Obituary: Enid Dunkerley

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The Independent Online
On the hill that goes down from Treloyhan Manor to the Malakoff, in St Ives, is a small Victorian house called St Eia. It is not far from Talland House, where Virginia Woolf spent her childhood summers; some of its windows look towards Godrevy, which she recalled in To the Lighthouse.

During the Second World War, when my Seaford school moved to St Ives, we lived at Treloyhan Manor and had lessons at St Eia. We had small classes and dedicated teachers. They belonged to a generation which was deprived of marriage by the war. They were selfless, they had rigorous standards, and they conveyed both their standards and their enthusiasm. The Latin mistress left me only with the wish that I had learnt Greek from her as well. The science mistress taught to such effect that I achieved respectable marks in general science. The French mistress was the most significant figure of my schooldays. I still recall the one-to-one sessions at St Eia, when I was taking higher certificate and Oxford (and Cambridge) entrance. It was Enid Dunkerley who introduced me to French literature.

She was in her thirties. She had a freshness and a love of her subject which touched her pupils; and perhaps she spoke of France with all the more feeling since, at the time, no one knew when they would visit it again. She was Yorkshire through and through, no-nonsense and dependable. She had a quiet manner, but she knew how to teach, how to encourage and draw out the best in those she taught. When she left, the headmistress wrote in her reference: "Her classes were alive."

The pupil-teacher relationship depends (like friendship) not only on shared interests, but, ultimately, on personal chemistry. I still remember Enid Dunkerley's affection for the French Romantics, her suggestion that I should translate Alfred de Vigny. It was through her that I first translated Verlaine (my school translation appeared in my Penguin selection from his works). It was through her that I read Modern Languages at Oxford. She was a natural teacher, as many of her pupils would testify. She had a profound effect on my own career.

Enid Dunkerley was born in Hull in 1910, the daughter of Herbert Dunkerley, a marine surveyor, and his wife, Alice. The family, which included an elder brother and a younger sister, moved to Bridlington, where Enid attended the local high school. In 1929 she went to Reading University, where she read French; as part of her course, she spent a year at the University of Lyons. In Reading, she was captain of the women's sculling club, and sculled several times for the university. She took her degree in 1933, and embarked on teaching.

After a few months as a locum at Burton-on-Trent, she moved in 1935 to a school near Matlock. In 1940 she went to the Downs School, Seaford. That summer, at the time of Dunkirk, Sussex was too close to France for comfort, and the school was evacuated to Cornwall. This was the school, she told me, later, where she was happiest. However, at the end of the war, she felt a need to broaden her experience, and in 1945 she moved to Shrewsbury High School, where she remained the senior French mistress for 10 years. In 1955, she went to York College for Girls, where she was head of French, and was soon appointed deputy headmistress, a post which she held until she retired in 1969.

The end of full-time teaching did not mean the end of her activities. For years she was a voluntary helper in the Language- Teaching Centre at York University. She was also a steward in the Treasurer's House in York, under the auspices of the National Trust. In her official retirement, she took up a new career as a guide in York Minster.

For 21 years, until she moved to the outskirts of York, she had a small flat in the organist's house in Minster Court; as well as being a guide, she was an assistant in the minster library. The minster became a significant and much-loved part of her life. York, she said, was "a most rewarding city in which to live". She herself, a committed Christian, tended to give rather than receive.

Enid Dunkerley was an eager reader and a concert-goer. She loved to travel, whether to visit her married sister in South Africa, her "devoutly francophile" niece in France, or the cathedral cities of Europe. She remained active until a slight stroke obliged her to give up driving, and with her driving she lost much of her independence. She was, perhaps, ready when she died peacefully in her chair. Her funeral service was held in York Minster.

Enid Dunkerley, schoolmistress: born Hull 10 August 1910; died York 20 December 1996.