Ely High School 1905-1972 - Miss Dorothy G Defew - Defe/Dief
Senior English Mistress, Deputy Headmistress

from the July 1950 Ely High School magazine

It was with great regret that we said goodbye to Miss Defew, at the end of last summer term. We have been very pleased to see her during the year, and we are glad to hear that she is enjoying very much her work training teachers and is learning a great deal about London too.

from the July 1952 Ely High School magazine

Miss Defew's return to the senior mistresship after her two years' absence has been among the most important events of the year and has given us all great pleasure.

from School Photo 1952

Barber's Littleport & District Directory Almanack 1965
16 May 1964 Thirty-one years of teaching reached its climax for Miss Dorothy Defew, deputy headmistress of Ely High School, when at the High School Old Girls' Association's annual re-union, she was presented with a cheque and other gifts, to mark her retirement. Educated at the school, Miss Defew later returned to teach there for 29 of her 31 years in the profession. The cheque was accompanied by a leather bound album, containing the names of the Old Girls who had subscribed. An illuminated inscription reads: "Presented to Miss Dorothy G. Defew, B.A., as a token of their affection and gratitude by the Old Girls of Ely High School, on her retirement."

July 22 1964 At a dinner given at the Lamb Hotel, Ely, by teachers of the Ely High School, presentations were made to Miss D. Defew to mark the occasion of her retirement and in appreciation of the long and loyal service she had given to the school.

from the 1965 Ely High School magazine


My dear Girls and Old Girls,

My letter this year is designed to pay tribute to one who left the School last July, and had long been part of it both as pupil then a member of Staff. The School suffered a grievous deprivation Miss Defew's retirement from her post of Deputy Headmistress last July .

To many girls affectionately "Dief", she had been part of the School over many years. She entered as a pupil at the age of eleven, and became in due time one of the most distinguished of our Old Girls when she took a London Honours Degree in English at the Royal Holloway College; then after a few years she joined the Staff of her old school. Successively she was a senior English Mistress and then Deputy Headmistress. Her service on the Staff covered a span of thirty years. During one of these Miss Defew acted as Headmistress during my sabbatical year, and I should like to state that I could not have contemplated leaving the school for a whole year if I had not known in what capable hands it could be left.

Miss Defew's ideal in work was true devotion. Those who had the privilege of being taught by her - and privilege it was indeed - knew her love of literature and were inspired by it and given appreciation and style. Several girls have gone on to the University to take Honours in English; just recently two obtained top Seconds.

But it is not just in teaching that her presence among us was so precious; as Deputy Headmistress she stood the daily and termly wear and tear of many arduous and heavy tasks affecting the School. To me she was always a most sympathetic and helpful companion. Always did she carry out her duties with the greatest attention and never neglected the smallest detail. She cared deeply for all her pupils,and the School as a whole has been greatly blessed during her many of service.

The Old Girls' Reunion in May took the form of a farewell tea party to Miss Defew, at which a presentation was made to mark the gratitude of many Old Girls. Some hundred and twenty came to join the tribute to her.

In losing her from our midst we have lost more than half of ourselves. For myself I am more grateful than I can say, as I look back over the years, for her loving companionship and unfailing help; for you I am grateful that you experienced her kindheartedness, her trust and friendliness for she cared for you all. Miss Defew was the rare kind of person who gives out all the time and wants nothing for herself. Our love and best wishes go out to her for a long and happy retirement in her lovely house in Littleport.

from the 1965 Ely High School magazine


The Editor's invitation to write something for this Magazine is very welcome to me, first because it gives me an opportunity to repeat my sincere "Thank you" for all the tokens of affection with which you almost overwhelmed me last summer. The actual gifts are all in constant use; the Old Girls' cheque, partly used to meet the basic expenses of my last year's holiday, has already given me a very happy experience, and, as soon as the order is executed, will provide me also with a set of small occasional tables, and probably some garden furniture; and the Staff's will be used, before the summer, for a sundial. Thank you all very much for these things.

