St Cyprian's School

St Cyprian's School

Infobox UK school
name = St Cyprian’s School

size =
latitude =
longitude =
dms =
motto = "Forsan et haec olim memenisse juvabit"
motto_pl =
established = 1899
approx =
closed =
c_approx = 1943
type = Preparatory School (UK)
Boarding school
religion =
president =
head_label = Headmaster
head =
r_head_label =
r_head =
chair_label =
chair =
founder = L C Vaughan Wilkes
founder_pl =
specialist =
street =
city = Eastbourne
county = Sussex
country = England
postcode =
ofsted =
staff =
enrollment = c 90
gender = M
lower_age = 4
upper_age = 14
houses =
colours = Green, Pale Blue, Black
publication = St Cyprian’s Chronicle
free_label_1 =
free_1 =
free_label_2 =
free_2 =
free_label_3 =
free_3 =
website =
website_name =

St Cyprian's School was an English preparatory school for boys, which operated in the early 20th century in Eastbourne, East Sussex. Like other preparatory schools, its purpose was to train pupils to do well enough in the examinations (usually taken around the age of 13) to gain admission to leading public schools, and to provide an introduction to boarding school life.


St Cyprian's was founded in 1899 by Lewis Vaughan Wilkes and his wife Cicely Comyn, a newly married couple in their twenties. It originally operated in a large house in Carlisle Road, [ UK Census, 1901 ] but by 1906 had grown sufficiently to move into new purpose-built facilities with extensive playing fields behind Summerdown Road. The school ran with the prevailing ethos of Muscular Christianity which had typified private education since the time of Arnold of Rugby, and placed much emphasis on developing self-reliance and integrity (“Character”). In these and many other respects St Cyprian’s was little different from the other leading prep schools of the time. The school submitted itself annually to an independent academic assessment, conducted by Sir Charles Grant Robertson fellow of All Souls College, Oxford. The school uniform was a green shirt with a pale blue collar, corduroy breeches and a cap with a Maltese Cross for a badge.

The high success rate in achieving scholarships to leading public schools including Eton and Harrow attracted ambitious parents. However the Wilkes appreciated that such scholarships were really intended for talented children from less well-off families, and provided places at significantly reduced fees for deserving cases, in the hope that they would attain these scholarships. [ W H J Christie. St Cyprians Day's, Blackwood's Magazine, May 1971 ] Two further features distinguished St Cyprian's. The first was the proximity to South Downs, which was fully exploited to give opportunities to the boys for running wild, studying natural history, walking, picnics, riding and even golf on the adjacent links. The second was the overwhelming impact of Mrs Wilkes (known as "Mum"). She was in total control of the school and in the days before female emancipation this made a great impression on her charges. The resulting ambivalence was exacerbated by a fiery temper and by the way her mood flipped between firm discipline and generous indulgence. Mrs Wilkes was a great believer in history teaching and saw the Harrow History Prize as an opportunity to bring it into the classics-dominated curriculum. [C. Vaughan Wilkes "The Teaching of History: I. In Preparatory Schools" History:The Journal of the Historical Association Volume 2 Issue 7 Page 144-152, October 1917] Mrs Wilkes also taught English, and stimulated generations of writers with her emphasis on clear, high quality writing. In addition to Mrs Wilkes, a major influence was the second master R. L. Sillar, who joined the school staff soon after it opened and stayed for 30 years. With his interest in natural history, his crack skill at shooting, his art teaching and his magic lantern shows he broadened the curriculum considerably and is revered in Old Boy's accounts. [Maxwell, Connolly, Orwell as cited]

