Monday, February 28, 2011

The Final Prize Lists: 1956 - 1971

Returning once more to what seem to have been quite remarkable years of Advanced croquet, the Croquet Association's amazing Chris Williams weighs in again with what will be the final installment of the Prize Lists of George, Agnes, and Violet Mills.

It's obvious that Agnes (born 11 June 1895), George (born 1 October 1896), and Violet (born 17 November 1902) were in what could be described delicately as their Golden Years. The lists below begin when Agnes [pictured, left, to the right of Barbara Chittenden], George, and Violet were 59-60, 59, and 53 years of age respectively.

The tournament appearances conclude in 1970 for George at 73 (he'd soon turn 74), and in 1971 with Agnes at 76 and Violet at 68 (soon to be 69).

I'm not exactly certain what those meant in England in the mid-20th century, but here in the vast retirement mecca that is Florida today, not many folks of that age is still doing much of anything at an Advanced level—although here it seems to be primarily bocce ball, golf, and a little tennis that keep retirees active.

Agnes and Violet always seem to have been athletic (we'll take a look at some of their earlier athletic accomplishments soon), as well as having a fondness for the outdoors (we know they "were keen on the Girl Guides.") They apparently kept their proclivity for physical activity going throughout their lives.

In George's case, however, we know that Mills was extremely interested in sport as evidenced by his children's books, which always feature some combination of cricket, football (soccer, to Americans), and track. If we are reading between the proverbial lines accurately, Mills even played a role in coaching preparatory school boys in these sports during his time as a schoolmaster between 1925 and 1937.

What we cannot be sure of at this point is how much George [seen, right, in a higher resolution 1957 image courtesy of Ken Cooper and the Bowden Croquet Club] played sports when he was a boy and as a young man. We may, however, gain more insight as we take a look into files remaining from his active duty in the First World War.

Meanwhile, here's the rest of the Prize Lists of the Mills siblings, 1956-1971, courtesy of Mr. Williams, Croquet Gazette, and The Croquet Association:

"I have now transcribed the remaining post war prize lists.

Looking in the 1970 Gazettes I can see that George played in the July week tournament at Cheltenham (13-18 July). He lost to Isobel Roe and Christine Bagnall in the first rounds of the B Class event. It was played as a draw and process which everyone gets two chances to progress in the event. He lost his first game in the handicap knockout to FW Meredith (0), playing off a handicap of 4 and lost in the first game in the handicap doubles playing with RN Bateson, who I think it still playing croquet nowadays.

Agnes [1.5] Sidmouth, HD, 2; Brighton (May), HS, 3; Budleigh Salterton, HD, 1; Hurlingham, OSB, 3,Parkstone, OSB, 2, HS, 3; Eastbourne, HSEx, 3, RHS, 3
Violet [2], Brighton (May), HD, 1; Parkstone (June), HD, 2; Exmouth, OS, 2; Budleigh Salterton, OSB,1

Agnes [1.5] Brighton (May), HS, 3, HD, 2; Gilbey Cup, Block "B", 2; Parkstone (Sept), OS, Deshon Cup, 2;Eastbourne, RHD, 3
Violet [1.5] Parkstone (June), OS, Evans Trophy, 1, HSX,3
George [12] Budleigh Salterton (*July), HD, 1

(Most lower handicaps were increased by 2 at the start of the season)
Agnes [3.5] Brighton, HS,3; All England Handicap, 2; Budleigh Salterton, HD, Le Mesurier Challenge Cups, 3; Challenge Cups, Council Cup, Div 2, 2; Eastbourne, Devonshire Park, OS, 3
George [10] Cheltenham, HSB, 2; Budleigh Salterton, HSC, 3

Agnes [2.5] Ladies Field Cup, 4; Brighton (non-official), HD, 1; Eastbourne, OSB, 2
George [10] Budleigh Salterton(July), HS, 2

Agnes [2.5] Budleigh Salterton(July), LSB, 2; Gilbey Cup, 2, "B"; Brighton (non-official), HS, 2, HSY, 3 [2]
Violet [3.5] Budleigh Salterton(July), LSB, 3; Parkstone (Sept), LSB, 2
George [8] Parkstone (Sept), HSC, 2, HS, 3; Eastbourne, LSC, 3, HD, 2

Agnes [2] Mixed Doubles Championship, 1; Ladies Field Cup, 5; Budleigh Salterton (July), HD, 3;Gilbey Cup, 1 [1.5]
George [7] Budleigh Salterton(May), HS, 2, HD, 3; Budleigh Salterton(July), LSB, 2, HD, 1; Cheltenham, HD, 3 [5]

Agnes [1.5] Ladies Field Cup, equal 4; Budleigh Salterton(July), HD, 1
Violet [2] Budleigh Salterton(May) (non-official), HS, 2; Brighton (September) (non-official), HS, 1 [1.5]
George [5] Compton, HSX, 3

Agnes [1.5] Ladies Field Cup, equal 3; Eastbourne HD, 2
Violet [1.5] Budleigh Salterton(May) (non-official) HS, 3, HD, 1 [1]
George [5] Budleigh Salterton(May) (non-official) HD, 1

Agnes [1.5] Budleigh Salterton(July), HS, 3; Ladies Field Cup, equal 6
Violet [1] Budleigh Salterton(July), HD, 3

Agnes [1.5] Eastbourne HSY, 3
George [4.5] Eastbourne RHS 1 [4]

Agnes [2] Budleigh Salterton HS 2 [1.5]
Violet [2] Budleigh Salterton LSB 3 [1.5]
George [4] Eastbourne HSY 1


Agnes [3.5] Eastbourne HD 2


Agnes [3.5] Parkstone HSY 2
Violet [2] Parkstone HD 3
George [4] Parkstone HD 3

...Agnes [withdrew] from the first round of the level singles at Budleigh in 1971 whilst Violet lost in the second round to Prof ASC Ross. Neither seems to have played in the handicap singles or doubles [after that]."

Note: As previously posted, here's how to read the above:

OS = Open Singles
HS = Handicap Singles
HSC = Handicap Singles C Class
OSB = Open Singles B Class
HD = Handicap Doubles
L = Ladies

The number after the event means position, so 1 = winner, 2 = runner up,3 = semi finalist. Number in [ ] is handicap.

