Margaret Dickinson – Girls’ Division Staff, 1972-2006 and Veronica Millington – Girls’ Division Staff, 1988-2006
Margaret Dickinson graduated from Royal Holloway College, University of London, and joined the Girls’ Division in 1972. She was successively Head of Mathematics, Head of Careers and, from 1990, Deputy Headmistress before retiring in 2006.
Veronica Millington graduated from the University of Manchester and taught English in the Girls’ Division from 1988-2006. She also took on a shared PR role and became Editor of the Girls’ Division Magazine and Newsletter. Following her retirement in 2006 she continued to edit both publications for seven years and also wrote biographies of two former Headmistresses; Miss Johnson and Miss Vokins.
Below Margaret and Veronica share some reflections on their time as teachers in the Girls’ Division:
In 1999 we began to work on So Goodly a Heritage, a book designed to celebrate the life of the School at the turn of the millennium, while also recalling its earlier years. The title is, of course, a phrase taken from the School Prayer and was chosen because it encapsulates the vital contribution that our strong tradition makes to the character and development of the School. Writing this book was a thoroughly enjoyable task, not only because of the girls’ wonderful contributions – including their own pictures and entertaining accounts of what they most enjoyed about School – but also because in the process, we were adding to our already impressive archive which offers a fascinating insight into the changing life of the School. While the archive material reminded us of the marked differences between then and now, it also highlighted those things that seemed reassuringly familiar, reinforcing our links with all those pupils and staff who had gone before us.
Since then we have worked on many projects together – the annual magazines, the termly newsletters and the biography of former Headmistress, Fanny Eliza Johnson. Most recently, we also helped in the proofing of The Best of Both Worlds, which celebrates the centenary of the founding of the School by Lord Leverhulme in 1915. The book tells the story of a unique place – two schools based on a single remarkable site and sharing a common vision and heritage: truly “the best of both worlds”.
For us, the word “unique” perfectly captures the essence of the place. Although sixteen years separated our arrival on the scene, it was obvious to both of us from the moment we walked through the hallowed centre arch of our main building that this was going to be a very special and very different place on so many grounds. In addition to the very striking “Hogwarts-style” main building and the vast campus, both generously provided by Lord Leverhulme, the list would have to include: the distinctive structure of two schools united in one foundation, the warm family feeling created by having the infants and the junior girls on the same site as the senior school and the outstanding facilities and resources, not only within the campus but also further afield.
But, for both of us, it was the people here – the girls and our colleagues – who made day to day life at the school so fulfilling. It was a great joy to work alongside teachers and support staff who were so talented, able and committed. Whatever you wanted to know, someone always had the answer! And what a privilege it was to have daily contact with such clever and highly motivated girls and to see them developing into capable and responsible young women. We all – the Governors, the Heads, the girls, their parents, the teaching staff, former pupils and a veritable army of support staff – worked extremely hard to achieve the same goal and it was very rewarding to see the girls finally realising their ambitions and knowing that you had helped them to get there. It truly felt like being part of one big family.
Education never stands still and it goes without saying that we all needed to be very much on our toes in order to keep ahead of the game! From the 1970s onwards, technological advances had a huge impact on society – and on our own students. This required significant changes to teaching and learning with new subjects and examinations being introduced. New technologies widened the resources available: white boards replaced blackboards, log tables and slide rules gave way to calculators and the internet provided instant access to information across the curriculum.
The Technological Revolution also brought with it changes in higher education and employment. The emphasis today is on lifelong learning, adaptability and team-working. Moreover, in addition to high grades at Advanced Level, Admissions Tutors and Employers now expect applicants to have the ‘X Factor’ – that extra something which sets them apart. The work of the Careers’ Department and the wide range of activities in the Girls’ Division helped greatly in this respect. Art, drama, foreign exchanges, music, running societies for younger pupils, outdoor pursuits, sport, work experience, Young Enterprise and voluntary work were all available and the girls embraced them with enthusiasm, paving the way for successful careers in many different fields – as amply evidenced in every edition of the Old Girls’ Newsletter.
“It was against this backdrop that the Careers Department set up a Sixth Form work-shadowing programme in 1986. Soon we began to see the need to extend the programme in order to make our younger pupils aware of the skills and abilities that they would need to develop from an early age. By the mid-nineties, pupils as young as the Third Form (Y7) were taking part in a Work Sampling Day which saw them accompanying a parent to their place of work for the day. They seemed to enjoy this very much. As the programme developed, Old Girls were invited to give careers talks in School and many also offered work experience placements to current students who found such opportunities invaluable. Their enthusiasm was infectious.
