John Wallis Dodgson, BSc
staff 1896-1903, The School’s First Science Master

J Wallis Dodgson, 1897

J. Wallis Dodgson, in 1897

J. Wallis Dodgson was appointed as a founder member of staff in 1896. He was a chemist, and was appointed as Senior Master and teacher of science.

He was born in Reading in 1869, the son of John Dodgson, a cigar manufacturer from Liverpool, and his wife Sarah, née Lyson of Reading. By 1891 both he and his sister Ann were teachers, whilst their aunt had just retired from the profession and had joined their household. From 1892 to 1895 he studied for an external London B.Sc. whilst working as a Demonstrator in the Chemistry and Physics department of the newly established University Extension College at Reading1. At the same time, from 1893 to 1896, he taught Chemistry at a Catholic school, St Mary’s College in nearby Woolhampton.

In The Aberdare Times, dated 19 September 1896, the Aberdare Intermediate School staff appointments were reported. In a long account of the governors’ meeting, the paper included the following remark: “For the post of senior assistant master there were 31 applications, four being selected to appear before the meeting. Mr J. Wallis Dodgson, B.Sc., Reading, was elected.” He was one of only five staff including the headmaster at the school during its first term, all of whom had to quickly organise their affairs, for the school was to open the week following their interviews!

Mr Dodgson eventually settled in Trecynon, living with his widowed mother at Eversley, Llewellyn Street. The house was probably No 15, now the site of a small local convenience store.

Within a few terms of his appointment, Mr Dodgson had to fulfil an unexpected requirement of his senior post, as he had to step into the Headmaster’s shoes, for a period of one half of the Christmas Term, 1897, when the Head was ill. He was formally thanked for these services in the Second Report to Governors, dated 1898.

It is apparent from adverts and news reports in the local press that Mr Dodgson was much involved in local societies, and as a speaker in various meetings in the town and beyond. For example, he deputised for Mr W. Jenkyn Thomas as chairman for the weekly meetings of The Aberdare Debating Society, and gave lectures on various scientific topics to other clubs and societies, such as his illustrated lecture Alchemy and the Alchymists to the Astronomical Society of Wales in Cardiff. In addition, he was a tutor in the evening classes2 offered at the school, a programme that became a permanent feature of the educational provision in Aberdare. Surprisingly, he is also reported3 as organist at St. Fagan’s, Trecynon, at the funeral of a Mr Thomas Harris, previously a teacher at St Fagan’s School. He was also a member of the first Aberdare Free Library Committee, convened in 1903; a member of Aberdare Photographic Society, as well as lecturing to them, for example he gave a talk on ‘The Chemistry of a Photographic Plate’ in 1903; a member of the Aberdare Literary Society; and at the wedding in 1902 of Walter Charlton Cox to May Daniel of Llwydcoed House, he was ‘best man’.

Sarah Dodgson died whilst she and her son were living in Aberdare. It was later in the year of her death that J. Wallis Dodgson resigned from his position in the County School.

Mr Dodgson left his post at Aberdare at the end of the Christmas Term 1903 to take up an appointment as a lecturer in Inorganic Chemistry at University College, Reading, a post which he held until his retirement in 1934. He was a well-regarded lecturer of his subject, but in addition he was particularly concerned with non-resident students and consequently became Warden of St. David’s Hall when it was set up for their benefit in 1920, where he remained until his retirement.

One of the first things he did after retiring at the age of 65, was to marry a schoolteacher, Miss Phyllis Mottershall, a native of Manchester, who was just 35. The couple were married in Bournemouth.

In retirement John Dodgson lived quietly in Woodley, just south of Reading, but supported local bodies such as Reading Amateur Regatta and Reading Music Club.

When the Second World War broke out Mr Dodgson began to keep a diary, recording local and national events and his own feelings about them, which he continued for the rest of his life. Entitled “The War and Us - a daily record, 1939-1950”, it runs to 17 volumes with indexes. Extracts from these diaries can be seen on the Reading University website,4 and at Woodley Town Council.5

At the beginning of the war he served as a Voluntary Food Organiser but when younger lecturers at the university began to join the armed forces, and the department staffing became depleted, Dodgson was asked to return to the university which he did from 1941 to 1945. After his second retirement, at the age of 76, he continued his contact with his colleagues by visiting the Senior Common Room regularly.

He died on November 5th 1950, two days after sustaining a fall on his way home from his club. He was 81 years old. His wife Phyllis lived until she was 91. She died in Berkshire in 1992.



  1. J. Wallis Dodgson is reported to have been the first student of Reading Extension College to obtain a University degree,
  2. A newspaper advert for a chemistry evening class can be seen by clicking here.
  3. Tarian Y Gweithiwr, 14 September 1899, page 5. Available on-line in Welsh Newspapers Online.
  4. The University of Reading had a special archive feature about Dodgson’s diaries. It also contained two photographs taken of him in his later years. Further information about Dodgson is listed at
  5. Woodley Town Council article

Acknowledgements: many thanks to David Dodgson for information about the life of his relative.