Obituary - Ben Blakemore, 1930-2009
Benjamin Blakemore's father expected his son to follow him into the coal pits. But a fondness for reading the encyclopaedia and a trainee-teacher girlfriend led him instead into a lengthy career as a primary headteacher.
Ben Blakemore was born in 1930, in the Nottinghamshire mining town of Worksop. The son of a coal miner, he grew up with few novels at home. Instead, his parents presented their son with a complete set of encyclopaedias as reading matter. Young Ben dutifully worked through them, committing a series of abstruse facts to memory.
When he was 13, his father was appointed coal inspector, and the family moved to a village near Barnsley. Used to sitting in silence during the daily bus journey to school, Ben was captivated by the volubility of Patricia Senior, a fellow pupil. A nascent romance blossomed, cut short when Ben was drafted for national service.
While his mother had encouraged him throughout grammar school, his father had little ambition for his bright son. So Ben left school at 16, taking on a job as surveyor of open-cast pits.
Several years later, he visited Pat at teacher training college. Their romance was rekindled, but the visit also ignited something else in Mr Blakemore: an ambition to teach. He enrolled on a primary teaching course in Cheltenham.
Just before he graduated, he and Pat married. The pair then found jobs in primary schools at opposite ends of a large estate in Leeds. Mirroring the bus journeys of their childhood, each morning husband and wife would ride the tram together to school.
Naturally creative, Mr Blakemore took to primary education immediately. He would invent stories for his pupils, enthralling them with extemporised adventures. But he was not entirely happy in his first job and within several years had applied for the deputy headship of Orchard Head primary, in Pontefract.
Here, he was given the freedom to develop his keen interest in arts and crafts education. The head encouraged him to take pupils out to look at nature and local landmarks, drawing them from life.
Mr Blakemore believed passionately that young children, still struggling to express themselves through words, would find freedom in art. He wanted to teach them to observe the world around them and to capture that world through their work.
Within four years, he had been appointed head of nearby Simpson's Lane junior school. The childhood years spent acquiring encyclopaedic knowledge had paid off: the governors were impressed by the breadth of his general knowledge.
A reserved man, he nonetheless had an infectious enthusiasm for his new job. He deliberately sought out teachers who shared his love of arts and crafts. But he also knew his own failings: despite an indifference towards team sports, he was skilled at recruiting enthusiastic, inspiring staff.
Never keen on office aloofness, he would wander through the classrooms, telling stories and talking to pupils about their artwork. The keener their artistic observations, he believed, the easier they would ultimately find reading and writing.
But art was not just a school subject for him. In a workshop at home, he spent hours working with metal and wood, moulding silver brooches and pendants for Pat and their friends, as well as cupboards and furniture for his home. Their house had an old scullery off the kitchen, and Mr Blakemore converted this into a darkroom, developing photographs for school publications.
Photography was a hobby he shared with his three sons, Andrew, Ian and David. Andrew went on to study the subject at college.
Mr Blakemore retired in 1995, spending much of his new-found free time in his workshop. His eldest granddaughter, Tess, shared his love of arts and crafts, and hoped to spend more time studying photography with her grandfather.
But it was not to be. A smoker since his teens, Mr Blakemore had finally given up at the age of 60 after his wife had encouraged congregants at their church to pray for him. It was too late: symptoms of lung cancer appeared while he was on holiday in France last summer. He did not see the end of the year.
Ben Blakemore is survived by his wife, Pat, his three sons and three grandchildren.