Sunday, January 30, 2011

A Closer Look at 1932, David Niven's Mother, and the Family of George Mills

Today I'm learning a lesson: There is no such thing as a small bit of information.

Thinking I'd sit down and fire off a short posting regarding yesterday's study of wills and probate, I find myself knee deep, once again, in information. Perhaps all of it is not George Mills-related, but some of it's quite interesting. At least to me. And other aspects of it are very pertinent to questions we've often asked here...

The probate record for the Revd. Barton Reginald Vaughan Mills contains this excerpt: "clerk died 21 January 1932 at 5 Collingham-gardens South Kensington Middlesex"

This was the first indication that we've had that, when Revd. Mills passed away "suddenly," he was not at home with his family at 24 Hans-road in Chelsea.

I thought, "Well, I'll go to Google Maps, take a virtual snapshot of 5 Collingham Gardens [above, left], and see if I can find out who he might've been visiting when he expired. I'll punch it up in a short post this morning and be done!"

The address 5, Collingham Gardens has an interesting history. The terraced freehold recently sold, on 29 January 2010, for £8,900,000 to Michaelis Boyd Associates of 108 Palace Gardens Terrace, London, who applied in December 2010 to the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea for "the provision of rooflight on the second floor roof and alteration of 3 rear basement windows to french doors."

The building now houses Alphaco, a British waste-to-energy company, dealing in "Waste tires, Waste tyres, Scrap tyres, Scrap tires."

It also is the home of Collingham Gardens Child and Family Unit, an NHS psychiatric hospital for children and adolescents [right], apparently one of the few facilities providing inclusive "in-patient child psychiatric care for learning disabled children."

Here's a brief description of the 1883-1884 construction of 5 Collingham-gardens from 'The work of Ernest George and Peto in Harrington and Collingham Gardens', Survey of London: volume 42: Kensington Square to Earl's Court (1986), pp. 184-195:

"No. 5 is much the larger house [than No. 4], partly because of an extra low wing (which has now lost its stepped gable) to the north. Here too the plan and some features survive, showing that the levels were split, with the drawing-room this time at the back on the half-landing. The wooden residence by March 1886, was the fourth Earl of Wilton, who fitted one of the rooms up as an organ-saloon replete with model organ and patent hydraulic engines. The house and its fittings were reputed to have cost him upwards of £25,000."

No. 4 could have been your residence at the time on these terms: "The price of a long lease here was £8,000, or it could be rented for £600 a year." No. 5 being "much" larger, can we assume the original price tag was "much" greater than those figures?

There are images of the interior, circa 1886-1888 and photographed by H. Bedford Lemere, to be found at:

By 1889, however, the Earl of Wilton no longer resided at 5 Collingham Gardens. On 22 March 1889, Mr. Robert Duncombe Shafto, a rich, former M.P. for North Durham died in his "London residence" at that address according to the Monthly chronicle of north country lore and legend, volume 3, 1889.

By 1902-1903, the address appears in the Royal Blue Book: Fashionable Directory and Parliamentary Guide as the residence of merchant banker John Conrad im Thurn, of J. C. im Thurn & Sons, merchants, 1, East India-avenue, EC.

And in 1938, Beryl Dallen (née Umney), wife of Deryck N. Dallen of Hartley Manor Farm, gave birth to a baby girl at 5 Collingham-gardens.

The above news, found in the 1938 periodical Chemist and druggist: The newsweekly for pharmacy, volume 128, indicates that perhaps the locale was no longer an upper-crust luxury abode at that time.

In fact, according to the website Lost Hospitals of London, 1947 would see the Metropolitan Ear Nose and Throat Hospital purchase "two freehold houses, 4-5 Collingham Gardens, SW5, which were converted to a 45-bedded hospital and Nurses Home."

But converted from what? The birth of baby girl Cherry V. Dallen at 5 Collingham Gardens in 1938 was probably not due to a visitor suddenly giving birth in the drawing room of a stately home. And that 1938 birth date is fairly close to the date of our interest: 21 January 1932, and why Revd. Barton R. V. Mills was at that address on that day when he suddenly died.

A clue to what became of 5 Collingham Gardens between being the residence of the moneyed J. C. im Thurn at the century's turn, and its sale to the Metropolitan Ear Nose and Throat Hospital in post-war 1947, was found in the strangest of places!

In 2003's Niv: The Authorized Biography of David Niven by Graham Lord, we find this reference to Niven's mother on page 48: "In 1932 [Niven] was in Aldershot on a physical training course when Uncle Tommy telephoned to say that Etta was dying in a nursing home in South Kensington. He rushed up to London and was stunned to see how wasted she was by her cancer, but it was too late to say goodbye. Following an operation, peritonitis complications set in, she did not recognise him and she died on 12 November at 5 Collingham Gardens with her beloved husband at her bedside. She was only 52."

So, we know now that Barton Mills had been committed to a nursing home at 5 Collingham Gardens, about a mile southwest of his home at 24 Hans-road. Obviously not in the best of health, the death of Revd. Mills on 21 January of that very same year was apparently still unexpected.

Interestingly, on the heels of yesterday's examination of wills, probates, and bequests, there's also this snippet from Niven's biography: "She left an astonishingly large estate of £14 169 3s. 9d. net, the equivalent in modern terms of about $950,000 [obviously valued against the RPI]... three times as much as she had inherited from William Niven sixteen years previously. This huge increase in wealth was not caused by inflation, which was nil between 1916 and 1932, nor probably by clever investment, since the British stock market index fell fifty-five per cent between 1919 and 1931 as it was battered by the Great Depression. The only explanation is that Etta left her inheritance from William Niven untouched to grow for sixteen years in some high earning account... Niv's claims that she was desperately poor were quite untrue."

This additional bit of information is instructive for our purposes.

Revd. and Mrs. Barton Mills inherited £22565 8s. 9d., from Edith Mills's father, Sir George Dalhousie Ramsay, with whom they lived at the time of his death in 1920.

