Memories by Betty Stephens
Mrs Dolly Knowles and the Ballet Minerva
Mrs Stephens has written the following, on her memories of Mrs Dolly Knowles, a resident of Westward Ho! who donated the plot of Land for the Tennis Club.
When we – the Stephens family moved into Greenhays, Avon Lane in the early 70’s, our love of animals started a friendship with Mrs Knowles and her companion Jean Frost ,which lasted until her death in the mid 80’s.
Dolly Knowles- nee Sconloudi was the daughter of a member of the Greek Embassy. She studied ballet as a child, but did not reach the required height.
Her family had a holiday home in Westward Ho! and spent a lot of time down here.
When we met her she was widowed. Her husband was a local man and she told us of his love for Horses.
Dolly was a great supporter of the Arts-especially the Ballet Minerva and a great animal lover, and supporter of Sidmouth Donkey Sanctuary. She also painted and had several Poetry books published.
When we first met her she had two dogs, a collection of Hamsters and a Fishpond.
She was also very involved in a Sequence Dancing Club which met at Northam. When she had difficulty in booking the Hall she decided to build her own in her garden. The final result was a superb building – The Mosaic Hall with a sprung floor, a stage with velvet curtains, a built in music system and a kitchen.
Our daughters were soon involved in Sequence Dancing and I can remember Tap Dancers(usually to be seen judging ‘Come Dancing’ on the TV) coming down to Westward Ho! to take the Dancing Examinations in the Mosaic Hall. We still have Trophies and medals won by our daughters.
Mrs Knowles owned Two fields in Westward Ho! one on the left going up Avon Lane, behind Greenhays and a large one on the right, leased by Mr Wilkey (the local farmer) at Ventown Farm. She longed to have a pony again and thought she might rescue a Pit pony. She asked us if the girls would be willing to ride and care for it. We were rather dubious as neither Tony or I had any equine knowledge. We contacted the local Pony Club and Mrs Elliot told us all we needed to know and was even able to recommend a Dales Pony that was for sale. This was Danny, aged 14, bombproof and good in traffic, so he became our first introduction to the horse world. Dolly built him a stable in the small field and when the lease was up in the large field she built a stable and shelter and took on a stablemate- a very old grey pony , Drifter aged about 18-20.
Eventually we ended up with two thoroughbreds, a land rover and trailer and a stable block.
Our daughters rode until they eventually moved away from home.
One day Dolly contacted us in great panic, she had heard that her land (the right hand field) had been designated as building land. Tony explained that she still had control but having considered it at great length, asked us if the Tennis Club (at the bottom of Avon Lane – we played on the Public Courts) would like to move up there, their own Club.
Tony had told her that the Tennis Club’s agreement with the Council had been reduced from 7 years to 1 year- renewable every year. So this meant that the Club could not plan for the future, they had been looking for a new site. This offer from Dolly was a life saver and thus the future of the Tennis Club was secured. The Members moved to the new site in 1974.
My own personal memories of Dolly were many. She was so kind to all her friends who danced at the Hall.
I remember driving her to Exeter to a Poetry Reading, she stood on stage- a diminutive figure, and read her own poems. She loved her animals, was also kind and generous to our daughters. When they took their exams they wore full net dresses – Tony and I had to stand in the road to make sure no one would see them haring down the road to be judged by Peggy Spencer.