Issie Merrill, Miss Bertha Holder, Miss Edith Witty and others are amongst the performers, and Mr J.W. Hudson will conduct a string orchestra.”

From ‘The Hull Daily Mail’, February 7, 1899: “Matrimonial Muddles at the Assembly Rooms: There were many fine passages and enjoyable moments in ‘The Case of Rebellious Susan’ last night, though the performance of Mr Jones’s well-known comedy by the East Yorkshire Dramatic Society cannot be called, as a whole, a brilliant success. [...] It had been expected last evening that the Society would have the advantage of Miss Fanny Brough’s presence to play the part of Mrs Quesnel. In her unavoidable absence, it was taken with excellent taste by Miss Bertha Holder. Mrs Quesnel, in her knowledge of the world, is an apt counterpart of Sir Richard Kato, and Miss Holder played with the necessary lightness of touch, which did her much credit.”

From ‘The Hull Daily Mail’, November 29, 1900: “Music and Pictures at the Art Gallery: There was again a gratifying attendance at the Art Gallery concert last evening, promoted by Miss Parkyn, and the entertainment provided was of an agreeable character. For singers there were Miss Bertha Holder, Mr R. Russell and Mr W. Morgan; and Miss Amy Wing contributed violin solos, accompanied by her sister. The audience were able to promenade in the galleries during the intervals between the selections, and seemed to appreciate the many fine pictures on the walls.”

Although they sometimes performed during the summer months, with the improved weather Bertha Holder and her siblings also had the opportunity to pursue outdoor pursuits during the warmest months of the year. That Bertha and her sisters did so is again amply proved by the reports of their successes on the lawn tennis courts carried in the ‘The Hull Daily Mail’ (and other newspapers) from the late 1890s on into the 1900s and, indeed, into the 1910s.

An overview of these reports make several things clear, namely that Bertha, the eldest of the seven children of George and Ann Holder, was the most talented lawn tennis player and, in addition to this, was the only one who took part in tournaments outside her native East Riding of Yorkshire on a regular basis. The reason for this might simply be that, because Bertha had the most talent at the sport, it was thought that she would be the one most likely to enjoy success further afield.

That Bertha Holder did have some success at lawn tennis outside the East Riding of Yorkshire is proven by the aforementioned reports carried not just in contemporary newspapers, but also in sports journals of the time such as ‘Lawn Tennis and Badminton’. Although never a first-class lawn tennis player, Bertha did nevertheless even try her luck at Wimbledon, in 1905, when she made it to the quarter-finals of the women’s singles event before losing easily to her fellow Englishwoman Connie Wilson, who was one of the top female players of the day. (Bertha Holder also appears to have sent an entry in for Wimbledon in 1906, but did not actually turn up to take part in the tournament.)

Another tournament she sometimes took part in was the prestigious Northern Lawn Tennis Championships, in those held in alternate years in Liverpool and Manchester. In 1908, this particular tournament was held in the former city and Bertha entered it, losing in the first round of the both the women’s singles and the mixed doubles events. Her partner in the latter event, which then had the title of the All England Mixed Doubles Championships, was the veteran Irishman George Ball-Greene, then aged 48. Why Bertha partnered him of all players at that tournament in 1908 is unclear – certainly, she does not appear to have had any Irish connections – but mixed doubles pairs were often made up of players of different nationalities and ages.

It is possible that, during the 1908 Northern Tournament, George Ball-Greene recommended to Bertha Holder that she take part in the Irish Lawn Tennis Championships in Dublin later in the season. Although this tournament had lost some of the prestige it had had in the years from 1881 to 1902, when it was sometimes on a par with the Wimbledon tournament, it still attracted a number of the English players, though not usually the very best of them.

A Miss Holder definitely did take part in the Irish Lawn Tennis Championships tournament in late July 1908, when she reached the semi-final of the women’s singles event before narrowly losing, 7-5, 7-5, to Edith Boucher, the eventual runner-up. She was one of the English players of the time not quite of the first rank, but certainly a better player than Bertha Holder. At the same tournament in 1908, a Miss Holder and the Irishman James Parke reached the semi-finals of the mixed doubles event before losing, 8-6, 9-7, to the eventual champions, Edith Boucher and the Irishman John Stokes. (There can be no doubt that the Miss Holder who took part in both the women’s singles and the mixed doubles events at the Irish Championships in 1908 was the same person – contemporary sources only mention one Miss Holder.)