At the time of Barton's passing in 1932, his "effects" were valued at £17007 11s. 7d.—a greater legacy than that of Niven's mother, Lady Henriette "Etta" Comyn-Platt—but less than Sir George had previously bequeathed to them upon his passing in 1920.

Etta's legacy was worth "three times" its original value in 1916, meaning she had likely been left less than £5000. It's value had trebled by 1932 despite economic troubles in the intervening years.

The Mills family had taken almost £23000, and in four fewer years than Lady Comyn-Platt, diminished it to roughly £17000. And this does not take into consideration the residue of any 'effects' from the inheritance that Barton Mills had received upon the passing of his father, Arthur Mills, M.P., in 1898, which may have approached £10000. Afterwards, he spurned a secure living as vicar of Bude Haven, Cornwall and took the family and his career as a cleric to London. Mills then worked from 1901-1908 as an assistant chaplain at the Queen's Chapel at the Savoy, a position which probably paid little, but also would have helped them 'pay the bills' through the 20th century's first decade.

During that time in London, Mills also published a book of sermons, a book entitled Marks of the Church, and several works on the writings of St. Bernard that are still valuable resources to theologians today, as well as having served as a military chaplain during the First World War.

Figuring at least some small income from those ventures, it seems the Mills family was far from impoverished during the decades preceding Barton's death, as evidenced by the seven servants and governess listed in the household by enumerators of the 1911 UK census.

In fact, it seems the Mills family pretty much lived a life of ease on money and 'effects' they'd inherited at various times, further evidence being provided by Barton's probate listing of his son as "George Ramsay Acland Mills, gentleman."

Other men listed among the names on the very same page of probate documents are described as "foreman," "baker," and "engine driver." There's no reason George wouldn't have been listed as a "schoolmaster" if he'd, indeed, been employed in 1932.

Apparently, Mills was at the very least 'between positions' as a schoolmaster at the time of his father's death, probably at home, being a gentleman and tapping out the manuscript for his first book, 1933's Meredith and Co.

Thoughts on this have already been explored, and George's financial situation would have been augmented, along with that of his wife, Vera Louise, upon the death of his mother-in-law, Evelyn Amy Hart Beauclerk, in 1933. Although the executor of Beauclerk's will was Westminster Bank Ltd., it seems highly probable that some of her effects, totaling £9235 19s. 9.d, found their way down to her daughter, Vera, and son-in-law, George, gentleman.

Two things:

● Were George and Vera living with Evelyn Beauclerk or Barton Mills in 1932-1933? There are no telephone listings for the couple, so unless they were rooming with someone else or living in a hotel, they would have been secure with one London family or the other.

● And, given the firm financial footing the Mills family finds itself in, circa 1898-1920, why does the autobiography of Lady Dorothy Mills cry poverty during her courtship and marriage to Barton Mills's elder son, Capt. Arthur Frederick Hobart Mills of the D.C.L.I., George's half-brother by Barton's first marriage?

In 1914, Captain Mills is sent off to the war in France, but according to his autobiographical book, With My Regiment: From the Aisne to La Bassée [Lippincott: Philadelphia, 1916] written under the pseudonym "Platoon Commander", before departing he first "went up to London to my rooms to collect a few things."

His father lived in a 20-room abode at 12 Cranley Gardens, S.W., the likely location of those "rooms."

So Revd. Mills had room in his home for son Arthur, even if no money in his wallet for the newlywed couple after his nuptials to the above-mentioned and apparently disowned Dorothy Rachel Melissa Walpole in 1916. If Capt. Mills couldn't afford to support his wife on an infantry captain's wage, he certainly wasn't renting unlived-in "rooms" in London as well as a bed at a boarding at a house near his barracks on the Thames!

Of course, to believe that cry of poverty is to accept only the word of Lady Dorothy, who wrote her autobiography in 1929 after creating the persona of being a completely independent and modern woman, whose success was due in no part to the help of any man, be he father, lover, or husband. Her self-made, 'rags-to-riches' persona was as much what she was marketing as her stories, and if it appeared at all that she'd ever been well-cared-for as an adult by either husband Arthur or her in-laws, the Mills, it would certainly have taken much of the lustre off of her heroically feminist backstory.

Nevertheless, just one address in the probate record of Barton Mills has led to much additional knowledge of our George Mills—his career, his family, and his prospects, circa 1932. And the writing of this post turned out to be no 'quickie'!

As always, if you have anything that you can add, please don't hesitate to contact me—and thank you in advance!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Of Mills, Wills, Probate, and Executors

Lately we've been dwelling quite a bit on the passing of George Ramsay Acland Mills and members of his family. That subject may be a bit gloomy, a stark contrast to the blazingly sunny and crisp days we've been having here in Ocala, but it's been enlightening as well. Many of our speculations have been affirmed, and when some haven't, the lens seems to have brought them into somewhat better focus.

For example, we've wondered aloud about George Mills and his proclivity to pass from job to job as a schoolmaster from the late 1920s seemingly through the late 1930s. Most of that time was peppered with the fallout of the General Strike of 1926 and the worldwide Great Depression.

The question seemed to be: Did Mills pass from opening to opening, all around the U.K. and even as far afield as Glion, Switzerland, because he simply needed to teach and followed the jobs, or was it because he and his bride, Vera, needed the income.

We know that in 1911, George's family lived at 12 Cranleigh Gardens, SW, while George attended Harrow, and that the census form shows the family having seven servants and a governess attending George's father, Revd. Barton R. V. Mills, his mother Edith, and his sisters, Agnes and Violet. They lived in a home with more than 20 rooms, and were sending a son to boarding school.

It's safe to say the family was not financially distressed at the time.

Later, the family moved in with Sir George Dalhousie Ramsay, retired Director of Army Clothing, and father of Edith Mills. It's unclear what became of the Cranleigh Gardens address (Was it sold or rented? Had the Mills family actually owned it?). Sir George passed away in 1920, while George was away attending Christ Church, Oxford.

Edith Mills had no living siblings at the time of Sir George's death, and Ramsay's wife had predeceased him. It seems the Mills family then lived for a time at nearby 24 Hans-road, Chelsea, following their departure from Sir George's home at 7 Manson Place, and it is while living there that Barton Mills passed away suddenly on 21 January 1932.

