Rosa Bell (b.1902): Home and Family – Part 1 – Rosa’s Parents

Arguably one of the most prominent themes throughout Rosa’s memoir is that of family and community. As mentioned in Purpose and Audience, R.M. Remembers may be about Rosa Bell’s personal history but she rarely talks about herself! Instead, Rosa focuses on the people around her and how they impacted and supported her through her life.

Rosa Bell’s Family Tree

The majority of the chapters in R.M. Remembers are named for, and then discuss, one particular person in Rosa’s life such as ‘About Jane,’ ‘My Grandmother,’ ‘Uncle Ed,’ ‘The Day Alfy was Killed’ and many more.

However no figure is more prominent in Rosa’s life than the man to whom she dedicates her opening chapter, and her opening sentence: “Can you imagine a wee fella just about 3ft tall and only 7 years old standing at the bedside of his dying mum when she put out her hand and stroked his wee head and told him to be a fine man. Grow up. And that is what he grew up to be. I know [this] so well because he was my Dad” (p.1).

The Misery by Christóbal Rojas Poleo (1886)

Julie-Marie Strange stated that “working class fathers remain ‘strangers in the midst’ of family” as it was often in the twentieth century that men were the breadwinners of the household and spent the majority of their time working. [1] This both applies and contradicts Rosa’s memories of her father, as Joseph Holliday was the primary breadwinner of the family but he was also a devoted father and spent a great deal of time with his children, particularly Rosa.

Rosa remembers her father as a good and honest man who was “always there to bandaged bruised knees” (p.5) and was honourable to those in the community. In a later chapter entitled ‘Collecting Rents With my Father,’ Rosa describes how, as a child, she would go rent collecting with her father on Saturdays when there was no school or Sunday school (see also Education and Habits and Beliefs.) She writes that “in and out we went and some poor souls were so badly off that they really could not pay rent and that used to upset me so much, but father used to say – they will pay when they can for they are all as honest as the day is light” (p.45).

A Working Class Family

(Coincidentally also one featuring seven children)

Rosa continues to say that despite the hard times that faced these families, and also her own, Joseph Holliday instilled in Rosa a strong sense of community and unity that she practiced throughout her life: “an old lady lived in one of the cottages who had been kind to him when he was a boy and he paid her rent until she died – and I often wonder how he managed to do that little act of charity when he had his own family of seven to provide for” (p.48).

While her father gave lessons on the importance of community, Rosa’s mother taught her about the importance of having faith in family and faith in people.

Of her mother, Elizabeth Kennedy-Holliday, Rosa writes that “one lady used to take her outside to see Dad coming home in his daily clogs as she thought my mum was marrying beneath her…the only money Dad ever borrowed was £1 from my mother and she said ‘I was so proud to lend it to him, for he was pure Gold” (p.4). Before they even married, Elizabeth had faith in Joseph that he would one day make something of himself and provide for their future family. It is safe to say that he did not disappoint (see Life and Labour).

Rosa remembers her mother as a strong, Christian woman who, despite the struggles she faced in her own life, always took the time to care for others. In her opening chapter, Rosa writes “she had a dear soul, many many crosses to bear but till remained a caring mother […] I know she knelt each evening whispering a prayer for me asking with a feverent heart that blessed I might be” (p.11-12).

Prayer by William Powell Firth (1878)

Overall Rosa had a very deep connection with her parents, early in her memoir remarking that “I was the child who loved my parents more than any other member of the family” (p.9-10). Contradicting Julie-Marie Strange’s views on fatherhood, Rosa was particularly close with Joseph Holliday, having learned a great many lessons from him and her mother on morality, community and human kindness. Rosa writes: “Yes there are so many moments I treasure with them Both. They tried so hard to teach us right from wrong” (p.11).


Bell, Rosa. “R.M Remembers.” Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies, University of Brunel Library, Special Collections, 2:59, available at:


 [1] Strange, Julie-Marie. (2012) ‘Fatherhood, Providing, and Attachment in Late Victorian and Edwardian Working Class Families.’ The Historical Journal. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (Page 1009)


[1] Family Tree – “R.M Remembers” (Page 85)

[2] The Misery –

[3] Family –

[4] Prayer – –

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.