The Association for Latin Teaching

respice prospice

Mary Beachcroft

29 June 1914 - 25 January 2010

"May her body rest in peace

And may her spirit dance in the Elysian Fields"

Many of us who have attended ARLT Summer Schools and Refresher Days over the years will have good cause to remember Mary with affection and thanks. For about half a century she was a leading figure in the ARLT, being the Hon. Sec. for Archaeological Aids for many years and the keeper of records in the form of the photograph albums which are such a valuable historical record of the activities and personalities of our Association. She was honoured to be made a Vice President for her services to the ARLT, and continued to take a keen interest in its doings even though she was unable through her frailty and ill health in her later years to participate as an active member.

Mary did her Classics degree at Bedford College, University of London, and while there indulged her love of physical activity in the form of sculling - a skill which she retained for many years after she was a student. She went on to do a PGCE at the London University Institute of Education, where she was a contemporary of Belinda Dennis, another well - loved past member of ARLT. In the holidays of these years she fulfilled her passion for archaeology, and particularly enjoyed a dig with Sir Mortimer Wheeler at Maiden Castle.

Her first two years of teaching were at Felixstowe College. Then in 1939 she was interviewed for a job at Sherborne School for Girls and recalled having to make her way back home after the interview on the first night of the blackout. She stayed at Sherborne for four years and loved it - even though the room where she slept was hit by a bomb shortly after she had left it, as a result of which she lost all her belongings! She left Sherborne, although teaching was a reserved occupation, because she felt, having lost two brothers in the war, that she wanted to play her part in the war effort; so she joined the ATS and received her commission; she was in charge of the units attached to the RAOC and looked after the drivers, vehicles and stores until she moved to a holding unit for girls in London.

She was demobbed in 1946 and , feeling rusty as far as Classics teaching was concerned, decided to attend an ARLT Summer School to bring herself "up to date"; and from then onwards she became a familiar face at these events. She used to recall how in her early days at ARLT Summer Schools it was not uncommon for the accommodation to be in dormitories - a far cry from the ensuite accommodation we have come to expect nowadays!

Her next teaching post was at Cheadle Hulme co-educational School where she taught for four years, her duties including sleeping in a cubicle at the end of one of the girls' dormitories for two out of every five weeks. Then in 1950 she joined Berkhamsted School for Girls as Senior Classics Mistress, and it was there that she was destined to spend the remainder of her teaching career. She was one of the teachers who piloted the Nuffield Latin Scheme (better known to us nowadays as the Cambridge Latin Course); she regularly took pupils to the Bradfield Greek plays, and prepared them for Latin and Greek Reading Competitions. She was also known as a star producer of plays within the school - for both girls and staff; her "Medea" of 50 or so years ago was remembered with great awe by some of her colleagues to whom I spoke after her funeral.

For many years Mary was responsible for organising the London Area Classical Reading Competition; and in days of yore when we had a "Weekend Course" rather than just a "Refresher Day" in March ( ie Friday evening as well as Saturday), and thus rather more time at our disposal, a regular feature of such events was a recitation by prizewinners of the London Area Reading Competition including individual performances and Greek choruses - always most impressively rendered.

Mary regularly led Reading Groups on various authors (Cicero was a favourite) at Summer Schools and a large number of us, myself included, have good reason to be grateful to her for passing on her expertise to us younger teachers, especially with regard to the niceties of the correct pronunciation of the Latin. Lynda Goss, now i/c the ARLT photograph albums, recalls how Mary is pictured swimming in the pool at the SS in Winchester in 1981 and how, in 1995 at the Ambleside SS, Mary is seen in one shot striding out in front of us all along Hadrian's Wall! The last Summer School she attended was in 1996 at Lord Wandsworth College; by this time her increasing deafness was making it difficult to participate in the way she would have wished, so to her great disappointment she felt she should give up playing an active part in the Association which she had served so well for so many years.

It amazed me to hear that, despite having been one of the teachers to pilot the CLC, Mary had never during the course of her career in teaching visited Pompeii! So the year after she and I had enjoyed a holiday in Turkey (where, to our astonishment and delight, we discovered that Joan and Peter Newey were on the same tour!!) we arranged a week's trip to the Bay of Naples to remedy that particular deficiency. I had written to the custodians of the site at Pompeii (good practice for my Italian!) as a result of which we were allowed access by a special permit to the house of Caecilius which was at that time not open to the general public. That was quite a thrill for both of us.

During the course of her long 35-year retirement Mary enjoyed a wide variety of interests: travelling abroad, bird watching, reading poetry, water colour painting, trips with NADFAS, cooking, and listening to music. Her family was always of prime importance in her life, and in her retirement she devoted much time , together with her niece Carol, to writing a memoir of her father, beautifully illustrated with the humorous drawings that he used to send to her and her sister when they were away at Boarding School. She had the great good fortune in recent years to be looked after by Jean Coles who had originally come to Berkhamsted in 1966 as Mary's lodger; but over the years they became close friends and Jean proved a selfless and devoted carer to Mary to the end.

As Mary's niece Carol said at the end of her address at Mary's funeral service :

"May her body rest in peace

And may her spirit dance in the Elysian Fields".

Janet Liddicoat