Happily, the hectic School year is punctuated by many regular, treasured events such as the Gowning of the Prefects, the Year 10 (LV) Christmas Post and the Carol Services. Many Old Girls also remember with affection the assemblies in the Great Hall, when the organ was played and the whole school joined together in saying the School Prayer. The more formal occasions always required meticulous organisation, of course. Staff and pupils will recall, with a mixture of amusement and terror, the seating arrangements for Speech Days and Carol Services – complex operations which took several days to perfect. But they were organised with military precision – the result of careful planning and several practices in filing seamlessly into and out of the Hall. I have vivid recollections of demonstrating to the whole School the art of gliding gracefully into and out of the serried rows of chairs under the watchful gaze of the angels!”
Veronica takes up the theme:
“Another annual event which came with all its own challenges was preparing the School for Open Morning. There was a great deal for Pamela Taylor (with whom I shared the PR role) and me to do – allocating hundreds of volunteers to the various departments, working out how to avoid log-jams in any particular area of the building, training the Sixth Form guides in where to take their visitors and what to say to them, creating the displays in the Hall, rehearsing the Year 7 girls who had volunteered to speak from the platform about their experiences as new girls and, last but by no means least, providing the crucial signage throughout the building.
In the early days this involved creating and laminating huge “store guides” that had to be firmly blu-tacked to every available surface. Their propensity for undoing themselves the minute your back was turned became legendary. But hysterics really took over with both of us on one particularly wet and windy Saturday morning when we were trying, and repeatedly failing, to attach a very large entrance sign to the horse chestnut tree in the Centre Quad. Our string was not really long enough and the tree’s girth was far greater, and far wetter, than we had imagined. It was hard to say what was flapping most – the two of us, the sign, our hair or our clothes. Gone was the cool, perfectly turned-out image that we had hoped to present to the arriving visitors! But it didn’t matter because the girls themselves were such charming hosts – a fact that the visitors commented on repeatedly.
Education being a serious business, the girls study hard and do remarkably well. But there are also many opportunities for fun – including regular treats such as the Christmas Post Assembly, the Prefects’ Panto and many fundraising activities which frequently involve dressing up. The girls don’t have it all their own way, however! I remember the fun of walking the corridors on World Book Day dressed as a Hobbit – complete with a “Tina Turner” wig, moss green-tabard, tights, furry Hobbit feet and, of course, a very long sword. I borrowed that particular item from the Boys’ Division props store – where, naturally, it was put through an intensive swashbuckling test with much hilarity.
Staff Revues also gave us the free rein to indulge our thespian tendencies and to show the girls that we could match them song for song, joke for joke. The English Department’s “Little Bolton” – based very loosely on “Little Britain” – is a fond memory. We had very little time to practise and the dress rehearsal was a shambles for most departments’ offerings, including our own. But it was salutary to have the boot on the other foot for once, making all the mistakes – and more – that we regularly berated the girls for. Slow entrances, blocking, forgetting our lines, lack of vital props etc. However, just like them, we pulled it off triumphantly on the day – and even got a standing ovation.”
Margaret reflects on Cautley:
“And the fun extended way beyond the school boundaries. Most people who knew St Mark’s Vicarage will remember walking to Cautley Spout, climbing Great Dummacks and enjoying the glorious views – not least from the kitchen window. These experiences added another dimension to School life and Form visits were very popular. Staff had to organise everything down to the last detail with every minute accounted for. Once transport was booked, menus were chosen, costs calculated and a programme of activities arranged. The night before the trip was due to depart invariably found staff racing around Tesco pushing trolleys laden with food for the trip.
On arrival at Cautley, lighting the fire in the Rayburn was your first test – and keeping it going for the duration of the trip was your next challenge. The awful realisation that you had bought chips for frying rather than oven chips was another heart-stopping moment – but a solution to the problem was soon found by enterprising colleagues. In fact, you often had to think quickly on your feet at Cautley. When required, at short notice, to play “Eeyore” in a “Winnie the Pooh” entertainment for my Third Form (Year 7), a grey blanket found in a cupboard and large ears which I quickly fashioned from newspaper, mercifully saved my day! The responsibility of looking after a party of girls 24/7 was immense but the benefits were huge. In this setting, pupils had the chance to see their teachers as human beings and the experience often brought out qualities hitherto unseen in the girls.”
Now, from the quieter backwaters of retirement, we both look back on our time at Bolton School with gratitude for the sense of fulfilment each day brought, for the strong sense of community spirit and for the many friendships we made – friendships that continue to this day. From that moment when we first glimpsed the Centre Quad through the arch, to the day when we both entered the brand new Riley Centre for the launch of The Best of Both Worlds, we have never ceased to be grateful for the wonderful School which Lord Leverhulme founded in 1915.