Sunday, November 28, 2010

In Search of Eaton Gate Preparatory School, London, S.W.1

Following up on our discovery of the English Preparatory School in Glion, Switzerland—a place where our George Mills must have taught after leaving his situation at The Craig in Windermere, Cumbria, for whatever reason—we pretty much know at the very least some small amount about the places where Mills was a schoolmaster prior to his writing his first novel, Meredith and Co., which was published in 1933.

The only workplace of Mills's that we are now unsure of is the school mentioned in the dedication to the first edition of his second novel, King Willow, published in 1938 [above, left]. Here's that original dedication [pictured below, right], which Mills himself dated 'June, 1938': "TO THE HEADMASTERS, STAFF, AND BOYS OF EATON GATE PREPARATORY SCHOOL, LONDON, S.W. 1."

There's just something quite strange about that.

A myriad of searches through the internet, library databases, and periodical literature haven't turned up so much a crumb of evidence that such a school ever existed.

The obvious thought is that "Eaton Gate Preparatory School" must have been what the current Eaton House School in Belgravia had been called back in the period from 1933-1937, the period between the publication of his first and second novels.

Awaiting research assistance from the school itself, I have checked the archives of the London Times for more about T. S. Morton—a man [pictured, right] who could have employed George Mills during the mid 1930s if, indeed, Eaton House School was Eaton Gate Prep. (And, by the way, it is "T.S." Morton, not "J" Morton as Eaton House Schools' website erroneously claims.)

Here's Morton's obituary from the Tuesday, 23 January 1962 edition of the Times:


Mr. T. S. Morton, a well-known figure in the preparatory school world of a generation ago, and founder and first headmaster of the school which became Eaton House School, Eaton Gate, died in a St. Albans nursing home on Sunday in his ninety-fifth year.

Thomas Sale Morton, born in 1867, the elder son of a Hampstead physician, Dr. John Morton, was a descendant of the Scottish antiquarian John Leyden and of W. J. Thomas, founder of Notes and Queries, and thus inherited a tradition of scholarly pursuits. From Charterhouse he went as a classical scholar to Clare College, Cambridge, and in 1888 joined Dr. Williams's staff at Summer Fields, Oxford. It was in the days when the great public schools demanded a thorough grounding in the classics from their young entrants, and the Summer Fields' products regularly carried off a range of scholarships and places at Eton, Winchester, and Westminster. Morton was a skilful Latinist and some of his translations have been used in schools for years as text-books, and he had the gift of interesting small boys in the Greek and Roman worlds.

With the encouragement of Mrs. Maurice Macmillan, mother of the Prime Minister, he planned in 1897 a day preparatory school in Cliveden Place, and soon began to draw large numbers of boys from Belgravia. He used to say that of all the boys he taught he thought "young Harold Macmillan" was the brightest. But he had considerable respect for the classical discipline which emerged in other pupils such as Ronald Knox, Lord Wavell, and in later years Anthony Asquith. He remembered doing private coaching at 10 Downing Street during the First World War with Mrs. Asquith on hands and knees coaxing a reluctant fire to save master and pupil from freezing. He would usually be invited to stay to luncheon and on one occasion was asked to stay in order to keep the conversation going with Lord Kitchener. His devotion to teaching and dislike of administration made him dispose of his highly successful school, and in the later part of his career he was a member of the staff at The Hall, Hampstead. His tall, spare figure was always noticeable at meetings of the Classical Association, and while he bemoaned the decline of the classics in English education he did not resist the conclusion that there were other interests demanding the studied attention of young English gentlemen. He was unmarried.

As we know from the brief history of the institution at the school's own website: "By January 1937, some 50 boys were enrolled, forcing the school to move to 3 Eaton Gate."

That would have been about the time the faculty of the school boasted a published author, George Mills, if it's indeed the same place.

Now, it doesn't say that the school moved to Eaton Gate [left, circe 1965] from Cliveden Place in January of 1937, just that the old school had swollen with about 50 boys by then. How long it would have taken to find a larger place nearby, notify parents, wait for it to open up, close the deal, and actually make the move is open to speculation—especially in light of the fact that there were no fax machines or photocopiers and the there was a global depression going on. Mills, however, wrote King Willow's preface in June of 1938 and actually called the school by an incorrect name.