Thank you again, Chris, very much! Your yeoman efforts are greatly appreciated...

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Examining George Mills in the Great War and My Own Expectations

I've just a note today about expectations.

Yesterday, I was feeling quite pleased with myself for having linked aspects of the life of George Mills (specifically his penchant for drama) to his time spent at Harrow living at The Grove. I was also fairly well pleased with myself for extending George's use of the address of the Military and Naval Club as his own from 1944 to at least 1951.

I'd certainly exceeded the original expectations I'd had for Michael P.'s message, forwarded from Rita Boswell of the Harrow Archives. And in my excitement to explore those research avenues above, I neglected to read three little letters very carefully: A.P.C.

Last year, we'd heard from Harrow Information Officer Luke Meadows, who enlightened us then on the military career of George Mills in the First World War: "We know that he was in the Rifle Brigade and then transferred to the Royal Army Service Corps (R.A.S.C.) during the First World War between 1916-1919."

Here's the key excerpt from Ms. Boswell's newer message from Harrow [above, left] this week: "He served in the Great War from 1916-1919 as a Corporal in the Rifle Brigade but transferred to A.P.C. and then the R.A.S.C."


I have to admit, it wasn't until I was writing yesterday's posting that those three little letters—the acronym A.P.C.—jumped out at me. And they not only are a key addition to our knowledge of the life and career of George Mills, they helped open a torrent of new knowledge about George, as well as providing fuel for a wealth of new questions!

The A.P.C., or Army Pay Corps as it was known in the Great War (WWI), later became the R.A.P.C.—the Royal Army Pay Corps, in which George served as a Lieutenant from 1940-1943 before relinquishing his commission due to "ill-health."

We had a fleeting glimpse of what appeared to be the words " …MY PAY CORPS" on the duplicate copy of George's recruitment form [right], presumably accidentally affixed via carbon copy. Harrow's archives do, indeed, confirm a stint having been done by George Mills in the Army Pay Corps during the First World War.

In the last 24 hours, this information has led to the discovery of some 40 documents contained in George's military file from 1916 to 1919 outlining his transfers and his physical condition (initially B III, later C III), confirming that he never went overseas during the war, and, most interestingly, describing his departure from the Army Pay Corps—where he returned as an officer in the next World War—as an involuntary transfer to the Royal Army Service Corps at Prees Heath, Shropshire.

I'm still sorting through the compendium of information about George Mills, 1916-1919, and it may reveal much about the man that could go a long way toward explaining his subsequent life and trials. I'm still uncertain about the exact circumstances that link his unceremonious dismissal from the A.P.C. as a clerk and a private to his triumphant return as an officer and paymaster in the R.A.P.C. over 20 years later (Mills, it turns out had never officially been promoted to lance corporal).

And, once again, I'd like to offer my deepest gratitude to both Michael P. of the Eastbourne Local History Association and Ms. Boswell of the Harrow Archives for their kind assistance. One never knows when the smallest bit of information will lead to enormously significant discoveries. Hence, the reason I always need to keep an open mind about my own expectations!

Stay tuned…

Saturday, February 26, 2011

From The Grove to Budleigh, via Picadilly Place

Today, it is time to hit the rewind button—I almost said "on the tape," even though that now sounds, in a DVD/DVR world, like saying that I donned "spats" and my "fob"—and travel back in time for a while. We'll leave behind the coastal croquet lawns of Budleigh, Parkstone, and The Saffrons and turn the compass northward as well. Our destination? London, much earlier in the 20th century, where we'll try to find young George Mills, the teenager!

This note arrived yesterday from Michael P. of the Eastbourne Local History Association:

"Having noticed that GM was educated at Harrow, I told Rita Boswell, the archivist there, of your website and asked whether she had more info on him. Below is her response:

I have checked our school paper and photograph collection for George Mills but both have drawn a blank so far. We are having the paper digitised at the moment which will enable a better search in due course. It is also possible that a photo will turn up in due course, so I will keep looking. Meanwhile, all I can tell you is what appears in the School Register. That is:

George Ramsay Acland Mills, son of the Rev. B. R. V. Mills (Old Harrovian) of 38 Onslow Gardens S W London. George entered Harrow in September 1910 and left in the summer of 1912; while here he resided in a small boarding house and another house called The Grove [pictured, right]. He served in the Great War from 1916-1919 as a Corporal in the Rifle Brigade but transferred to A.P.C. and then the R.A.S.C. He went up to Christ Church Oxford and became a Preparatory Schoolmaster. His address in 1951 is given as the Naval and Military Club at 94 Piccadilly, London W.1.

I hope this is of interest to you."

Yes, it is, Michael, and thank you so much!

First of all, it's quite exciting to think that there may be a story or two, and perhaps even a photograph, of a young George lurking in a school paper somewhere at Harrow. Mills arrived at Windlesham House School in 1925 after having attended Oxford as a schoolmaster and immediately became involved in that institution's stage productions. It isn't difficult to imagine that, as a boy, Mills had been involved in extracurricular endeavors at Harrow that included drama, and that Harrovian student productions were well covered by the school paper.

"The above makes even more sense when one reads the current description of The Grove on Harrow's website:

The Grove is situated on what is nearly the highest point of the Hill, next to St Mary's Church, and is home to about seventy boys.

The Grove occupies a central and prominent position near the highest point of the Hill, yet its quiet location is an attraction. Boys come from all over the United Kingdom and links with more distant prep schools are actively maintained. The Grove is strong in Art and Drama, and increasingly in Music, with a longer reputation for sporting prowess.

Variety in the intake of boys gives the House its strength, and its success depends on their talent."

Given the proclivity of George Mills to have been involved as a schoolmaster in the arts, particularly drama and music, as well as sports, The Grove must have been a perfect locale for his education!

I suppose it is even possible that we might gain a clue as to where George Mills went when he departed The Grove in the summer of his 15th year. Mills reappears in the historical record in the summer of 1916 when he is recruited to the Rifle Depot in July and sent off to war.

