We are sad to learn that Mary Bride Nicholson has passed away at the age of 86.

Mary Bride had a deep and long-lasting connection with Dartington. She was the second daughter of John and Peggy Wales, the former of whom founded Dartington Hall School, where Mary Bride was educated.

mary bride nicholson

Mary Bride as a Dartington Hall schoolgirl (L) and on her return to Dartington in the 1960s (R)

She grew up in Dartington in the 30s and 40s, in the midst of a whirlwind of building and construction, arts, music, dance, philosophy – and alongside the incredible personalities (many of whom were fleeing persecution under the rising Nazi threat) who arrived to contribute to the excitement and fervour that was Dorothy and Leonard Elmhirst’s vision for the ‘Dartington Experiment’.

After a successful career in London and abroad, she returned to Dartington in 1962 to take up the post of Dorothy’s personal secretary, a role which she served until Dorothy’s death in 1968. She went on to become Maurice Ash’s personal secretary during his time as Chairman of the Dartington Hall Trust, before taking up the roles of Archivist and keeper of the Trust’s collection of paintings and ceramics.

She was also a founder and Chair of Dartington Community Choir and Secretary of the Elmgrant Trust.

The Dartington flag has been lowered out of respect to Mary Bride.

Our CEO, Rhodri Samuel, said: “A huge number of those connected to Dartington over the years loved and respected Mary Bride for her enormous contribution to this place. When I arrived here, I was touched by the warmth of the welcome she offered me, and by her openness, directness and dignity. She will be hugely missed by many.”

Mary Bride’s time at Dartington followed a remarkable career. Having trained as a secretary, she worked briefly for the Bursar at Dartington Hall School before moving to London to fill similar roles at the Council of Industrial Design and at the American Embassy. In 1956, she went to New York and worked as the Personal Assistant to the Director-General of the British Information Services.

Her work in the USA also allowed her to undertake a three-month, 12,000-mile tour of the country with her mother, Peggy Wales. Through this journey, she developed an appetite for adventurous and independent travel which continued throughout her life and into retirement.

Mary Bride is survived by her son, daughter-in-law and grandson.

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A celebration of Mary Bride’s life will be held in the Great Hall at Dartington on Sunday April 22 at 2pm, to which her many friends and colleagues are warmly invited. Please email Peter Nicholson at rpjnicholson@virginmedia.com if you wish to attend.


We would like to thank Mary’s son, Peter, for his help compiling this article.

Mary Bride chronicled much of her extraordinary life story in her memoirs, A Life at Dartington, which is available at Dartington’s Visitor Centre, The Shops at Dartington, and in Totnes Bookshop.



3 thoughts on “In memory of Mary Bride Nicholson

    1. Dear Sue, there will be two humanist celebrations of MB’s life, one TBA at Dartington, followed by the burial in May of her ashes alongside those of her parents in the orchard at our home in Week. I hope that everyone who wishes to pay their respects to MB will be able to attend one or both of these celebrations.

      1. A wonderful life……… I enjoyed bookbinding with her and listing to her stories of Dartington with Mary Bartlett. I was proud to have known her. Please when the arrangements are completed I would love to attend any celebration of her life

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