The winner of the 1951 Bradford Wool Queen beauty contest celebrated her 85th birthday yesterday.
Shirley Blake, née Stanley, who was born in Boothtown, Halifax but grew up in Great Horton, Bradford, was crowned Wool Queen of the city when she won the award at the age of just 17.
The Telegraph & Argus was there on the day of Mrs Blake’s victory back in 1951 – and she is pictured on the steps of City Hall. She also received national recognition for her achievements, being featured in The Daily Mirror.
Mrs Blake has a passion for tennis and entered the Wool Queen contest in the hope of winning the promised prize money, so she could use it to buy herself a tennis racket. Her subsequent success, according to her family, helped her to “further her tennis ambitions” - after her victory, she would go on to coach the sport. She also won a red dress made from local Bradford wool, and a voucher to have her portrait taken – the photograph was displayed in Lister Park’s Cartwright Hall.
Mrs Blake’s mother ran Eva’s Cafe which was located in Kirkgate Market, while Mrs Blake was a pupil at Grange Girls’ Grammar School. Her Wool Queen success was an early one on her long list of achievements.
Mrs Blake went on to study teacher training in Hertfordshire after her Wool Queen win. It was here where she met her husband, who she married in 1954 before they settled down in Buckinghamshire with their three children.
Her progressive and forward-thinking attitude enabled her to become a headteacher in Beaconsfield, where she provided support to children with dyslexia at a time where the condition was not as widely recognised or seen as something which could be helped.
After retiring in 1988, Mrs Blake returned to her native West Yorkshire to settle in Ilkley with her husband, who passed away in the year 2000.
Mrs Blake was diagnosed with dementia in 2014 and moved into residential care, but nonetheless is still described as “smiley and beautiful” by her supportive friends and family.
She still retains her “kindness and humour” and, as her daughter continued, “adores her grandchildren”, with “family always being the most important thing in her life.”
To mark her birthday celebrations, Mrs Blake’s family arranged for soprano singer Bibi Heal to come and sing for her - Mrs Blake has always been fond of music and, her family say, “loved to gather around the piano with her family and sing, during her childhood”. Mrs Blake’s daughter hoped that “Bibi would help my mum to remember those very happy family times.”
Her crowning as the Wool Queen, as well as her subsequent achievements in education, were fondly remembered by all as Mrs. Blake turned 85 yesterday.