Doris E. Coates
Doris Evelyn Dawson was born in 1908 at Laurel Cottage in the Peak District village of Eyam – well-known as the Plague Village. She was an extraordinary woman. The Dawson family had lived in and around Eyam for many generations and had resided in the same cottage since the 1840’s. Doris’s mother, Margaret, came from the Isle of Man and met her father, Harry, there on one of his adventurous cycling holiday trips. They married in 1905.
Doris grew up in conditions of considerable hardship. Piped water and gas did not come to the village until the early 1920’s, the ‘privy’ was down the garden across a lane, and the tiny cottage had an open range for cooking and, of course, no bathroom. The family income was very low, becoming even lower when Harry lost his job for speaking out against inhumane working conditions in the shoe factory where he worked. The First World War and the following ‘flu epidemic compounded the difficulties for Doris’s family and many others in similar circumstances, and she was fortunate to survive a bout of ‘flu herself.
Despite this, the story of Doris’s education, which is described in Tunes on a Penny Whistle, is one of remarkable achievement, strongly supported by her father whose belief in education (even for girls!) and self-help inspired and supported her own drive. She attended a tiny village school, where the expectation for girls was to leave at age 131⁄2 or 14 to work in the shoe factory or ‘go into service’. After being refused admission to the local grammar school because her family could not afford the boarding fees, Doris enrolled on a pupil-teacher scheme, which sparked her ambition to become a fully-qualified teacher. This required gaining a University diploma, but first she had to be offered a place to study. Passing two levels of school exams (largely self-taught) within a few weeks, she became the first non-Grammar School pupil accepted by Goldsmith’s College in London, where she went on to achieve First Class in her final examinations.
Returning to Derbyshire, Doris soon became head of a Village School in Edale, before transferring to industrial south Derbyshire to work in a series of town schools. There she met her husband, George Coates, and they were married in Eyam village church in 1938. According to the rules at the time, women had to resign from their teaching jobs when they married. A fortunate benefit of the outbreak of the Second World War was that this rule was scrapped and married women teachers were urged to come back into the profession, while male teachers enlisted.
In 1945, following a number of miscarriages, Doris and George’s only son Richard was born in Derby, a much-cherished ‘miracle’ baby, as she described him.
Following the war, when George had a reserved occupation as a signaller on the railways, Doris encouraged him to become a teacher too, through the emergency Teacher Training Scheme. After a few more years working in Derbyshire, in 1953 they moved to Stoke Ferry in Norfolk, where George became head of the Village School, and Doris became Senior Mistress at a newly-opened nearby Secondary School. Stoke Ferry was to be their home for the rest of their lives.
They were both very active in the village and church, starting Scouts and Guides, singing in the church choir, and helping with local groups. Doris retired from teaching in 1971 and began her second career as a writer. In the following twenty plus years, she wrote and published three full-length books, and many shorter booklets and contributions to the village magazine which she later collected into publications. In a
collaborative effort, these were illustrated with line-drawings by George, a talented artist.
Doris died in 1998, at the age of 90. She is still remembered with affection and some awe in Stoke Ferry, where most long-term residents were taught by both George and Doris. In Eyam too, she remains well-known, though there are now no living relatives in the village.
Doris remained intellectually active, interested in a wide range of subjects and able to hold her own in any debate on a wide range of subjects. She was passionate about education, and particularly in encouraging girls and women to fully develop their talents and opportunities, railing against sexism and discrimination in all its forms.
She also encouraged her son to pursue his educational and life ambitions, asserting that anything is achievable, given enthusiasm and hard work.
Tuppenny Rice and Treacle – Cottage Housekeeping 1900 – 1920, published by David and Charles, 1975
Stoke Ferry – Story of a Norfolk Village, published by The Harpsden Press, 1981*
Tunes on a Penny Whistle – a Derbyshire Childhood, published by Alan Sutton Publishing, 1993
The Story of Boughton, published by The Harpsden Press*
Victorian Whittington, published by The Harpsden Press*
Glimpses of Norfolk Life, published by The Harpsden Press*
*Dates to be confirmed
RLC October 2017