Richard Holbeche started school at Mr. Cull’s Academy in Sutton High Street at the age of five years in 1855. Recollecting his schooldays in his 1892 Diary, Holbeche could not remember doing very well academically, although he did receive one prize - a book inscribed “For gentlemanly conduct in the schoolroom”. He also remembered an older boy who was much admired for his ability to spit out of the window when Mr. Cull’s back was turned. The Academy was housed in the Georgian building, now no. 56, which still stands at the top of High Street next to the railway bridge, where Mr Cull and his family also lived.
The school had fourteen boarders, boys aged 7 and over, in addition to the day boys like Richard Holbeche; John Henry Cull’s wife Ann did some teaching as well as an assistant master. In the 1880s the school was being run by the widow Ann Cull and her daughter Susan, and then in the 1890s Mary and Susan Cull set up their own preparatory school. This was a very exclusive establishment in superior premises known as Iona Cottage in Lichfield Road, now no. 59.
Iona Cottage had been built in the 1870s for Sarah Grundy - in 1855 she had lived with her parents on the opposite side of High Street from Mr. Cull in what is now the Royal Hotel. In the 1860s she was left a wealthy spinster and moved to a new house in Richmond Road, and later to Iona Cottage. She was fifty years older than the misses Cull, and probably a good friend of the family, when she allowed them to use Iona Cottage for their school. The school attracted prestigious pupils from far and wide, one of the earliest being Francis Brett Young from Halesowen.
The famous author Francis Brett Young’s brief stay at 59 Lichfield Road is commemorated by a blue plaque on the wall of the house, unveiled by the Sutton Coldfield Civic Society in 1998.