Is it possible that they were still in the process of moving to the new location and hadn't finalized the name of the school yet?

Harold Macmillan attended the school on Sloane Square known as "Mr. Gladstone's Day School" at the turn of the 20th century. By 1937, "Mr. Gladstone," who was called by Macmillan "an admirable teacher, both of Latin and Greek," may have been long gone from the institution, but if an aging Morton was still in charge at that time, he had an Oxford connection that Mills would likely have used to ingratiate himself.

There are no records about when Morton left Eaton House to take a faculty position at The Hall School in Hampstead, but that school was purchased by a Robin T. Gladstone ["Mr. Gladstone" again?] in 1919 and expanded from 60 students to 270 during the 1920s. That kind of increase in student population would have required a huge influx of faculty, and perhaps Morton was the sort of "star" educator [he'd taught young Macmillan, Knox, Asquith, and a young Laurence Olivier] who could draw wealthy parents [and their wallets] to that expanding school.

If that were so, Morton wouldn't have been around when Mills taught at Eaton House around 1937.

One thing that we do know for sure: Mills wrote the dedication to 1933's Meredith and Co. with explicit "affection" for the boys and staffs of the schools at which he'd taught before 1933. By 1937, his dedication in
King Willow to "Eaton Gate Preparatory School" is noteworthy for its complete absence of affection. It's precise—"London, S.W.1"—without any personal touch of warmth or fondness. The overall location of the school was the area in which Mills had been raised [right] , and in which he had always had a great deal of family, and one could assume many of the children at the school [which was never a boarding school until it moved to Haynes Hill, Twyford, Berks in 1939, and then only for the duration of the war] were local kids whose familes he might have known well. In this case, a lack of fondness doesn't seem to fit.

Is it possible that Mills left Eaton House School on less than good terms? Is the misnaming of the school something he did intentionally? It seems peculiar, especially in light of the dedication's brevity, that he had simply miswritten the name accidentally and never noticed his error. Such carelessness could be reflective of something else troubling Mills as he sat to write that dedication. Could it have been true that, in his case, one could not 'go home again'?

Of course, perhaps a typesetter at G. G. Harrap & Co., the publishing house, had bollixed up the dedication, skipping from "Eaton House" in the school's name, onward to "Eaton Gate" in the school's address without ever noticing.

But it is really interesting to note that when Meredith and Co. was re-released in the 1950s, the warm dedication to Windlesham House School, Warren Hill School, The Craig, and Captain Wm E. Mocatta's English Preparatory School in Glion remained intact.

The subsequent edition of King Willow, published by Spring Books in the 1950s, contained a completely different dedication—one in which no Eaton House or Eaton Gate School was ever mentioned at all. Since Eaton House was still operating in the late 1950s when King Willow was reprinted, it may have been no accident that a bitter Mills decided not to publicize the institution anymore, changing to a far more timely and heartfelt dedication to a "Beryl and Ian" [left].

It seems obvious that, with no other school in Eaton Gate at the time, Mills must have been a schoolmaster at Eaton House. What we aren't as sure of is whether or not he left bad blood between himself and the institution.

As usual, if you can shed some light on any of this—George Mills, Eaton House School, Mr. Gladstone's Day School, T.S. Morton, or Eaton Gate Preparatory School—please don't hesitate to let me know!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Found: W. E. Mocatta and the English Preparatory School in Glion

As we wait for the resolution of Robert Horace Walpole's appeal of the third Valerie Wiedemann v. Walpole trial, let's divert ourselves and briefly examine an unrelated event that occurred during the duration of those three trials: The birth of William E. Mocatta, a man who would seemingly have had at least some influence on the actual subject of this blog, George Mills.

Mocatta was born in December of 1890 in Lancashire of parents Henry and Katherine Mocatta, and his name appears as an infant on the rolls of the 1891 U.K. census. Little is known of Mocatta, an Oxford graduate holding an M.A., until the London Gazette in 10 June 1916 reports his promotion to captain in the West Yorkshire Regiment [pictured, upper left] back on 8 November 1915.

