Joan: I’ve spent my life going to school!

Knit one, purl one: Joan Mortimer with some of her young pupils at Christ Church School, Mount Pellon, Halifax, in 1957
Knit one, purl one: Joan Mortimer with some of her young pupils at Christ Church School, Mount Pellon, Halifax, in 1957

MUCH of Joan Mortimer’s life has been spent in school – and lots of schools at that!

She was born on a farm in Exley, Halifax, to a family that moved around a lot. Soon they had gone to live in Southowram, then to Ovenden, and when Joan’s father, Thomas Owens, went to war the rest of the family – mum Elizabeth, sister Kathleen and brother Eddie – moved to Brighouse.

Forest Cottage Drama Group. Joan Mortimer second from left

Forest Cottage Drama Group. Joan Mortimer second from left

After the war the family moved back to Ovenden and since then she’s lived in Mixenden, Pye Nest and nearby Willowfield, back to Brighouse and finally to Free School Lane, Halifax.

All this moving meant Joan went to a lot of different schools, first to Withinfields’, Southowram – at the early age of three! – then to Lee Mount School, Halifax, then to Sunnyside Junior, then Clare Hall until, on reaching the sixth form, she transferred to Princess Mary’s in Halifax.

Joan – born Joan Owens – had obviously developed a taste for school by then, because she decided to become a teacher. She went on to teacher training college in Kesteven, Lincolnshire, receiving her teaching certificate in 1953 – before going back to school, this time to teach.

Her travels took her first to London, just for a year, then back home to Halifax, and to Christ Church, Mount Pellon, where she taught from 1954 to 1961.

Halifax Referees' Association trip to Blckpool. Joan Mortimer's husband, Roy, back row, fifth from left

Halifax Referees' Association trip to Blckpool. Joan Mortimer's husband, Roy, back row, fifth from left

And then it was really a return to her roots – to Withinfields, where she had begun her school experience at age three, just for a year before settling in at Newlands School, Sowerby, where Joan stayed for 28 years before retiring in 1989. That spell included a year’s teaching in Perth, Australia, on an exchange arrangement.

Education even took her to Buckingham Pal- ace. In the year that she retired she was invited to a garden party at the palace – an event, Joan recalls, that was specifically for class teachers, rather than their headteacher bosses.

The royal hosts were Princess Anne and the Duke of Kent and also present was Prime Minster Margaret Thatcher. She and Joan shook hands and the PM told her memorably: “You are the front line.”

Along the way Joan Owens met Roy Mortimer and the couple were married in 1955. But their marriage ended in tragedy when Roy died of pneumonia only three years later, aged only 25, not long after Roy, a local soccer referee, had gone to Blackpool with Halifax Referees’ Association to play a team of local referees. The couple had a son, Stuart.

Joan Mortimer at parents' night

Joan Mortimer at parents' night

In the 1960s, away from school, Joan took up drama with the Forest Cottage Drama Group in Cousin Lane, Ovenden, playing a variety of roles. Having lost her husband it was, says Joan, “something to do”.

She also got the travelling bug. She started modestly, with trips to Europe and then, in the 1970s, made her first long-haul expedition, to Thailand – “before it got so busy”.

Since then she’s been round the world six times, by cruise liner or plane, as well as to Australia and New Zealand, to South Africa – “I’ve been there a few times” – to the Falkland Islands twice, and even to Antarctica.

She’s been to Russia on the Trans-Siberia express, travelling on to Mongola and China, where “we celebrated 40 years of communism with a great banquet”. Now aged 79, Joan is getting ready for her latest trip, to South Africa – again – with a stop at St Helena.

And when she’s not travelling she leads walks for the Ramblers’ Association and other walking groups or, more sedately, plays bridge three or four nights a week.