Chipping Sodbury says goodbye to author, teacher and dramatist Joanna Shipp

Joanna Shipp pictured with her book in 2009

Joanna Shipp pictured with her book in 2009

First published in News Gazette Series: Photograph of the Author by , reporter covering Yate, Chipping Sodbury, Winterbourne, Frampton Cotterell, Rangeworthy, Wickwar, Hawkesbury, Iron Acton, Coalpit Heath and Old Sodbury

CHIPPING Sodbury is paying a fond farewell to one of its stalwart residents who loved the town so much she wrote a book about it.

Former teacher, founder of her own school and an ambassador for local amateur dramatics, Joanna Shipp died on February 16 aged 97.

On Wednesday, March 5 the town will say a final goodbye to its first lady who published her first book, her autobiography entitled Sunday’s Child, in 2009 at the age of 93.

Mrs Shipp moved to Chipping Sodbury in the 1930s from South Shields to take up a teaching post at St Elizabeth’s private school.

The grandmother of seven and great-grandmother of 17 described her first sight of the town in her book.

“My uncle Tom drove me in his little car out of the wilds of the South Shropshire hills through Worcestershire, Herefordshire and Gloucestershire to the charming little town at the foot of the Cotswold escarpment,” she said.

“Thus we arrived, eventually, in Chipping Sodbury through the narrow Hatters Lane into the widest street I had ever seen – and line with cattle and sheep pens on either because it was market day!

“I certainly hoped that I would be spending ht next few years here.”

In fact, despite a brief spell teaching in Northampton, Mrs Shipp has stayed in her beloved Chipping Sodbury ever since.

She met and married Leonard and the couple had two children, Adrian and Christine.

Although she was encouraged to give up work, Mrs Shipp was known so well in the town as a teacher she was soon asked to help guide girls into grammar school. Such was her reputation that when St Elizabeth’s School closed down, Mrs Shipp was persuaded to open her own private school, Westgate School, with nine pupils in 1951.

A keen dramatist, Mrs Shipp put on many plays in Chipping Sodbury Town Hall and was a founder member of Sodbury Players. She played the role of Prince Charming in the group’s first ever pantomime and served as president in its Jubilee year.

Chairman Robert Owen said: "Joanna played an active role within Sodbury Players, she starred in and produced several productions.

“She became Sodbury Players' president in 1996, 50 years after playing the role of Prince Charming in our first ever pantomime. Many longer standing members of our group will remember Joanna with fond memories."

In 1957, the school moved to Rangeworthy Court and it was there she founded Rangeworthy Court Players, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2009.

A spokesman for the group said she would be remembered ‘with love and affection by all of the Court players’.

Her school later became Grittleton House School in Chippenham, which closed yesterday as a mark of respect.

Head teacher Nathan Dawes said of Mrs Shipp: “Her aim was to provide a challenging, stimulating and broad education, developing mind, body and character, this aim remains firmly with us today.

“Joanna believed that there is good in everyone and that everyone has a talent, they may just need some assistance in finding it. A strong education was always at the forefront but Joanna was also passionate that pupils of Grittleton should celebrate their own individual achievements however big or small.

“Joanna has touched so many people and leaves a great legacy for future generations. She will be greatly missed.”

Despite losing her husband some 25 years ago, Mrs Shipp had a house built in France and would drive herself there several times a year well into her nineties.

A service to celebrate her like will take place at St John's Church, Chipping Sodbury on Wednesday, March 5 (2pm) followed by refreshments at Grittleton House.

Donations for the Cystic Fibrosis Trust, which Mrs Shipp supported for many years, can be made via www.justgiving.com/joanna-shipp

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