HOLMES Richard Henry (1834 – 1914)


Situated in the Unconsecrated/East Section of Jesmond Old Cemetery.

Alderman Richard Henry Holmes was a native of Newcastle, born on the 6 March 1834 in Arthurs Hill in the Parish of St Johns, to John (a miner) and Mary Holmes.

The young Richard began his apprenticeship in the engineering works of Messrs. John Abbot and Co., Park Works, Gateshead, ‘but not being of robust build’, his indentures were cancelled, and he went into the ‘counting house department’, and in the course of time became chief accountant. In 1859 he retired from the works to take the first clerkship in the offices of Messrs. Gillespie and Swithinbank, of 10, Royal Arcade. On the death of Mr. Andrew Gillespie, Richard joined Mr. Swithinbank in partnership, and shortly after, a Mr. G.N. Spence, accountant, Norwich, joined the partnership, which afterwards became known as Holmes, Spence and Co. Amongst their clients as an auditor was the Newcastle Permanent Building Society, who included Thomas Burt on their Board of Directors.

Richard entered public life in 1876, when he became a member of the City Council for the North St. Andrew’s Ward. He remained in possession of the seat until Councillor Temple’s redistribution of seats took place, when he then became the representative of Jesmond Ward, for which he sat until he was made an Alderman in 1891. He was chairman of the Baths and Washhouses Committee for many years, and took a great interest in swimming. He was also Corporation auditor of the River Tyne Commission accounts and Lord Mayor’s auditor for the Corporation accounts, and had many other activities connected with the municipal life of the city. In 1892 he was placed on the Commission of the Peace.

Richard, in association with others, including Cuthbert Bainbridge, founded the Hospital Sunday Fund in 1869 – 70, more of which later. He was a distinguished Freemason, and again, more of which later, and was, in political terms, a Conservative. In his early life, Richard’s name was prominently associated with amateur music, and he was organist for many years at Brunswick Place Wesleyan Chapel. He was honorary secretary of the Newcastle and Gateshead Sacred Harmonic and Choral Society for a lengthy period, and Vice – President of the Newcastle Amateur Vocal Society.

Richard married Dorothy Ann Moon on 18th August 1863. During their long marriage, they had ten children, three of whom died in childhood.

The 1871 Census has the Holmes family living at 2, Elswick Villas, where Richard, at the time aged 37, is recorded as a ‘public accountant’. Along with his wife, Dorothy Ann (31), the Census also records Charles Edward Moon (6), Reginald George Earl (3) and Florence Annie Jane and Dora Maud Mary, who were twins, both aged 1. Florence died later that year. Richard Henry, not recorded in this census, was born in 1866 and died three years later.

The 1881 Census has the family now at 54, Rye Hill and records Richard and Dorothy, Charles (16), Reginald (13), Dora (11), Mable Elizabeth (9) Marguerite Emily Louisa (5) Richard John Montague (2). Gertrude Eleanor Frances, not recorded in this census, was born in 1873 and died three years later.

The 1891 Census records Richard and Dorothy, Charles (26), Reginald (23), Dora (21), Mabel (19), Richard (12) and Henry Cresswell (8) as living at the same address.

In relation to Richard John Montague Holmes, he became a Lieutenant in the Royal Engineers and  was once the Assistant Superintendent of Rolling Stock for Newcastle Tramways. Such a responsible role required formal recognition as an engineer – both electrical and mechanical. Interestingly, two of the three notable Newcastle based engineers who countersigned his application for Membership of the Institute of Electrical Engineers were John Henry Holmes (no relation) and William Charles Mountain, both of whom are buried in Jesmond Old Cemetery. The other signatory was Arthur West Heaviside.

The Newcastle Daily Chronicle, dated Tuesday, August 19, 1913, announced yesterday was the golden wedding anniversary of Alderman Richard Henry Holmes, Newcastle and Mrs. Holmes, who is the daughter of Mr. Thomas Moon, formerly of Hardwick Hall, County Durham. They were married on August 18, 1863, at Shadforth Parish Church, County Durham, by the Rev. Henry Stokoe, M.A.

Ald. Holmes is one of the best known of Newcastle’s public men. He was one of the founders of the Newcastle Hospital Sunday Fund, and was its secretary until May, 1911, when he resigned. He was formerly chairman of the Visiting Justices, but resigned at the beginning of 1909; and later in the same year, he retired from the office of D.P.J.M. in the Northumberland Freemasons. Ald. Holmes has been a member of the City Council since November 1, 1876, and continues to take an active part in municipal administration. He sits regularly upon the bench at the police court.”

