The fall of Dr Beeching's axe in 1963 changed the focus of Holt from that of a market town to that of a small business, residential and light industrial community. Tourism was on the agenda too. Whether these factors helped to bring together a group of local worthies, headed by local GP Dr George Neil, to look at the needs and appearance of their town or not, the first recorded minutes of the Committee of the newly constituted Holt Society were written for a meeting on the 15th of December 1965.
A list of 33 projects was placed before the Committee and sub-committees were formed to deal with the most pressing. Significantly, and even those days, parking was top of the agenda (the Chapel Yard car park being the outcome - if not a universally popular one). The effects of a possible bypass, the drawing up of a town development plan, the problems of street signs, street furniture and litter, investigation into tourist facilities, tree planting schemes, were also considered priorities.
One suggestion soon taken up was a monthly viewing of Planning Applications registered at the offices of the then Erpingham District Council. This, of course, remains the most important activity of the Society to the present day, central to our main aim: the preservation of the Georgian centre of Holt.
Reading through the minutes as the months and years rolled by one is struck by how often the Holt Society was able to use its influence to improve Holt's facilities and appearance. The clearing of the Spout Hills, litter bins, tree planting, opposition to proposed buildings, objections to signage, entering for Best Kept Small Town awards (won on several occasions), all these and many other initiatives owe much to the energies of those officers and members who gave their time and support.
In recent times the Society has broadened its activities to include a booklet on signage and colours suited to the Georgian buildings which house so many of our shops and businesses in the town centre, "Good Design is Good Business". Another publication for the tourists is "A Stroll through Georgian Holt", which enlarged and updated a previous Society pamphlet, "Holt Town Walks". Most recently our pamphlet "First Impressions" has had a marked impact upon the "Holt Vision" project which has made us all look hard at the circulation of traffic, parking, open spaces, shop frontages: the practical and the aesthetic in our beautiful town.
Each February/March a programme of talks is open to members and their friends taking historical themes often Georgian. Another talk of local interest accompanies our Annual General Meeting. Here our members enjoy socializing and renewing and making friendships. Further such gatherings in the summer include a tea party at a local house or garden of interest and a coach trip to visit a town or large house of historic interest.
At the time of the Millennium, we presented a locally crafted sign, denoting other "Holts" in the UK and abroad, to be found on the way through Apple Yard to the High Street. In 2008, to commemorate the Great Fire of Holt, the Society, with the assistance of the Town Council, commissioned another sign made by a local craftsman showing a town plan with line drawings of notable buildings by Holt artist and Society member, Dot Shreeve. In 2012, again in partnership with the Town Council, we placed a circular seat round a tree in the Memorial Gardens in Albert Street to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, replacing one which was presented by the Society at the time of the Silver Jubilee in 1977.
The dream of Dr. Neil and his fellow lovers of Holt lives on. The local author Jane Hales, Lady Harrod of the Norfolk Churches Trust, The Hon. Marjorie Beevers, a long-time and formidable Chairman of the Society, were other early trailblazers and so many others have made their contributions great and small over the decades that have followed. And there is still a need for the raised voices and commitment of those who care for the beauty of Holt and its heritage. Please join us.
The Holt Bookshop, Holt, United Kingdom