What occasioned the family moves? And how did the career movements of son George Mills (and wife) factor in? It sounds as if the family may have been living in homes large enough to have accommodated George and Vera between his stints as a schoolmaster during the years from 1926 and 1932. It also appears that this was a family accustomed to having servants.

Let's check the probate records. When Sir George Dalhousie Ramsay passed away in 1920, his effects were valued at £22565 8s. 9d., according to figures pulled from records available to [above, left; double-click to enlarge].

To calculate the value of that in terms of today, I went to and used their indicators. They suggest that when valuing the worth of a person, one should calculate his or her value as a share of the GDP. Their calculations peg the worth of Sir George's estate at a whopping £5,270,000 in 2011 terms.

That's quite an inheritance for Revd. Barton and family!

Let's not forget that Mills departed a stable living as vicar of Bude Haven, Cornwall, to come to London in 1901, after the death of his father, widower Arthur Mills, M.P., also of Bude. Arthur's estate had been probated at £42 305 in 1898. Using the calculator, that estate was worth £34,400,000, and would have been split among Barton, Barton's brother Dudley, and kin on the Acland side of the family. Even coming away with just 30% of the value of his father's estate, Barton would have left for London knowing he'd secured an inheritance valued at £10,000,000 in 2011.

Is there any wonder there were so many servants?

That examines two inheritances in which Barton had a stake: His father's and his father-in-law's. But Barton himself passed away in 1932. What did he leave behind in terms of wealth?

Barton's effects were probated at £17007 11s. 7d. [right]. Admittedly during a worldwide depression, that works out to a mere £5,620,000 in terms of 2011 value.

Barton's estate was bequeathed to Elizabeth Edith Mills, widow, Agnes Edith Mills and Violet Eleanor Mills, spinsters, and George Ramsay Acland Mills, gentleman.

One assumes that real estate values, for example, returned more to normal and continued to accrue value as time went by following the depression. The value of anything invested as such would have grown in value after Barton's passing, making that quite an inheritance.

Looking at those 1932 assets in terms of liquid value, one would use the on-line calculator to compare Barton's "effects" versus the RPI, making it worth "only" £875,000 of purchasing power—a tidy sum today, let alone during the Great Depression!

My hunch is that, unless George had been estranged from his father and/or family during the years between 1925 and 1932, he would likely have been able to avail himself of his family's good will as he bounced form position to position in various preparatory schools and tinkered with authoring his first novel.

It appears that George must have, indeed, wanted badly to teach, and kept at it with the support—presumably often financial—of his family.

Just for fun, let's also look at the will of Lady Dorothy Mills, once George's sister-in-law, as described in the 30 March 1960 edition of The Times [below, left]. Lady Dorothy was, indeed, estranged from her family, and for lack of other evidence was poor at the outset of her 1916 marriage to George's stepbrother, Captain Arthur Frederick Hobart Mills, of the D.C.L.I. To believe that, one must assume that Arthur was also at least somewhat estranged from his family at the time (and, strangely, we have no real reason to believe that), and that the crown was literally paying officers in the infantry a pauper's wage during the First World War (and I'm at a loss to explain why that ever would have made a military career in the UK even remotely attractive).

Anyway, after a lifetime of apparently squeezing her shillings so tightly that King George must have wept, her probate in 1960 netted out at £63446—a value in terms of 2011 totaling £1,090,000.

Passing with over a cool million of 2011 pounds, while living in a seaside hotel with flats in 1958 starting at as little as 9 guineas a week in the winter, it seems that Lady Dorothy had, indeed, come along way from her destitute days of depression, allegedly working in the East End of London, while her family enjoyed their peerage.

Incidentally, the £1000 she bequeathed to the Royal Geographic Society in 1960 that would become the one-time Lady Dorothy Mills Award would be valued today at £17,200.

That certainly leaves a lot for an executor direct to someone or something else.

Lady Dorothy passed away childless, and as far as we know, never remarried after her divorce in 1933.

George, Agnes, and Violet Mills, who would have shared an inheritance from their mother, Edith, when she passed away in 1945, also died unmarried and childless at Grey Friars in Budleigh Salterton. All were no longer with us by July 1975.

Their branch of the family tree came to an end, making the unearthing of the history of their nuclear family so difficult. But one finds it hard to believe that among George, Agnes, Violet, and Lady Dorothy, none had a will, or that they all were inclined to leave the entirety of their estates, and even their personal effects, to the crown. has no information on UK wills and probates available after 1940. If we could find out who the executors were of the wills of the Mills, we could have access to persons who potentially would also know details of the Mills family's history—details that could make them and their story all so much more real—including possible access to family photos, letters, passports, post cards, ticket stubs, train schedules, awards, military records, etc. And all of that ephemera could possibly include George's original outlines, character studies, blue-penciled manuscripts for his published books, and perhaps even plans for future texts he'd never gotten around to authoring!

As always, if you can help, please don't hesitate to let me know!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The 'Who Is George Mills?' Mailbag, January 2011

Here at, we haven't dug into the old mail bag recently, so let's take a look at what's been going on way down in the mail room where all comments messages are handled by my crack staff!

Here's something from Richard, who left a comment on the post "Finding Parkfield...": Just been trying to find location of Wick & Parkfield School which I attended from 1961 to 1963. It was indeed the building which is now Downlands Park Nursing Home. It was run by Bill and Pat Halstead. The main cricket pitch was on the sloping field near the miniature railway track - we had to go round there to collect missing cricket balls.
- Richard Miller

Thanks for the first-hand experience and additional details about Parkfield [above, left], Richard. It's always greatly appreciated!

Leading Lady Dororthy Mills aficionado, Jim Harris, left a new comment on the recent post "Steyning Mansions Hotel, Eastern Terrace, Brighton...": Wonderful detective work. I can picture Lady Mills staying at Steyning Mansions Hotel. So, no record of the hotel after 1958?
By the way, are you watching Downton Abbey on Masterpiece (PBS)? It takes place in 1912 and is about an Earl who only had three daughters and must leave his estate to a distant cousin. The middle daughter reminds me of Lady Mills.
Wouldn't the story of Lady Dorothy Mills make a great Masterpiece series?

