Miss Catherine Cutter, headmistress, 1863 – 1946

Miss Cutter  © Rosalind Griffin

Miss Cutter © Rosalind Griffin

Miss Cutter’s paternal ancestors came from Ashby de la Zouch in Leicestershire.  Her father Thomas was a journeyman tailor, who went on to become a master tailor. He married Elizabeth Robbins from Staffordshire in 1855, and after the birth of their first daughter Sarah Elizabeth at Ashby, they came to live and work in Warwickshire, and brought up a family of four girls.

They lived for a time in Rosefield Terrace, and after Thomas died, with Sarah and Margaret both married, Mrs Cutter, Catherine, a schoolmistress and Annie, a dressmaker, moved to 54 Clarendon Street, where they took in a lodger, a tailor, as Mr Cutter had been.

Catherine, known to her family and friends as Kate, became Headmistress of Lillington School in 1884 and lived for the early part of her tenure in the Headmistresses ‘house’ – an apartment taking up the floor above the school-room in the original school building, with its own entrance via an external staircase on the Cubbington Road side. After Annie married, Kate and her mother lived at 8 Farm Road where they had a 13year-old live-in servant.  There, Kate became lifelong friends with the Rees family, sharing not only their chosen career, but also choral and musical interests, and support of Lillington church and its wider community

Lillington School © Peter Coulls

Lillington School © Peter Coulls

Miss Cutter was Head of the school for a total of forty years, presiding over and actively participating in a good many changes in teaching and learning. After 25 years’ service, in 1909, there was a huge celebration, detailed in the press, when Miss Cutter was presented with an illuminated address and a purse of £50 (about £3000 in today’s money) in recognition of her services to the school and the parish over the last quarter of a century.   Under her leadership, (described in the illuminated address as her ‘loving care and guidance’) school numbers had increased more than threefold, and more than a hundred former pupils and supporters signed the document.  Miss Lowndes, one of the managers and a regular school visitor (“Visited the schools today.  Signed the registers” were her usual non-committal remarks) paid a fulsome tribute, asserting that Miss Cutter’s industrious, conscientious attention to the children in her care, amid what she saw as “most trying work” had made Miss Lowndes’ and other managers’ lives easier.   The Church organist, Mr Gibbs, also paid tribute: Miss Cutter was invaluable in her assistance with the church choir, and he counted himself lucky to have a teacher so in sympathy with church work.

Lillington School photo, c 1920 © G Moss

Lillington School photo, c 1920 © G Moss

Fifteen years later the festivities were renewed, when on her retirement from the school, Miss Cutter celebrated forty years in post. Rev. C.C. Brookes paid a glowing tribute to Miss Cutter’s successful work at the school, saying that he had yet to find anyone with “half such influence for good as Miss Cutter, by her persevering work with generation after generation” of Lillington children.  He continued, “She had the great gift of being able to take fresh points of view, and it was a small thing to her whether a fresh scheme was to her liking or not.  If it was for the good of the children, she would carry it out as if it were the greatest desire of her heart.”

For her part, Miss Cutter felt that the time had passed very happily and quickly, with the support of a good body of managers, teachers, parents and children.  She appreciated the efforts of the forty or fifty teachers who had passed through her hands over the years; she paid tribute to the parents, who had always taken such interest in the school, ensuring amongst other things, good attendance in spite of occasional difficult home circumstances, ill health and trying weather.  She reserved her real praise for the children: “I have a deep debt of gratitude to the children …They have kept me young and given me so much to do.  [This provoked laughter] I miss them so much.” [And this, a round of applause].  Her retirement gifts, presented by Mr Edward Field JP and the most senior of the Managers, included a ring engraved with the dates 1884 and 1924, a sewing machine, another purse of money and a second illuminated list of 365 subscribers.  On this occasion, the presentation held at Lillington Men’s Club, was followed by a concert and a programme of dancing.

Three years on, Miss Cutter set sail for Canada on the holiday of a lifetime.  She returned to Farm Road and her local interests, supporting them to the hilt for a further twenty years.  Miss Cutter died of heart failure at the end of January 1946 at the age of 82.  She was mourned by family and friends, neighbours from Farm Road and Manor Road, past and present staff and pupils of Lillington school, churchwardens and fellow parishioners at St Mary Magdalene, members of the Mothers’ Union and the W.I., and many local dignitaries, – ample testament to the very high regard Miss Cutter had earned over her long life.  Her house and furniture were sold at auction in March that year, after her burial in Lillington Churchyard.

Margaret Rushton

Sources: Rosalind Griffin, Gill Moss, Peter Coulls, Leamington Spa Courier, Spennell’s Directories.

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