Dame Dorothy Brock, O.B.E.

Found among the papers of L.R. Reeve* this affectionate portrait of Dorothy Brock much admired educationalist and the headmistress of the Mary Datchelor School in Camberwell for 32 years.


Dame Dorothy Brock, O.B.E., was at one time Headmistress of the Mary Datchelor School, in Camberwell. Her pupils were very fortunate indeed to be learning under the direction of one of the best speakers in London, and much as I admired the platform genius of the late Mrs E. M. Burgwin of Brixton, I am fairly sure that if it were possible to have a choice of listening to one of them on the same evening I should choose Miss Brock.

It may be that her successor was, or is, as excellent a teacher as her immediate predecessor, and as charming a personality, for probably the appointment was open to all the leading women of Great Britain, but whatever the name of the fortunate successor, she had one of the hardest tasks in the country when she stepped into Dr Brock's shoes, and one would like to know how the traditional pioneers of public schools for girls, Miss Beale and Miss Buss, would stand up to such an appointment.

Dr Brock first aroused my interest, my intense interest, when she was one of the principal speakers at a meeting during a January educational conference at University College, London. She was extolling the virtues of examinations, and the training for self-control when anything was likely to make one lose one's head. It would have been almost impossible for anyone to have presented a better case, and her speech was the week's greatest event. The next occasion on which I witnessed her authoritative and beautifully controlled duties was when she was hostess at a reception in her own Mary Datchelor school. Her welcome to each individual guest made everyone feel sure that she was Queen of the Day and that he was the Guest of Honour. Yet there was no suspicion of effusiveness.