For our friends across the pond who may not be aware, Masterpiece Theatre is televised here on Sunday evenings. Also for those far-off friends, the last two Sunday evenings have featured the American football playoffs as well! While I'm a lover of lavish BBC productions, I'm also fond of watching sweaty 300-pound titans engaged in high-speed collisions and sundry mayhem on a frozen field called a gridiron, live, in High Definition!

I've recorded the Downton Abbey series to watch later, and it's of particular interest to me as Downton is the locale of Winds Cottage where the brother of our George Mills, author Arthur Mills, and his second wife, Monica, spent the last years of his life gardening, golfing, and writing the occasional crime novel.

And, by the way, I do think the life of Lady Dorothy [pictured, left] would make a fabulous Masterpiece!

My dear friend Jennifer in Philadelphia weighs in with this great addition to our investigation:

Give me a burial location and I’ll request a photo.

Jen is the smartest person I know when it comes to fathoming deeply into genealogies. She's set up this webpage to help find the location of the burial site of George Mills [see the screenshot, right], and I really appreciate it.

Who knows? We may even end up with more photos of George posted there!

Finally, Mary left a comment on the post "Sidebar: Considering the Life of Sir Robert Hart a...": I can tell you a bit more about Sir Robert Hart, Evelyn's father, and his family. I am preparing a book for the Hong Kong University Press on him and his relationship with my own ancestors.

Evelyn "Evey" Hart later married and became Evelyn Beauclerk, mother of the wife of George Mills, Vera Louise Beauclerk Mills.

She also wrote: "I am just doing something on Evie. Do you know how many children she had, when she died, and from which are you descended?"

I'm no relation to the Harts or Beauclerks, but I did let Mary know the following:

From what I've gathered, Evelyn Amy Hart was born 31 December 1869 in Beijing and died 10 June 1933 in Kensington, London. Her children were Vera Louise Beauclerk (21 December 1893 - 5 January 1942) and Hilda de Vere Beauclerk (21 January 1895 - 16 September 1964).

Hilda married Miles Malcolm Atchison from Ganges, British Columbia, Canada, of the Chinese Maritime Customs Service on 21 June 1933 [11 days after Evey's death] and eventually moved to Canada where Hilda passed away in 1964. They had two children, Elizabeth Anne (b. 22 March 1936), and Hilda Etain (b. 9 October 1937).

During WW II, Hilda and Miles were held in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp. Hilda worked in the camp's kitchens and did much to help her fellow prisoners, but lost a finger in doing so. Apparently she was admired by everyone there for her bravery.

On 23 April 1925, Vera married George Ramsay Acland Mills (b. 1 Oct 1896; d. 1972), only son of Revd. Barton Reginald Vaughan Mills, Vicar of Bude Haven, Cornwall, 1891-1901 and Assistant Chaplain of Royal Chapel of the Savoy 1901-08 (by his second wife Elizabeth Edith "Edie" Ramsay, only daughter of Sir George Dalhousie Ramsay, CB). They had no children.

Vera passed away in Exmoor in 1942 while her husband, George, was serving as a 46-year-old 2nd lieutenant in the Royal Pay Corps. He'd returned to the service in 1940 after serving as an infantry corporal in WW I. George resigned his commission in 1943 due to ill-health. He had been a boys' preparatory schoolmaster in both England and Switzerland from the late 1920s through the mid 1930s and was the author of four books: the children's novels Meredith and Co. (1933), King Willow (1938), and Minor and Major (1939), and the children's religious biography Saint Thomas of Canterbury (1939).

Vera was also the sister-in-law of adventure and crime novelist Arthur Hobart Mills (George's half-brother) and Arthur's wife, Lady Dorothy Mills (née Walpole), a novelist, explorer, and renowned travel writer.

I thought that it would be worth including the above profile after discussing Vera's 1942 passing just yesterday.

Well, that about empties the old George Mills mail sack. Thank you to everyone who's made my work a bit [and sometimes a great deal] easier. Please accept my warmest appreciation, and do keep reading!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Minehead: Saying Goodbye to Vera Louise Mills

Well, what do you know? I'm finally getting efficient at manipulating the painfully cumbersome search engine at The Times. My latest discovery is the death notice of Vera Louise Beauclerk Mills, beloved wife of George Mills, who passed away on 5 January 1942 at the age of 48.

The entire notice reads: MILLS.— On Jan. 5, 1942, suddenly, at 69, Summerland Avenue, Minehead, VERA LOUISE, wife of GEORGE RAMSAY ACLAND MILLS, and daughter of the late William Nelthorpe Beauclerk, aged 48.

This appears in The Times four days after Vera's actual death [right; double-click images to enlarge]. There is no mention of any services or flowers, so could one presume the body was not returned to London for a funeral, even though Vera had kin on both sides of the family in Kensington?

It may be important to note that George Mills at this time was serving as a paymaster in the Royal Army Pay Corps, and had been for well over a year. My speculation had been that, since Vera died in "Exmoor" according to records available at, he may have been assigned to the temporary pay office set up in Ilfracombe. Now, knowing that Vera must have been living in Minehead, it's more likely that Mills was serving at the pay office in Taunton, near family land and where his grandfather once served as M.P. If George had actually been at Ilfracombe, he'd have been almost as close to Minehead as Taunton, but what is now solidly the Exmoor National Park would have had to be traversed near the sea during winter.

Despite living often in London, George Mills showed a proclivity to be seaside throughout his life, possibly stemming from his boyhood in Bude Haven, Cornwall, near the Celtic Sea. Portslade, Brighton, Eastbourne, Seaford, and Budleigh Salterton on the English Channel were all places where Mills later in life either worked or lived.

Was Vera living with a family a block or two from Minehead's Esplanade, waiting for Mills to be granted leave so he could travel from Taunton [pictured, left] and spend a weekend with her now and then by the Bristol Channel? According to Wikipedia, "Evacuees were billeted in Minehead during the Second World War." Perhaps while an evacuee in the strictest sense, Vera probably traveled to an area well away from the Blitz to be near husband George.

