Bolton School Former Pupils
Miss Dickinson (Girls' Division Staff, 1972-2006)
Described by Margaret Spurr (Headmistress, 1979-1994) as ‘the brightest light that ever shone on my Bolton School horizon’, Margaret Dickinson, who taught Maths in the Girls’ Division for 34 years before her retirement in 2006, made a lasting impression on colleagues, pupils and the School itself.
Margaret was born in Prestwich, Manchester, in 1947. She attended The Park School in Preston, where she studied A Levels in Maths, Further Maths and Physics, and was elected Head Girl in 1965. She went on to study for a BSc in Mathematics at Royal Holloway, which was part of the University of London, before doing her teacher training at Cambridge University. With both her mother and her older sister, Anne, also teaching, the profession seems to have been in the family genes. Her first teaching job was at Didcot Girls’ Grammar School in 1970 before she applied successfully for a post at Bolton School Girls’ Division in 1972, where she remained a much respected and affectionately regarded member of staff for the rest of her career.
Miss Falla was the Head of Mathematics when Margaret joined Bolton School and when she retired, Margaret stepped into her shoes and held that role for eight years, until relinquishing it in order to become Head of Careers. She established a joint Careers Room accessible for both Divisions and, under her guidance, the Careers team received the prestigious Careers Education Quality Award in 2004. In 1990, Margaret was appointed as Deputy Headmistress.
In addition to her formal roles, Margaret was involved in many extra-curricular endeavours, from acting as House Manager for a number of Joint Productions, to taking part in the ‘Staff Revue’, to accompanying and leading trips to Cautley, the School’s base for outdoor pursuits prior to Patterdale Hall, at a time when members of staff arranged the whole trip themselves, including organising the activities and cooking the meals! Her passion for music meant that she also made the most of the School’s full programme of events: at the time of her retirement, Headteachers of the Boys’ Division, Junior Girls’ School and Beech House all noted her regular attendance ‘far beyond the call of duty’ at concerts, productions, nativity plays, Harvest festivals and other events both musical and otherwise, as well as her positive comments afterwards.
Margaret also helped to put together innumerable annual magazines and termly newsletters, as well as assisting with special publications. She worked on So Goodly A Heritage: A Snapshot of Bolton School Girls’ Division at the End of the Millennium with Veronica Millington, who taught English in the Girls’ Division from 1988 to 2006, and also helped with the latter’s biography of former Headmistress Fanny Eliza Johnson. Margaret continued to support Bolton School’s publications as one of the proof-readers for the School’s anniversary book The Best of Both Worlds.
During her 34 years at Bolton School, Margaret saw many changes, including the move from being a Direct Grant school to full independence, the introduction, and subsequent loss, of Government Assisted Places and the change from O Levels to GCSEs, as well as the opening of new facilities such as the Sports Hall, the Swimming Pool, the Arts Centre and the building of the Nursery. New subjects appeared on the curriculum and all subjects underwent significant changes—in her own area, Margaret witnessed the progression from the slide rule and log tables to calculators and computers. The day-to-day life of the pupils also changed. Out have gone the indoor shoes of the 1980s, and in have come mobile phones and iPads. Yet despite all those changes, she was pleased that so many of the Girls’ Division traditions and values still held. In particular, she noted that the School Prayer which was in use when she first arrived was still being said as she retired, and that the girls continued to respond with enthusiasm to one of its key phrases – ‘Much is expected of those to whom much is given’ — in their community action and charity work.
In March 2003, Margaret was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. However, with characteristic dedication, determination and good humour, she continued to shoulder all the responsibilities of her role, making few concessions at all to her ill health. As she departed in 2006 for a well-earned retirement, she expressed her affection for and gratitude to the School, acknowledging the support and encouragement she received from her talented, able and committed colleagues and the pleasure of working with the girls and see them mature and develop into capable and responsible young women. In turn, her kindness, sense of humour and devotion to Bolton School prompted guests to cancel their arrangements so that they could come to wish her well for her retirement.
Margaret passed away on 19th October 2020. In their tributes to her, colleagues all speak of her caring nature, her humour, loyalty, dignity and of her unequalled capacity for hard work.
Tributes from Colleagues of both Divisions
Margaret was a wonderful person in every way – dedicated, loyal, supportive and a marvellous friend and colleague. She had a lovely sense of humour and brought a smile and great humanity to those she met. Her calm reassurance and wisdom were valued by her pupils and by staff in all departments of the School.
