Elizabeth Holmes (née Emra)
1804 to 1843
A Country Parson’s Daughter
"Sit down with me amongst the beautiful purple heath, visited by the wild bees, and the blue butterflies; and breathe the fresh air of our rugged hill, and look on the fair extended prospect."
The Emra Family
Elizabeth Emra, or ‘Little Elizabeth’, was the author of “Scenes in our
Parish” which was first published in 1830 by J. Chilcott, Bristol. Elizabeth was not named as the author in the early editions, they were described as being by 'A Country Parson's Daughter'.
Elizabeth's father was Rev John Emra, vicar at St George Church from 1809-1842. According to a biographical sketch of Elizabeth's son first published in 1877 'the Rev. John Emra, vicar of St George's, Bristol, was the son of a slave-owner, a native of the Island of St Christopher [St Kitts], West Indies and the family was supposed to be of Spanish extraction'.
Elizabeth's mother was Elizabeth Bastone Blake, the only child of Francis Blake of Minehead, who died in 1803 leaving John & Elizabeth a significant inheritance.
Rev John Emra and Elizabeth Bastone married in 1795, they had 11 children (two died as infants) with the youngest born in St George in 1811.
John Emra's church in St George was the first of three on the site of what is now St George's House on Church Drive. The history of the churches is described here and illustrations of the first and second churches are included our history of the Emra family.
A watercolour the church, in 1823 by Hugh O'Neill is also available on the Council's mapping system. The chuch is also shown on the skyline in an 1826 drawing of the view from Arnos Court commissioned by GW Braikenridge.
After her death, Elizabeth's sister, Lucy, wrote a description of her life. It was first published as 'A sister's record, or, Memoir of Mrs. Marcus H. Holmes' and then as an introductory chapter in later editions of Scenes in our Parish.
Elizabeth’s oldest sister, Martha, also published a book, in 1840, ‘Recollections of Childhood or Sally the faithful nurse’under the pseudonym ‘Primogenita’ – reflecting the fact that she was the oldest child. Martha's book describes the life of the family as her father served at different chuches as Curate and then in St George as vicar. The book is available on Google Books or can be purchased as a reproduction.
A copy of an extra-illustrated version of the book is held in the Somerset Archive (ref
DD/UK/58) presumably put
together by a member of the family. We have put together a pdf telling the story of the Emra family using some of the those images.
From her sisters' books and various official records we have put together much of Elizabeth's life story. Elizabeth was born on 20th November 1804 in Bristol, when her father was Curate at St Paul's; as described above she was part a large family. After the move to St George Elizabeth lived with her parents in the Vicarage until she married.
Elizabeth's baptism was recorded by her father on 17th October 1815, at the same time as her two sisters who had also been born while the family was living in Bristol; John Emra added a note to the register - "Memo: These my three Daughters, namely Lucy born 19th September 1799, Sarah-Grey born 21st May 1802, and Elizabeth born 20th November 1804 were privately baptized in their infancy, but through inadvertence their Baptisms were not at that time registered"
Elizabeth survived contracting smallpox but otherwise appears to have had a happy and
healthy childhood. As she grew up she increasingly involved herself with
trying to help the poor of the Parish.
Elizabeth's youngest sibling, her brother, Henry, died in a boating accident at Oxford in 1829, aged 18, and this is what she refers to at the beginning and end
of the chapter entitled ‘The Strawberry Feast’, which was written exactly a year later. It appears that he drowned while 'amusing himself on a skiff upon the river Isis, near Worcester college [Oxford], of which he had recently entered as a member'.
Elizabeth married the artist Marcus Henry Holmes on 12th July 1833. Marcus had been born in Bristol in 1803, he was educated at Bristol Grammar School and then became a student at the Royal Academy.
After their marriage Elizabeth and Marcus lived in ‘Homefield Cottage’
next to the Church and the vicarage; "the shadow of my father's trees Fall on my husband's home". Her first child, a girl, was born on 6th July 1834. One of Elizabeth's children died as an infant, but by the time of the 1841 census she and Marcus were living at Homfield with five children, Ann (aged 6), Henry (5), Agnes (3), John (2) & Herbert (5 months).
Elizabeth's mother had died on 24th April 1837 and this was followed by the death of her father, who was still serving as Vicar of St George after 33 years, at the age of 73 on 19th September 1842. Following her father's death, Elizabeth and the family no longer had access to the vicarage and its garden next to their house - Elizabeth wrote a poem 'On Laying Aside My Latch Key of the Vicarage Garden'. In December 1842, Elizabeth and her family (now 6 children, Marion was born earlier that year) moved to Westbury Hill (Redland/Westbury-on-Trym), 'within a short walk of her sisters' new residence'.