Did the fact that Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth often strolled the hills above Minehead also enter into George helping find a nearby place for Vera? Wikipedia: "The wooded bluffs above Minehead feature as the Hermit's abode 'in that wood which slopes down to the sea,' in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" by Coleridge. Mills, apparently a schoolmaster of "English or English subjects" in his career before the war may have had a soft spot in his heart for the work of the two Romanticists and encouraged Vera to hunker down there, below the rise [below, right] where the two giants once trod.

How Vera died, we do not know. Heart attack? Stroke? Possible, but at 48 not as likely as at 58, I suppose. Car accident? Could be.

Her death record lists the location as being "Exmoor, Somerset." Perhaps that was almost the same as saying "Minehead, Somerset" in 1942—I don't know. One might think, perhaps, a fall from a horse while riding in the vast forest, but on January 5? I guess that could be more likely than I suppose, but I wouldn't think so now—not in winter. No matter: Whatever happened must have simply shattered Mills.

Anyway, the world and the war had certainly begun to change in the four weeks prior to Vera's unexpected passing. The bombing of Pearl Harbor had thrust the United States into the war in both the European and Pacific theatres. What that meant to the British I'm uncertain, but it had to be a lift knowing that reinforcements would be arriving after the frustratingly isolationist Americans were finally involved.

Just a glance at the headlines [below, left] in The Times from the day of Vera's notice, January 9th, shows clearly how worldwide the war had become and how much of the surface of the Earth deeply concerned citizens in England.

Now, for all we know right now, Mills could have been assigned to Ilfracombe, or to Wolverton, Nottingham, or York. He might have already been assigned to post near a front. Perhaps Vera or George had friends or family in Minehead, or could it even have been that Vera had been evacuated—Could she have been injured?—from London for her own good, regardless of George's geographical location at the time? Could she even have been volunteering at the children's home at Holnicote. After all, Holnicote was on the huge 12,500 acre Exmoor estate owned by the Aclands—kin of George Ramsay Acland Mills.

The question there is: Why would Vera have been staying at 69 Summerland Avenue when Mills's relatives had vast holdings in the area. The domicile on Summerland is lovely, but not exactly what would seem to me to be Acland-worthy, at least not back at that time, when the land was may still have been, or else extremely recently was, Acland land.

We don't even know how close George was to that side of his family at the time—his sisters, Agnes and Violet, lived with their mother, Edith, who may have tended to be closer to the Ramsay clan after the death of patriarch Revd. Barton R. V. Mills. The only person by that name who attended George's 1925 wedding was a "Miss Acland," whose name was not listed by The Times anywhere near the close family.

Of course, George's step-brother, Arthur Mills, and sister-in-law, Lady Dorothy Mills, did not attend what appears to have been a fairly lavish society wedding in Brompton and the Hans-crescent Hotel.

Why, exactly was Vera in Minehead? Had it anything to do with the Aclands? Had it more to do with the proximity of the Taunton office of the RAPC? Or had it simply been that Vera had been evacuated there and never made it back to London? Who owned 69 Summerland (Oh, for a copy of Kelly's Directory, Somerset, for 1939!) and how did Vera hook up with them? And where was George?

As always, if you have any information to share, no matter how little it may seem, please contact me. It would be greatly appreciated!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

A Virtual Walking Tour of Budleigh Salterton (While Thinking Aloud about George Mills)

Churches seem to have always played an important role in the lives of the Mills family. This is probably no better exemplified than by the letter that George Mills wrote to The Times on 8 April 1959 entitled "Dogs in Church," apparently in reply to an on-going, whimsical thread of mail that had struck a chord in Mills. The missive is a nostalgic retelling of a story that George's father, the Revd. Barton R. V. Mills often told about going to church with his parents, Arthur Mills, M.P., and Lady Agnes, as well as their black retrievers, Belle and Achille.

The last line of the death notice of George Mills that we saw yesterday reads: "Funeral service at the Roman Catholic Church on Wednesday, December 13, at 10:30 a.m." Friend Michael Downes couldn't find a grave for Mills in the local burial ground in Budleigh Salterton (although that may have been due to the inclement weather), and until we know where George rests, his story in Budleigh ends in a church with that 10:30 a.m. service.

It's a dazzlingly sunny morning here in Florida, but cuttingly cold for this part of the world [37°F / 3°C] and the level of insulation found in the houses. However, technology has advanced to the point where I can sit here and virtually stroll around Devonshire, exploring—thanks to Google Maps. I know this won't be of interest if you are a resident of Budleigh Salterton, but for me, it's exciting to see the town across the pond!

First, let's look for the Budleigh Salterton Hospital [above] where Mills peacefully departed. It's at the corner of Boucher and East Budleigh Roads in what is apparently Otterton. Really it's just across the croquet lawns and cricket fields—both sporting loves of George—from his home, Grey Friars. It's about 1500 ft. from the Mills home to the main entrance of the hospital, but it appears to be a rather circuitous drive from one to the other.

On the way back to Grey Friars, I strolled down The Lawn from High Street and took a look at the beautiful edifice that appears to be St. Peter's Church of England [above], although I couldn't find a sign. After receiving his Master's in History from Oxford, George's father, Barton, had been a vicar in the Church of England from 1887 through 1901, as well as having been a chaplain briefly in San Remo, Italy, and an assistant chaplain at the Royal Chapel at the Savoy. Subsequently, the senior Mills worked as a religious scholar and as a military chaplain during the First World War.

We know, however, that Barton Mills converted to Roman Catholicism while at Christ Church, Oxford, before becoming a cleric in the Church of England—sometime before 1885. From the United States, it seems odd that a cleric in one denomination would worship as a member of the congregation of a different denomination—Barton Mills certainly must have missed a few Catholic masses while busy delivering sermons for the C of E at the same hour—but no one I've discussed it with in the UK seems very much surprised by that at all (except for the current Chaplain of the Queen's Chapel of the Savoy, Peter Galloway, who found the news implausible and immediately questioned the authoritative 1885 reference book without even bothering to review it because it did not coincide with his bias). Revd. Barton R. V. Mills appears to have been Roman Catholic by faith, Church of England only by vocation. I leave it to the reader to surmise the tenets of which creed would have been passed, personally, from father to children in such a case.

