Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Mills Siblings & Croquet: Budleigh, 1950 - 1971

If you're familiar with the television series, The Beverly Hillbillies, the search engine of the archives at The Times is the computer-age equivalent of their venerable truck [left].

That said, it still did produce many results when I searched for "A. E. Mills," "V. E. Mills," and "G. R. Mills." The initials, of course, are those of Agnes Edith Mills, Violet Eleanor Mills, and George Ramsay Acland Mills—our George and his spinster sisters. In fact, these searches resulted in almost 300 Times items through which I worked to sift. And that's only a fraction of what actually had been printed; whole tournaments and even season appear to be virtually unsearchable!

With that much data—and it may be only half or even less of the total amount of data actually in the archive about the Mills clan!—it is important to make these points: The archive's search engine seems to produce, on its best day, quite random results. And those results are displayed in a seemingly random order (16 June 1970, 30 April 1952, and 8 October 1964 in a sequence, for example). It would be hard for me to imagine anyone designing an algorithm that would have been designed coherently to display almost every set of data available from a year, 1957 for example, while ignoring literally everything from another entire year, say 1971—in toto— when entering a calendar year was not in any way part of any of the search parameters.

For our purposes here, then, I assume this to be simply representative data. It is not meant to be an exhaustive compendium—I have a life to live and just don't have the time, money, or inclination to dedicate a year or so to combing The Times, issue by bloody issue, and dealing with their Byzantine search engine, trying to make this complete.

Also, because of the vast amount of information culled, I've disaggregated it in various ways that seem to help make sense of it.

Croquet Tournament Totals, 1950 – 1971

W – L
Agnes Edith Mills15663 – 9344 – 6019 – 33
Violet Eleanor Mills4831 – 1721 – 1210 – 5
George R. A. Mills6932 – 3720 – 2912 – 8

Looking at these records some things definitely jump out, overall. First, Agnes was the real croquet player of the three, playing more matches herself than Violet and George combined. Violet, as we might have expected, seems to have been the 'athlete' of the bunch, having posted an overall winning record in her matches. Finally, however, both George and Violet put up winning records while playing doubles—a fact augmented by noting that, when they played as a doubles pairing, the duo went 4 – 2. Agnes fared nowhere nearly as well when in a pairing.

As near as I can tell, Agnes and Violet only played as doubles partners a single time, on 15 September 1960 at the Parkstone Tournament, where they won their first match of the day (+18) but lost their second (-9).

Although it was not unusual to have two croquet tournaments occurring simultaneously on the south coast, on only one occasion can I find the siblings splitting up: 17 – 18 July 1961. George and Violet played in Budleigh Salterton on 17 July, with George continuing play on the 18th. Also on the 18th, Agnes vied for the Ladies' Field Cup in the Southwick Tournament, Brighton.

In determining the tournaments in which the Mills siblings played, I'm left to vagaries of the newspaper's sports editors. Tournaments could be called anything from just "Brighton" to the more correct "Championship of South England, Eastbourne." I have faithfully recorded the name of the tournament as given by The Times.

Here are the tournaments in which one or more of the Mills performed and the years in which they played:

LocaleYears Played
Budleigh Salterton1956, 1957, 1961, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1970,1971
Parkstone1955, 1956, 1960, 1970
East Dorset Tournament (Parkstone)1956, 1957
Hurlingham Cups (Hurlingham)1953, 1954,1955, 1956
Eastbourne1951, 1962 (twice), 1963, 1965, 1966, 1967
Championship of South England (Eastbourne)1956, 1958, 1960, 1961, 1962
Cheltenham1958, 1961, 1965
Brighton1958, 1959, 1960, 1961, 1962
Southwick Tournament (Brighton)1956, 1958, 1960, 1961, 1962
Roehampton1960, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1964, 1965
Peel Memorials (Roehampton)1951
All England Handicap (Roehampton)1951
Challenge Cups (Roehampton)1951, 1952, 1953, 1954, 1955, 1957, 1958, 1961, 1962, 1963

[Update: You can find far more accurate information regarding the tournaments the Mills played each year by clicking HERE.]