Within a year of the move, on 10th October 1843, Elizabeth died just a few days after the birth of
her own ‘little Elizabeth’ her eighth child. Elizabeth was laid to rest 'in her father's tomb, beside her loving mother, and the young brother who had found his early sepulchre there so many years before'.
Elizabeth's husband, Marcus Holmes, continued to live in Westbury with their children and is recorded there with his four daughters and youngest son in the 1851 census. Marcus died in January 1854, at Minehead (though his will written in September 1853 has his residence as Westbury). After their father's death the youngest children continued to live in Westbury with Elizabeth's sisters.
Little Elizabeth's View
As the path through Troopers Hill Woods that forms part of the Woodland Trail leaves the nature reserve and enters the woodland there is a trail marker post and adjacent to it a bench. This is the location we call 'Little Elizabeth's View'.
The carving on the post was inspired by Elizabeth's story.
The current bench was installed in August 2017 as a result of an appeal for funds launched by Friends of Troopers Hill after the previous bench had reached the end of its life.
As well as public donations, some of the funds for the bench came from the ALHA (Avon Local History & Archaeology) which was given as a thank you for our members leading a guided walk for them. A further donation from ALHA has been used to install a small plaque on the marker post with a reference to Elizabeth Emra.
Inspiring Today's Generation
Nearly 200 years have passed since Elizabeth Emra wrote her books; but her words still have the power to inspire.
Writer Tina M Edwards was inspired by reading to 'The Strawberry Feast' whilst sat upon Troopers Hill to write the poem that can be seen here. Read more on her blog:
The Circle of Life - Tina M Edwards >>
Elizabeth Emra and the Strawberry Feast feature in a radio documentary which is part of '12 Communities 1 Bristol' on BCfm radio. In the first part of the programme Alice Homewood, talks to our Rob Acton-Campbell about Elizabeth Emra's life - there is a link on our Memories page
Journalist Elly Roberts wrote about Little Elizabeth for the Bristol Cable in November 2017, you can read her article "Commemorating a pioneering St George author" here:
Bristol Cable feature - Full text
The Strawberry Feast
The quote that links Elizabeth Emra to Troopers Hill is taken from 'The Strawberry Feast' which is in the first part of the book and dated 30th March 1830.
“the barren and quarried hill, with its yellow spots of gorse and
broom, and its purple shade of heath, raising itself above the dark
heaps of dross on our own side; and then the river, the beautiful, soft
flowing river that we have all loved so well, laving as kindly our rough
and barren banks, and holding its pure mirror to us, as truly as to the
embellished and fertile scenery on the other side; and how clearly we
saw every reversed image of the trees in the little copse-wood
[Dictionary definition of dross: ‘The scum thrown off from metals in
But that is towards the end of the story, first there is concern about the weather for their planned festivities:
“once in every summer, we would make an excursion to the cottage of
an old woman, to drink tea and to enjoy the particularly fine fruit,
with which her hilly and sunny garden would supply us.”
“On the preceding evening, how anxiously we watched the sunset, and
foretold fine weather, however it threatened rain, - or feared rain,
however glowing and glorious the setting sun might be.”
“it was not till old Betty became too infirm to receive us, and the
meeting was adjourned to the house below the hanging gardens,
beside the river, that we found out all the pleasures of that evening.
We could not ride there to be sure, but you know how lovely the walk
is, down the fields on a summer’s evening and through that deep and
“The scene of our festivities was a large lofty room in an awkwardly
built house, designed originally for the agent of a certain concern
which failed as many other concerns have done; so that for years the
extensive works connected with it have lain void…”
“the great house was let to a poor but very respectable family, who
thankfully allowed the use of their large room on these occasions. It
was a curious old place altogether; but its chief charm was the
garden, built according to the taste of the times sixty years ago.
Perhaps I should have said laid out, but there were so many flights of
stone steps leading through brick arches, to broad straight walks one
above another; and so many square summer-houses with stonewalls
and square doors and windows, that your first thought was of the
buildings; and stiff and formal enough it must have looked when it
was first planned. But now that the brick arches were falling into
decay, and ornamented with faithful wall-flower, and wreathed and
half covered with ivy; … it had become interesting from its appearance
“For when we reached the top of the last flight of tottering steps, we
found ourselves in a wilderness, where, up the steep side of the hill,
grew untrimmed bushes of red a white roses, tangled with wild
bramble, and over topped by stately old pear trees.”
