Soham Grammarians - Mrs BM Wilkes (Latin 1968-72)
and at Soham Village College 1972-77

In October 2013 Giannina Bartlett wrote: She is almost certainly the Mrs BM Wilkes who taught Latin at Soham Village College until the summer of 1977 when she retired. I became a pupil at the College in 1974 and I believe she was there then.

In early 2014, Colin Hambidge SG68: I can confirm what Giannina Bartlett writes about Mrs BM Wilkes. She did indeed teach Latin at SGS, and had the unequal task of doing so to me from 1970.

I think we knew her husband was a mathematician at Cambridge University and I recall on one occasion she mentioned that Mr Armitage was attending as a guest a ceremony at which her husband was opening a new building or facility that day. I asked why she was not there too and she said she had not been allowed to be, presumably by the headmaster. She seemed a little disappointed.

I have sometimes wondered since whether her husband was Professor (later Sir) Maurice Wilkes, who took a First in Mathematics at Cambridge before becoming Professor of Computing Technology there in 1965. He died in 2010 and was hailed as the ‘father of British computing’.

from the 1970 School photo

His obituaries relate that he married a Nina Twyman, which does not tie in with ‘BM’ (and I have to say I never knew her Christian name, which was not uncommon even then – it was only years later I discovered those of Messrs Taylor, Tabraham, Makin, T Riley and Hart). His obituaries also state, however, that his wife was a classicist he met in Cambridge (not ‘at Cambridge’, and Mrs Wilkes graduated from London according to the School List). Sir Maurice’s wife pre-deceased him in 2008.

This is as much light as I can shed, other than to say Mrs Wilkes was a delightful and rather genteel lady who showed great fortitude and perseverance in guiding me to a Latin GCE.

The editor checked with some staff from the latter days. Peter Scott (Maths) notes that it was the custom in those days for wives to adopt the initials of their husbands. However according to Wikipedia the Professor was Maurice Vincent Wilkes.

In February 2022 the editor was contacted by Mrs Wilkes's daughter, Margaret Sutton: A friend has just forwarded me a Soham Grammarians article about my mother, Nina Wilkes, who taught Latin at Soham Grammar School in the 1970s.  It posed a question about her name which I would like to resolve.

Her maiden name was Twyman but sadly her father died before she was born and as a result she was christened with her father’s name, as happened occasionally at that time.  Her initials were B M but she was never called by her christened name, which she disliked, and for her entire life she was known by everyone as Nina. She never made the change official though.

She was indeed married to Professor (later Sir) Maurice Wilkes, my father, as suggested in the article.

After graduating in Classics from Royal Holloway College in London she trained as a teacher, and then joined the ATS in the war where she worked in the field of education.  After the war she worked in an administrative role in Cambridge University, where she met and married my father in 1947. When my brother, sister and I were teenagers she went back into teaching and worked at Soham Grammar School and also at another school, Kirby Lodge, near Cambridge. 

She loved working at Soham and really cared about her pupils there. She thoroughly embraced the then new Latin teaching methods and courses - was it the Cambridge Latin Project? Ecce Romani sounds familiar as well. I remember she took several school trips to Verulamium (St Albans), which I seem to recall she found rewarding, but quite stressful!  She was a great believer in equality of opportunity and a strong proponent of comprehensive education. She was very much in favour of the abolition of the eleven plus, which she felt stigmatised children at an early age and unfairly limited their chances in education and in life, and she welcomed the change when the Grammar School became part of the Village College.

I was so pleased to see my mother described in your article as “delightful and rather genteel”. I have no doubt that she was a good teacher, but she said herself that she was no good at keeping order. This doesn’t surprise me at all as she was such a gentle and kind person who always saw the best in everyone.  Fortunately I don’t think that she had any problems of this sort at Soham. Perhaps the Latin students were particularly well behaved!  She got on well with the headmaster and I remember her speaking warmly of him.

The editor adds:

WILKES (Lady) Nina of Cambridge died peacefully on Sunday 24th August aged 93. Beloved wife of Sir Maurice and Mother of Anthony, Helen and Margaret. Funeral service on Wednesday 3rd September 2pm at St Augustine's Church, Richmond Road, Cambridge. Family flowers only. Donations to Christian Aid.
The Times 30 Aug 2008

If anyone has further recollections of Mrs Wilkes, please contact the editor.

page created 31 Jan 14: updated 27 Mar 22