Tributes for devoted headteacher who spent 35 years teaching generations of children in Pendle

A former headmistress, who spent 35 years teaching generations of children in Pendle, has died.
Mrs Hilda Whittaker, a gifted and devoted teacher who taught generations of youngstersMrs Hilda Whittaker, a gifted and devoted teacher who taught generations of youngsters
Mrs Hilda Whittaker, a gifted and devoted teacher who taught generations of youngsters

Mrs Hilda Whittaker died in Airedale Hospital the day before her 95th birthday.

Born in Cheshire, Hilda came to Pendle in 1948 after marrying the well known socialist Bill Whittaker.

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She had just qualified as a teacher and was thrilled to be offered the post of reception class teacher at Bradley Infants School in Nelson. She delighted in teaching reading and finding ways to help children to enjoy the experience.

With no formal maternity available Hilda had just a month off work when she gave birth to Susan, her first child.

Bill, who was a 'house husband' took Susan to school at lunch-time for her to be fed, a highly unusual arrangement in the 1950s.

With the birth of their second daughter, Joan, Bill returned to work in the mill and Hilda became a full time mum.

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The local authority approached her in 1956 and Hilda became a supply teacher at Walton Lane Nursery school in Nelson. She would leave the house before 7.30am to collect children on the school bus and was rarely home before 5.30 pm.

Hilda had found her 'calling' as she loved the informality of the nursery environment. But when, in 1967, the headships of Walton Lane and Woodfield Nursery schools came up, she lacked confidence to apply.

It was Bill who encouraged her to apply, telling her she had both the experience and the commitment.

The Woodfield Nursery interview was first and she succeeded.

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Susan said: "“I have never forgotten my mother’s joy that day and the pleasure she had running that nursery for 19 years.

"She thrived on enabling children to play and enjoy story time but most of all she loved time at the end of the day when the children enjoyed music as my mum was a good singer and pianist."

When Hilda retired, the Chief Education Officer paid a glowing tribute to her saying: "Your dedication to the well-being of the pupils in your care has justly earned you the respect of parents, colleagues and the local community in Brierfield. These qualities and your wisdom and experience will most certainly be missed."

Life at home however had not been easy because of the serious ill health of Joan. In retirement, Hilda and Bill focused attention on raising awareness of mental health issues and supporting the charity, Making Space

which housed Joan in Brierfield.

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They regularly ran cafes at Sunday car boot sales to raise money for Making Space.

They also moved to a house with a garden where Hilda used her green fingered skills to create a garden that passersby would stop and admire.

After 45 years, she resumed piano lessons again and learned to touch type to help Bill with his commitments.

The couple also enjoyed walking in Pendle and the Yorkshire Dales, a hobby they had enjoyed together since they met.

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Hilda also delighted in her weekly shop in Morrisons where parents of former pupils would stop, update her and confirm how happy their child had been at Woodfield.

Bill died 16 years ago aged 95. A historian at a university wrote to the Nelson Leader calling him and Len Dole, a fellow socialist who died a couple of months later, the 'elder statesmen of the North East.'

Bill had mentored Len, who was an active and successful campaigner for the Labour Party.

Hilda continued to support Joan, taking her out twice a week and managing in her own home to her death. Sadly, in March, Joan was a victim of Covid 19.

Susan said: "My mum never recovered from the loss.

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“Mum could not have loved us more nor made a better contribution to this world with the wonderful teaching and musical gifts she possessed.

"She lived to her potential in every way and I am so very proud to call her my mum."

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