The entire Mills family's repeated affiliation with Catholicism is far more than coincidental, so it's no surprise at all that George's funeral service was held at Budleigh's "Roman Catholic Church" (also named for St. Peter, a fact left out of the death notice, presumably to prevent confusion among those wishing to attend the service). Grey Friars is virtually equidistant between the two churches of St. Peter, so Mills's spiritual choice of denomination clearly wasn't based on mere proximity. The Mills family clearly was no longer associated with the Church of England.

After turning north up Slaton Road and Moor Lane, I turned north on Upper Stoneborough Lane. While walking along Clinton Terrace, I found a lovely, far more simple, brick church [above].

Turning the corner, I found the entrance [above]...

Looking carefully, the sign at front appears to read "Catholic Church of St. Peter, Prince of the Apostles," obviously the location of George's funeral. I imagine Mills closing his dripping umbrella and stepping into the warm, dry vestibule on rainy Sunday mornings...

Returning to Moor Lane, I followed it out to the West, to the very end, where it meets Dark Lane, across from the primary school. There I found St. Peter's Burial Ground, presumably where Michael Downes and his wife, Annie, looked for the final resting place of George Mills one misty winter day.

Approaching the entrance, I carefully read the sign, then strolled along the hedge [above], peering over and thinking... Wishing I could enter...

I wonder if this locale is where George Mills finally went to rest. His paternal grandfather was a powerful M.P., and associated with the Efford Down House in Bude, Cornwall. His paternal grandmother was Agnes Lucy Dyke Acland, daughter of Sir Thomas Dyke Acland VI, 10th baronet, M.P., of Broad Clyst, Devon. The Columb John Chapel at Killerton [below] there in Devon was still being used for Acland family burials after Sir Thomas's death. Could George have found a resting place there?

But one wonders where his father, Barton, was buried after his death in 1932? With the Aclands at Columb John, part of the estate where he and his brother Dudley Mills had been raised for much of their youths by the aging Sir Thomas while father Arthur journeyed to many of the empire's colonies? Knowing where Dudley now rests might help in all of this!

George's mother, Elizabeth Edith Ramsay, was the daughter of Londoner Sir George Dalhousie Ramsay, and she may have been laid to rest alongside her father. Might George be resting near his mother in London—or even with other kin in Scotland?

His wife, Vera Louise Beauclerk Mills, was of the lineage of William I on the Beauclerk side of the family, and granddaughter of the legendary Sinophile Sir Robert Hart on the other. Vera, who passed away in 1942 at the age of 48, may have been buried in a family plot with either family. Could it be that George ended up alongside her?

Or is it likely that the childless Mills, along with his spinster (and presumably childless) sisters, Agnes and Violet, rests together with them in the St. Peter's Burial Ground there in Devonshire, near Grey Friars, the croquet club, and the sea, where they'd all lived so happily for a quarter of a century at the end of their lives?

It's even possible, I suppose, that Mills and/or his sisters were cremated. Still, nothing in the family's past would lead me to believe that.

We've followed the life and career of George Mills—schoolmaster, author, paymaster—from his birth in Bude, Cornwall to his passing in Budleigh Salterton, Devon. He spent a great deal of his life moving around, as we're well aware. I'll admit, I'd very much like to know where, exactly, he at long last came to rest.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

"Death is the only pure, beautiful conclusion of a great passion" -- D. H. Lawrence

It is with mixed emotions that I sit here writing this on an exceptionally chilly January night here in Florida. Yesterday I finally came upon the death notice of George Mills from The Times. Even a blind squirrel eventually finds a nut...

I've been immersed in complete frustration trying to sort out Mills and his sisters and the lives they lived as croquet-playing retirees in Budleigh Salterton—the search engine at The Times is as unwieldy, unfruitful, and un-user-friendly as you could possibly imagine.

Anyway, I've been logging a compendium of their exploits on the field of play in an Excel document that's growing more cumbersome by the day. Still, I often take the time to keep probing the Byzantine bits and bytes of data that make up the Archives at The Times for other information about Mills and his family. It finally, at long last, paid off!

Utterly by coincidence, I acidentally stumbled upon the death notice of a Mills family croquet nemesis (and sometimes partner in doubles), Veronica Claire (V. C.) Gasson, who played at the club in Hurlingham. George and his sisters, Agnes and Violet, often played there, as well as facing off against Gasson in Budleigh Salterton and all around the south of England. [Her notice is pictured, above left.]

I hadn't been even remotely looking for the obituary of any of their croquet-playing cronies, but the surprising discovery of Gasson reinvigorated my quest for the death notices of Mills and his sisters. It wouldn't be easy, but luck would be with me.

I knew from that spinsters Agnes (born in Bude, Cornwall, in 1895) and Violet (born in Kensington, London, in 1902) had died in the same quarter of 1975: Jul-Aug-Sep. It turns out that their deaths were reported in the same issue of The Times, dated 15 July, 1975.

Violet, George's younger sibling, had left us on July 6th. Agnes, a year older than George, passed just five days later on the 11th. Their ages were 72 and 80, respectively.

I knew that if the girls deaths had appeared in The Times, there was no way George's hadn't. I set out to find him, and finally did.

His own notice, which appeared in the paper on 11 December 1972, reads as follows:

MILLS.—On Friday, December 8, 1972, peacefully in hospital. George Ramsay Acland, very dearly beloved brother of Agnes and Violet of "Grey Friars," Westfield Road, Budleigh Salterton, Devon. Loved by all who knew him. Funeral service at the Roman Catholic Church on Wednesday, December 13, at 10:30 a.m.

Mills had just celebrated his 76th birthday on 1 October.

It's funny. I knew Mills was dead. I knew he'd died in Oct-Nov-Dec 1972. I knew he'd died in Devon. And, thanks to Michael Downes, I knew he'd been living with his loving sisters at Grey Friars on Westfield Road in Budleigh Salterton.

