COX, Katherine Amy
abt.1881 – 10 July 1967
Founder of Hayes Court School
Katherine Cox was ten years old when her father John Cox became Professor of Physics at McGill University,Montreal, in 1891 and the family moved to Canada. School in Montreal was followed by two years at St Leonard’s School, St Andrews and then she went to Radcliffe, the women’s college attached to Harvard University. After gaining her MA degree in Philosophy at McGill University and teaching at a private school in Boston she returned to England when her father decided to retire. With the help of her maternal uncle, Arthur Bulley, she was able in 1919 to set up, at the age of 39, an exclusive boarding school at Hayes Court, Hayes.
Pupils have recalled her as rather eccentric, ‘tall, angular rather than graceful, she paddles along on low-heeled pumps, dressed in loose, loudly checked clothes’. She was memorable and also elegant. In the early years of the school she was nicknamed Coxy and in the last years she was spoken as Cockle. She was ahead of her time in her approach to education and, although she emphasised the importance of routine and basic discipline, scope was allowed for the development of the pupils’ individual gifts and interests.
On the fringe of the ‘Bloomsbury Set’, Katherine Cox was able to encourage artists, actors and musicians to Hayes Court. Virginia Woolf discussed ‘How should we read a book?’ The Mohawk Indian Chief Oskenonton talked about Indian customs and traditions, Roger Fry spoke about art and Segovia played the guitar. Trips were made to London to listen to Yehudi Menuhin playing a Beethoven violin concerto or Myra Hess giving a piano recital. The young Alec Guinness directed the school’s performance of ‘Merchant of Venice’ and John Gielgud gave guidance to the VIth form on their play ‘Uncle Vanya’.
Perhaps the event that shows Miss Cox’s more enlightened approach, was that on hot evenings the girls were allowed to drag their mattresses downstairs and sleep in the open, although they had to keep their dormitory order.
Many of the pupils went on to distinguish themselves academically including Ruth Cohen who became an economist and Principal of Newnham College, Cambridge, Betty Behrens was a fellow and tutor of Newnham, while Kate Bertram (née Ricardo) became part of the 1930s ‘Cambridge school’ of biologists and later became President of Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge. Honor Croome became an economist, Hildegard Himmelweit (née Litthauer), a university teacher and social psychologist, Joanna Kelley (née Beadon) a prison administrator and Margaret Amy Pyke (née Chubb) was a campaigner for family planning and secretary of the National Birth Control Council.
The beautiful gardens, tended by Percy Jones, who lived at Redgate Cottage, were an inspiration for many pupils. Valerie Finnis, who died in 2006, was encouraged to follow a horticultural career and became one of the few people to hold the Victoria Medal of the Royal Horticultural Society.
In September 1939 with the outbreak of war many parents said that unless the school could transfer to a safer area their daughters would not be sent back. Air raids were expected and children were being evacuated from London. Attempts were made to join Gordonstoun School, which moved to Wales. These failed and coupled with an increasingly difficult financial situation the school closed and Miss Cox later settled in Cambridge. As a former pupil wrote, ‘I think the loss of her school broke her heart…I have sometimes thought it was impossible for her to imagine that any harm could come to her beloved Hayes, and when she realised what was happening, it was too late.’
Information on Hayes Court School from Elizabeth Belsey and Roma Goyder, Hayseed to Harvest, 1985