Still, one wonders what a sixteen-year-old in early 20th century England, from a well-to-do family and with an education at Harrow does with himself for four years.

I've speculated that the teenaged George may have tried to follow to some degree in the footsteps of his uncle, Major Dudley Mills of the Royal Engineers, eschewing the military for the time being and becoming an apprentice at the engineering firm Wallis & Steevens, Ltd.

However, that supposition rests on the tenuous evidence of a ship manifest from 1915 containing the name George Mills, who at the time was a 19-year-old British apprentice sailing from Buenos Aires to Liverpool with then-54-year-old Alfred Wallis of the famed engineering firm [right].

The point of Stanley Elkin's novel, George Mills, is that the world has always been populated by a plethora of run-of-the-mill, indistinguishable men by the name of George Mills. Hence, basing any supposition on a U.K. document containing the name 'George Mills' is, I realize, a longshot.

However, while freely admitting it may not actually be the case, I have no other peg upon which to hang my metaphorical hat regarding the missing years of George Mills, 1912-1916, especially since Mills signed his army recruitment papers with his occupation listed as "student"—a term which could loosely, I suppose, be applied to an apprentice, particularly one from a scholarly family such as George's.

One other interesting aspect of the above information is George's 1951 address: The Naval and Military Club, then at 94 Piccadilly, London W.1. [left].

We've seen George use this address before. In 1944, he wrote The Times about the Royal Army Pay Corps, having been an officer in it recently, and used that exact address. And, now, here we have Mills still using the same one some seven years later.

His father, Rev. Barton R. V. Mills, used The Athenæum, Pall, Mall, S.W.1 [below, right], as his professional address even when he lived nearby in Kensington. The Military and Naval Club is, coincidentally just blocks away from his George's father's haunts at The Athenæum in 1951, and less than a mile away from the family's past residences, west of Green Park and Buckingham Palace.

George's mother, Edith Mills, had passed away in 1945 while living with George's sisters in Kensington. By 1947, the spinsters Agnes and Violet Mills, had moved to Grey Friars in Budleigh Salterton, where George was certainly known to have resided, where he passed away in 1972, and where he may have been buried.

It's possible, I suppose, that Mills resided at the Military and Naval Club after the war, well into the 1950s. I understand that it's affordable for one to stay there now, compared to other lodging in central London. It may have been even more affordable at the time, especially given that it would have been undergoing construction to repair bombing damage in 1941 [pictured in Life magazine in 1941, right].

The question becomes: After relinquishing his commission in the RAPC due to ill-health in 1943, where did Mills go? Did he then live in Cadogan Gardens with his mother and sisters? And, after the Misses Mills departed for Budleigh in 1947, did he tag along, or stay? Or even relocate elsewhere—something quite possible given his lifelong inclination to Sussex?

Thank you, Michael, for the information above! It inches us closer to a more thorough knowledge of the author, George Mills. But, as always seems the case, with answers come new questions. And if you have any information that can help, please don't hesitate to contact me!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Of Prize Lists, Submarines, Olivier, Mills, and Dracula

Once again, the amazing work of Chris Williams in the archives of The Croquet Association is on my mind.

As well as the George Mills obituary that he sent along last time, he also spent time tallying up events in which either Agnes or Violet Mills finished in the Prize List for a tournament. Knowing it took me months to squeeze the meager amount of information I could squeeze out of the archives of The Times and compile, I am amazed at the amount of information he could disaggregate so quickly.

It turns out that I was far from correct, and I've never been more delighted to stand corrected! While The Times search engines has the Mills family beginning play with Agnes in 1950, adding in Violet in 1956, and George in 1957. Not even close!

From Chris: "Agnes first played in 1947 and her last recorded game is in 1970, whilst Violet appears between 1951 and 1971."

Agnes began play almost as soon as she arrived at Grey Friars in Budleigh Salterton, finishing on the Prize List of several tournaments (below) while sporting a newly-minted handicap of 4½. While there is evidence that Agnes played at least one tournament before the war (Ealing, in May of 1934), there may have been even more.

I also have evidence that Agnes was slated to play at least one game in 1971, having been scheduled to play a Level Singles match against Maurice Reckitt in Budleigh on 6 July. However, Agnes is listed as having "retired," with Reckitt advancing.

Violet, as we will see, began play in 1947, not the 1956 that was all I could coax out of The Times, whose search engine inadvertantly and repeatedly overlooked a mere nine years of tournament play by the youngest of the Mills. She and her 10 handicap started with a bang: 1st in Class C Handicap Singles at Budleigh. Not a bad way to begin!

Agnes spent a quarter century on the lawns of Southern England, and especially Budleigh, playing croquet if you count her scheduled match in 1971. Violet notched a full 24 years, leaving them just shy of half a century of post-WWII croquet experience!

In spite of the numerous competitions and the Prize Lists, I often return to thinking of the characters with whom the Mills played. Some were listed in brief last week, along with some smattering of their accomplishments. Soon, we'll take a closer look at more individuals from the interesting cast of characters who populated the clubs and tournaments in what must have been, in some ways, a golden age of croquet.

Chris, however, adds a noteworthy competitor I had overlooked: "Another famous Budleigh croquet player of that era was Henry Gordon (Dacre) Stoker… a cousin of Bram Stoker of Dracula fame. He was famous for commanding a submarine at Gallipoli in the First World War." You can read more about that at:

Anyway, the CA records show that Captain H. G. "Dacre" Stoker [pictured above, right] faced Agnes Mills 3 times, losing only once. Beyond the records, however, one can well imagine Stoker's tales of commanding the steadfast crew [pictured below, left] of his submarine, the HMAS AE2 [pictured far below, right] at Gallipoli, playing polo and tennis at Wimbledon, as well as revealing what the macabre Bram Stoker probably was like in his everyday persona, must certainly have added abundant color to clubhouses already rife with a plethora of ex-athletes, politicos, clergymen, world travelers, entrepreneurs, and veterans of a World War or two!

Born in 1885, the Captain was also an actor who, according to the International Movie Database, was featured in over 25 films (including The Man Who Knew Too Much and Brighton Rock) and 4 television series episodes between 1933 and 1959. The talented Stoker appeared on the stage alongside Laurence Olivier and John Mills, and authored the autobiography Straws in the Wind in 1925 and the 1937 film Below the Surface.