After the First World War, Mocatta married his wife, Joan Winnifrede Spain, in Westminster on 31 July 1920. One might have expected Mocatta, still calling himself "Captain," to have become upwardly mobile in his chosen profession, the military. That, however, is not how he became associated with George Mills. At the time of his marriage, Mocatta lists his profession as "Captain, General Reserve of Officers." At some point after his service in the First World War, Mocatta took control of a boys' school in Switzerland.

By 1934, just a year after the publication of George Mills's first book, Meredith and Co., that educational institution for boys aged 7 to 14 began to advertise in the London Times. The English Preparatory School of Glion boasted having "Captain W. E. Mocatta" as its headmaster, and openly trolled for students in the United Kingdom in both advertisements of its own [pictured left, from 17 April 1934], as well as piggy-backing onto the adverts of recreational facilities in the area above Montreux [seen below, right, from 26 May 1934]. In fact, Mocatta's presence seems to have been the institution's real "selling-point."

In the dedication of Meredith and Co., Mills wrote: "To MR. J. GOODLAND, sometime Head Master of Warren Hill, Eastbourne; to the STAFF AND BOYS OF THE SAME SCHOOL, and to those of WINDLESHAM HOUSE, BRIGHTON, THE CRAIG, WINDERMERE, and the ENGLISH PREPARATORY SCHOOL, GLION, among whom I spent many happy years, this book is affectionately dedicated."

Mills's book was published in 1933, before these advertisements that appeared in the pages of the Times, but that obviously does not mean that the school had just sprung into life in 1934.
As previously ascertained, Wells Lewis, the son of American novelist Sinclair Lewis, had attended school there back in 1924, according to the collected letters of the elder Lewis.

Mocatta may not yet have been headmaster at the time of Wells Lewis's attendance in the previous decade, but he likely was by the time George Mills, possibly still claiming to be an Oxford grauate, was added to the teaching roster. Mills listed the institution last, and seemningly then most proximate in time to his 1933 publication of Meredith and Co.

Mills, as we know,
spent 1925-1926 at Windlesham House, and subsequently taught at Warren Hill School, The Craig, and the English Preparatory School in Glion, Switzerland, presumably in that order. Can we assume that Mills taught on the continent somewhere between 1930 and 1932? His father, Barton, passed away in 1932, and that would seem to have been a time when George would have returned to London. Possibly endowed with an inheritance and with an inclination to begin putting his experiences in teaching down on paper, Mills probably put down roots in London again after his Alpine teaching days.

Mocatta later passed away "in hospital" on 25 February 1944 of what the Times describes as "illness resulting from service abroad." Mocatta had become a major in the meantime, and presumably wasn't serving in Glion when he became ill, what with the Second World War grinding into its fifth year and his death attributable to his "service."

It seems likely that Mills had departed Glion upon the death of his father in 1932 and was probably on good terms with then-Captain Mocatta, a fellow Oxonian. The latter's death in 1944 might have been simply another straw that was breaking the proverbial camel's back for an already ill Mills. After all, Mills had
lost his wife, Vera, during the war in Exmoor on 5 January 1942, and suffered the passing of young friend and muse Terence Hadow on 18 March 1943 in combat in Burma.

Remember that Mills, aged 44, had
returned to active duty in the military himself at the onset of aggressions in WWII, but had soon relinquished his commission as a second lieutenant on 3 November 1943 "on account of ill-health." Mills would not have been the only Britisher to suffer continual tragedy during the war years, but something in it all caused him not only to withdraw from the armed forces, but from having been an author. The books he published in 1939, the year he returned to the army, were the last he'd ever pen.

The war seems to have been too much for George Mills.

We know Mills died in 1972 while living in Devonshire with his aging, spinster sisters. How much the death of Major Wm. E. Mocatta [Times obituary, seen below, right] played upon his psyche near the end of the war is open to conjecture. Perhaps he never even knew of the Major's passing, and the
passing of his mother, Edith Mills, in the waning months of 1945 had a far greater negative impact on his future.

Still something, or some series of events, turned Mills from a gregarious and convivial young schoolmaster into a relatively reclusive ex-"Writer of Tales for Boys," as he is described in the British Library. My hunch is that it was all a cumulative effect of successive tragedies during the war years.