Early memories of Margaret in the 1970s and 1980s include great fun at staff revues, trips to Cautley and accompanying Art and History visits to London and Paris. In those days, School terms ended at 11.30am and many staff would then decamp to a restaurant such as Smithills Coaching House. Margaret would often lend a hand in helping to calculate the cash payments (after a rather substantial meal and with much laughter!). Other happy memories include shared railway holidays in this country and abroad, which involved many humorous incidents.
Music was a great source of pleasure to Margaret and she thoroughly enjoyed both singing in and listening to concerts. A supporter of School productions throughout all age ranges in the School, she was always appreciative of the efforts made by staff and pupils and never failed to express her thanks to everyone involved.
During the last few years, sadly, Margaret was unable to be as active as she would have wished, but the kindness, gratitude and concern she showed to all her friends remained constant. Margaret has left an enduring legacy and she will be greatly missed.
Kathryn Critchley (Girls’ Division Staff, 1974-1979)
I first met Margaret in 1979 when I returned to Bolton School Girls’ Division after my daughter, Jeanette, started at Beech House and we remained close friends for the rest of her life.
She had just been appointed Head of Mathematics and we attended many conferences together, the most notable being a one-week one designed to prepare us to teach the A Level Statistics course – Statistics had not been on the syllabus before then! After three days we were both out of our depth, but decided we probably knew enough to teach Y12 (the Lower Sixth as it was then) so would share a group and support each other. We could then attend the same course the following year to finish the syllabus. This plan fell apart when 25 girls signed up for the course and we each had our own group!
Margaret and I worked closely together for the rest of her time at School, particularly when dealing with University applications when she was Deputy Headmistress and I was Head of Sixth Form. She was an excellent Deputy Head: discreet, thorough and fair and was respected by both staff and students.
Away from school we had a number of short holidays together and I think we visited most of the National Trust properties within a reasonable range.
When Margaret could no longer live independently I visited her regularly in Preston. Initially we would meet up with former staff and other friends but more recently, when she was wheelchair bound, we just used to go shopping and call somewhere for coffee. I was unable to visit her recently but kept in touch by telephone until she died.
Val Hanrahan (Girls’ Division Staff, 1978-2014)
Staffrooms can be territorial and so it is that my first memories of Margaret have her in the Maths corner, myself in the English, happily teasing one another on whatever topic might come to mind after School lunch. Everyone will tell of her kindness, of her affection and generosity and so will I, but I will remember first her laughter. When it comes to a sense of the ridiculous, Margaret had a good left hook and our bouts usually left me worsted and perhaps a little aggrieved that she was just as clever with words as with figures.
She upstaged me. Her appearance in the staff review as a naughty examination candidate complete with innumerable lucky mascots, crisps and an emu eclipsed anything I could do and I was banished to the lighting box. I forgave her, of course. It was funny and gave us a rare opportunity to see her breaking every rule when we all knew that in real life, she upheld every value the School offered. Margaret loved Bolton School Girls’ Division. She was prodigiously hard working. I recall watching in awe on the last day of term as she filled her car with files full of jobs to complete over the holidays.
When I left Bolton School I was glad that I could take Margaret’s friendship with me. My admiration for her grew as she confronted her illness with courage and determination in equal measure. To the very end, whenever I called her she would ask after my family and we would settle into happy reminiscences, talking about the very many friends for whom she cared. To me she is, as she was to others, a best friend, a dear colleague and a force for good in my life.
Bobby Georghiou (Girls’ Division Staff, 1981-1996)
In School, Margaret was always the professional – calm, meticulous, concerned, helpful. She listened to problems, considered them carefully and invariably came up with sensible solutions.
After we both retired, we had days out together and she introduced me to new places to walk – and talk – and places to eat. Food was important to Margaret, though she preferred meals prepared by someone else. I remember once meeting her in the Marks and Spencer food hall: she looked at my basket of fruit and vegetables and said, ‘Oh, you’re not one of those people who chops vegetables are you?’
Always interested in others, Margaret loved to hear about the lives of former pupils and colleagues. Her family were very important to her; she made a beautiful family scrapbook and we worked together on a photobook for her sister.
She was gentle and kind but had a steely determination which saw her through some very difficult times and helped her make difficult decisions as her illness progressed. She never complained about her problems, preferring to chat about others or about the news. Her quiet, understated humour made conversation a pleasure – she could convey a great deal just with the slight raising of an eyebrow.
And that is how I like to remember her – telling a story, raising an eyebrow and breaking into a quiet giggle.
Hilary Crawforth (née Berry, 1955-1968; Girls’ Division Staff, 1986-2010)
Margaret’s reputation as one of the premier Deputies of the North West was well established even before I became a Deputy myself! She interviewed me for the Headship at Bolton with Pat Fairweather and the leadership team at the Girls’ Division. I knew her opinion would count and I knew I would rely on her experience and knowledge of everything about Bolton. There was nothing she did not know. I was sad to hear she would be with me only one term, to ‘ease me in’.
