Valerie Harris, former head of music at Culcheth Hall School and head tutor at Altrincham Creative Theatre School (ACTS), has passed away after a short illness at the age of 86.
Valerie – known to everyone as Val – taught at Culcheth from 1972 for almost 20 years until her late husband Bryan Harris, who was headmaster at the all-girls school, retired in 1991.
Val was well known in local music and drama circles and became a Freeman Burgess of Altrincham Court Leet for her services in helping young people. She was further honoured by the Greater Manchester Drama Foundation for running GCSE drama courses in the area.
Val was technically an ”Essex girl”, born in 1936 in Leigh-on-Sea, but was brought up in St Albans in Hertfordshire, the eldest of five children to a company accountant and a school secretary. After attending the local girls school she enrolled at the Royal College of Music in London where she sang and played piano.
Having graduated from the RCM, she met Bryan in 1958 after she relocated to North Devon to take up her first teaching post at St Michael’s School, Tawstock. Within two weeks they were engaged and in 1960 they married before settling in his hometown of Barnstable.
They worked at Grenville College an independent boarding school in nearby Bideford where he was deputy headmaster and she a music teacher until 1967 when the couple moved to Mayfield in Sussex.
They transferred to Culcheth Hall in 1972 when Mr Harris was appointed only the third ever male head teacher of an all girls school in Britain. Val was appointed head of music..
During the couple’s 19-year stewardship in the 1970s and 1980s, the school thrived – having originally been founded in 1891 on an ethos of teaching girls ”good manners and how to curtsey to teachers.”
Pupil numbers tripled to 600 and the school became one of the most respected and popular private schools in the area. Mr and Mrs Harris introduced a sixth form and helped numerous girls attain university places and successful careers.
Val in particular oversaw the installation of what was then a state-of-the-art music room as part of a new sports and assembly hall and was known for organising various plays and musicals starring the pupils.
After Mr Harris retired, Val left to take up a teaching post at North Cestrian Grammar School before retiring from teaching herself in 1997. Mr Harris passed away in 1993.
Away from teaching, Val was a member of the Women’s Institute and volunteered for the charities MenCap and Leonard Cheshire and also at Quarry Bank Mill in Styal.
She was a member of the Club Theatre – now the Little Theatre – in Oxford Road, Altrincham for 20 years and taught GCSE drama there before leaving in 2010 to set up her own venture ACTS – a drama school for youngsters aged 11-18 years – with her great friend John Banks at Dunham Road Unitarian church.
The school won various awards at local drama festivals and Val was still teaching young people about various aspects of theatre, and helping them develop performance skills until just a few weeks ago.
Val leaves three sons Mark, Jon and Simon, three grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. She is also survived by her two daughters-in-law and three brothers Ian, Nigel and Alastair.