In its fortieth year, the school building was gutted by fire on the 14 May 1939, and a housemaid died in a fall from an upper window. Emergency accommodation was arranged at Ascham St. Vincent's School, the buildings of a preparatory school in Eastbourne which had recently closed. [ Eastbourne Chronicle, 20 May 1939 ] On 20 July 1939, St Cyprian’s moved to Whispers, near Midhurst in West Sussex. It stayed there for 18 months until the building was requisitioned by the army during World War II . As a result of this double blow, numbers dwindled and after a brief combination with Rosehill School in Gloucestershire the remaining boys went with the then Headmaster, W. J. V. Tomlinson (Bill), to join the old rival Summer Fields School, in Oxford. [Nicholas Aldridge "Time to spare?: A History of Summer Fields" 1989] The school playing fields were sold to Eastbourne College. [Eastbourne Local History Society: Newsletters 37, 39 ] [ Eastbourne Society: Newsletter 130]

In April 1997, Eastbourne Civic Society (now The Eastbourne Society), in conjunction with the County Borough of Eastbourne, erected a blue plaque at the house in Summerdown Road which was connected with the school and Mrs Wilkes' residence in later years. [ Eastbourne Society: Newsletter 131]

Former pupils and staff

The school was attended, among others, by [St Cyprian's Chronicle 1914-1930]

*Sir Cecil Beaton (1904-1980)- Photographer and stage designer
*Douglas Blackwood (1909-1997) - Publisher and Battle of Britain fighter pilot
*Alan Clark MP (1928-1999) - Politician and diarist
*Cyril Connolly (1903-1974) - Literary critic and writer
*John Edmondson (born 1920) - Naval commander, clergyman and politician known for establishing the Sandford Principle
*John D. Eshelby (1916-1981) - Scientist in micromechanics who identified the phenomenon known as "Eshelby's Inclusion"
*Henry Robert Bowreman Foote VC (1904-1993) – Major-General who won the Victoria Cross in North Africa
*Ian Fraser, Baron Fraser of Lonsdale (1897-1974) - blinded at the Somme, Chairman of St Dunstan's Charity for 52 years, Member of Parliament, Governor of the BBC, and the first ever Life Peer
*Dyneley Hussey (1893-1972) – War poet and music critic
*Alan Hyman (1910- ) Author, journalist and screenwriter
*Alaric Jacob (1909-1995) – Journalist and writer
*David Kindersley (1915-1995) - Stonecutter and typeface designer
*Henry Longhurst (1909-1978) – MP, golfer and golf correspondent
*Rupert Lonsdale (1905-1999) - Submarine commander, prisoner of war and Anglican clergyman
*Seymour de Lotbiniere (1905-1984) BBC Director of outside broadcasting who initiated Test Match commentary and masterminded the televising of the 1953 Coronation
*Patrick de Mare (born 1916) - Army psychiatrist and Consultant Psychotherapist, specialising in group pyschotherapy
*Gavin Maxwell (1914-1969) - Naturalist and writer
*E. H. W. Meyerstein (1889-1952) Writer and scholar
*Anthony Mildmay (1909-1950)– Amateur steeplechase jockey who rode in the Grand National
* Cedric Morris (1889-1982) Artist and horticulturalist
*Sir Hugh Norman-Walker (1916-1985) - Colonial Office official whose posts included Governor of Hong Kong
*David Ogilvy (1911-1999) – Advertising executive - known as the "Father of Advertising"
*David Ormsby-Gore (1918-1985) - Politician and British Ambassador to the USA when J. F. Kennedy was President
*George Orwell (Eric Blair) (1903-1950) – Author and journalist
*Charles Rivett-Carnac (1901-1980) – Commissioner Royal Canadian Mounted Police
*Collingwood Tinling (1900-1983) - RAF Officer, who co-built the first jet engine
*Sir Charles Villiers (1912-1992) - Businessman and one-time Chairman of British Steel
*Sir Lashmer Whistler (1898-1963) - General in British Army at El Alamein, Normandy landings and Operation Market Garden
*Richard Wood MP (1920-2002) - Politician
*Philip Ziegler (born 1929) - Historian