One year later, in late July 1909, a Miss Holder took part in the Irish Lawn Tennis Championships again. This time she won the mixed doubles event with James Parke, her partner of the previous year and the top male Irish player in the years leading up to the First World War. In the final they beat the Englishwoman Agnes Tuckey and John Stokes 6-3 4-6 7-5 after saving a match point in the third set.

Twelve months later, in late July 1910, a Miss Holder actually won the women’s singles title at the Irish Lawn Tennis Championships. In a year when the entry was very modest she beat an Irish player, Miss Hazlett (first name unknown) in the final, 6-3 2-6 6-3. In the mixed doubles event at the same tournament Miss Holder and Jame Parke, the holders, reached the final before the English pairing of Geraldine Ramsey and Alfred Beamish, who would later marry each other, beat them, 7-5 6-2.

In the following year, 1911, early on in the season, at the beginning of June at the Northern Lawn Tennis Championships in Manchester, Bertha Holder partnered James Parke in the All England Mixed Doubles Event. They reached the semi-finals before losing to the top Englishwoman of the period, Dorothea Lambert Chambers, and her Australian partner, Stanley Doust, 6-3, 9-7. (The English publication ‘Lawn Tennis and Badminton’ lists the former pair as ‘Miss B.M. Holder’ and ‘Parke’ when reporting on the mixed doubles event at this particular tournament.)

Two months later, at the end of July, a Miss Holder and James Parke again took part in the mixed doubles event at the Irish Lawn Tennis Championships in Dublin. This time they reached the semi-final before losing to the Irish pairing of Adelaide Norton-Barry and Val Miley, 2-6 6-4 6-4. In the women’s singles event at the same tournament a Miss Holder – in more senses than one, no doubt, the holder of the same event – lost in the final to Adelaide Norton-Barry, 6-3, 1-6 6-4.

Could the Miss Holder who took part in the Irish Lawn Tennis Championships in the years 1908-11 have been anyone other than Bertha Holder? Could she, perhaps, have been one of Bertha’s three sisters, Mabel, Violet or Marguerite (aka Peggy)? It is possible to rule out Violet Holder because she had married in the summer of 1906, her wedding being the subject of a particularly revealing article featured in ‘The Hull Daily Mail’ of September 5, 1906, as follows:

“A Rainbow Wedding – Fashionable Hull Wedding – Mr N.W. Judge-Miss V. Holder

“The distinctive feature of a most picturesque wedding this afternoon at Holy Trinity Church, which attracted a large section of fashionable Hull, was the dainty and artistic creations, worn by the bridal party. The bridesmaids, for instance, were gowned in a different colours representing the shades of a rainbow – a novel and pleasing effect.

“The parties immediately concerned were Mr Norman Winn Judge, youngest son of Major and Mrs Judge of Brooklands, the Park, and Miss Violet Holder, daughter of Mrs Holder, of Orwell House, Beverely Road. Both the bride and bridegroom have a wide circle of friends, and both will have been seen playing on the Hull tennis courts, the lady being a prominent local player. Miss Holder comes of a musical family, the name being associated with one of the best known firms in Hull and the East Riding, whilst her two [three] sisters have shown considerable ability in entertainments that have been promoted in the cause of charity by the East Riding Amateur Society.

“Charming dresses

“There were a number of charming dresses worn by the ladies in the bridal party. [...] Miss Bertha Holder wore a lovely gown of pink chiffon taffeta, with Broderie Anglaise, finished with La France roses and ivory embroidered net, with one of the new Pekin hats adorned with the same flowers.”

If the Miss Holder who took part took part in the Irish Lawn Tennis Championships in the years 1908-11 was not Violet Holder, could she, then, have been either Mabel or Marguerite (‘Peggy’) Holder? This is extremely unlikely, given that neither woman ever appears to have taken part in lawn tennis tournaments outside of the East Riding of Yorkshire.

Furthermore, on July 30, 1910, in the week when the Irish Lawn Tennis Championships was taking place in Dublin, ‘The Hull Daily Mail’ carried the results from the Beverley and East Riding tournament, which had begun the previous day (the market town of Beverley is located less than 10 miles from Hull). These included the results of a first round match in the women’s handicap singles event, where a Miss M. Holder was defeated by a Miss S. Bainton, and the result from a second round match in the same event, where Mrs N.W. Judge (née Violet Holder) beat a Miss P. Holder (the ‘P.’ Probably indicating ‘Peggy). The only one of the four Holder sister missing from the Beverley and East Riding tournament in 1910 is Bertha.