I want to thank you also for so much that is intangible - most of all for the friendly contacts that my years among you have given me. No other kind of life would have enabled me to meet and know so many people, not in brief contacts quickly forgotten, but in close relationships lasting over several years. My own schoolmates have given me friendship in a way that is possible only among contemporaries; you who are younger have given me absorbing interest, much satisfaction, and often great joy; and the link between us has not broken with your departure into the outside world, nor with mine from school.

It gives me great pleasure to meet you, in the world, or still at school; to hear how you are getting on; to make the acquaintance of your young families; and to realise how very big a proportion of you are, whether as wives, mothers, or career-women (or possibly all three) most valuable members of the community. I do thank you for the friendliness you give me.

If I go on to remember my own schooldays, to some of you it will bring nostalgia, to others it may seem "quaint", and to the most modern of you definitely "square" and not "with it" ....

Our gymnasium was the ground floor five-windowed. room in St. Mary's Street. Until the great thrill when the vaulting horse arrived, our apparatus consisted of a very few wall-bars, travelling bars, jumping stands and a rope and spring-board. The ceiling would not support climbing ropes! We drilled with narrow sticks called wands, sometimes swung Indian Clubs, and, out-of-doors, did most complicated evolutions of figure-marching, which probably looked very effective, but to us managed to be both difficult and dull.

We wore tunics, with three box-pleats from yoke to hem, made of serge in winter and of some cotton material in summer. At one stage, our form vied with one another to achieve the shortest tunic and the longest stockings!

We were rather strictly disciplined - no talking on stairs or corridors; one step at a time on the stairs (but they were really too impossibly shallow, and I remember trying, day by day, to increase the number of bottom steps I could take in one glorious downward jump). During public examinations big white cards saying SILENCE in huge letters were posted everywhere (or so it seemed)

We were very carefully protected, train-girls being escorted to the station and seen on to their trains by Staff, and WOE BETIDE the girl who was not wearing her gloves. At the same time we were a cosy little community, with more intimacy and in some ways more freedom than is possible with larger numbers. One wet dinner-hour Miss Fletcher herself joined a few of us round a form-room fire, and played "I Spy"; and, occasionally - as for skating during a frost - afternoon holidays were given on the spur of the moment. And you should have seen us on Speech Day, usually held in the Public Room. We all wore white frocks and hair ribbons, black stockings and shoes, and prize-winners wore white gloves. They were great days, and what a long time ago!

And now you want me to say something to you. Haven't you had enough of my "saying" over so many years? Looking back through nearly sixty years of the School's life, there seems to me to be a capacity for good, hard work, establishing a tradition of good "O" and "A" results and worth-while careers. There exists too a full enjoyment of less academic activities, with a high standard of achievement in drama, music and art, as well as in cookery and sewing. A very valuable part of the School's character is, borrowing an expression from Fielding, its "goodness of heart" - a generous willingness to help those in need. All these things do not represent the complete character of the School's personality, but they are very valuable ones, valuable in themselves, and because they can be practised in almost any circumstances. .Hold them fast.

Finally to those of you who are still at school I offer for your consideration three things which belong to our School and to no other.

First, the names of our School Houses. We are very fortunate to have such great people connected with our city, especially as each can represent for us a particular ideal. Knut was a wise ruler, Hereward a dogged fighter, Alan a lover and maker of beauty, Etheldreda a saint. We cannot be kings (or even queens!), nor can we don armour and draw sword against an invader; we cannot build Cathedral towers, nor can we become holy abbesses: but we can use authority wisely if we have it; we can meet difficulties with determined courage; we can love and perhaps make beauty; we can pursue goodness.

Second our School Motto: "Bravely to the Top". And the Top is not the same for all of us. Some of us can achieve something good fairly easily; others have to try much harder to achieve, apparently, much less. For each of us the Top is what we can do with the utmost use of our talents and gifts.

