St Elphin's School logo

Dorothy Watts, LRAM LGSM
1908 – 2002

Elocution & Piano Teacher 1959 – 1983

Miss Dorothy Watts, L.R.A.M. L.G.S.M.

Born on August 23, 1908, Dorothy was introduced to her brother Ernest who promptly named her. Neither her parents nor Ernest knew where the name came from, but apparently, at the time, he insisted that his new sister was to be called Dorothy. She spent her early life growing up on Dale Road, moving the short distance to Crowestones and then onto Kents Bank Road some 76 years ago. She told stories of her youth, where they never ventured far from Buxton, as Ernest suffered from travel sickness. However, this changed as she grew older and her passion for travel took hold. She travelled with friends during her adult life, with one of her favourite places being Norway. As a child, she spent many hours at the piano, while the other children were out at play, and her family were reluctant at first to believe anyone could make a living out of playing the piano. Her perseverance and early success took her to the Royal Academy of Music in London for lessons. Her journey started very early. She caught the steam train from Buxton, following the old Miller’s Dale line to London, and then took a horse and carriage to the Academy. She had a one-hour lesson and then travelled all the way back — for a single young lady travelling alone, this was a major feat.

Dorothy was extremely fond of animals, especially cats, but one of her first pets was a fox terrier brought back to the house one day by her father. The terrier was owned by a gentleman who showed dogs and unfortunately this one wasn’t good enough. Dorothy’s father said they would take it home and it became a popular member of the family. She had many stories of her pets, but one she told often was about a snowy winter day when she was teaching at Darley Dale. Apparently it started to snow and she was worried about her cat being at home and needing to be fed. Distressed, she was offered a lift home and the journey took several hours. Her father died suddenly when she was 28 and she had always boasted about his good health — he had never been poorly. Dorothy always reminded her pupils that she never caught colds, so it could never be used as an excuse to miss lessons. She nursed her mother, who died in 1956 after a long illness. Dorothy lived through two world wars and her own efforts during the Second World War were as a member of ENFA, a body of young people whose principal aim was the entertainment of the troops.

She went on to teach music, speech and drama, first at the Normanton School, Buxton, and latterly at St Elphins School, Darley Dale. She spent 24 years at the latter and was very involved in its artistic life, being very supportive and helpful to colleagues. She retired in January 1983 at the age of 75.

Here is an extract from the school magazine, written by Andy Jackson: “For 24 years, Miss Watts has been part of St Elphins. One of the longest-serving members of staff, Miss Watts lived for her work in the school, and through every conceivable adversity — diminishing bus services, ice and snow — she made her difficult journey from Buxton daily. “We were all very sorry that illness prevented her continuing the work which she so much enjoyed and that this led her to retire at the beginning of 1983. “Since Miss Watts came to the school in the autumn term of 1958, many, many girls have benefited from her teaching of piano, solo singing and speech and drama. “Miss Watts expected high standards of work, and her pupils achieved good results in Associated Board and Guildhall examinations, as well as in music festivals competition. “In the past, Miss Watts has worked on musical productions in the school, and also for several years she adjudicated house music competitions, where she was able to draw on her experience as a festival adjudicator and guildhall examiner to give sound advice and encouragement to performers.

“Miss Watts will be sadly missed by staff and pupils alike, and we are grateful for her tremendous contribution to the school.” She was an examiner for the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, based in London, and travelled all over the country, including Northern Ireland, in that capacity. She was a local representative in the Buxton area. She was known for memorising by heart all the pieces in the examination booklet, just in case they came up. She was a respected adjudicator for music, speech and drama in the Buxton area and all over the country. She taught music, speech and drama in the Buxton area for over 70 years and was still teaching until last year. Many of her former pupils still live in the town. She was very involved in the Buxton Festival of Music and Drama and rose to the position of Vice-President. In short, she was an unselfish, hardworking and dedicated lady.

The funeral service took place at St Mary’s Church, Buxton, on Friday conducted by Archdeacon Desmond Carnelly, with Mr Andrew Jackson playing the organ and Mrs Kathryn Hatton giving a moving address. Interment followed in the family grave at Buxton Cemetery. Funeral arrangements were by David H Smith, Mellor & Smith

Derbyshire Times

Liz Bailey-Donlan also says.....

"Miss Watts taught me for Elocution to assist with my poor speech due to having a hare lip & cleft palate – as well as attempting to rid me of my Manchester accent!

During my last term at St Elphin's (Summer 1973) I had no idea what I wanted to do when I left. Miss Clynes who was Powys Assistant House Mistress at the time had a typewriter in her room which I had been "playing" with. Miss Watts heard about this and asked if I had thought about secretarial work which, of course, I hadn't! She had a friend who had a secretarial college in Hazel Grove, Stockport which was approximately 12 miles from where I lived. Mrs Deer, the Principal of the college, had extremely high standards and would usually only accept pupils with a certain number of 'O' or 'A' levels. Although I didn't qualify for admittance, Miss Watts was prepared to arrange for my parents to take me for an interview. As Miss Watts had recommended me, Mrs Deer was willing to accept me, on the understanding that if I stepped one foot out of line, I would be asked to leave immediately!

I took to secretarial work like a duck to water, passed every exam I took and completed the course within one year whereas most of the students took at least 2 years to complete it! I was also extremely fortunate in that I was successful in obtaining the first job I ever applied for – a shorthand- typist at Withington Hospital.

I often wonder where I would be now, if Miss Watts had not come to my rescue!"

Back to top