However, it could also very well be, as
suggested by Heather at Peakirk Books, Norfolk, that it's as simple as: "It is possible he just got fed up with writing!"

We may never know. But if you have any information on the now-forgotten English Preparatory School in Glion, Switzerland, William E. Mocatta, or any other part of the life and times of George Ramsay Acland Mills, please contact me. I would greatly appreciate it!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

14 July 1891: Court of Appeal

In this item from the pages of the 14 July 1891 edition of the London Times, we learn that, while the defendant, Robert Horace Walpole, wants a new trial, he is unable to communicate with his representative, Mr. Lockwood [pictured below, right], due to the fact that the former is "yachting."

Valerie Wiedemann's representative, Mr. Terrell, is sympathetic to Mr. Lockwood's problem because, in addition to the fact that Miss Wiedemann wants a new trial just as much as Walpole, she is also ill.

It was agreed that there would be no decisions made regarding an appeal for a fortnight. I'm glad for the time off because tomorrow is Thanksgiving here in the States, and I'll be cooking up turkey, potatoes, yams, and other delights for the family and giving thanks for all we have!

9 July 1891: Court of Appeal

Returning to the thread of courtroom drama we'd been pursuing, here's an added and fun little twist to the lengthy court proceedings that pitted Valerie Wiedemann against the Hon. Robert Horace Walpole for breach of promise of marriage and libel.

Not the fourth segment of a trial that had seen the courtroom three times before, these proceedings stemmed from Walpole's desire for a new, fourth trial to appeal his loss in the third, and the £300 that was awarded to Miss Wiedemann.

Surprisingly, the motions heard here, in an article from the 9 July 1891 edition of the London Times, were being made by Wiedemann's own attorneys, men to whom she owed money.

The barristers, Messrs. Atkinson & Dresser, wanted Wiedemann to be prevented from engaging in any appeal Walpole would have been preparing. She was, their representative said, obligated to pay these attorneys £769 she owed them for services rendered out of any awards she received from the court. She must then, he continued, be barred from entering in any subsequent case that might cost them the £300 to which they felt entitled.

The reaction of the judges here is priceless!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Perusing the 10 January 1928 Times of London...

You've just opened the 10 January 1928 edition of the London Times. Here, in an advertisement for Hutchinson & Co. (publishers), are the featured new novels of both Arthur Frederick Hobart Mills [half-brother of George Mills] and his wife of a dozen years, Lady Dorothy Mills. I've cropped out the sections pertaining to them. Things were obviously going well for the couple as the new year of 1928 came rolling in...

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Of Local Libraries and Model Railways

A couple of items have shown up in the old "mail bag" of comments here at Who Is George Mills?

First, from 18 October 2010, posted by the redoubtable Barry McAleenan, regarding the book Notable Sussex Women, which contains information on the life of Lady Dorothy Mills (née Walpole):

The local library only has 2 copies of the book: One is a reference copy, which couldn't be found till much later after a staff shift change; it was being used downstairs in a promotion for the upstairs Reference Library. The lending copy has been stolen so scanning not poss. [My camera was not up to spec. in the library lighting.] Anyway no photos (glossy or otherwise) of Lady Dot. Most entries like hers merit about a quarter of a page. OK? Barry Mc.

It's more than okay, Barry! Thank you so much for taking the time to check it out—something not-so-easily done from Ocala, Florida. Apparently that text featured nothing ground-breaking regarding our Lady Dorothy.

Also, from October 11 2010, came an anonymous message regarding the now-defunct Parkfield Preparatory School, of which George Mills and this writer were proud alumni:

Downlands was indeed the Wick and Parkfield School. I remember climbing over the fence to watch the model railway which is next door and clearly visible on google earth.

It's nice to have another independent confirmation that Downlands Park is, indeed, the old Parkfield Prep, especially since Lorraine Lane of Downlands Park never has actually confirmed it as she said she would.

I checked out Downlands Park on Google Earth as our anonymous commentator suggested, and believe that his "model railway" must be seen just below the tennis courts at the right of the satellite image [right]. It should be noted, however, that without the above-mentioned "Barry Mc," the location of Parkfield would still be a mystery!

Once again, thanks very much, Barry, and thank you to all who have helped guide my quest for information about the life, family, and times of George Mills. I appreciate it more than I can adequately say!