Stoker's Wikipedia biography describes him as "an officer of the First and Second World War Royal Navy and stage and screen actor. He was also a sportsman, active in polo, croquet, hurling, and tennis, competing at Wimbledon and becoming the croquet champion of Ireland in 1962, aged 77." Stoker passed away in 1966.

Well, with any further ado, here are the Prize List appearances of Agnes and Violet, 1947 to 1955, with—I hope—many more to come! Thank you once again, Chris!

End of season Prize List as listed in the Croquet Gazette:


OS = Open Singles
HS = Handicap Singles
HSC = Handicap Singles C Class
OSB = Open Singles B Class
HD = Handicap Doubles
L = Ladies

The number after the event means position, so 1 = winner, 2 = runner up,
3 = semi finalist. Number in [ ] is handicap.

Agnes [4.5] Budleigh Salterton, OS (Longman Cup, 2, Exmouth OSB, 2,
Cheltenham (Sep) OSB, 2

Agnes [4.5] Parkstone (Sept) HS, 1
Violet [10*] Budleigh Salterton, HSC, 1 (This means she won the C class
handicap singles)

Agnes [3.5] Peel Memorials, 2; Parkstone (Sept) HD 3, Eastbourne, HSB, 1
Violet [8] Budleigh Salterton HS, 2, HD, 3

Agnes [3] Peels (Draw) 3; Sidmouth, HD 3; Parkstone (Sept) OSB 1, MSD 1
Violet [6.5] Budleigh Salterton, HD, 1; Sidmouth, HD, 3

Agnes [3] Budleigh Salterton OSB, 3; Parkstone (June), HSZ, 3;
Hurlingham LHD, 3; All England Handicap, 3; Challenge Cups, HSEx, 3;
Parkstone (Sept), HD, 2; Eastbourne, OSB, 3, HD, 2
Violet [6] Sidmouth, HSC, 3, HS, 2 [5] Exmouth HSX, 3

Agnes [3], Sidmouth, HS, 3; Woking, HSZ, 1 divided; Parkstone (June),
HD, 2; Hurlingham, LHD, 2; Challenge Cups, HSXEx, 1; Parkstone (Sept),
HS, 2, HD, 2
Violet [5] Sidmouth, HSC, 1; Budleigh Salterton, OSB, 3, HD, 1; Exmouth,
OSB, 1, HSY, 1

Agnes [3] Budleigh Salterton, OSB, 2, HD, 3; Parkstone (June), HSX 3,
HD, 1; Hurlingham HSEx 3; Challenge Cups, Luard Cup, 1
Violet [3.5] Budleigh Salterton, HD, 1; Exmouth, HSY, 3, HD, 3

Agnes [3] Buxton, HSX, 3; Challenge Cups, Council Cup, 3, Gilbey Cup
"B", 3, HD, 2; Hurlingham, OS, Younger Cup, 2, HS, 2, LHD, 1;
Eastbourne, HS, 1
Violet [3.5] Sidmouth, HD, 3; Budleigh Salterton, HSY, 2; Buxton, OSB,
3, HD, 3; Exmouth, OSB, 3, HD, 3

Agnes [1.5] Leamington, HS, 1; Exmouth, HD, 2; Budleigh Salterton
(July), HS, 3; Challenge Cups, Council Cup,, 3, HD, 3, HSEx, 3;
Hurlingham, HS, 3, LHD, 2; Parkstone (Aug), OSB, 1; Eastbourne, OSB, 2
Violet [2] Sidmouth, HD, 2; Parkstone (June) HS, Evans Trophy, 3;
Exmouth, HSX, 2; Budleigh Salterton (July), OSB, 2, HS, 1, HD, 1

Monday, February 21, 2011

Croquet, Reading, and the Times Crossword Puzzle

Chris Williams is an archivist of The Croquet Association and has access to all Croquet Gazettes of the period in which the Mills siblings played. While he has offered some very comprehensive data that I hope to share soon, the final part of a recent message I received from him was simple and quite moving. I’d like to share it here.

“The April 1973 Croquet Gazette (Number 125) contained an obituary for George:

G.R. Mills

George Mills was a late starter to croquet, but his exuberant and loveable personality made him a welcome member of the game. He became a keen and enthusiastic player until ill-health caused his interests to turn to reading and the Times crossword puzzle. He will be much missed by his many friends at the South Western tournaments and the Budleigh Salterton Club, who wish to extend their sympathy to Agnes and Violet Mills.


Gerald Cave I assume.”

It can be difficult to find out much about Mills, the man, and not simply dates and events that fit neatly on a timeline. As near as I can tell, George Mills played his last Advanced game of croquet in 1970, and Mr. Williams may be able to determine if that’s correct. He was 73 years old at the time, and he was victorious playing alongside his sister, Violet Mills at Budleigh on 26 June. So much for the data.

In this obituary, however, we find a sympathetic figure in Mills, a man we can begin to understand, not simply an acknowledgment of the death of a person who found himself too old to take to the lawns any longer.

Mills, keen of mind and a former author even in his last years, occupied himself with reading and his beloved Times. With his home, Grey Friars, literally just a few hundred feet from the Croquet Club, it’s easy to imagine Mills alternately watching play and scratching at the crossword on a fine summer day, sitting amid friends in a light sea breeze before heading inside for some bridge.

Presumably, even during that final period of ill-health, Mills made it to the club now and then for as long as he was able. He was a keen and witty observer of people, as we know from his writing, and others seemed to gravitate to him. It's hard to imagine him staying away if he felt up to it. Recently his physician, Dr. David Evans, said of the Mills siblings (perhaps pointedly in the case of George here), "They would go to Budleigh Salterton Croquet Club under all circumstances."

We'll never actually know Mills. But we can, in fact, see him reflected in the eyes of others and in the places he chose to spend his life. Thanks for the obituary, Chris, and thank you once again to everyone who helps me inch ever forward in getting to know George Mills.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

"Ya Can't Tell the Players Without a Scorecard!"

