Born in Scotland more than a century ago she arrived in Norfolk during 1957, becoming a teacher and then one of the most important and popular historians of recent times.

Helen Murray Hoyte MBE was known and loved as the “Queen of the Norwich Shawl.” 

Some of you may know that Helen, a mother, grandmother and great grandmother, died recently aged 100 but what memories she leaves with us.

An Open University study pack called East Anglia 19th century in 1984 gave no mention of the Norwich Shawl and at the time many people in Norfolk were largely unaware that the city once thrived on the manufacture of shawls.

Eastern Daily Press: Young Helen, who went on to live an extraordinary life

Then, in 1989 Helen and Pamela Clabburn, founded the Costume and Textile Association and a forgotten chapter on the history of Norwich was brought back to life.

Helen Murray Hoyte (Hay) was born on September 17 1923  to John and Jemimah Hay. She attended The City of London School for Girls and was in France on the outbreak of the Second World War returning to the UK to train as a nurse.

The family lost their home and belongings in the London blitz of November 1941 and returned to Edinburgh where Helen attended art college, meeting up with many lifelong friends.

She married tea planter Grahame Hoyte in 1951 and the following year went to live in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) where she enjoyed estate life. Daughter Gillie was born in 1952 and son John was born in 1955 when they were on leave back in Scotland.

Eastern Daily Press: Helen’s wonderful book The Story of The Norwich Shawl

By 1958 times were changing and the Hoyte family relocated to Ridlington in North Norfolk and then to North Walsham where they were joined by Helen’s parents.

Helen loved living in Norfolk. She worked as an art teacher at St Nicholas School, North Walsham. She also taught modern embroidery at the community centre, volunteered for Meals on Wheels and helped organise the Poppy Appeal.

In 1967 she began teaching art part-time and then full-time at Thorpe St Andrew School in 1974 where she stayed until 1985.

During her days at Thorpe Helen was part of the talented team producing musicals and plays.

She made her mark as a costume designer and maker for the popular shows and the usual teacher/pupil relationship of “us and them” became “US” as they worked together to achieve the best possible shows.

Eastern Daily Press: Helen Hoyte pictured at the time of her book The Story of the Norwich Shawl published in 2010

She designed costumes for the operas that Richard White produced at Claxton over more than 20 years. Mendelssohn’s Elijah was the first  public production held in Norwich Cathedral during 1983.

Her portfolios are now housed in the Norfolk Archive and can be seen online.

After retiring from teaching in 1985 she became the secretary of the Norfolk Contemporary Craft Society for three years. She attended an event at Norwich Castle and was invited to wear a shawl. She chose her Scottish family shawl.

She met Pamela Clabburn whose family had made Norwich shawls. The time had come for the two of them, with others, to shed light on this almost forgotten part of the city’s history.

Helen discovered that the manufacture of the beautiful shawls played a leading role in lives from about 1820 and were sought after across the world.

After decades in the spotlight Norwich shawls went out of fashion and their memory faded away….until the arrival in 1989 of the Norwich Costume and Textile Association.

Eastern Daily Press: Helen Hoyte, with her daughter Gillie and son John, when she was celebrating her 100th birthday in

Thanks to Helen, Pamela and many others a glorious and colourful chapter on the history of Norwich was brought back to life…and is now stronger than ever.

In 2010 Helen wrote an important book called The Story of the Norwich Shawl and that was followed a few years later by The Strangers of Norwich which was also illustrated by Helen. She was made an MBE in 2015.

When she was celebrating her 100th birthday last year with her family and friends she said: “I’ve adopted Norwich as my home. It’s a wonderful place and I’ve had a great life here.

“I’ve lived a fascinating life and got involved with the history of Norwich. Life is far too interesting for me to be acting like an old woman,” she said.

Her key to a long life was “laughter” and she added: “Not to say my life hasn’t had ups and downs, but if you can see the funny side of things, it really helps.

“I’ve been extremely lucky and blessed to live the life I have – I’m very grateful.”

Eastern Daily Press: C&TA founder members Helen Hoyte and Pamela Clabburn pictured by Amanda Sandford-Taylor at a gala

Caroline Whiting, Chair of the Costume & Textile Association, said: “Helen, our Honorary Life President, was a founder member of the C&TA 35 years ago, and never stopped being actively involved.

“She was a passionate and extremely knowledgeable advocate of Norfolk’s rich textile heritage, a talented writer and illustrator, and an expert in Norwich Shawls.

“Her beautiful collection of shawls, now in Norfolk Museums Textile Collection, is a lasting tribute to her enthusiasm and will continue to inspire others, as she did. Many members have commented ‘she was a great lady.’”

Eastern Daily Press: Helen Hoyte in her youth…always busy

*A memorial celebration of Helen’s life and times will be held at St Peter Mancroft Church, Norwich, on Thursday May 9 at 11am. RSVP Gordon Barber Funeral Home, Thorpe, email

With thanks to Gillie and John.