Charlotte Henney Obituary

The Glasgow Herald recently carried this obituary of Charlotte Henney, a long-term member of the Cathedral

Charlotte Henney, teacher whose earliest pupils often arrived poor, barefoot and hungry

by Campbell Thomas

Born: March 30, 1929; Died: February 24, 2020

CHARLOTTE HENNEY, who has died aged 90, was a popular and vivacious primary teacher who influenced countless children with a solid educational grounding, starting with the Three Rs and moving onwards via song, dance and fun.

She was inspired to follow her mother into the profession and attended James Gillespie’s High School for girls, Edinburgh, only a few years after Muriel Spark, author of The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie, had herself been a pupil.

In her early years of teaching she encountered pupils who arrived at school barefoot and hungry, such were some post-war levels of poverty.

Barely into her 20s, she taught classes of up to 40, alone and unassisted. She later put her blossoming career on hold and crossed the Atlantic to support her husband in establishing his own professional life.

She always loved a good yarn, whether recounting one herself, complete with accomplished mimicry, or listening attentively to another narrator, whom she would assist with any forgotten lines or colour. But her own beginnings and Latin American roots were something of a story in themselves.

Charlotte Blacklock Henney was born in Ilheus, in Bahia, Brazil, the daughter of Royal High School former pupil, Bertie Blacklock. Having survived trench warfare in the First World War, Blacklock had sailed with a friend to South America to embark on a career in banking. He met her mother Helena, who was from a family line of adventurers and “cacao colonials” of Portuguese origin.

Life was agreeable in such a bountiful land full of fun-loving people, but this was all to change with the Wall Street Crash in 1929, when the bank Blackwood was working for went to the wall. To put food on the table he tried to teach English, but ultimately the family found themselves on a ship bound for Britain. Her parents would never see Brazil again.

Charlotte and her beloved sister Marjorie, younger by just a year, were among the first pupils to attend Wardie Primary School in Edinburgh, transferring to James Gillespie’s High when they were nine and eight respectively. She was academically-minded as well as a fine gymnast and country dancer, and enjoyed painting and singing in the choir.

Having gained her leaving certificate, which at that time meant either passing every subject exam for an overall pass or automatically failing all Highers (she submitted Marjorie’s needlework instead of her own to achieve this), she left Gillespie’s at the end of fifth year, aged 16, and at 17 entered the city’s Moray House College of Education. She trained as a primary teacher and achieved the Diploma In Education with distinction.

Her first posts were in Edinburgh at primary schools in Niddrie, Craigmuir and St Margaret’s in Easter Road, where taking a single class of 40 pupils was considered par for the course for a new teacher aged just 20. She recalled groups of hungry pupils arriving with no shoes and struggling to concentrate on lessons.

Following a move to Johnston School in Kirkcudbright, she spotted, through the wire fence of the local club, her future husband, Tom Henney, playing tennis, and promptly enrolled as a member. However, after her father’s early death she returned to help her mother in Edinburgh, with Tom following to study architecture.

She then took the bold step for a young mother in the early 1960s of moving to the United States to support her then husband as he pursued his professional training at Massachusetts Institute of Technology near Boston. Times, however, were challenging as she was unable to work due to US regulations.

Back in Edinburgh, she worked as a supply teacher at St David’s in Pilton and at her old primary school, Wardie, as well as staff posts at Clermiston and Wardie. She taught all ages from infants up, and took some classes from Primary 5 right through until they finished Primary 7, much to their mutual delight. Along with the challenges of teaching came the advantage of good holidays, and the family enjoyed many memorable house exchanges across the UK as well as in cottages overseas.

She had three holidays that were special to her, one being a trip back to Brazil with her sister. They both considered it a homecoming and joy to be reunited with relatives again.

With her daughter, she made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, which she described as a “mixture of the sacred and profane”. In a gift shop, she was looking at what she thought was a dusty egg cup but the owner insisted was for wine, filling it to the brim with some dubious red and encouraging her to down it in one; a task she later described as the second wine miracle of Cana.

She also went with an old friend to see the Passion Play at Oberammergau in Germany.

After retiring at 60, she became active within the Scottish Retired Teachers’ Association and Edinburgh City Arts Club and volunteered at St Mary’s Cathedral, where she had been married and her son was head chorister.

Charlotte Henney’s life was defined by her many friendships, kindnesses and thoughtfulness. Her easy manner as an entertaining and playful raconteur belied her unshakeable Christian faith, which underpinned her entire life.

She was predeceased by her former husband – the marriage ended in the mid-1980s– but is survived by her daughter Avril, son Hugh, granddaughters Kate, Mary, and Emma, and grandson Paul.