Despite the title above hearkening back to early 20th century American baseball (a sport that's on my mind now that Spring Training has started here in Florida for northern teams), here's a breakdown of the important characters in our ongoing story of the Mills siblings of Budleigh Salterton--George, Agnes, and Violet--on the equally verdant croquet lawns of England, 1950-1971. If possible, they all have been listed with their associated club, and I've done my best to record their accomplishments on the lawns and any positions held.

If you can add any information about a player or their affiliations, offer a photograph (or a better image), or could suggest adding another interesting or important player to this list, please don't hesitate to let me know--and thank you! I will update information and images as frequently as I can [Last update: 15 July 2011].

Now, please scroll down to see the players...

Agnes Edith "Aggie" Mills
Budleigh Salterton Croquet Club
Won the 1953 Luard Cup at
Roehampton; for Agnes's prize
lists, please click HERE
Violet Eleanor "Vi" Mills
Budleigh Salterton Croquet Club
Accomplished amateur in golf, lawn tennis,
and croquet; participant in tournaments in
all three sports throughout England; for
Violet's prize lists, please click HERE

George Ramsay Acland Mills
Budleigh Salterton Croquet Club
Schoolmaster, author, and veteran
of both World Wars; for George's prize
lists, please click HERE
Barbara May Chittenden
The Compton Club at Eastbourne
The wife of Mr. Hugh F. Chittenden,
former Head Master of Newlands School
in Seaford, Sussex
Veronica Claire "Vera" Gasson
Hurlingham Club
Secretary of the Croquet
Association, 1960-1970
Lt.-Col. Gerald E. Cave
Budleigh Salterton Croquet Club
Croquet and Tournament Secretary,
1965-?; 1974 Manager of Great Britain's
MacRobertson Shield Series Team
Mrs. Geraldine Cave
Budleigh Salterton Croquet Club
Gerald Cave's mother,
with whom he lived
J. G. "Guy" Warwick
Budleigh Salterton Croquet Club
South of England Championship, 1962;
Referee, MacRobertson Shield Series,
1974; Brother of Joan Warwick
Edith Joan "Joan" Warwick
Budleigh Salterton Croquet Club
Played on MacRobertson Shield winning
team in 1963; CA Women's Champion, 1960,
1962, 1965, 1966, 1968; Captain, British
Wanderers Women's Hockey Team; Author,
Umpiring for Women's Hockey, 1971
E. A. "Tony" Roper
The Compton Club at Eastbourne
Former Head Master of Ladycross
School, Seaford, East Sussex
Maurice B. Reckitt
President of the Croquet Association,
1967-1975; CA Men's Champion,
1935, 1946; Surrey Championship 1934;
South of England Champion, 1950;
Author, Croquet Today, 1954; Played on
1956 MacRobertson Shield winner
Evelyn Aimee "Aimee" Reckitt
Ranked Women's Tennis Player:
1922 (58th); 1923 (28th); 1924 (60th);
1925 (72nd); 1926 (78th); 1927 (62nd);
Epsom Tennis Finals, 1923, 1925, 1926
Wimbledon, 1923, 1925, 1927
Lady Ursula Abbey
The Compton Club at Eastbourne?
Well-known Breeder of show dogs at Cruft's;
a noted outdoorswoman and shooter
Maj. John Roland "Jack" Abbey
The Compton Club at Eastbourne?
Renowned antiquarian book and
manuscript collector, entrepreneur,
and veteran of both World Wars;
Tournament croquet player as
far back as Brighton, 1913
Rev. Canon Ralph Creed Meredith
East Dorset Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club
New Zealand Badminton Champion, Singles,
Doubles, Mixed, 1927; Doubles co-champion,
1928; Player on losing MacRobertson Shield
team (New Zealand), 1930; Past President
of both the New Zealand Badminton &
Croquet Associations
Sir Leonard Daldry
Cheltenham Croquet Club?
Referee, MacRobertson Shield Series, 1974
Banker and Senator of Federal Legislature,
Mrs. Alex Fotiadi
Bowdon Croquet Club
Member of Bowdon C.C. from 1939
until her death in 1990; Club President,
1972-1981; Donor of Bowdon's Novices
Silver Challenge Bowl, 1957
Dr. Harold John Penny
Winner of the Faulkner Cup,
North of England Championship
in 1939, 1946, 1947, 1948, 1951

Isobel Marion Roe
Cheltenham Croquet Club
CA Women's Championship, 1961; British
Women's Ski Champion, 1938-1949; 1937
(Downhill) & 1939 (Slalom & Alpine) Skiing
World Championships; 1948 GB Winter
Olympic Team, St. Moritz, (Slalom,
Downhill, Combined); 1948 Ladies
Lowlander Champion; President, The Ladies'
Ski Club (England), 1957-1960; Guiness
Book of World
Records, 1986, Most British
Women's Ski Titles Held
Bennett Gregory "Bill" Perry
Budleigh Salterton Croquet Club
Played on Great Britain's MacRobertson
Shield winning team in 1974; winner
of 12 tournaments from 1966-1981
Dr. H. R. "Herbie" McAleenan
The Compton Club at Eastbourne

Beat E. A. "Tony" Roper in the
X Handicap Finals at the age of
83 at the Saffrons in 1964
Dr. William P. Ormerod
East Dorset Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club
Played on MacRobertson Shield Series
winning teams, 1956 (age 19), 1963, 1969,
1974; Won CA President's Cup, 1966; and
Men's Championship, 1970; 7 time winner of
Open Doubles Chamionship; 9 time winner of
Parkstone Dorset Salver Open (54 years
between his 1956 and 2010 victories); Current
UK/Ireland Ranking: 97th (2011); Donated Wm.
Ormerod Trophy to Austrian Croquet Federation,
2006; now coaching golf croquet at Swanage
Croquet Club; won Delves-Broughton Open
Golf Croquet Doubles Championship in 1954
at the age of 17 with A.E. Stokes-Roberts

[Update (8 July 2011): Many thanks to Budleigh's Judy Perry for the colour photographs used here!]

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

October in Devonshire Park, Eastbourne, circa 1957

As promised, let's take a closer look at the unexpected and delightful photographs found in the Photo Archives of the Bowdon Croquet Club. While there are many interesting images, two of them are pertinent to our objectives here at Who Is George Mills?