© National Portrait Gallery, London

  Still, one can say in all truth that an outstanding public speaker or a perfect hostess may not be an exceptional head teacher; and here the most reliable evidence surely derives from the pupils themselves. On that very important point I can provide some evidence from an ex-pupil (already mentioned in another connection) whose father was an old colleague of mine and one of my greatest friends. When his daughter was a schoolgirl I was frequently at his house listening to innumerable stories about current activities at the Camberwell school, and from this source my information was that Contemporary and old scholars alike were almost bursting at the seams with pride when their school was mentioned. My friend's daughter loved music. Her parents bought a good piano. Without any prompting on their part she settled down nearly every day to a five or six hours stint with the piano and violin. Now she is a music teacher in a girls' high school in South London.
It occurs to me that somehow Miss Brock is not unconnected with this story. Moreover I am of course aware that not every pupil from the famous school near Camberwell Green can claim such a success story as Miss Wheeler, but I am sure there are hundreds of ex-scholars whose lives have been inspired by their famous headmistress, who repeatedly warned the young generation that while life yielded moments of triumph no one could escape times when everything seemed difficult, and courage was the only answer to certain situations which involved a state of anguish.
  Dame Dorothy, who has died recently, was certainly very fortunate in her early environment for, born in the enchanting town of Bromley, Kent, where at one time five ex-Lord Mayors of London chose to live, she was twice blessed in the enjoyment of town and country, for she was able to take a country walk within a few minutes of her home, and fast trains could quickly convey her to London. Imagine, too, a dairy farm of 100 cows at Bromley Common, and being adjacent to such delightful villages as Farnborough, Hayes and Downe, with Bickley, Chislehurst, Orpington, and Petts Wood not far away: then a few years later at Girton in a warm-looking structure surrounded by trees and singing-birds added to opportunities of seeing and hearing some of the greatest scholars in England, and an option to hear the angel voices of boys in King's College Chapel.
  A short time later she spent seven years as classical mistress at King Edward's High School, Birmingham, and I don't suppose she ever regretted her wider experience in a different setting.
  Back to the South she then began thirty-two years as headmistress of a school which became increasingly recognized as one of the best schools of its kind in London. Her reputation must be almost unprecedented among women of her profession and usual environment. Moreover, to be presented with a car on retirement by parents and former pupils can only mean a widespread demonstration of gratitude, affection and respect.
  A neatly written tribute appeared recently in the obituary column of The Daily Telegraph. We read among other things of the Freedom of the City of London, the Freedom of Camberwell, the Honorary Freedom of the Clothworkers' Association, the vice-presidency of the Classical Association, chairmanship of the Association of Head Mistresses, membership of the Inter-Departmental Committee on Nursing and of the Departmental Committee on Public Schools, Director of the University of London Press.
  Certainly a busy, fruitful life has been announced in the daily and weekly papers; more than enough activity for most women, but in addition she has found time to write Studies in Fronto and his Age, An Unusual Happening and part of The Story of Mary Datchelor School.
  I should like to see her decorations, such as the O.B.E., D.B.E., photographs of her chains of office, her caps and gowns relating to M.A., Litt D., Hon. LL.M., her regalia concerning other public honours; group photographs of herself when young amid her family and school companions, herself when an undergraduate among the dons and other students, herself when a headmistress among her colleagues and pupils during more than thirty years of a strenuous career when she was persistently sowing the seeds of a bountiful harvest of literature, etiquette, music, domestic science and a general knowledge of an essential imponderable quality given to the human race alone which, for want of a more adequate word, we call Culture. Then, had she, I wonder, a special room, a sanctuary, to contain the evidence of a life dedicated to raising the standard of human conduct? At this point one must admit of course that there are many women whose lives have been similarly engaged, but apart from the Duchess of Atholl no other woman's life has impressed me so forcibly.
  Now, impressive as an obituary column can be, one thing it cannot do: it cannot portray the complete quality of her vivid personality. A tape recorder can draw a little nearer to her essential self; television nearer still, but even the skill of a B. B. C. technician cannot give a true picture of an unusually brilliant woman; and, for myself, her general appearance and her supreme oratory have earned my respect even more than her amazingly successful career.
  Camberwell has shown a great pride in one of the greatest headmistresses in London and knows that she has brought distinction to the neighbourhood. I applaud the custom of a painting, a photograph or a plaque or a bust in the great hall. It inspires not only children, but adults in later years. Better still, a plaque on an outer wall facing the street would make a native of Camberwell passing the school straighten his back and feel that much more proud. Girls and their mothers would be still more inclined to face up to difficulties. We know very little about the psychology of memorials. A well-known woman journalist said on one occasion that when she first entered Samuel Johnson's coffee-house in Fleet Street she felt more thrilled than if she had been awarded a medal.
  But I haven't quite finished with Dame Dorothy Brock. Probably Bromley will similarly honour its distinguished native; possibly Tankerton will decide to remind visitors of her life there in her later years. Even King Edward's High School, Birmingham, may remember one who was classical mistress there for seven years. Unborn generations would be interested when we are no longer on this earth; and it may be of personal interest to me alone that while Camberwell had the good fortune to be able to hear London's greatest woman speaker, not far away there worked the greatest orator among men, J. W. Samuel, B.A., headmaster of the Southwark Central School.

* The papers of the long defunct literary agency Michael Hayes of Cromwell Road S.W.5  - parts of a manuscript memoir by one L.R. Reeve of Newton Abbot, South Devon. Mr Reeve was attempting to get the book (Among those Present: Very Exceptional People) published, but on the evidence of the unused stamp Hayes never replied and  L. R. Reeve published the book himself through the esteemed vanity publisher Stockwell two years later in 1974.

L R Reeve had, in a long life, met or observed a remarkable selection of famous persons. He presents 'vignettes' of 110 persons from all grades of society (many minor or even unknown) they include Winston Churchill, Dorothy Sayers,  H H Asquith, John Buchan, the cricketer Jack Hobbs, J.B. Priestley, H.G. Wells, Marconi, E.M. Forster, Duchess of Atholl, Marie Stopes, Oliver Lodge and Cecil Sharp -- 'it is unnecessary to explain that  many have known have not known me. All of them I have seen, most of them I have heard, and some of them have sought information, even advice from me." Reeve states that the unifying qualification all these people have is '… some subtle emanation of personality we call leadership, and which can inspire people to actions  unlikely to be undertaken unless prompted by a stronger will."

Reeve was a teacher throughout his life and deputy head of 3 London schools, headmaster of Loughborough emergency schools, ex-president of London Class Teachers Association  and very early member of the British Psychological Society (55 years)... I calculate he was probably born in about 1900. His style is markedly unexciting but he has much information unavailable elsewhere.. He sent several typed manuscripts to (from the smell) the chain-smoking agent Hayes…

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