Sunday, January 9, 2011

Grey Friars, a Burial Ground, Croquet, and a Floridian Literary Detective

It's a hazy, winter Sunday morning here in the horse country of Florida. It can't decide if it wants to be cloudy or sunny, chilly or warm. I have a strong cup of coffee and a fine pair of slippers, and I'm savoring this exciting latest entry...

Here's something that doesn't happen every day: George Mills appearing in someone else's blog!

Michael Downes, an author, press officer for Budleigh Salterton's Fairlynch Museum, longtime educator, and friend of Who Is George Mills? posted an entry about this website on his own blog, Budleigh & Brewster United, a site celebrates among other things the connection between his corner of East Devon, birthplace of both Sir Walter Raleigh and Salem, Massachusetts, founder Roger Conant, and the United States of America.

You can read the entry at:

The first really exciting aspect of his post is the wonderful photograph that Michael has taken of Grey Friars [above, left]. It has been quite awhile since the name Grey Friars appeared as a passing note in the autobiography of Sir Robert Hart, and it certainly proved elusive—until now! I appreciate the effort Michael put into securing, not only the image, but also the permission of the house's owner for its use.

He also posted this intriguing paragraph:

And yesterday afternoon Annie and I spent time at St Peter's Burial Ground searching for the Mills family grave. Maybe the sea mist had something to do with it, but our search was in vain. However I did have the pleasure of meeting a charming and informative 80-year-old local man who was visiting the many graves of his own family members, and who remembered that George Mills and his sisters were croquet-players. It may be that the Croquet Club as well as the Literary Festival organisers will be pleased to learn about the Mills family.

I wish I'd been there to talk with that local gentleman cloaked in the sea mist covering the burial ground as he shared memories of individuals its possible no one has really thought much about for almost 35 years. George, Agnes, and Violet Mills, as far as I know, all died childless, and its quite likely that a fairly distant relative in the 'Glyn Mills Bank' branch of the family came to Budleigh as executor of Violet's will in 1975, disposed of Grey Friars and the siblings' estate, and left.

It certainly would be interesting to read the probate documents of the wills of George, Agnes, and Violet. It would even allow us to discover who owns the copyright of George's novels, and who we might contact to find out what happened to the family's ephemera—photographs, awards, paperwork, ticket stubs, passports, etc.—all of which would be treasures to me!

The fact that the Budleigh Salterton Croquet Club sat just 100 feet or so from Grey Friars [pictured, right] is important to the story of Mills and his sisters as well. Right now I'm in the midst of sifting through literally decades of croquet tournament results in The Times listing a trio initialed "Miss A. E. Mills," "Miss V. E. Mills," and occasionally a "G. R. Mills," all of whom played in tournaments as singles and sometimes in various combinations as doubles.

We know from his books that George Mills was a man who was fond of sports, and his step-brother, Arthur, loved golf, so much so that for the rest of his life he seemingly never lived more than the proverbial stone's throw from a golf course after leaving London in the wake of his divorce from Lady Dorothy Mills.

It seems, however, George's spinster sisters enjoyed sporting activities as well, given their lengthy record as croquet players. I find it hard to believe that a different "Miss A. E. Mills" and "Miss V. E. Mills" paired up so often in tournaments in London and along the southern coast of England.

There are even tennis results in editions of The Times from 1930s in which a "Miss V. E. Mills" played in tennis tournaments.

Apparently Violet, at the age of 33 on 6 September 1936, was finally defeated in the second round of Ladies' Singles at the Sidmouth Lawn Tennis Tournament by a Mrs. G. Lucas, 6-1, 6-0.

Two years earlier, on 2 August 1934, Miss V. Mills was beaten 6-1, 6-1, by Miss MacTier in the third round of the Bedford Tournament.

[The search engine at The Times website is notoriously finicky, so although these are the only two results I can find in this era of London tennis, I by no means can claim its the exhaustive list and invite anyone who can concoct a better strategy for searching those archives to help me!]

Anyway, what we know is that the family enjoyed sports and remained quite active, even into their "Golden Years."

On 26 June 1970, "Miss V. E. and G. R. Mills," +20, defeated "Mrs. N. A. C. McMillan and Mrs. D. Wayman" in the handicap doubles at Parkstone. Violet would have been almost 68 years old, with George approaching 74.

Later that year at Parkstone, L. S. Butler, +10, beat Miss A. E. Mills on 17 September in level singles. Agnes had just turned 75 years of age on June 11.

Michael Downes has mentioned having a friend who is membership secretary of the Budleigh Salterton Croquet Club [pictured, above left]. As I research Agnes, Violet, and George via The Times, I hope they will be able to come up with some additional documentation on a local and more personal level.

Thank you, Michael (and Annie!), most of all for the line in your blog entry which describes me as a "Floridian literary detective." After months of procrastinating about mowing the lawn and painting the house to fool around with my research on George Mills, my wife must surely believe I'm the biggest slacker around.

Now, it appears that I'm a "literary detective," and I feel much better about everything I've been doing here!

No comments:

Post a Comment