Gillian Dickinson was the eldest of five children of Newcastle based corporate lawyer, Roy Dickinson, who played a leading role in many of the corporate restructurings involving North East firms during the three decades following the Second World War, including the nationalization of the coal industry. He was the motor force behind the emergence of Dickinson Dees, now part of Womble Bond Dickinson, as the leading law firm in the North East.
Gillian was brought up in Corbridge, Northumberland, and educated locally before becoming a boarder at Runton Hill Girls School in north Norfolk, near Cromer, where she excelled. She went on to study English at Somerville College, Oxford, before beginning her career with the British Council, where she served for many years as the editor of British Book News. She was lured from the British Council by the ambitious educational publisher Stanley Thorne, which later merged to form Nelson Thorne, now part of Oxford University Press. At Stanley Thorne, Gillian was part of the editorial team responsible for commissioning and distributing popular textbook series that came complete with attractive learning aides and test papers, taking a structured learning approach to a wide range of subjects.
For most of her career in London, Gillian lived in Islington: before, during and after the gentrification of the area. She never lost her love of the countryside and kept a cottage in Rutland as a weekend retreat. When she retired from Stanley Thorne she established her own small publishing company, Barrowden Books, later rebranded as The Spreddon Press. Toward the end of her life, Gillian returned to live in Corbridge, Northumberland. She had a passion for creative arts and prized the natural world and Britain’s history and heritage. This passion is reflected in the high quality of the books she published during her later years.
Gillian never married, but her personal life was very full, engaging herself as a favourite aunt with the lives of her 13 nephews and nieces. She lived very modestly, occupying a small house and resisting the culture of consumption, preferring instead the pleasures of country living. When diagnosed with cancer, she sought counsel from those she loved and decided to leave all she had for the benefit of the North East. Following her death in 2002, her estate, worth £2 million, was placed in trust to help young people to engage creatively with the arts and enjoy nature.
The trustees of the Gillian Dickinson Trust have over many years given crucial support to smaller organizations working in the arts and environmental sectors, making grants totalling over £2.5m since her death. The Trust has helped make possible some outstanding and inspirational projects, of which the Cheeseburn Sculpture gardens is emblematic.
Charity Commission (2018). Trustee Reports and Accounts for Gillian Dickinson Trust. Available here (Accessed 30/09/2018).
Cheeseburn Sculpture Gardens (2018). Website: http://cheeseburn.com/#vision. (Accessed 30/09/2018).
Harvey, C. (2018). Interview with James Ramsbotham, nephew of Gillian Dickinson, conducted on 16th October 2018.