Third, the last line of our School Hymn:
"And build Thy Holy Kingdom in this place."

And there I end, with my love, thanks and best wishes to you all.


The 24th July was a very sad day for the School, for it saw the departure of Miss Defew. Dr. Tilly said that she had left saying goodbye until the last possible moment because it was so difficult. She described Miss Defew's distinguished career to us, revealing two secrets. The first was that not only was Miss Defew deputy headmistress and senior English Mistress but for one year she was in fact headmistress. Dr. Tilly also revealed that both she and Miss Defew were well aware that to the School she was "Dief".

The Head Girl, Kay Bedford, in saying goodbye expressed the love we all felt for Miss Defew. "Dief" then spoke to us; of her wide experience she had known about a hundred members of staff and one thousand five hundred girls, most of whom had filled worthy places in the world. Her great experience enabled her to give us three maxims for the future:

Be good, not just polite, but truly good.
Be happy; this she felt, was an attitude of mind which showed in one's face and did not necessarily come with material advantages.
Be courageous; she did not want us to go and climb a mountain, for example, but to face up to the many problems we met, to go "bravely to the top".

Miss Defew added that on the journey through life we would meet many problems. The road to being good, for example, would be uphill, and we would often wish it to slope downwards. However, to walk along it would be an absorbing interest and we would always fins something new to try and never be too old for improvement. If we really unselfishly wanted something then we would get it. Miss Defew concluded by saying goodbye to us, in the true sense of the word.
Patricia Whymark, UVI

from the 1965 Ely High School magazine

A Tribute From The Upper Sixth

To say that we were sorry when Miss Defew left us is an understatement. We were losing not only a much loved teacher, but also a wise counsellor and friend. As the day of her retirement approached, we learned to appreciate this more and more. Miss Defew was a valued member of our community because she taught us a sense of human values as well as English. She could illustrate almost any situation in play or story, with a parallel from her own life, and never failed to do so where it helped to explain a difficult passage. There is much evidence of the excellence of Miss Defew's teaching in the the results achieved in examinations but we hope that everyone will remember also her understanding and perception of human nature.

Although we said "Au revoir" to her at the end of the Summer Term we should like to express again our thanks to Miss Defew for the man things she did for us. We should like her to know that we wish her the greatest happiness in the future and that we are always pleased to see her when she visits us.
Christine Lemmon

Mrs Taylor, Honorary Secretary of the Old Girls' Association, presenting the Old Girls' tribute to Miss Defew
at the Summer Reunion, May 16th [1964]: original photo by Brian Lane

from the 1965 EHS magazine: photo as above

EHS Old Girls' Association

Over a hundred members of the Association attended the Summer Reunion held at the High School on May 16th, 1964.

Dr Tilly presided at the Annual General Meeting and Mrs Taylor, association secretary, read the minutes. Mrs Ann Dix (née Burrows) and Miss Mary Reynolds were elected to serve on the Committee.

After tea came the most important part of the re-union, when tributes were paid to Miss DG Defew, deputy head mistress and former pupil of the School, who was to retire at the end of the Summer Term. Mrs Taylor presented Miss Defew with a cheque for £101, a bouquet and a leather bound album containing the names of all "Old Girls" who had contributed to the gifts.

Speaking after the presentation, Dr Tilly said that Miss Defew had had a wonderful career which had meant an incalculable amount to Ely High School. Mrs Enid Bedford (née Rice), an old girl of the School, spoke of the excellent teaching she had received from Miss Defew and said that she remembered her as a well loved and respected member of staff.

Mrs Dorothy Burgess (née Marshall) said that she came to the School when Miss Defew was a senior pupil and she remembered that Miss Defew had two outstanding qualities - integrity and loyalty.