* Charles Edgar Loseby National Democratic and Labour Party MP

Accounts and recollections

The school's three most prominent writers included accounts of the school in their works. Connolly recalled his time at St Cyprian's in "Enemies of Promise", published in 1938 with the name of the school disguised as "St. Wulfric's". With wry humour, he mocked the Wilkes and the ethos of "Character building", writing "“We called the headmistress Flip and the headmaster Sambo. Flip, around whom the whole system revolved, was able, ambitious, temperamental and energetic.”" Connolly questioned the practice of British parents sending young children to boarding preparatory schools but concluded "“Yet St [Cyprian's] where I now went was a well run and vigorous example which did me a world of good.”" [ Cyril Connolly "Enemies of Promise", 1938 ] His friend Orwell disagreed and wrote disparagingly and bitterly of the school in the quasi-autobiographical essay "Such, Such Were the Joys." [ George Orwell "Such Such were the Joys" First published in the "Partisan Review" (Sep.-Oct. 1952) ] . By his own admission this was too libelous to print and he was not prepared to publish it while he was alive. [ George Orwell "Letter to F J Warburg 31 May 1947" in The Collected Essays Vol 4 (1968) ] It appeared in print in the USA in 1952 with the name of the school changed to "Crossgates" but not in the United Kingdom until after the death of Mrs Wilkes [ The Collected Essays Vol 4 (1968) ] . Among many other charges, Orwell described attacked the love of Scotland and the presence of "nouveaux riches" and aristocrats at the school whom he thought received preferential treatment. In contrast, Gavin Maxwell’s parents had chosen St Cyprian's because it was less elitist and aristocratic than older prep schools. The sensitive Maxwell found St Cyprian’s tough, but left primarily because, he felt he was the target of resentment because of his aristocratic parents with estates in Scotland. [ Gavin Maxwell "The House at Elrig" (1965) ] Longhurst, who had great admiration for the school and for Mrs Wilkes, described these authors’ accounts of the school as unrecognizable [ Henry Longhurst "My Life and Soft Times" (1971) ] , and would frequently defend "a very fine school”" in response to reviewers of Orwell’s work. [ Evening Standard Letters: Henry Longhurst "A grotesque travesty", October 4 1968 ] His views were shared by W J L Christie, Indian Civil Servant, who wrote a reposte to Orwell in defence of the school in Blackwoods Magazine (owned and edited by Douglas Blackwood) [ W J L Christie "St Cyprians Days" Blackwoods Magazine May 1971 ] . Both were particularly incensed by Orwell's unfounded, and in their opinion totally inaccurate, accusations against the Wilkes. Beaton, who was at the school with Orwell had a different reaction, describing the work as "Hilariously funny - but exaggerated" [Cecil Beaton "Diary" July 1968] Orwell's essay has been dissected in detail and its reliability questioned by Pearce [Robert Pearce "Truth and Falsehood: Orwell’s Prep School Woes" The Review of English Studies, New Series, Vol 43, No 171 (Aug 1992)] Nearly all accounts of former pupils declare that the school gave them a good start in life but views of Mrs Wilkes vary. David Ogilvy [ Ogilvy "Blood Brains and Beer" (1978) ] is critical but Jacob [ Alaric Jacob "Scenes from a Bourgeois Life"(1949)] praises her teaching and Foote [Interview with Michael Shelden (1988) ] , Rivett-Carnac [ Charles Rivett-Carnac "Pursuit in the wilderness" (1965) ] , and Wright [ Robert Hepburn Wright "Then the wind changed: Nigerian letters" 1992] refer to her with great affection. However it was Connolly himself who, after reading his parents papers, wrote apologetically "The Wilkes were true friends and I had caricatured their mannerisms... and read mercenary motives into much that was just enthusiasm" and he described Mrs Wilkes as "a warm-hearted and inspired teacher" [ Cyril Connolly "The Evening Colonnade" (1973)]

Walter Christie's cap and other items are currently displayed at the Chalk Farm Hotel in Willingdon.

ee also

*Kathy Wilkes
*Paget Wilkes


External links

* [ Eastbourne Local History Society]
* [ Eastbourne Society]
* [ St Cyprians School] - includes illustrations and Wilkes details

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