Now there's a date, and a place—"in hospital"—and a funeral service set for Wednesday at 10:30 a.m.

I should be happy to have ascertained the facts of the matter.

Perhaps it's normal, though, to feel sad.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Steyning Mansions Hotel, Eastern Terrace, Brighton

We know a great deal about the life of Lady Dorothy Mills (née Walpole), and still more information is coming to light regarding her penchant for globetrotting.

Our last 'contact' with Lady Dorothy, however, came as a telephone listing in a 1939 London directory years after her ostensible retirement and divorce from author Arthur F. H. Mills, brother of George Mills: Mills Lady Dorothy, 17 Burnsall st S.W.3 FLAxman. 2476.

More than one source describes Lady D. as living in Brighton at the time of her death in 1959, including records at Where in Brighton, though, I couldn't determine.

Yesterday, I found the manifest of the twin-screw ship Alcantara [right] of the Royal Mail Lines that arrived in Southampton on 21 January 1952, steaming in from "Brasil and the River Plate." Aboard was a "MILLS, Dorothy R. M."—our own Dorothy Rachel Melissa Mills—and English author, aged 62 years.

The typewritten address given is "Steyning Mansions Hotel, Eastern Terrace, Brighton." [Pictured in 1950, top left]

A quick internet search turns up only one mention of Steyning Mansions Hotel in the National Archives:



Steyning Mansions, Kemp Town Client; Steyning Mansions Hotel Syndicate PTS/2/9/804 23.4.47, 3.3.48"

There's more, however, to be found in Google Books.

Here's an advertisement found in The New Statesman and Nation, Volume 8, issue 355, dated February 7, 1948:

STEYNING Mansions Hotel, Brighton. Kings Cliff. Sea front near bathing pool. Unique comfort and excellent cuisine. Every room has own private bathroom "en suite," G.P.O., phone, wireless and elec. fire. Lift. Garage. Fully licensed. Brochure... Tel. 2589.

And here's an almost identical entry from The Spectator, volume 80, 1948:

BRIGHTON. Kings Cliff. STEYNING MANSIONS. Unique comfort and excellent cuisine. Sea Front. Every room has own private bathroom "en suite," G.P.O. Telephone, wireless, and electric fire. Lift. Garage... Tel. 2589.

Nothing anywhere mentions Mills being a resident. However, we do know a smattering about a few of her neighbors, at least around the time Lady Dorothy likely moved to seaside Steyning Mansions [A view from a flat today is pictured, left] , circa 1939.

We know that in 1939, Steyning Mansions housed a "Miss Parry" of the British Orthoptic Society, according to Volume 1 of the British Orthoptoic Journal of that same year.

Another resident just before WWII was Georgette Heyer (16 August 1902 – 4 July 1974), an English Regency romance and detective fiction novelist, who'd moved "briefly to a flat in Steyning Mansions, Brighton, and then to a service flat at 25 Adelaide Crescent, Hove", with her unemployed husband (according to biographer Jane Aiken Hodge in The Private World of Georgette Heyer; Bodley Head, 1984). Heyer had recently lived in Macedonia, and one wonders if Lady Dorothy might have taken a fancy to the fellow traveller, author, and breadwinning woman.

Heyer was renowned during her career for rejecting her publishers' requests to do interviews to propote her books, saying, "My private life concerns no one but myself and my family," a sentiment that must have been echoed by Lady Dorothy, whose so-called autobiography contains precious little about her own private life.

Steyning Mansions is also advertised in the periodical The English-speaking World (vol. 40-42) in 1958:

BRIGHTON. Marine Parade, Steyning Mansions Hotel PRIVATE BATH and telephone to every bedroom. Licensed. TV. Winter from 9 gns., Summer from 10½ gns. Tel. 26461-2-3.

When did the Steyning Mansions Hotel Syndicate start operating the hotel? When did the hotel cease operation? We do know it was at least in business from 1939 through 1958.

It wasn't the only hotel on the block: Unit No.1 on Eastern Terrace became the Court Royal Hotel in 1914 and was converted into Court Royal Mansions around 1955 [The time is pictured in the photograph, circa 1955, right].

Among other units on Eastern Terrace, numbers 4, 5, 7, 8, and 9 are now owned and maintained by Brighton Polytechnic as Halls of Residence. Others contain flats that range from over a half million pounds down to a basement flat going for roughly £250,000—quite a change from back in 1958, when a winter in likely that same subterranean locale started at just 9 guineas a week!

Yes, Eastern Terrace has changed a bit since Lady Dorothy Mills called the area home in the mid-20th century.

If you have any information about Lady Dorothy, Steyning Mansions Hotel, or the Eastern Terrace, Brighton, of that era, please don't hesitate to contact me... and thank you!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

MWM Seeking Beryl & Ian

Everything new that I learn about George Mills or his family necessarily informs everything else I've learned. A professor once explained some rudimentary system theory to me, and if I understood it correctly, the gist is this: Change one part of a system and you've made changes in the entire system.

My collection of information about Mills easily fits the American Heritage Dictionary's definition of a "system": A group of interacting, interrelated, or interdependent elements forming a complex whole.

So, the corollary here, I suppose, would be: Learn something new about one aspect of George Mills and you've made changes in what you know about the entire body of information.

Case in point: Here's something I've wondered about for some time now. There are so many aspects to the life of George Mills that as I ruminate over what you've shared with me, that new information informs other bits and pieces I know--or about which I've wondered.

The edition of King Willow whose image [right] was recently posted on the Budleigh & Brewster United website by friend Michael Downes is apparently from the late 1950's of early 1960's. There's no copyright info in that edition of the text, the publisher no longer exists, and dates of publication I've seen on-line (1955 through 1963) have all turned out to have been guesses made by antique booksellers. Given the style of art and haircuts on the characters, that 'era' seems about right.

Those years put the book's new publication squarely in George's time living in Budleigh Salterton. The updated dedication to that edition of King Willow is to a young newlywed couple "Beryl and Ian." This sounds strange, but I've contacted a variety of "Beryls and Ians" around the internet who were born in the late 1930s and none of the couples knew of a George Mills, nor had any books dedicated to them, and it seemed they could've been from anywhere Mills had ever lived or taught.

