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Faithfull, Lilian Marylocked

  • Gillian Avery

Lilian Mary Faithfull (1865–1952)

by unknown photographer, in or before 1922

The Cheltenham Ladies' College

Faithfull, Lilian Mary (1865–1952), headmistress, was born on 12 March 1865 in Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire, daughter of Francis Grantham Faithfull (1832–1892), clerk to the Merchant Taylors' Company, and his wife, Edith, née Lloyd. There were eight children (three boys and five girls) in the family. Emily Faithfull was a cousin. There being few girls' schools then that provided solid teaching in classics and mathematics, her father, recognizing Lilian's ability, sent her to his brother-in-law's prep school, The Grange, in Hoddesdon, where she was the only girl among twenty-five boys. In her memoirs she paid tribute to the thoroughness with which they were taught. After The Grange, she learned at home and through the university extension movement, which had begun to provide lectures in history, literature, archaeology, and economics in provincial centres. In 1883 she went up to Somerville College, Oxford, where she was captain of hockey and obtained a first class in English language and literature in 1887. As Oxford degrees remained closed to women, she could not graduate, though she claimed an ad eundem MA from Trinity College, Dublin, in 1905. She acted as secretary to the principal of Somerville, Madeleine Shaw Lefevre, during 1887–8, and then taught for a year at Oxford high school.

After holding a post as lecturer in English at the Royal Holloway College (1889–94), Lilian Faithfull was appointed to succeed Cornelia Schmitz as vice-principal of the ladies' department of King's College, London, in Kensington Square, which she described as 'one of the happiest educational posts for women in England' (Faithfull, House of my Pilgrimage, 102). This establishment aimed to provide women with the same sort of cultural opportunities as the university extension lectures organized by Oxford and Cambridge, and women of all ages from seventeen to seventy came to Kensington Square to hear lectures by professors from King's College. Lilian Faithfull helped to bring about a change of emphasis from passive lecture attendance to the pursuit of courses of study leading to university examinations, degrees, and diplomas. The serious study of English literature was particularly encouraged. Students holding local authority scholarships while training to be teachers were admitted to read for degrees, and they helped to raise academic standards in the department. She also introduced sporting activities, being president of the All-England Women's Hockey Association. During her thirteen years as vice-principal the numbers doubled, a hall of residence was opened (1897), household science was developed as a serious branch of study, and the debt to King's was cleared.

In 1906, after the death of Dorothea Beale, Lilian Faithfull was persuaded to apply for the post of principal of Cheltenham Ladies' College. She was reluctant; her only experience of girls' schools was the one year she had spent at Oxford high school. The vast Gothic pile which symbolized the lofty ideals of the high-churchwoman Miss Beale daunted her, and she likened entering the room for her interview by the council to entering 'a church full of silent prayer' (Faithfull, House of my Pilgrimage, 128). She was never to shake off her awe at having inherited the mantle of Miss Beale—when she received the post 'it seemed to me that I had been appointed to a high and holy office'. But, she said, 'one of the greatest conquests [which] Miss Beale made was the conquest of her successor' (ibid., 131).

Cheltenham Ladies' College, when Lilian Faithfull arrived in 1907, was a community of over 900 which provided education at every stage; there was a kindergarten, a main school of some 600 pupils (more than half of them boarders), a university college with young women studying for external degrees, and three departments for the training of teachers—secondary, elementary, and kindergarten. Lilian Faithfull, though she was to make some innovations, introducing for instance a very successful course in library training, did not try to make changes to Miss Beale's structure. She had, after all, taken over most of her predecessor's staff, and knew how they treasured the Beale inheritance.

What was unusual in Lilian Faithfull's regime, at a time when headmistresses tended to be remote and austere, was her easy manner with her pupils and her concern for their welfare—though in a school of that size it was impossible to know any individual well. Margaret Kennedy, who portrayed her as Miss Helen Butterfield in her novel The Constant Nymph (1924), described her as having:

a most beautiful voice … And she saw the girls if anybody had died, or if they'd done anything perfectly dreadful. And she used to give addresses to us on Fortitude and Friendship and things like that. She was very nice looking and had lovely clothes. She very nearly knew our names.

In fact, Lilian Faithfull was to recall how often during the First World War she had to break the news of the death of a father or brother; she provided an intercession room near her own office where girls could pray and find privacy. She also organized a Red Cross hospital in one of the boarding-houses. Her Saturday talks to the senior girls, collected under the title You and I (1927), often took the form of acute and amusing criticism of different aspects of schoolgirl behaviour—on emotional friendships, on the sadly limited topics of school conversation, on slang. She encouraged the pupils to respond and printed some of their comments as appendages to her own text.

Lilian Faithfull had always taken an enthusiastic interest in public affairs. As a leading member of the Association of Head Mistresses she was appointed to the departmental committee on the organization of secondary education in Wales (1919). In 1920 she was one of the six Gloucestershire members elected to the newly founded church assembly. In the same year she became a JP for Cheltenham, as one of the first women magistrates to be appointed in England. She took a particular interest in penal reform. Finding these duties hard to combine with her heavy administrative load at Cheltenham, she resigned in 1922 at the early age of fifty-seven, leaving her successor, Beatrice Sparks, with her greater experience of schools, to reshape the college to suit educational needs which had vastly changed since Miss Beale's time. She was awarded an honorary MA degree from Oxford in 1925 and the CBE in 1926.

In retirement Lilian Faithfull spent half the year in Four Winds, the thatched cottage she had built herself in Birdlip on the southern edge of the Cotswolds, and the other half in London, where she was active in working to provide better conditions for the poor of Shoreditch. She founded the Under-Forty Club to interest the prosperous young with her aims, and inaugurated a cookhouse in Marylebone to provide good cheap meals. All this was described in The Evening Crowns the Day (1940), the postscript to her memoirs, In the House of my Pilgrimage (1924), and 'a record of the miscellaneous activities which have occupied my leisure' in retirement. (Her private interest was in cars and driving.) She continued to be active in educational organizations, as vice-chair of the Conservative Teachers' Advisory Committee, of which she was a founder, the National Council of Education in Canada, which reflected her interest in pupil and teacher exchanges between Britain and the dominions, and the International Federation of University Women. She died on 2 May 1952 at Faithfull House, Cheltenham, a home for elderly people which she had helped found, and was buried in Cheltenham.


  • L. M. Faithfull, In the house of my pilgrimage (1924)
  • L. M. Faithfull, The evening crowns the day (1940)
  • A. K. Clarke, A history of the Cheltenham Ladies' College, 1853–1953 (1953)
  • Cheltenham Chronicle (10 May 1952)
  • E. Ratcliffe, The Caxton of her age: the career and family background of Emily Faithfull (1993)
  • Somerville College register, 1879–1971 [1972]
  • P. Adams, Somerville for women: an Oxford college, 1879–1993 (1996)
  • N. Marsh, The history of Queen Elizabeth College: one hundred years of university education in Kensington (1986)
  • Men and women of the time (1899)
  • b. cert.


  • Cheltenham Ladies' College, MSS


  • Lafayette, photograph, 1907, Cheltenham Ladies' College
  • photograph, 1922, Cheltenham Ladies' College [see illus.]
  • G. Kelly, oils, 1923, Cheltenham Ladies' College
  • P. Fripp, photograph, 1924, repro. in Faithfull, In the house of my pilgrimage, facing p. 280
  • E. O. Hoppé, photograph, 1924, repro. in Faithfull, In the house of my pilgrimage, frontispiece

Wealth at Death

£9468 12s. 0d.: probate, 30 Dec 1952, CGPLA Eng. & Wales