Word Spreads, Worldwide

Here are some snippets from wire services regarding the outcome of the third and final Valerie Wiedemann v. Robert Horace Walpole trail. It's interesting to note how the accounts vary, likely due to the convoluted nature of the case and its testimony over the course of three years. Still, it could have something to do with careless transmission or transcription of the information. No matter, it certainly must have clouded what was known about this sensational, internationally reported courtroom drama.

Included are articles from the front pages of the 18 June 1891 editions of the Cleveland (Ohio) Sun [upper left], the Quebec Daily Telegraph [upper right], and the Brooklyn (N.Y.) Eagle [below left], and from the 20 June 1891 issue of the Poverty Bay (New Zealand) Herald [below right].

Saturday, November 6, 2010

A Quick Summary of Events, re: Walpole...

I leave it to you to discern how much of an impact that the lengthy travails of the Hon. Robert Horace Walpole must have had on his wife and family.

Walpole had dealt with Valerie Wiedemann, the German governess he had seduced in Istanbul and "shacked up with" for a short time in a local hotel, for some time discreetly. He'd had a private investigator lead Wiedemann, who had from all accounts borne a child of their brief relationship, on a merry chase around Europe in hopes of losing her, while she thought she was being brought to him. All the while, she kept a signet ring of his, a token she claimed was a gift and promise from him of his commitment to their future happiness in wedlock.

When Walpole was finally engaged to Louise Melissa Corbin, a daughter of multi-millionaire industrial magnate D. C. Corbin of Sokane, Washington, in the United States, her photograph [above, right] was published in Life magazine. Seeing this, Wiedemann started stalking and harassing Miss Corbin—behavior justifiable in her own mind.

Her sad case was taken up by local newspapers, notably the Pall Mall Gazette, and Walpole was dragged through three scandalous trials. He married Corbin on 17 May 1888, and the lengthy proceedings began by November of that same year—a short honeymoon for the couple, indeed.

You may recall the text an article from the Pullman [Washington] Herald dated 13 April 1889: From the time her child was born Mrs. Robert Horace Walpole, formerly Miss Louise Corbin of New York, has been very ill and her friends fear she cannot recover. Since the scandal between her husband and Miss Wieldman [sic] was exposed in court a few months ago she has been very nervous and in depressed spirits. Mr. Walpole is heir to the Earldom of Oxford.

No, Louise was not taking the scandal very well at all. What the above text doesn't relate is that Louise was post partum, having given birth to a daughter, Dorothy Rachel Melissa Walpole on 11 March 1889 in Kensington, London. Assuming the pregnancy to have been full term, the legal wrangling with Valerie Wiedemann would have begun when Louise had been with child for three months.

During the course of the trial, Louise—who had survived that scare back in 1889—once again became pregnant with a child who would hopefully become Walpole's own heir to the Earldom of Orford. Louise gave birth to Horatio Corbin Walpole on 9 January 1891. Little Horatio likely would have been conceived in May of 1890, between the appeal of the first Wiedemann v. Walpole trial in April and the onset of the second trial in June 1890.

Louise endured the anxiety and stress of that second trial during the first trimester of her pregnancy. She may not have, in fact, known during the June 1891 trial that she was, indeed, enceinte.

There is no public record of the details of Horatio's birth, and whether or not he was a healthy infant. However, Walpole's heir, young Horatio, died on 20 May 1893, suddenly leaving Robert Horace Walpole without a male heir—something that would become a real problem for him in the future. [Horatio's tomb is depicted at left.]

Instead, he had only a daughter remaining—the future Lady Dorothy Mills—and a wife, Louise, whom one can easily assume was still eroded and ailing afterthree years of scandal, trials, and embarrassment, estrangement from her father (a man who quite obviously disliked and disapproved of Walpole) and the death of her younger child.

Once the third and final trial was completed, what became to Valerie Wiedemann and her case against Walpole?

What did the future have in store for Louise Corbin Walpole and a her young daughter, Lady Dororthy Walpole?

We'll examine the answers to those questions in due time. Meanwhile, keep checking back at Who Is George Mills?, where we'll soon welcome our 6000th international visitor!