Replying, Miss Defew thanked all who had contributed towards her gifts and spoke of the happy years she had spent both as pupil and member of staff at the School.

from the Cambridgeshire Times front page, 21 May 1964: photo as above
source: Brigid Knight (Riley) and Susan Riley, from their mother's (Brenda Taylor) papers.

Popular Mistress Honoured

Thirty-one years of teaching reached its climax on Saturday for Miss Dorothy Defew, deputy head-mistress of Ely High School, when at the High School Old Girls' Association's annual re-union, she was presented with a £101 cheque and other gifts, to mark her retirement. Educated at the school, Miss Defew returned to teach there for 29 of her 31 years in the profession.

The cheque was accompanied by a leather bound album, containing the names of the Old Girls who had subscribed. An illuminated inscription by Mr FW Wilson, reads: "Presented to Miss Dorothy G Defew, BA, as a token. of their affection and gratitude by the Old Girls of. Ely High, School, on her retirement."

Speaking at the presentation, which followed the OGA annual meeting and tea, Dr B Tilly (headmistress) said that Miss Defew was one of the very few people who had had such a long career with one school and had meant so much to it. "English," she said, "has always been excellent under Miss Defew's guidance." Miss Tilly concluded: "It has been a wonderful career which has meant an incalculable amount to the school.

Mrs Enid Bedford, an old girl, said that she remembered Miss Defew as a well-loved and respected member of the staff. "It was in the sixth form that she excelled in her teaching and she understood the ideals and ambitions of the old girls," she added. "The School is losing an exceptionally gifted person, but on the other hand it was very fortunate to have Miss Defew for such a long time," Mrs Bedford commented.

Mrs Dorothy Burgess said that she came to the school as a pupil six years after Miss Defew had first arrived to be taught in 1911. During her school time, Mrs Burgess said she was very clever, very good and very wise. Miss Defew had two shining qualities, integrity and loyalty. "They were shining then, and they are still shining now," she added.

Mrs CM Taylor (OGA Secretary) presented Miss Defew with the cheque and also with the album.

Replying, Miss Defew was at first rather overcome. "I don't know what to say," she said. "Thank you all very, very much. I want to thank you all for what you have done for me, which is far, far more than I have done for you," she commented. Miss Defew then went on to reminisce. She gave details of all that she remembered from the time that she was in primary school until her teaching days. Miss Defew retires at the end of the present school term.

L-R: ? Mrs D Burgess - Dr B Tilly - Mrs CM Taylor (Hon Sec OGA, Brigid & Susan Riley's grandmother) - Miss DG Defew - ? Mrs M Wills (Assistant Hon Sec OGA, wife of Dr A Wills)
source: Brigid Knight (Riley) and Susan Riley, from their mother's (Brenda Taylor) papers. Original photo by Brian Lane.

Littleport Official Guide & Street Directory Almanack 1978-79
4 Dec 1975 Miss Dorothy Defew, deputy Head of Ely High School until 1964, died last week. Miss Bertha Tilly, former Head Mistress, wrote a very warm tribute to her memory for the local paper.

The Times Saturday November 22nd 1975

DEFEW, DOROTHY, B.A., peacefully at her home, Applegarth, Hempfield Road, Littleport, Cambridgeshire on November 21st, 1975, aged 74 years, former Deputy Head of Ely High School for Girls. Requiem mass at St Etheldreda's Church, Ely, on Wednesday November 26th, at 12 noon, followed by interment in Littleport Cemetery.

from the Ely Standard, 4 December 1975

Miss D Defew - a tribute

The passing of Miss Dorothy Defew came as a great shock and sorrow to all who knew her, to all her friends, colleagues and pupils alike. She was a native of Littleport and lived there all her life, and from the age of eleven she was closely connected with Ely High School: this connection was to last for the rest of her life.

She became one of the school's most distinguished Old Girls, going on to the Royal Holloway College to take an Honours Degree in English. After graduating she entered the teaching profession to which her life was devoted.