We got on well from the very first day. She was the third person to enter my office. Two teachers had been in to inform me they would be taking maternity leave. As Margaret came in I said to her, ‘I hope you are not coming to tell me you are taking maternity leave.’ Her response was, ‘As I am unmarried and have had a hysterectomy, it would be a miracle worthy of World News, let alone locally!’ This set the tone for our relationship, a lot of laughter and good fun amongst the challenges that face the senior team in any school.
Margaret was always conscious of her role as Deputy. When I was away at GSA Conference and there was a serious incident, she contacted me with the details for a decision, although she already knew exactly what to do. Some of the best fun we had was as Doom & Doom, thinking of all the terrible things that might befall pupils on school trips and writing risk assessments. SKCV’s first trip to India taxed us, from dysentery to snake bites, road accidents to plane crash. Margaret was forensic when conducting investigations and forgot nothing.
After a term I persuaded her to stay for the year, but sadly her Consultant said no longer. It was an emotional moment for both of us when she came to tell me, but we remained friends and met often after she retired. I last saw her in Garstang just before the first lockdown. She will never be forgotten. She was the best of Bolton School and a role model for all of us.
Gill Richards (Headmistress, 2005-2011)
“Margaret, what are you considering doing about …?” Faced with yet another initiative from the DfE or similar source this was the type of question I would frequently put to Margaret Dickinson by phone across the Centre Quad (as it was then called) often after six in the evening, knowing she would still be beavering away in her office in the Girls’ Division and also confident she would have already come to a no-nonsense response and a practical and possible course of action. Over the years we spoke about a huge range of matters, such as the annual DfE census returns, finance, budgets, curriculum, staffing and on to music and drama and outwards to outdoor pursuits ventures. Margaret’s great eye for detail, her efficiency and her superb mathematically-based accurate financial control were wonderfully balanced by her willingness to be adventurous, forward-thinking and, when appropriate, opportunist. Every conversation was constructive, supportive and helpful and, in the context of the structure of the Bolton School foundation, all embracing of the Divisions and the subsections contained therein.
At a personal level my wife and I remain grateful for Margaret’s longstanding interest and frequent enquiry, long after she had left, of our daughter and, while she was in the Girls’ Division, for Margaret’s determination that this girl was perfectly capable of a respectable public exam performance in mathematics and for instilling the required confidence. For those of us working in the Boys’ Division, Margaret Dickinson was the archetypal Bolton School colleague; totally committed to the young in her charge and equally supportive of her colleagues across the whole School Foundation and loyal without fault to the ethos of the School. Margaret – we thank you for your lovely warm radiant presence and we salute you.
Alan Wright (Headmaster, Boys’ Division, 1983-2002)
I had only seen Margaret from a distance, sitting in the Maths Department’s area of the staff room, looking quite austere. Having only passed the time of day with her, I didn’t really know her. That is, until she became Head of the Careers Department. Her forward thinking and enthusiasm took the department to another level, looking at new initiatives to make sure Bolton School were leaders in Careers Education. Always considering staff development, she encouraged and supported me to gain a qualification, acting as my mentor; her advice was always unequivocal. She was the best proof reader I have ever met, not missing an incorrect punctuation mark, grammatical error and, her pet hate, split infinitives!
When the post of Deputy Head was advertised, humble as always, she wasn’t sure she was ‘good enough’. It was our turn to encourage her to go for it. After all her hard work, she didn’t want to give up being Head of Careers, and she managed to persuade the Head that she would cope with the workload of both positions. She certainly did – her attention to detail in all she undertook was second to none. Margaret never expected anybody to do anything she herself wouldn’t do.
But what an all-rounder. Her acting abilities came to the fore when she took part in staff reviews: I remember her sitting at the examination desk and lining up her lucky toys and pencil case in such a precise manner – she was such a hoot being the annoying student whose hand would keep going up. The whole audience were in hysterics! She also had a wonderful singing voice and could dance – her talents were limitless, but she wasn’t one to talk of her achievements, being a modest and private person.
Full of surprises, during the School holidays, Margaret would turn up for meetings with the ever-present pencil case in hand, only to produce Kit Kats, Twix or anything chocolaty to ‘keep us going’ as a treat. Her favourite a walnut whip.
Margaret was a caring, kind, empathetic, gentle lady who showed respect to all she met. I felt privileged to be asked to write a few words and I know my life has been enriched having met Margaret.
Chris Sutcliffe (née Nightingale, Class of 1972, Boys’ Division Staff 1986-2019)