The first is a group photograph [left; click to enlarge] that, according to the website, was "probably" taken at Devonshire Park in Eastbourne during the "Southern Championships." If that event is synonymous with the "South of England Championship," it was held in October of 1957. A tournament at Roehampton had been held through the 30th of September, involving some of the same players.

Initial searches for croquet results for the Mills family at that October 1957 tournament turned up only one incidence: Agnes Mills played twice in partnership with Mrs. G. D. Perowne, beating the duo of Mrs. E. Reeve & Mrs. H. L. Roberts in the 2nd round, but falling to Lt.-Col. G. E. Cave & Miss E. J. Warwick in the Semi-Final of Handicap Doubles.

After attempting over a dozen more searches to try to produce additional results from the matches at Eastbourne that October, I finally hit another set of useful results [using, oddly, 'penny croquet' as my search terms], the matches played on 8 October. Among them, we find that Agnes Mills and Mrs. Perowne were victorious over Lt.-Cmdr. G. W. Style and the familiar Mrs. H. F. Chittenden (+6) that day.

Those unusual search terms also allowed me to discover that Agnes lost in the opening round of the Level Singles, when she fell to Miss M. Postford (-11). Another player we've discussed, Mrs. Alex Fotiadi of the Bowdon Croquet Club, also fell to Mrs. G. F. H. Elvey in the first round of the Open Championship, (+11, -4, -7) on the same day.

Let's, however, take a look at exactly who is in this photograph.

Fewer than half of the players have been identified, but some who have been are key to our research here.

Sitting in the 1st row, 8th from the right, we find Agnes E. Mills herself [pictured, right, in the dark suit and looking for all the world like fictional Diana Trent], referred to here by her nickname "Aggy." To her left, we see Barbara (Mrs. H. F.) Chittenden, 7th from the right[also pictured, right, in the white dress]. To Chittenden's left we find Mrs. Nora Elvey, who beat Mrs. Fotiadia above, and to her left, 5th from the right, Amy (Mrs. M. B.) Reckitt, whom we met yesterday.

In what appears to be the 2nd-to-last row, we find Amy's husband, Maurice Reckitt, whom we also met yesterday, standing 5th from the right. We've seen him before.

However, in the last row, 2nd from the left, we get our first look at an image of Major John Roland Abbey, the famed book collector [pictured above, left, in a pin-striped suit]. He's above his wife, the smiling Lady Ursula Abbey, who sits in the 1st row, 6th from the left, with her legs crossed.

Of greater interest, though is the woman standing just in front of Major Abbey, just to his left, our right. She unfortunately closed her eyes in the bright sun for just a moment and was captured that way. That woman is Miss Violet E. Mills, sister of George and Agnes, and quite probably the best athlete of the three [also pictured above, left].

Speaking of him, we find our George Mills himself standing in the back, 5th from the left, standing with his hands clasped in front of him [pictured, right]. It's difficult to tell if George is sporting the same dashing moustache as we've seen in the image of him taken at Ladycross School in 1956. I've been in contact with the webmaster of Bowdon Croquet Club (In fact, I've been a pest to him) and if a higher resolution image becomes available, I may be able to examine it sometime later this spring.

If there's any question as to whether the locale of the photo is Devonshire Park, the redoubtable Barry McAleenan weighs in with this information: "I can even prove the location of the photo—see the attached and, looking towards Devonshire Park, notice the view of that particular turret . [There are also others in Blackwater Road which forms a T with Spencer road.] My great aunts lived in the nearest Victorian house. The anachronistic house to the left was a replacement for one damaged by a bomb in 1943. The bomb fell directly on the local Surface Air Raid Shelter, killing 16 people inside and 17 nearby... [and] one of the local Croquet courts at the Saffrons was also bomb damaged at this sort of time." [You can see the modern color photograph to which Barry refers, left; click to enlarge]

Barry also was kind enough to send along a photograph of Spencer Road ["looking the other way"] containing a reference to the actual 1943 tragedy [right; click to enlarge]. It creates a stark contrast to the smiling faces and serene surroundings of the Bowden photograph. Everyone in that image, however, experienced the Second World War in a deeply personal way that I, sitting here in the United States in 2011, cannot even begin to fathom. One can get some sense from films like the wonderful The King's Speech, but that's just the merest of glimpse of the onset of years of relentless struggle.

Barry, you'll recall, attended Ladycross Prep in 1956 when George Mills spent the summer there. He also identifies the gentleman wearing glasses and standing in the last row [left], below the flagpole, 7th from the right: "E.A. 'Tony' Roper was the former (till 1954) headmaster of Ladycross."

We've often wondered how George Mills, ostensibly settled in at Grey Friars in Budleigh Salterton, managed to connect with Ladycross School in Seaford, Sussex, for at least that one teaching assignment. We know Mills taught at Ladycross because George was one of the schoolmasters there when Barry himself attended the school, remembering Mills as having been there for the summer of 1956. Mr. Tony Roper is obviously an extremely likely connection.

As well as the image of the entire roster of competitors at Devonshire Park, there is a second image posted on the Bowdon website. It's a closer photograph [seen centered, below; click to enlarge], giving us a far better look at the players on the right hand side of the risers.

If you can be of any help identifying players in these photographs, please contact the Bowdon Croquet Club's webmaster at And, of course, please let me know, too!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Lady Ursula Helen Abbey and Some Other Surprises

As promised, we'll now peek into the life of a member of the peerage...

Lady Ursula Abbey was born on 14 June 1899, the daughter of Wilfred Dallas Cairns, 4th Earl of Cairns, and Olive Cobbold of Greyfriars, Storrington. On 7 July 1921, she married John Roland "Jack" Abbey (He had dropped the 'w' from 'Rowland'), son of William Henry Abbey and Florence Belcher, who lived a Sedgwick Park, Horsham, Sussex. As well as being an entrepreneur—already a partner for decades, he took over Brighton's Kemp Town Brewery in 1933—W. H. Abbey was named High Sheriff of Sussex in 1935, and commissioned a portrait of himself [pictured, left] to be painted that year by Oswald Birley. Lady Ursula presented the image to the Brighton and Hove Museums in 1970.