The Newcastle Hospital Sunday Fund owed its origin to Richard, amongst others, and was the outcome of a letter which appeared in the ‘Chronicle’ in November, 1869. The proposal put forward in that communication was inspired by the ‘liberal collection made at St. Nicholas’s on behalf of the funds of the Newcastle Infirmary on the occasion of the visit of the Mayor and Corporation in November of 1869.’ Richard suggested that an annual collection should be made in aid of the medical charities, in places of worship, and that the collections should be made on a given day. A Sunday was the obvious choice and collections and donations were made in nearly all of the churches and chapels in Newcastle, Gateshead and the surrounding districts. The scheme was expanded to include collections from various local collieries, factories and workshops, which were made on the Saturday of the same weekend. The money was in turn donated to the ‘sick and lame poor of the district’, as well as local medical charities and hospitals, including the Newcastle Infirmary, the Newcastle and Gateshead Dispensaries, the Hospital for Sick Children, the Lying – in – Hospital and the Eye Infirmary. Established in 1870, by its 20th anniversary in 1890, with Richard still the Hon. Sec., the Fund had raised just over £67,000.  It was described as one of the most philanthropic agencies of the century.

Richard died on 16th June 1914, aged 80.

The Newcastle Daily Journal, dated Thursday, June 18, 1914, reports that “sympathetic reference was made at the Newcastle Police Court, yesterday, by the chairman of the Bench (Mr W. Dixon) to the loss sustained by the city through the death of Alderman R. H. Holmes. Mr Dixon remarked that the deceased gentleman had been a magistrate for 24 years, and was at one time a member of the Licensing Committee. At the time of his death, he was a member of the Committee of Visiting Justices to the Prisons, of which he was at one time chairman.“

The same report contains details of Richard’s funeral, indicating that “the funeral will take place tomorrow (June 19, 1914) at Jesmond Cemetery, the cortege leaving the residence, 54 Rye Hill, at 2.30. Mr William Fawcett, secretary and convener of the Masonic Charities and Votes’ Committee (Province of Northumberland), writes stating that the presentation made to the late Ald. Holmes on the completion of his 25th year as Deputy Provincial Grand Master included the establishment of the Richard Henry Holmes Masonic Benevolent Fund, so that his memory can never be forgotten.”  The Benevolent Fund still exists to this day and had a total expenditure of £198,137 in the year ending June 2020.  

Richard was a “well – known Freemason”, according to a report in the Berwick Advertiser, dated June 19, 1914, where they announce that his death “occurred on Tuesday night, at his residence in Rye Hill, Newcastle. The deceased gentleman was born in Newcastle in 1834 and had a long and useful public career. The deceased frequently visited Berwick in connection with the Order of Freemasons, and was well known by the brethren of St. David’s Lodge, and other members of the craft in this district. Ald. Holmes occupied a distinguished position in Freemasonry. In the Craft degree, he was a Past Master, a Past Provincial Grand Senior Warden of Northumberland, a Past Grand Deacon of England and Worshipful Deputy Provincial Grand Master of the Province of Northumberland. In the Arch degree he was a Past Z, a Past Provincial Grand H, a Past Grand Sojourner of the Supreme Grand Chapter of England. In the Mark degree he was a Past Master and a Past Provincial Grand Senior Warden of the United Province of Northumberland and Durham. In commemoration of his 25 years’ service as W.D.P.G.M., Ald. Holmes was, in 1905, made the recipient of an illuminated address and casket, a silver salver, and a silver cigar case, together with a silver tea and coffee service, a silver kettle, and afternoon tea service for Mrs Holmes.”

The Newcastle Daily Journal on Saturday, June 20, 1914 describes Richards’ funeral as “impressive”, going on to say that “the funeral took place at Jesmond Cemetery in the presence of a representative gathering of citizens. The interment was conducted by the Rev. E. B. Hicks, Vicar of St. Mary’s, Newcastle. There was a large attendance of members of Newcastle and Northumberland Masonic Lodges, the brethren lining up on either side of the path leading from the gates to the chapel. At the interment, members of the Craft encircled the grave and sang the impressive Masonic hymn and anthem, at the conclusion of which each member deposited a sprig of acacia on the coffin.”

The Newcastle Daily Chronicle of Wednesday, July 15, 1914 carries a report on the Newcastle Hospitals’ Fund and includes a lovely passage where “the Deputy Lord Mayor referred in sympathetic terms to the loss sustained by the fund in the death of Ald. R.H. Holmes. Not only was he its founder, said Mr. Lunn, but he was for many years the mainstay and mainspring of the movement. He gathered together sources of income previously untouched, and tapped the rivulets of philanthropy in the churches and factories. Thus gathered, the rivulets swelled into a great river. The Fund, added Mr. Lunn, had been literally meat and medicine to tens of thousands of people. It would really be Ald. Holmes’s most lasting memorial.”

It has been my absolute pleasure to help Mr. David Lacey, the Great, Great Grandson of Richard, to locate his final resting place, which was, surprisingly, in an unmarked burial plot. Once the plot was located, David had the considerable task of wading through the bureaucratic requirements of gaining the necessary permissions in order to erect the wonderful monument that you now see today. As I said to David, I’m sure his ancestors would be very proud of his quest to commemorate their lives after all this time.

Mr. David Lacey.

As an aside, David sent me an image of Richard’s portrait, which now hangs proudly in his home. The original was painted by Thomas Eyre Macklin who, amongst other things, designed the South African War Memorial in the Haymarket, Newcastle.


Richard Henry Holmes.