A recent article about Heaton’s Olympians, which included a profile of the former head of Heaton Grammar, Harry Askew, elicited a number of responses from former pupils, so it seems only fair that we should look into the life of an equally legendary head of Heaton High School for Girls, Doctor Henstock.
Edith Constance Henstock was born on 3 March 1906 in Derby, the third child of four and the only daughter of Walter, a railway cerk and his wife, Rachel.
Edith was a bright girl. She won her first scholarship aged nine and attended Parkfields Cedars Secondary School, Derby, where she was an outstanding pupil, always coming first in her year. She was awarded a scholarship to Nottingham University and left with a first class honours degree in mathematics. She then went on to Cambridge to study for postgraduate qualifications.
Her first teaching post was at Darlington Girls’ School. After this, she became senior mathematics teacher at Henrietta Barnet Girls’ School in Hampstead Garden Village, London. While working there, she studied part time for a University of London MSc in the History, Principles and Methods of Science, which she completed in 1933. By 1938 she was head of mathematics at the school and had been awarded a University of London PhD in Mathematics, no mean accomplishment while simultaneously holding down such a responsible job. The 1939 Register shows Edith living at 79 Fitzjohn’s Avenue, Hampstead, a ‘private ladies’ club’, along with 12 other residents.
Edith’s next move was to Newcastle. She took up the post of the headmistress of Heaton Secondary School for Girls in autumn 1944, just as 400 evacuees returned to the school from Kendal where they had been sent for their safety early in the war. The school name changed to Heaton High School for Girls a few months later.
In December 1944, Dr Henstock was a member of a council committee investigating the large number of children being killed and injured on Newcastle’s roads (414 between 1941 and 1944. The committee found that most were caused by children running in front of vehicles without looking.)
In 1950, she was living at the Gordon Hotel on Clayton Road, Jesmond, now the Newcastle YWCA. But by the following year, she had moved to a large, double fronted, terraced house in High West Jesmond, where she lived for the rest of her life. The Electoral Register shows that Ada Lilian Hall, a maths and PE teacher at Heaton High, lived with her there until Miss Hall’s death in 1972.
Dr Henstock’s scholarship days were not over though. In November 1959, it was reported that she had returned from a four week educational tour of the USA, after having won the coveted, Walter Hines Page travelling scholarship. She had flown to New York with Icelandic airline, Loftleidir and travelled back to Southampton on the Queen Mary. (Walter Page Hines was USA ambassador to Great Britain during WWI, as well as a journalist and publisher. His educational travelling scholarship still exists.)
She continued to enjoy travelling the world long into her retirement, later saying that that she owed all of her adventures to the ‘old girls of Heaton’, who had ‘left their front doors open to her, no matter where their homes were’.
When Newcastle eventually adopted a comprehensive and co-educational system in 1966, the headmaster of Heaton Grammar School for boys, Harry Askew, was appointed as the first head of the newly formed Heaton Comprehensive School and Dr Henstock, now aged 61, was appointed deputy.
A newspaper interview in 1982, long after Dr Henstock’s retirement, perhaps gives some insight into her character. The interview was conducted by Avril Deane of the ‘Journal‘, an ex-pupil of Dr Henstock in Heaton. The journalist speculated that ‘a little bit of the heart was torn out of the woman when the school turned comprehensive in the mid 1960s’ and she elicited from her former head that she had yearned to be a headmistress from the age of seven. Ms Deane recalled that Dr Henstock had been ‘feared and cussed and kept our velour hats on for’ by the girls and was a stickler for tidiness of mind and body.
The interviewee is reported as admitting ‘slightly apologetically that she was quite good at everything’ and, having three brothers, she was ‘not going to ever let them get one up on her’. She believed there was no such word as ‘can’t’ and set out to inspire her girls to think like her.
She was proud that she had never hit a child in over 40 years of teaching and that no pupil of hers had ever failed ‘O’ Level maths.
During the interview, with ‘clarity and honesty’, she confesses that she would have liked to marry. However, in the 1930s, as a female teacher if you married, you lost your job.
‘I do regret though not having the love and affection of any one man now that I am in my 70’s but I think it would have been impossible to devote the same attention to a husband, as I could to the girls. Each partner has to be prepared to work for the good of the other.’
In addition to travel, she continued to enjoy swimming, dancing, playing bridge and golf as well as keeping up with the progress of hundreds of Old Heatonians.
There are many references to Dr Henstock on a Heaton High School Alumni website. Here are just a few:
‘Was always terrified of Dr. Henstock, even when having to partner her in tennis and badminton games. She came to visit me in Calgary in the 70s and I was still in awe of her.’
‘Doc H (awe inspiring and scary)’
‘I entertained Dr. Henstock twice in my home and my kids called her Auntie Constance and my husband thought she was lovely!!’
‘School days weren’t my happiest days, at least not at HHS, but I’ve enjoyed my life since leaving so it didn’t do any lasting damage except, to this day, I can’t let anyone link their arm through mine ‘like a common factory girl’ or eat in the street!! Dear Dr. E. Constance Henstock!!’
Death and Obituary
Dr Henstock died in hospital, aged 84, on 24 December 1990.
A short obituary was published in the ‘Journal’ with a small portrait photograph alongside it. It seems this would have disappointed Dr Henstock as Avril Deane had reported eight years earlier that she said she would like the full length photograph of her dressed in her headmistress’s gown shown above right to accompany her obituary. We have looked high and low for a better copy to set wrongs to right but haven’t so far been able to find one. Please get in touch if you can oblige.
Can You Help?
If you remember Dr Henstock or especially, have photos to share, we’d love to hear from you. You can contact us either through this website by clicking on the link immediately below the article title or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Researched and written by Arthur Andrews of Heaton History Group.
British Newspaper Archive