Saturday, April 17, 2010

Ladycross Catholic Boys' Preparatory School in Seaford






Booting up the computer on my desk at work, I sleepily sipped some coffee without realizing the surprise I had in store. There in my e-mail box was and e-mail with the subject line reading "George Mills." Now, on any given day, I'm waiting to hear back from a dozen possible sources about a half dozen bits of information I'm trying to tease out of the tapestry of the internet, so I simply wondered what answer to which query this might be.

Little did I know that it would eventually—and rather quickly—lead to the answer to the very first question I ever pursued regarding George Mills: What did he look like?

Here's the message:
George Mills was briefly a teacher at my prep school, Ladycross (in Seaford, Sussex, UK). I have copy of the school photo for summer 1956.

A disingenuous entry for the school is in Wikipedia.

Kind regards
Barry Mc

This was exciting news for me! From the time Vera Mills passed away in 1942, through 1972 when Mills himself left us—a full three decades—I only was certain that Mills had seen his three most popular books reprinted in the late 1950s. Otherwise, the informational cupboard was bare, so to speak.
Barry had placed Mills in Seaford, East Sussex, in 1956, and still teaching at the approximate age of 60. There had really been no indication of any sort of occupation for George since he had dedicated his novel, King Willow, to the mysteriously forgotten Eaton Gate Preparatory School, London S.W.1, in 1938.

In my excitement, I believe I set the New Millennium speed record for replying to an e-mail, and asked him if there was anything else he'd like to share—and for a glimpse of that photograph! Barry wrote back quickly as well, providing this wonderful reply:

"Ladycross was allegedly a posh Roman Catholic boarding prep school that fed pupils (via the Common Entrance exam) into the 'better' public schools preferably Stoneyhurst, Ampleforth, Beaumont and Downside. Other public schools were slightly de trop. Most boys started when they were 8 or 9 and left when they were 13. It was emphatically rigorous in the maintenance of discipline and had problems keeping staff. There was a queue for beatings every day... Many of the staff were strange, so 'care in the community' would have meant that the boys did more for the staff than vice versa! Prep Schools in Eastbourne and Seaford were very much a good business to be in, say between 1920 and 1970, and they were built in the style of late Victorian mansions with all the concomitant snobbery that the pupils' parents expected. Ladycross did a very good line in recusant connections.

I attach the 1956 school photo in 3 parts so that you have the dated provenance. George Mills has a handkerchief in his breast pocket and is on the left of all the staff. His neighbour is George Robinson whose obituary I have somewhere.

I only vaguely remember Mr Mills and suspect that he used snuff. Many of his books were in the school library and I'm sure I read them as one of the key characters was called Pongo - which was slang at the time for the Army, as in 'the pongos are going in to Suez'. On balance, I would also have been reading the 'William' books by Richmal Crompton. Strangely enough I have no recollection of reading the Jennings books. I cannot remember if I was taught by him - the chances are that he was only there that one summer term; the classes were small and I was only 10 at the time; he was very old in the days when being 40 was ancient and my teachers are only remembered for being gifted (rare) or abusive.

This probably as much as you want to know, but I sense from your blog that incidental trivia could also be useful."


Brilliant, Barry! And you certainly have a good sense of my blog!

As I read the final paragraph there, I can't help but wonder if Mills was still working as a teacher [and moving from school to school as he'd done in the 1920-1930s]. However, it occurred to me Mills may have perhaps retired, but was added to the staff at Ladycross as a temporary master, à la King Willow's amazingly aged and benign substitute schoolmaster and retired butterfly expert, Mr. Aloysius Quole, perhaps a prescient creation of Mills'.

I've included Barry's class photograph here in its three segments, and you can click to enlarge each third of it. I also took the liberty of reassembling it into one image. You'll find that one just below!


Barry has also sent me a wealth of information that I'm enjoying and will share soon. I really do appreciate his thoughtfulness, as well as his cleverness! He's referred to my task here as "mining trivia," and I suppose that insightful term would be exactly what I'm doing, now that I come to think about it. So, as always, if you have any information regarding George Mills, his family, or his world—trivial as it may be—please don't hesitate to contact me, and many thanks!

2 comments:

  1. A small correction. I have mis-spelled one of the master's names. George Andre Robertson has an entry in Wikipedia. He was a gifted teacher and much under-rated at Ladycross. Barry Mc, 29th April 2010.

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  2. I note that the Wikipedia entry for Ladycross School [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ladycross_School] has been significantly rewritten. The trenches referred to were slit trenches associated with the ack-ack site on 'Hump ma', where we would go for walks on Seaford Head Golf Course. You need to appreciate that in the late 1950's there was still that ethos where my contemporaries' fathers had been Battle-of-Britain pilots (eg, Killy Kilmartin), an escapee from Colditz (Pat Reid) and decorated Army and Royal Navy officers. It's a shame that the independently-linked Ladycross website webmaster never up-dated his site nor replied to my emails. Barry Mc, 27th December 2013.

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