Bolton School Former Pupils
The Lady Smith of Leigh, DL
Joy Lesley Smith (née Booth, Class of 1963)
Photo Credit – Michael Orrell
I joined Bolton School aged eight, after the Entrance Examination and an interview with the Headmistress, Miss Varley, but she was soon to be replaced by Miss Higginson, who was a formative influence. At 11-plus I was awarded a residual place in the III Form. I did not want to leave to take up the free place at another Grammar School, and I am grateful that my parents, who already had three other children (and more before I left), were prepared to pay the difference.
I stayed until I entered the Lower VIth, but, in those olden days when The Arts and The Sciences were considered to be very separate things, I left to go to Bolton Tech. to study Botany, Zoology and Geography at A Level.
From there I went to train as a teacher in South Wales, and thence to work in London. Whilst teaching I realized that I should have gone to University, so I took an additional A Level, English Literature, and gained a place at Birkbeck College, University of London, where the motto is In Nocte Consilium.
I have taught in a single sex Grammar school in Tower Hamlets, and mixed Comprehensive schools in the London suburbs and the North West, rising from Head of Geography to Head of Humanities (Geography, History and Religious Education). I became my Union’s workplace Representative in my last two schools, and a school manager/governor in three schools overall.
After retirement from teaching I volunteered for, and then was employed part-time until 2016 by, The Rt Hon Andy Burnham MP in his Constituency Office as an Assistant Case Worker. I have been involved with a number of charities, in particular, Age UK (Wigan Borough) and Compassion in Action. I was appointed a Deputy Lieutenant of the County in 2008, and High Sheriff of Greater Manchester for 2016-2017.
I had good friends at school, in both Divisions, and we had great times Youth Hosteling and camping on official trips, and later, on our own. It was through one of these friends from the Boys’ that I met my future husband, who was introduced to me as ‘Perce’. I said that I wasn’t interested in a bloke called Percy, but it turned out to be his nickname from his initials, PRCS, so I relented. [Lord Smith’s Inspiring Minds profile can be read here].
My maternal grandfather was a Conservative Councillor in Bolton in the 1950s, and my grandmother and mother leading local Conservative Party Officers, so initial conversations with my new left-wing Labour boyfriend were quite heated, but I, eventually, became a convert.
Our daughter, an artist, was born in 1983, and PRCS was elevated to the peerage in 1999.
What is your connection to Bolton School? Were any other members of your family here?
My family had no previous connection to the School, but of my brothers, the second joined the Boys’ Division as I left for the Tech., and both he, and my fourth brother, sent daughters to the Girls’ Division. They obviously felt that Big Sister hadn’t turned out too badly.
Did any member of teaching staff particularly inspire you while you were at school?
The breadth of interests reflected in my teaching came from my family, and from Bolton School. It is invidious to select a few inspirational teachers from many, but here are two: Miss Shaw (History), who told us gripping stories, and made us re-enact events – my group’s attempt to realistically portray the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots was a spectacular failure, thank goodness – but I remember the facts; and Miss Shaw (Geography), who was enviably ‘cool’, and the mistress of the visual aid, especially the Epidiascope. I also valued the sports; officially, the athletics, and in addition, the cricket; and the extra-curricular activities; the visits to Derbyshire, and later the (Joint, with the Boys’) Archaeological Society with the master, C.L.M.Harding. I’d like to forget the (Joint) Scottish Country Dancing.
What is your fondest Bolton School memory?
Like many people, my teenage years were quite troubled, and I am sure that I acted out a great deal at school. However, I gained a great love of learning, and some insight into what I thought made for good teaching, and what did not, which consolidated my desire to be a teacher. I developed independence of thought, as well as personal independence, a strong sense of justice, and the necessity to treat people, and places, with respect. Some school memories are not exactly fond, and are not to be emulated – being stuck up a tree in the woods – what goes up doesn’t always easily get down – and day-dreaming by the canal on a beautiful frosty morning cross-country run, and having to be ‘found’ and brought back to school… but always I recall a life surrounded by architectural beauty, intelligent people, and packed with interest.
What is the best career advice you can give to Bolton School pupils today?
My advice to Bolton School pupils today is simple, if unoriginal. Do what you choose to do with passion, and seize the day- carpe diem. Have focus on aims, but be prepared to change direction. The world is changing faster than even you realize, but core values of honour, duty, justice and respect still have a place, even if they must be analysed and, sometimes, re-defined. Oh, and above all, use your intelligence.
What do you think about Bolton School’s 100 Campaign aim to re-establish genuine open access through its bursary fund?
I was able to attend Bolton School when it was a Direct Grant Grammar School, through help from the Local Authority and my parent’s sacrifices. I welcome the re-establishment of genuine open access.