Bolton School Former Pupils

Emma Saxelby

Emma Saxelby (Boys’ Division Staff, 1917-1946)

Emma Saxelby has been described as ‘the finest of all the able modern language teachers who gave the school its exceptional reputation’ and her ability to make her subject seem enjoyable to the students whilst at the same time maintaining the necessary degree of order and discipline earned her the respect of both pupils and the teaching staff.

Mrs Saxelby contributed to many aspects of school life, including organising trips to Paris and vastly increasing the number of books in the school library. An Honorary Degree was awarded to Mrs Saxelby in 1944 by Manchester University and, following her death in 1946, a gateway was erected at the Dobson Road entrance of the building in memory of her life and contributions to the school. This is now located at the entrance to the Headmaster’s Garden.

A selection of tributes to Mrs Saxelby following her death, originally printed in The Boltonian, can be read below.


The School suffered a grievous loss when Mrs Saxelby, the Head of the Modern Language Department, died on 20th January 1946.

She was educated by her father, the Rev Joseph Moffett DD, of Letterkenny, County Donegal, and at Queen’s College, Belfast, where she was a Gold Medallist in English, obtaining her BA (RUI) in 1905 and her MA (RUI) in 1908. After teaching in a lycée at Lyons and in Edinburgh, she married Mr C H Saxelby of Rivington Grammar School.

Her long connection with Bolton School began in 1917. Here she displayed that genius for teaching French which has had such a wide influence not only on her pupils, but through the students and teachers who visited her and also through her widely-used books, especially Mon Livre, Cours de Français and Coquerico (an introduction for juniors). Her last work, a book on the Resistance, has yet to be published. In addition to her teaching and writing Mrs Saxelby did notable educational work among the unemployed during the depression and for the College of the Sea. In recognition of this work and of her influence in many spheres she was in 1944 made an honorary MA of Manchester University.

A School memorial service was held in the Great Hall on the morning of Thursday 24th January. In the afternoon, boys and members of the Staff attended the funeral services at Mawdsley Street Congregational Church, Bolton. On Sunday 3rd February a service of memorial and thanksgiving, to which Old Boys, parents and friends were invited, was held in the Great Hall. It was conducted by Rev Canon R C Worsley, MA, Governor of Bolton School. The Lesson was read by the Headmaster.

At the School memorial service the Headmaster said:

‘I have long recognised that if I were ever called upon to express the farewell of the School to Mrs Saxelby I should be unworthy to do so. It is obviously impossible to do justice in a few words to one who has done so much in so many spheres and for so long.

‘We all know that she had a genius for teaching. This arose from a double enthusiasm and love: for France and the French people, and for every individual boy she taught – the slow no less than the clever.

‘She was first and foremost interested in you, not merely as boys who might later win examination triumphs, but as people – as boys who would be men. And she understood you; so often by the end of your first term she had seen your potientialities most clearly. If things were not going right with you she set to work to find the remedy. You needed mores sleep; your mothers we asked to give you cod liver oil; you must be encouraged to swim or scout, or to be tougher in games. For she believed in manly things and no one has ever suggested that because she was a woman she made boys soft. The contrary is true.

‘Her great humanity was also moved by the needs of those beyond the School: the unemployed before the war, the prisoners during the war; the starving of Europe since the war. She was not just sentimental about them. In every case she did something effective to help and led others to do the same.

‘Her physical vitality and courage were amazing. I saw her running only a few weeks ago. Two years ago she walked home with a broken ankle. Last year she was in the Lake District climbing mountains by day and writing her new book at night. So she had a right to hate slackness and shoddiness in others: and she did. She could be as stern as she could be kind. Much of her energy came from sheer will-power, the power that kept her going until the Carol Service, which she was determined to attend, the will that made her deal with important matters almost to the very end. One of those matters concerned the Exhibition, which she and Mr Saxelby have founded at Emmanuel College for boys from this School.

‘There can be no doubt whatever as to the source of this warmth of heart and vitality of spirit. As a child she learnt from her father in a Manse in Donegal the Christian Faith on which her whole life was built. She retained that Faith through the blackest days and she held to it to the end.