"Jack" Abbey, born 23 November 1894, was educated by a private tutor instead of attending school after suffering a serious elbow injury as a boy.

He was commissioned into the Rifle Brigade, Prince Consort's Own, as a regimental lieutenant on 21 November 1914, serving two years on the Western Front in the 13th and 8th Battalions. He was the only surviving officer of his battalion after the Battle of Flers-Courcelette. By 17 January 1919, Abbey was the Deputy Assistant Provost Marshal attached to HQ, having been promoted to captain during WWI.

In November 1916, he was gassed, necessitating a five month period of hospitalization before being invalided out of combat in October 1917, a year before his younger brother, Noel Roland Abbey of the Grenadier Guards, was killed in action on the Western Front.

A member of the reserve class of officers at the onset of WWII, Jack Abbey returned to the military as an officer in the Army Catering Corps before reuniting with the Rifle Brigade on 17 November 1941. He served from 1941 to 1943 as a staff officer of the Admiral-Superintendent at Great Yarmouth, and was awarded the honorary rank of Major in 1946.

After the First World War, however, Jack became manager of his father's Kemp Town brewery. He then married Lady Ursula in 1921, shortly after a series of whole-plate glass negative images of her was taken by famed Regent Street portrait photographer, Alexander Bassano, on 4 June 1920. These images [one is seen at right] of the seemingly vulnerable, strikingly beautiful Lady Ursula are simply captivating, and can be found at the National Portrait Gallery.

The year 1925 saw the birth of a daughter, Juliet Hermione Abbey, who married the naval war hero, Lt. Commander John Somerville Kendall Oram of Wiltshire, in 1948.

In 1942, Lady Ursula served the war effort by managing a committee that worked six days a week assembling care parcels for the Rifle Brigade's prisoners-of-war.

By 1929, though, Jack had begun collecting books, at first from modern private presses. Eventually, however, he began collecting antiquarian volumes, and by 1946, he began buying medieval illuminated manuscripts. In 1943, he had become president of the brewery upon his father's death, allowing him to build a collection that at one time held of 1,300 volumes [Abbey's book plate is seen, left]. Like his father, Jack would soon be named High Sheriff of Sussex in 1945, a position he held for a year.

According to his biography at, "Maj. J. R. Abbey's book collection was the largest and one of the most remarkable of his generation. He is perhaps best known for his collection of color-plate books and fine bindings, but he also collected many illuminated manuscripts and at one time owned seven books from the library of the sixteenth-century French book collector Jean Grolier. Abbey was one of the first to collect neglected minor works and bought copies of them in their original wrappered parts. From the beginning it was the appearance of books that appealed to him, and two Arts Council exhibitions of bindings from his collection show that he was attracted by the strong geometric patterning and vibrant colors of contemporary English and French binders. Although he was not a scholar, he was an avid visitor of libraries and bookshops, making note of his own observations and also drawing on the advice of distinguished scholars such as A. N. L. Munby and G. D. Hobson when adding to his collection."

In the 1950s, Abbey sold much of his collection of illustrated books and illuminated manuscripts to Paul Mellon (K.B.E., 1974), an American collector, who later bequeathed it to Yale University.

Although he had donated or sold off books from his collection during his lifetime [a 1965 Sotheby's catalog is pictured, right], the bulk of Abbey's collection was sold at auction after had passed away on 24 December 1969. The auction sales spanned the years 1970 to 1975 and brought Lady Ursula the tidy sum of £993,509. She did maintain some of the collection after Jack's death, and that was auctioned by Sotheby's on 19 June 1989 for tens of thousands of pounds, just a year after her own passing in October of 1988.

During their lives together, Lady Ursula had been an avid dog breeder and her canines participated in dog shows at the Royal Agricultural Hall. In addition, she often presented an award to selected participants in the form of a go, cup.

In fact, her retriever, Chiltington Light, is still listed on-line for its pedigree. It's probably only a coincidence that the wife of a brewmaster had a dog called Chiltington Light, which would be a fine upscale name for a mass-produced American "Lite" beer!
Incidentally, one of that dog's categories according to the 1930 catalogue of the Cruft's Dog Show and Exhibition of Sporting Appliances at the Royal Agricultural Hall, Post Graduate Bitches [below, right], does rekindle memories of my first marriage...

Dogs weren't her only interest, however. The Guernsey Cattle Society's Hand Book, volume 63, records the transfer of stock from C. Micklem of Long Cross House, Chertsey, Surrey, to Lady Ursula Abbey of Storrington on 5 November 1947.

Although she is mentioned above as being of Storrington, her family's home, Lady Ursula has been associated with other locales as well.

Many sources provide the residence of the Abbeys as being Woldhurst Manor, Crawley, Sussex, as early as 1929's Armorial families: a directory of gentlemen of coat-armour by Arthur Charles Fox-Davies. Researching Woldhurst Manor, however, isn't as easy as it may seem: Google wants desperately to change any search for it to one for "Windhurst Manor." Finding a map of its location has been frustrating!

The Abbeys are also associated with the Wyvis Estate [pictured left, with boathouse and lodge visible] in Scotland.

In 1904, Lt. Colonel Rupert Wilkin, CMG, a nephew of deceased furniture magnate Walter Shoolbred, inherited the estate from his bachelor uncle. Shoolbred had acquired the lands of Wyvis and Kildermorie, and had even had a steamer ship reassembled in its entirety on Loch Glass to facilitate moving of building materials throughout his land.

Although the date of its acquisition is uncertain, Jack and Lady Ursula Abbey apparently purchased Wyvis from Wilkins, or perhaps his estate. The estate had been valued at £607,507 when Rupert had inherited it in 1904, and it would be of interest to know what the Abbeys paid for Wyvis and for how long it was theirs.

1992's continuing Evanton Oral History Project by Adrian Clark adds this about the Abbey's residence at Wyvis: "Rupert, a bachelor, was followed by Major and Lady Ursula Abbey, also from England. They are remembered as having been very friendly; she was reputedly keener on the shooting than he was."

That makes sense: A pair of the above-mentioned portraits of Lady Ursula from before her wedding show also show her in outdoor attire with hat and gloves [One is seen, right].