I'd long speculated that Mills must've lived for years with his spinster sisters at Grey Friars. It is clearly documented that he'd died there, but I knew he might've only been staying with them as an invalid in the last year or so of his life, and had lived elsewhere. We now know that George Mills was a vibrant, long-time resident of the Budleigh community. It's been confirmed, and that now informs what we know about the dedication of the later edition of King Willow!

Is it possible Beryl & Ian are still in Budleigh and their names simply don't appear on-line for me to find? Mills's dedication uses "long voyage" and "good ship" to describe their matrimonial bliss--a perfect metaphor from a man and for a young couple who all live by the sea!

Does anyone now living (or who has lived) in Budleigh know any couples (or ex-couples) named Beryl & Ian who might've known George? My hunch is that they were very likely the children of George's friends at the croquet club and would now be 70-ish years of age. I could be wrong, but the clues point in that direction!

Please let me know if any of this rings a bell, and as always, I very much appreciate your help!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Ain't It Funny How Time Slips Away...

I've been thinking about Dr. David Evans and his recent description of George Mills [right].

"...a very sociable welcoming person."

"...devoted to his sisters Aggie and Vi."

"...but in no way was he dependent on them."

That's good news. As I mentioned in my last entry, I feared that Mills may have become 'damaged' (for lack of a better term) by a string of personal tragedies and illness he'd suffered during the 1940s.

It's good to know that to a physician (and one from a time during which I suppose healers grew to know their patients far more personally), George seemed hale and happy.

Still, the question nags me now just as it did almost a year ago: Why does a fellow write and publish three well-received books during the years 1938 and 1939, and then never publish more than a letter to The Times for the rest of his life—some 32 years?

Backpedaling to the very beginnings of my search for the identity of George Mills, I'll remind you that Heather Lawrence of Peakirk Books in Norfolk opines, "It is possible he just got fed up with writing!"

"Fed up" is a term that I would typically associate with a writer of far less successful tales and far fewer published works. Still, who can say she's wrong?

Another set of words crossed my mind as well. I received a thoughtful and well-considered message from my dear friend, Jennifer, in Philadelphia. Although on a somewhat different topic, it offers a similar line of thinking:

"Maybe [one's] creative life has just run its course. Margaret Mitchell only wrote the one novel... Not every creative person keeps creating until they die. Maybe some people can't sustain that kind of emotional energy. Maybe they don't want to."

That notion of 'not wanting to,' possibly due to being 'fed up,' returns to my mind again and again.

Perhaps while not completely shattering his life, Mills couldn't 'sustain the emotional energy' necessary to write something book length after those tragic events—the death of his wife, a dear friend, his mother, all during a war that left London bleeding and his own health a shambles.

In the words of that noted philosopher, Willie Nelson (seen left, a man who never seems to have lost his muse), "Ain't it funny how time slips away?" Did Mills always mean to write another book? Was his summer term at Ladycross Boys' Catholic Preparatory School in Seaford, Sussex, in 1956 seen as a chance to collect new characters, develop a new setting, and create new stories about prep school boys—a subject he'd once lovingly depicted in such amazingly precise detail? Dr. Tom Houston of the Windlesham House Association describes George thusly: "Mills evidently had a gift for befriending boys and learning their secrets; Meredith & Co. captures the idiom of pupils during the interwar period more accurately than any other novel."

Peakirk's Heather adds: "Meredith & co was 1 of the first prep school stories of its kind, lighthearted & whimsical, a forerunner to the Jennings books of Anthony Buckeridge, in so far as it emphasizes the comical side of school life. However the importance of games & work are not forgotten."

1933's publication of Meredith & Co. by Oxford University Press—a sumptuous, Depression-era book illustrated by the fabled C. C. Brock—speaks volumes about the high regard that was shown by the industry for his manuscript.

Following that with three more books in 1938-1939, had Mills managed so quickly use up all of his stories, his patience, and his passion for writing? And did he ever try to rekindle it all later in life?

Or, despite a nice, little side income from the re-issuing of his schoolboy titles in the 1950s, did the fact that he was an author become something that Mills simply stopped thinking about and ceased discussing with anyone? Were his conversations eventually filled with the weather, bridge strategies, croquet tournaments, and the results of cricket matches at Lord's? Residents of Budleigh's Westfield Road, which ended at the Mills domicile, Grey Friars, today know that another children's author, Charles Warrell, the aged creator of the famed I-Spy books, lived on that very same lane. Why did no one ever seem to realize neighbor George Mills was a children's book author as well?

Michael Downes recently reported: "Budleigh Salterton has a literary festival, and one of the documents produced by our local museum for that event was a list of authors formerly living in the town. George Mills (along with many others) was not on the list, and I have added to it over the years with other names. So George Mills is quite a find for us."

So it seems Mills probably wasn't always 'meaning to get around to it,' as far as writing another book was concerned. Perhaps he was just waiting for inspiration to strike. Still, he certainly didn't let his neighbors and the community at large know of his past, or of any hope he might've had that his literary muse might someday return. Or is it possible he actually had... and no one very much cared?

Jennifer certainly agrees Mills may have been awaiting inspiration and adds: "[But] you can spend the rest of your life sitting around waiting. Tearing things out of one's psyche is an arduous and not always pleasant process. It's easier to say, well, those days are gone. I don't have the energy for that anymore. It's frightening how easy it is to just let your mind sink into its own puddle of lethargy."

Perhaps George Mills was, indeed, 'fed up.' Perhaps he just 'didn't want to' write. Perhaps he faced his own 'puddle of lethargy' and simply never did meet his muse again—even among the prep boys at Seaford in 1956.

For whatever reason, Mills apparently must have spoken so little of his literary career that Budleigh residents never knew they had a popular author in their midst in the person of the very sociable and welcoming George Mills.

Still, I'd love to know: Why?

And I wonder: Is this really all about George Mills?

Or is this really far more about me?