‘From her Faith came a joyousness and a love of fun. She was most popular at children’s parties. She who enjoyed life so much would not wish that we should be gloomy and mournful today.

‘Let us be thankful for her life and work and the happiness and help and example she has brought to so many – her colleagues as well as her pupils.'


It is no small task to try to convey an impression of the unique place held by Mrs Saxelby amongst the staff of Bolton School. The picture that will remain in the minds of all her colleagues will be of a friend, impulsive and vigorous in mind and body, always ready to help, practically or with sound advice any of us in difficulty, whether our troubles were personal or in connection with School affairs. She enjoyed School life to the full because she contributed so much to it. Her activities were innumerable, ranging from twenty years’ service as ‘interpreter’ examiner for Bolton Scouts to mountain climbing in the Alps and Pyrenees, yet she always found time to entertain Old Boys and Staff at Ducie Avenue; and for the Scouts the cottage near Rydal Church was a spot not to be passed without a visit during half-term or other holidays. To many of us the example we have seen of happy domestic companionship has been an inspiration.

A side of her character that has escaped mention was her capacity for furious and righteous indignation. Many a pupil and colleague will remember it. It was anger which left no bitterness, anger not against a person, but at his misdeeds. She never spared her own energies and expected similar activity in others, was absolutely straight herself and impatient of ‘humbug’ and deceit anywhere. She had a whimsical and even ‘Puckish’ humour that enlivened her conversation and made her company equally charming to the little one of five or the to the grandmother of seventy-five.

As a House Tutor in ‘Wigan’ she knew her group thoroughly. Her slim figure will be missed at House cricket matches, where she chatted with parents; and Old Boys who, in recent and less happy times were on leave from the Forces, always looked for a word with ‘Saxie’.

All of us who knew her realised that she was one of the main sources of the strength of our School community. Her own strength was founded in her firm belief in the capacity of her fellow beings for good, in her burning indignation at their lapses in to evil, and ultimately in her fundamental Christian faith. It was fitting that her last appearance at School should be at the Carol Service and that the last carol which she sang with us should be Adeste Fideles laeti triumphantes.

Harold Vaughan Brookes


As a Frenchwoman and as a close friend of Emma Saxelby, I should like to add my own tribute to those that have been paid to her. She was such a link between our two countries that it seems only fair that France should be associated with those who mourn her. Besides, the Bolton School boys, ‘her’ boys, will doubtless be glad to know how thoroughly acquainted she was with France, and how all her French friends loved and appreciated her.

I first knew her when she arrived in Lyons in 1907. She taught English in the girls’ lycée and her conversation classes were so lively that all the girls shared the delight of having an assistante who could make them talk so pleasantly about so many new and varied topics. She attended lectures at the University, too, and there, the brilliancy of her mind, the wide culture that was already hers, and her eagerness to learn soon made her known to our professors, whereas her charm her humour, her mirth, made her a favourite among her fellow-students.

She seemed to have found in France the proper climate for her mind. She was not a foreigner to us; she was one of us. Her sympathy with the French authors was so deep that she was able to penetrate them as subtly and as thoroughly as any French student. The ‘versions’ she used to make in her rich and elegant English were a delight to us all.

After that year in Lyons, she came back every summer to visit her beloved France. She was interested in all its aspects, all its activities, all its regional folklore. How she enjoyed mountain climbing in the Alps and the Pyrenees, talks with the plain peasants of Haute-Loire or fishermen in Brittany; how she loved to read the latest book of our contemporary authors! No one was better acquainted with modern French literature. The war years brought a painful silence between us, but, when we could at last resume contact, I was astonished to hear she knew Aragon and Eluard, those poets whom we in France had not been able to read.

That wide French culture she did not acquire for her own selfish enjoyment, but in order to share it with her boys. They were never absent from her mind. Teaching was her life’s work. The French language and French culture, she thought, were the medium through which her boys would come to understand and love France as she did. Our two countries complete each other, she said; they have the same ideals; they must, therefore, go hand-in-hand towards their common goal.

Thus her personal influence, her power of persuasion, her bright and noble mind served both our countries. She taught generations of English boys to love France, whereas, in France none of the many friends she had, but loved England the better for having known that great woman.

Mlle L Dosmond

Emma Saxelby.docx.jpg