Last Updated: June 13, 2024By

Helen Hoyte: A Legacy of Shawls and Stories

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Helen Hoyte, my remarkable mother, passed away at the age of 100, leaving behind a rich tapestry of knowledge and passion for Norwich’s shawl-making heritage. Her journey into this world began after bidding farewell to her career in art education. It was then she crossed paths with Pamela Clabburn, a descendant of Norfolk’s shawl-making lineage dating back to the 1800s. Together with Pamela and fellow enthusiasts, they birthed the Costume and Textile Association in 1989, a beacon illuminating Norwich and Norfolk’s cultural treasures.

Embracing this mission, Helen penned “The Story of the Norwich Shawl” in 2010, a literary masterpiece that breathed life into a forgotten era of the city’s history. Recognized for her contributions with an MBE in 2015, she continued to lend her wisdom as the association’s honorary life president until her final days.

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Helen’s journey commenced in Johnstone, Renfrewshire, nestled in the arms of John Hay, a printer, and Jemimah Murray. Raised amidst the bustling streets of Chancery Lane in central London, she found solace in the corridors of the City of London school for girls. The ravages of the Blitz in 1941 shattered their haven, propelling them to Edinburgh, where Helen honed her craft at the Edinburgh Art School, emerging as a luminary in textile design.

Yet fate had other plans, nudging her towards the path of teaching at her father’s behest. Thus, she embarked on a two-year odyssey at Moray House School of Education and Sport. Though her heart danced to the rhythm of creativity, she found herself weaving through the halls of United Turkey Red company in Balloch, on the shores of Loch Lomond.

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But the winds of destiny whisked her away once more, this time to the enchanting landscapes of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) alongside her beloved, Grahame Hoyte, a tea planter. There, amidst the tea leaves, they nurtured their family, birthing tales of adventure and resilience.

The pendulum swung back to the UK in 1957, settling in the tranquil embrace of north Norfolk. Helen graced the halls of North Walsham school briefly before finding her stride at Thorpe St Andrews comprehensive school in Norwich. Here, amidst the academic hustle, she adorned the stage with her creative flair, etching her legacy as a costume designer extraordinaire. Her theatrical opuses found a permanent residence in the Norfolk Archive, a testament to her artistic prowess.

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Retirement beckoned in 1985, yet Helen’s quill remained poised, crafting tales that breathed life into history’s whispers. “The Strangers of Norwich” (2017) unfurled the saga of Dutch and Walloon weavers, stitching together the fabric of Norwich’s textile resurgence during the Elizabethan era.

Though her union with Grahame parted ways in 1976, her spirit endured, immortalized in the hearts of her children, John and me.

As the curtains draw on her earthly voyage, Helen’s legacy unfurls like the intricate patterns of a Norwich shawl, a testament to a life lived in pursuit of art, education, and the enduring power of storytelling.

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