There can be no doubt that Bertha Holder had actually been present at and won the mixed doubles title at the Irish Championships in 1909 because of a report carried several years later, on January 21, 1915, in the ‘The Gloucestershire Echo’ newspaper, announcing Bertha's engagement to the Reverend George Frost, whom she would marry later the same year. The report is reprodued in full here: “The engagement is announced of the Reverend G.P.H. Frost, rector of West Tanfield, near Ripon, and Miss Bertha M. Holder, the well-known Yorkshire lawn tennis player, who won the ladies' championship of the county every year from 1904 to 1910 inclusive. She also won the Irish Mixed Doubles Championship in 1909 when partnered by Mr James C. Parke, and has more than once competed at the Gloucestershire tournament.”

Interestingly, where the Irish Lawn Tennis Championsips of 1909 are concerned, the edition of ‘Ayres’ Lawn Tennis Almanack’ published in 1910 (for the previous year) notes the following: “Several well-known English ladies, including Mrs Tuckey, Miss Garfit (the holder) and Miss Holder, had crossed the Channel [...] Parke and Miss Holder, once within a point of defeat in the final, captured the mixed doubles...” Clearly, only one Miss Holder was present at the Irish tournament in 1909, and that was Bertha Holder. It also likely that she was the same Miss Holder who had taken part in the same tournament one year earlier and who do so in both 1910, when she won the women’s singles title, and in 1911.

The fact that the article from ‘The Gloucestershire Echo’ quoted in full above only mentions Bertha Holder’s success in the mixed doubles event at the Irish Championships in 1909, and not her winning the women’s singles event in Dublin one year later, is perhaps an indication of the low status of that particular event at that point in time. In addition, by 1915 Jame Parke had become one of the world’s top singles players, so the reference to him is understandable (he won the men’s singles title at the Irish Championships in 1904 and 1905 and every year from 1908 to 1913 – a record in that event – but ‘The Gloucestershire Echo’ does not mention this fact either).

Bertha Holder continued to take part in lawn tennis tournament up until the outbreak of the First World War in 1914. The edition of ‘Lawn Tennis and Badminton’ dated May 14, 1914, makes special mention of her, as follows: “Miss Bertha Holder has lately been presented with a memento to commemorate her captaincy of the Yorkshire ladies’ team. This took the form of a pearl and diamond bar brooch set in platinum. For nine years Miss Holder has captained the Yorkshire ladies’ team, and her resignation this season is sincerely regretted. Though she had given up the captaincy Miss Holder has not given up the game, and hopes to play at the Hull and Sheffield tournaments.”

There is no evidence that Bertha Frost, as she had become, took part in lawn tennis tournaments after the end of World War One, by which time she was 41 and married to the Reverend G.P.H. Frost referred to in the report from ‘The Gloucestershire Echo’ newspaper quoted in full above.

George Percy Howard Frost was born in 1858 in Clewer, Berkshire. He studied theology at Cambridge University in England before taking holy orders, being ordained a deacon in 1883 and a priest one year later. He married Mary Ryder, a native of Leeds in the West Riding of Yorkshire, on January 15, 1889, in Saint Martin’s Church in Leeds. This first marriage for George Frost produced at least two children: Percival Ryder Frost (b. 1890) and George Arnold (b. 1896). Mary Frost died on May 30, 1912, probably in Bedale in the North Riding of Yorkshire.

On April 23, 1915, the London ‘Times’ reported the wedding of Reverend George Frost and Bertha Holder as follows (he was 55, she was 37): “On the 21st April, at West Tanfield Parish Church, by Reverend Canon A.B.G. Lillington, M.A., Canon Residentiary of Durham, Reverend George Percy Howard Frost, M.A., Rector of West Tanfield, son of George Frost, J.P., of Derby, to Bertha Mary, daughter of the late Frederick Watson Holder and Mrs Holder, of Hull.”

Bertha does not appear to have had any children with Reverend George Frost. He died in 1936. She survived him by fourteen years, dying on September 19, 1950, in Sevenoaks, Kent, at the age of 72. Her death was recorded as follows in the National Probate Calendar for England and Wales: “FROST, Bertha Mary of Manor House, Riverhead, Sevenoaks, Kent, widow, died 19 September 1950. Probate York 19 December to Geoffrey Butler Barton civil engineer. Effects £5149 4s 8d.”
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