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Mark Cuthbert

Class of 1972, Architect

Mark Cuthbert engaged with the Development Office in early 2020 expressing his intention to leaving a legacy in his will. We are grateful to Mark who is now also supporting guitar music lessons for two bursary students at Freemen’s through the Mark Cuthbert Guitar Bursary award. Mark shares memories from his time at Freemen’s, his professional journey as an architect and his passion for guitar music. 

Tell us about your time at Freemen's? 

I started at Freemen’s in 1963, aged 9, and stayed until 1972, doing both my ‘O’ and ‘A’ levels. I was a day student as opposed to a boarder, although often stayed late after school in order to ‘do’ things with the boarders. What I remember most was the ‘inclusivity’, as part of the school’s ethos and a co-educational approach for most subjects and activities. I don’t think that the teaching was exceptional, indeed the choice of subjects at ‘O’ level was quite limited. However, the extracurricular activities were varied and generally helped to educate the student as a ‘broad’ individual, rather than just concentrating on academic achievement. 

What was life at the school like in the 60s and early 70s? What are your best memories from your time at Freemen's? 

In the 60s and early 70s, the school was very different and much smaller than today. There were primarily three main teaching areas: 

  1. The Main House – art, music, library, main hall/dining and sports changing facilities and the Headmaster’s Study. 

  1. The courtyard area (through the clock tower) where the younger students were taught along with metal work, carpentry and cooking. The prefect room and upstairs the Sixth Form. 

  1. The new block (up steps from the courtyard where the science labs were situated along with the classrooms. The facilities were basic compared to today’s standards.  

The teaching was formal with most of the teachers wearing gowns and the headmaster was to be feared. Beatings were not uncommon as a form of punishment (along with detention, some other task or writing out lines). I hated it then and still do; teaching then was primarily rote learning. 

Are you still in touch with friends and former classmates from Freemen's? 

I’m not an ‘old school’ type of person, but am still in touch with three friends from school. One was my best man and I sit on a board of a charity with another. The 3rd lives in Asia, though I see him when he visits the UK. We still speak regularly, though none were in my class! 

Any teachers who made a significant impact during your time here? 

I remember two teachers who enriched my time at Freemen’s. Firstly, was the music teacher, Mr Roger Carter, who encouraged my musical abilities (particularly when I was ill, aged 15, for a long time). Secondly, a recently qualified English teacher, Miss Johnson (who joined in January 1972) and taught us at A level, after our disastrous mocks. She taught us to approach English literature in a conceptual way and treated us as equals, which I think developed an adult approach to the subject (and a grade A for me!). Both teachers were influential on my later teaching career. 

Tell us about your journey since Freemen's and your career as an architect? 

After I left Freemen’s, I briefly dallied with the notion of being a musician, but I also wanted to be an architect/artist, (both precarious careers!) so I went to Kingston School of Art/Architecture to study a revolutionary course at that time. My career as an architect followed a pretty standard route. I worked in London for ‘starchitect’ practices and after a number of redundancies, (those practices staffed up for projects and the staff moved on), I started my own practice, originally in a partnership and then on my own. 

I think I was lucky, having had work from all over the world and in the UK. I/we offered both Architecture and Interiors. Architecture is strange. On the one hand you are running a business, on the other you are an architect/artist trying to create your best work, both for your client and yourself. Financial profit was never a priority, (however important) quality was. 

I also taught at various schools of architecture at the same time as practicing. Looking back, I should probably have taught more! I retired in my early 60s, when I could see a window to do so. One cannot do architecture ‘partially’, the costs of a business, including copious insurances, mean that it really is more than a full-time occupation/vocation. 

Your love for music, specifically guitar, is something you have kept up with all these years. Tell us how and when you discovered the guitar and how you kept up with your passions despite your full-time career as an architect. 

I discovered the guitar when I was seven and found that I had a talent for the instrument. The music that inspired me, starting on a holiday in Spain, was traditional Spanish, 20th century classical guitar music and flamenco. I started teaching guitar relatively early in my career and managed to work for Surrey County Council, as an adult music/guitar teacher, whilst studying for my architectural degree and diploma. I have taught guitar to adults and children whilst working as an architect/artist for all my life. I simply followed/indulged my passions. 

You recently engaged with the School with regards to leaving a legacy and also setting up a regular bursary for pupils interested in learning the guitar. As a result, the Mark Cuthbert Guitar Bursary was awarded to two students who began their musical journey in January. Tell us how this idea came about and why it is so important to you to give back in this way? 

Although the guitar was not taught at Freemen’s when I was there, I wanted to leave a guitar legacy for a student. It started when my wife and I were re-writing our wills, I realised that I had a lifelong affair with the guitar and wanted to pass this on – hence setting up a bursary. The school is an obvious choice because the structures to deal with the students, the teachers and the financial aspects of a bursary, are already in place. 

Music simply enriches one’s life.  

How do you think your education at Freemen's helped shape your future choices? 

I don’t think my education at Freemen’s was about formal learning. It was more about being comfortable in myself, and in the company of others, from whatever the socio-economic background. I think my time at Freemen’s gave me life skills that I was able to use throughout my career. I also believe that a co-ed education from a young age helped shape my attitude to other people, whoever they might be. My family and Freemen’s gave me the confidence to follow my own path. 

Words of wisdom you would like to share with current students at Freemen's? 

I hope that this is not presumptuous of me but perhaps: - Be true to yourself and trust your judgement (formerly, Hamlet’s ‘To thine own self be true!”). Sometimes the wisest words are the oldest…