It seems only natural that there were more tournaments played in their home, Budleigh Salterton—where they lived but a stone's throw from the croquet club at Grey Friars—than played anywhere else. And there are definitely some championship games scattered throughout that mix, many final rounds played. Here's a brief summary of final rounds and championship matches I've found were played by the various Mills siblings:


19 September 1960
Level Singles Final @
Miss V. E. Mills LOST vs. C. H. R. Penny, (-20)
[seen, right]


28 June 1958
Handicap Singles Final @
G. R. Mills [10] LOST vs. I. M. Roe [8], (-4)

19 September 1960
Handicap Singles Final @
G. R. Mills [8] LOST vs. Miss K. D. Hickson [8], (-11)

17 July 1961
Handicap Doubles Final @
Budleigh Salterton
Lt. Col. G. E. Cave/Mills [6½] WON vs. A. J. Cooper & Capt. M. Bulier [4], (+19)
[seen, right]

18 July 1961
Level Singles Final @
Budleigh Salterton
G. R. Mills LOST vs. Maj. E. C. Heathcote, (-12)


5 September 1955
Level Singles Final @
Miss A. E. Mills WON vs. H. Wilson-Smith, (+7)

16 August 1958
All England Handicap @
Miss A. E. Mills [3½] WON vs. G. E. W. Hitchcock [3½], (+14)

24 August 1957
Gilbey Cup Final @
Miss A. E. Mills [1½] LOST vs. Mrs. V. C. Gasson [1½], (-1)

15 June 1961
Women's Championship @
Miss A. E. Mills [1½] LOST vs. Miss I. M. Roe, (-4, +2, -17)

6 June 1962
Women's Championship @
Miss A. E. Mills [1½] LOST vs. Miss I. M. Roe, (+5, -19, -17)

5 September 1965
Open Handicap Final @
Miss A. E. Mills [2] LOST vs. Blackwood [3½], (-13)

But the crowning achievement of the croquet career of Miss A. E. Mills came in her very first final back in 1953 and put her on the proverbial map as a player to be reckoned with:

21 August 1953
Luard Cup Final @
Miss A. E. Mills WON vs. G. E. W. Hitchcock, (+12)

Agnes's 1953 Luard Cup Championship [right] earned her a listing in the 1954 edition of Whitaker's Almanack.

In Final Round play, the Mills siblings were a combined 4 – 6: Violet 0 – 1; George 1 – 3; and the competitive Agnes 3 – 2, with a Challenge Cup victory to her credit.

[Update: You can find far more accurate information regarding the 1st Place Prize List appearances of the Mills by clicking HERE.]

While living in Budleigh Salterton, their halcyon days obviously fell between the years 1953 and 1965 as a group.

Agnes played from 1950 to 1971. Violet played from 1956 to 1971. George played from 1957 to 1971.

Looking at those years, I suppose it's possible that George was teaching through 1957. In fact, there's no guarantee that George was living with them year-round yet in '57 when he twice played doubles with Major E. F. Stone on 18 July of that year in Budleigh Salterton—the only games The Times search engine tells us George played in that year.

In fact, he wouldn't play another croquet tournament in Budleigh until 1961, although he'd played in Cheltenham, Parkstone, and Eastbourne during the intervening years.

We know George taught at the Ladycross Catholic Boys' Preparatory School in Seaford during the summer term of 1956, and then-schoolboy Barry McAleenan doesn't recall Mills teaching there at any other time. Might Mills have been teaching elsewhere along the south coast through the early 1950s, and perhaps not even living with his sisters at Grey Friars? It's even possible he was approached about filling in temporarily during that summer term in '56 while attending a croquet tournament.

Still, Violet doesn't become involved in tournament croquet with Agnes until 1956, just a year before George's first tournament match. Perhaps it took a while for Agnes, big sister of both, to get them significantly and competitively involved on the lawns near Grey Friars.

Now, I don't claim to be the world's foremost expert on the sport of croquet, which primarily has been considered a children's game in the United States during my lifetime. My parents played it with me when I was a boy, and I played with my daughters as little girls.

Hence, it's interesting to me, then, to see how involved folks are in the sport—or at least were from the decades of my interest, 1950 through 1970, when the siblings appear to have played in the same tournament on the same day for the very last time 0n 23 June 1970 [left]. I could, however, see that coverage in The Times gradually diminished over that two-decade period. For example, around 1950 I could find out that play on a particular day had been hampered by wet fields from heavy morning rain. By the late 1960s, it was often difficult to find out the name of the actual tournament being played, let alone the conditions under which play had commenced on a given day.

Lastly, please recall that by no means do I intend for this to be the exhaustive list of croquet played by the Mills family in tournaments, circa 1950 to 1970. Often, almost entire seasons do not appear after searching the database at The Times. At other times, the results of a final match might appear after a search, but no preliminaries in the preceding days are among the results. If one has the time to go to the newspapers on those preceding days and riffle through all of the pages, one can find the missing results—but it's frustrating, agonizingly slow-moving, time-consuming, and expensive.

Still, it's hoped that this data will give you a sense of the magnitude of the Mills siblings' late-in-life devotion to croquet, to physical and social activities, and to each other.

Next time we'll take a look at some other interesting aspects of the mid-20th century world of southern England croquet as it related to George Mills!

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