“many a frock was torn, and many a tumble we met with, before we
reached the arched summer house, with the bath in the middle, at the
very top of the hill. And oh! what a view we had then. The steep and
singular garden up which we had just climbed; the old buildings and
tall chimneys clustered together so very far below us; the barren and
quarried hill, with its yellow spots of gorse and broom, and its purple
shade of heath,….."
Few buildings are left from Elizabeth's time in St George, but surprisingly the 'summer house with the bath in the middle' is one of them. You can see it on a video of a visit made by Friends of Troopers Hill in 2005.
Bath House Video >>
The Crew’s Hold May 31, 1831
Elizabeth is speaking to ‘Old Thomas’ about ‘Crews Hold’ and asks if he
can remember how the sailors used to come up here to hide from the
“the people, for the most part, liked the sailors, and harboured them,
and used the officers of the pressgang very ill.”
Elizabeth mentions that she has heard about taking them down the coal
pits. Old Thomas confirms that they did, he goes on:
“I’ll tell ye something worse than that they did once, they took the
King’s officers, and carried them blindfold down to the copper furnace.
They tore down the door, and made them look down into the furnace,
and threatened to throw them in if they ever came that way again.”
On the name…
“in time to come, when a generation or two more have past, people will
not know the meaning of the name given to this part of the parish –
The Crew’s Hold – for it has already degenerated into the unmeaning
word Screwshole. It is a singularly wild and poor part, yet we feel now
not the smallest fear; and indeed, I don’t think there is anybody here
now, that would hurt a child.”
Elizabeth describes a cottage near the river where she used to visit
Henry and Sarah Curtis when she was young. She says the house and the
area around it are now much altered.
“The precipitous bank, beyond it, where there used to grow gaze [???],
and furze [gorse] and broom, is excavated into a very large stone
quarry. There are noble masses of stone, displaying every variety of
colour, from pale brown to deep red, and from cold neutral tint to
“they have discovered, that the whole hill side can afford stone, and
soon I suppose it will be one huge quarry.
They have done worse than this.
They have built a steam-engine for raising coal on a spot, which we
used to think quiet and pleasant; and where, until then we could
gather woodbine and blue violets.”
Of the house she says:
“it was unlike all other houses that we had ever seen. It consisted but
of one room on the ground floor, from whose corners a bed room,
pantry, and the little sitting-room were partitioned off. There was a
large flue in the middle of the ceiling, at which we used to gaze up in
wonder; and I remember old Sarah’s trying to describe to us the
apparatus which once belonged to it, and which was used, as far as I
understand, for trying the qualities of ore.”
The house by the river must have been part of the old copper smelting
works “The Cupolas”. The quarry is probably the area of Bull Lane and the
steam-engine the one at the bottom of Troopers Hill Road.
Since Elizabeth was born in 1804 and this is written in 1831, it would date
the Engine house at around 1820. This fits with old maps since it is not
shown in 1803 but is there in 1845.
You can read about copper smelting and coal mining in the area on our History page.
Elizabeth also adds that Sarah Curtis "had once lived in a larger abode, having many years before we knew her been mistress of the white house - the resort of the rebellious sailors". More about the White House >>.
Much of the information above is also available as a pdf to download:
Elizabeth Emra & Scenes in our Parish
'Realities of Life' - published in 1838
'Realities of Life' which was published in 1838 also has some references to St George; this can be found on Google books at: tinyurl.com/emra1838 and again is available as a 'print on demand' reproduction from some internet book sellers.
Of particular interest are Elizabeth's comments about the building of the new railway in St Anne's and the tourists coming to Crews Hole to catch the ferry to go and see it.
"who would pass winter in such a lonesome place? - A lonesome place? I was almost
going to say, I wish it were lonesome now."
"But see the number of huts, perched on the rocky banks of Strawberry Lane; and look
down at the congregated rows of mean houses, along the towing path, each alas! with
its well-accustomed beer-shop. And hear that throng of people, hallooing for the boat,
at what used to be our quiet ferry."
"Ah! if it be the Sabbath day, the throng is but the greater. They are going to keep
holiday, by visiting the new rail-road, which has bought here such an influx of
disorderly strangers, and such an awful accumulation of our list of accidents: and say
if we shall ever have to complain of "lonesomeness" again."
"Such be your lot, my kind and patient companion; we may perhaps, meet again. If not, assure yourself that you bear with you my thanks, and my best wishes. - Good night."