And Lady Ursula, fond of animals and competition, would seem tailor-made for the outdoors and shooting, while her husband, brewery owner and book collector Jack, seems to have been happier engaging in indoor pursuits. (Abbey owned Kemp Town Brewery in Brighton, East Sussex [below, left], until merging it with Charringtons & Co. Ltd., London, in 1954.) Imagine what a wonderfully serene and scenic place Wyvis Lodge must have been for Abbey to peruse manuscripts and texts from his collection, fireside, with a nice cup of tea!

Needless to say, the Abbeys were quite unlike Lady Dorothy and Captain Arthur Hobart Mills, brother of our George Mills. While Lady Dorothy, daughter of the 5th Earl of Orford, was a hunter, a fisherwoman, and came from a family that was a cash-starved and longed for her to marry into money—and disowned her when she did not—Lady Ursula seems to have made a match that surely would have pleased the Hon. Robert Horace Walpole, Lady Dorothy's father, to no end.

Eventually, Lady Ursula's name appeared less and less in The Times under the headings of "Court Circular" and "Kennel Club Show" and increasingly more often under "Sports in Brief" and "Croquet."

Her very first croquet tournament match, according to the lamentable search engine of The Times, was played on 25 September 1951 at the Roehampton Club's autumn tournament. She defeated Mrs. M. B. Reckitt [pictured below, right] (+10) in the second round of Handicap Singles, Class X. I can find no record of Agnes, Violet, or George Mills having played in that fall tournament.

The last match the nefarious search engine of The Times yields for Lady Ursula Abbey is a loss (-18) in the first round of Handicap Doubles at Parkstone at the East Dorset Tournament on 12 September 1973 to J. W. Haynes and R. H. C. Carder. Lady Abbey had been paired with Capt. M. F. Buller.

By that year, 1973, George Mills had been gone for a year and Agnes and Violet, while they still may have taken a turn around a lawn for sport, had ceased their tournament play. By the end of July 1975, the spinster sisters of George Mills would no longer be with us either. Lady Abbey would live until 1988.

The mercurial archive of The Times shows Lady Ursula having been in competition with the Mills siblings on 3 occasions, playing singles and winning against Agnes at Eastbourne on 27 September (+6) and 5 October 1965 (+18), after having lost (-19) in doubles to "Aggy" and her partner, Capt. W. A. T. Synge, on 7 July of that same year in tandem with her partner, Miss H. D. Parker, at Budleigh Salterton.

Lady Ursula's husband, Jack—listed in The Times croquet results as "Major J. R. Abbey"—played a Mills sibling once, beating Violet (+3) on 13 September 1960 at Parkstone.

Once again, it's likely that Lady Ursula's love of competition and the outdoors exceeded Major Abbey's—The Times engine provides 79 results after searching '"lady ursula abbey" croquet', from 1951 through 1973, while searching '"j r abbey" croquet' yields only 64 "hits," those ranging from 1913 (in which a "J. R. Abbey" won a doubles match at Brighton on 18 September in tandem with the Hon. Mrs. S. Coleridge) through 1967—a phenomenally long time to have played such a relatively few matches!

Examining Jack Abbey's final tournament match, at least according to the capricious search engine at The Times, is interesting. He lost (-20) to the legendary Mrs. Alex Fotiadi of the Bowdon Croquet Club [pictured, left] on 3 October 1967 at Eastbourne in the first round of Handicap Singles "X." Mrs. Fotiadi was a dominant figure in that era of tournament croquet.

However, what I find just as interesting are these additional results from the same day's matches: George Mills (scratched) lost in a walk-over to Lady G. Fitzgerald, and George's sister, Agnes, lost (-17) to Mrs. E. M. Temple, and Lady Ursula fell to Mrs. J. Povey (-14) in the very same round at Eastbourne.

Needless to say, the incredibly moody search engine of The Times had never produced that particular day's matches for me when I'd searched repeatedly for croquet results for either G. R. or Miss A. E. Mills!

One last item, perhaps of interest only to me, is that on that same October day in Eastbourne, M. B. (Maurice) Reckitt [right]—a 5-time opponent and one time partner of the Mills siblings—beat Mrs. D. M. C. Pritchard (+4) in a second round match. Reckitt had also played in a match back in that 1913 Brighton tournament on the very same day Jack Abbey teamed with the Hon. Mrs. Coleridge. And his wife, Amy Reckitt, you'll recall from above, had been Lady Ursula's first croquet tourney opponent!

Jack and Lady Ursula Abbey were certainly the type of people with whom the Mills sisters (and perhaps George) liked to socialize. I'd be stunned to find that the Abbeys—or at least Lady Ursula—hadn't spent an afternoon or evening with the Mills at Grey Friars. Lady Ursula's love of croquet, competition, and the outdoors would have rivaled that of the Misses Mills, whom, I'll remind you, had a love of the outdoors (They were "charming and keen on the Girl Guides") as well as both being athletic.

The accompanying image of Lady Ursula [pictured, left] has been identified as "probably" having been taken in 1957 at Devonshire Park in Eastbourne during what appears to have been the so-called "Southern Championships" which apparently were attended by a great many players of the era—some in number 66 in just that one group photograph. In fact, the above images of Mr. & Mrs. Reckitt are cropped from the same image. Who knows how many overall players may have participated, but missed that photo op?

Since first viewing that photograph, found on the Bowdon Croquet Club website, I've been prone to think that the "Southern Championships" were the South of England Croquet Championship at Eastbourne, played in early October.

There's just one thing, though: There are no records showing that Lady Ursula Abbey played at all in that tournament in Eastbourne in 1957.

Two others in that group photograph are also not listed among the competitors in the Devonshire Park Championships in October 1957, according to The Times. Those two are George Mills and his sister, Violet.

Even if incorrectly dated, that Devonshire Park group photograph does, however, add much to our knowledge of the Mills siblings: A second photographic image of a dapper George Mills, and, at long last, glimpses of both Agnes and Violet!

We'll look at those three visages (among others), learn more about the photgraph, and read some thoughts from a man who, as a boy, knew George Mills, all in our next post!