After a few years in Liverpool she returned to Littleport to care for her parents. She joined the staff of Ely High School in 1934, and eventually served as Deputy Head Mistress from 1947 until her retirement in 1964.

The contribution which Dorothy (affectionately known to her pupils as "Deefy") gave to the school can neither be calculated nor adequately expressed in words.

First and foremost, she gave of herself, unique selfless devotion, honesty, sincerity, unfailing loyalty, and above all, generous-hearted love towards all with whom she came in contact. She was never known to utter an unkind word about anyone, nor to make a harsh judgement. She was at all times kind, sensitive and compassionate to a degree, and always a wise friend and counsellor.

Her teaching of English was of the highest order. Again it is impossible to tell adequately of the good she imparted because through her teaching she was able to give her pupils a sense of human values, even those that were so clearly exemplified in herself.

She could also arouse in those who were so fortunate to be taught by her, her own particular appreciation of literature and inspire them with her own personal loves, Shakespeare, the novels of Jane Austen and the Victorians, and especially the poetry of Wordsworth. How precious it was for the school to have had one there in a position of importance for so long, one who was a native of the district and had a sympathetic understanding of the girls' development, their perplexities amd their successes.

Her retirement was a happy time, some eleven years passed in her charming new house built on a parcel of her own land. There she was delighted to be visited by friends and Old Girls. All who knew and loved her rejoiced in her rest and happiness so richly deserved.

Dorothy's influence and the good she did through all her life can never die: though she has passed she will live on, not only in the hearts of all who loved her, but in her pupils' hearts and those of their childrens' children.
The Chairman and members of the committee of the Ely High School Association join in this tribute to one who was beloved by them all.

from the Ely Standard, 11 December 1975

Miss D Defew

Marking the high esteem in which Miss Dorothy Defew, who died recently, was held in the district, a good congregation attended Firday's memorial service at St George's Church, Littleport.

The service was conducted by the Vicar (Rev WT Hodgson) and among the congregation were many Old Girls of the former Ely High School, of which Miss Defew was deputy Head, and friends from all walks of life around the area.

The address was given the the Rural Dean and former Vicar of Littleport, Canon D Foulds, who paid warm tribute to Miss Defew as a much-loved local personality, and to her great service to education.

Canon Foulds referred to the window in the church dedicated to Miss Defew's late parents. This depicts St Crispin, patron saint of all leather work, and is a fitting tribute to her father, a well-known harness maker in the village.

He knew her former pupils would remember her as a beloved teacher who, whenever called upon to rebuke, would do so "with a twinkle in her eye".

The lesson was read by Miss Anne Stowe, and prayers were offered by the Vicar (Rev WT Hodgson).

The hymns were accompanied at the organ by Mr AL Covill.

Miss Dorothy Defew's Onoto graduation pen & BA certificate

This is a pen that was special to Miss Dorothy Defew. It was provided by Miss Defew's companion/housekeeper, who looked after Miss Defew in her home, Applegarth, in her native Littleport.

It is understood that it was given to Miss Defew by her parents Charles and Matilda Defew on her gaining her BA degree in English from the University of London, where she was a student at Royal Holloway College:

Dorothy Gee Defew - University of London BA Degree Certificate, 24 January 1923

Black Onoto fountain pen inscribed on the band D.G. DEFEW.
Onoto pens, a highly regarded brand, were British made by part of the De la Rue company.

nib: DE LA RUE

Onoto pens websites:

Images: Haslam from original items provided by Christine Fuller (Bell), received from Miss Defew's companion/housekeeper.
The pen is not at present in working condition.

from School Photo pre-1929

from Senior Class Photo 1920s

from School Photo 1938

from School Photo 1952

from School Photo 1954

from School Photo 1956

from School Photo 1959

from School Photo 1963

With thanks to Chris Jakes of the Cambridgeshire Collection for his help with this page.
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page created 17 Oct 10: updated 10 Feb 11