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Tribute to Much-Loved Maths Teacher

Miss Margaret Dickinson, who taught Maths in the Girls’ Division for 34 years before her retirement in 2006, sadly died earlier this week.

Girls’ Division Headmistress Sue Hincks said: ‘It is with immense sadness that we learned that Margaret Dickinson had passed away on Monday. She is remembered by many Old Girls as the kindest Maths teacher you could possibly want. One Old Girl wrote to me to say how, at the end of Year 11, she had asked Margaret to ‘sign her shirt’ but Margaret declined to do so. The Old Girl was a little upset as Margaret was her favourite teacher and she said this to her at the time. Margaret simply said, ‘Sorry but I don’t do shirt signing.’ A week or so later, the Old Girl received a card which Margaret had sent to her home address, wishing her well and explaining that this was instead of signing her shirt!

‘Colleagues describe her as ‘such a special person; so calm, humorous and understanding’. In my early days at Bolton School, a colleague described her to me as ‘the most emotionally literate’ senior manager you could possibly ask for. From my first meeting with her, when she could have had the rooky headteacher for breakfast, her gentleness and kindness shone through. She was also exceptionally conscientious and many of the policies and procedures which we take for granted now were instituted or improved by her. During her lifetime, we decided that we would name the Year 11 Common Room the Dickinson Room after her. I spoke to her about this and she was pleased with the idea, although her natural modesty meant that she didn’t want a huge fuss made at the time.  I hope that we shall be able to do something to honour Margaret at the time of her funeral, although it is not yet clear what can be done in these dreadful times. More importantly, I hope that we shall be able to honour her memory with a tribute to her in School next year when we can begin to come together as a School community and invite former colleagues and Old Girls back into the buildings.’

Miss Margaret Dickinson taught Maths in the Girls’ Division from 1972 until her retirement in 2006. That time included a spell as the Head of Mathematics (1980-1988) before she relinquished that role to become Head of Careers (1988-2006). Under her guidance, the concept of a joint Careers Room accessible for both Divisions became a reality and the Careers team received the prestigious Careers Education Quality Award in 2004. She was also appointed Deputy Headmistress in 1990.

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. Former Girls’ Division Director of Music John Davenport remembered in 2006: ‘Our discussions invariably led on to some aspect of our musical interests — especially her love of choral music, in particular Elgar’s ‘Dream of Gerontius’ — and, until recently, her involvement with the Halle Choir. One always came away feeling that music was the most important thing in the world’.

Margaret helped to put together innumerable annual magazines and termly newsletters during her time at Bolton School, 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 1988-2006, and also helped with the latter’s biography of former Headmistress Fanny Eliza Johnson. More recently, 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.

Several former Headmistresses of the Girls’ Division worked with Margaret during her 34 years at Bolton School. Margaret Spurr said that she was ‘the brightest light that ever shone on my Bolton School horizon. Always a joy to work with, always considerate of staff and aware of the pressures upon them, always tolerant of pupils and understanding of their difficulties as well as their achievements, Margaret’s contribution to the life of Bolton School has been incalculable.’ Jane Panton remembered the Head Inspector in 2004 calling the Girls’ Division Pre-Inspection Material, masterminded by Margaret, ‘quite simply the best’ she had ever seen, and also praised Margaret’s ‘dogged determination to produce the best possible, no matter how much work is involved or how long it takes’. Gill Richards worked with Margaret for just one year but said it was ‘a great pleasure’ and further noted: ‘There is nothing that Margaret does not know about the Girls’ Division.’

Indeed, members of staff across the Bolton School Foundation remember Margaret fondly as a person who ‘always found time to listen and offer words of wisdom’ (Julie Yardley, former Junior Girls’ School Headteacher) and whose ‘caring and warm approach … made her such an invaluable colleague’ (Mervyn Brooker, former Boys’ Division Headmaster). Former Boys’ Division Headmaster Alan Wright said: ‘I regard Margaret as the archetypal Deputy Head, a priceless gift to any school, but also as a sincere colleague, never too busy or too hassled to chat and always anxious to hear the career and family news of one’s offspring.’

Other colleagues in remembering Margaret invariably mentioned her kindness and sense of fun, her commitment and her eye for detail, her deep knowledge of the Girls’ Division, her strength in troubled times, and her constructive and practical ideas. Former Governor Gladys Sidebottom said at the time of Margaret’s retirement: ‘Margaret’s colleagues … without exception, have admired her mathematical rigour and teaching’. She also said that even Miss Falla, who was the Head of Mathematics when Margaret joined the School and reportedly expected the highest standards from her department, ‘had nothing but praise for her, praise indeed!’

Despite being diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in 2003, Margaret continued to work in the Girls’ Division for several years. The school magazine at the time of her retirement in 2006 noted: ‘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.’

Margaret was born in Prestwich, Manchester in 1947. She attended The Park School in Preston, where she studied A Level 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. Her first teaching job was at Didcot Girls’ Grammar School in 1970 before successfully applying for a post at Bolton School Girls’ Division in 1972. She remained a much-loved and fondly remembered member of staff at Bolton School for the rest of her career.

She passed away on Monday 19 October 2020.

Upon her retirement, the Girls’ Division magazine in 2006 featured a three page article about Margaret and her time at Bolton School, featuring numerous recollections from her colleagues. Read it in full at the School’s archive here.

Margaret was also included in 100 Inspiring Minds, which profiled inspiring and influential people from Bolton School’s history during the 100/500 anniversary celebrations in 2015 and 2016.

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