Obituary - Dorothy Bartholomew 1913-2011

16th December 2011 at 00:00

Dorothy Bartholomew expected things to get done. Whether it was good behaviour from pupils or the revision of airport schedules to allow for the uninterrupted performance of a school play, the Norwich headteacher always anticipated - and generally met with - compliance.

Dorothy Bartholomew was born in November 1913, the youngest child of a bookbinder and a dressmaker. Her mother was extremely ambitious for her and Dorothy went on to study English at Westfield College in London. She loved poetry and wordplay; Shakespeare was a lifelong passion.

After teaching posts in Sheffield and London, she was appointed head of English at Oxford High School. Here, her pupils included the actors Miriam Margolyes and Maggie Smith: it was rumoured that the latter's portrayal of Miss Jean Brodie was based at least in part on Miss Bartholomew.

She was certainly a formidable figure. She emphasised the importance of truth and discipline to her pupils: when she took off her glasses to address them, they knew they were in for trouble. And she expected things to be done as she wanted them. Later, after being appointed head of Norwich High girls' school in 1954, she decided to stage a school play outdoors. So she wrote to Norwich airport, advising them of her plans and asking that they reroute their flights accordingly. Airport staff duly obliged.

She impressed pupils and staff with her intellectual rigour. She continued to teach and regularly produced school plays herself. The range of subjects on offer expanded dramatically under her charge, but she emphasised music and the arts as well and presided over the building of a new arts block.

Like many schoolmistresses of her era, she did not marry. But she had nieces and nephews, with whom she would spend holidays; it always took her some time to remember to behave like an aunt, rather than a headmistress.

Her Christian values were evident in her school assemblies, with their emphasis on service and personal discipline. And Norwich cathedral played a large role in her life: she volunteered significantly for the local branch of Christian Aid. In 1999, she was awarded an MBE for this work.

Though she hosted regular parties for clerics, she was no cook: her kitchen skills extended as far as her mother's recipe for bloater paste and a decent trifle. But, ever the delegator, she merely arranged for other people to bring the food.

She retired in 1975, but retained an involvement in education. She became a governor of Larkman Middle School, serving a deprived local estate, and remained in the role into her nineties. She similarly retained an involvement with Norwich High. When heavy snowfall meant that many parents could not attend the school play last Christmas, the 97-year-old nonetheless turned up: she had to support the girls, she said.

Dorothy Bartholomew died this autumn.

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