Mr Lyward's Answer
by Michael Burn
The story of George Lyward and Finchden Manor
First published 1956 by Hamish Hamilton Ltd - All Rights Reserved
Abridged for the World Wide Web
I BEGAN to keep out of my room and see rather less of those boys who, to start with, had converged upon me and insisted upon my eating at the same table. They were all intelligent and good company, but hangers-on. Flynn might have some project for a compass march, or Riff wanted to tell me how he had met the Aga Khan; and I was quite ready to prove that I could also read a compass and had met the Aga Khan. This passed the time of day, but was not the reason I had come. I had felt I was allowing myself to be flattered into the most subtle conspiracy to form a clique. Flynn more or less admitted it:
'I'm going to ask you something tricky,' he said. 'You don't have to
He shared a shack on the edge of the football field with Geoff Miller, a boy whom he depended on while apparently succouring. They had been at the same place together before coming to Finchden. At Finchden they had been kept apart until, just before my arrival, Mr Lyward, with a definite purpose, had decided to try them together. Cigarettes mattered more to them, or at all events to Flynn, than to any other boy, and if something went wrong or they had had a row they would share their last to calm themselves down. They sold cigarettes to other boys; also empty jam-jars, which did not belong to them, for which they charged 1/6d.; also ideas, for which they charged sixpence each. They usually managed to collect three times as much tobacco a week as anyone else, and kept their capital hidden in the back of a book; at one time it was as much as five pounds.
Tolstoy begins Anna Karenina: 'All happy families are the same. Unhappy families are unhappy in different ways.' Finchden Manor had the characteristics of a happy family anywhere. It is a convenient word to illustrate those characteristics, but one should not press the resemblance; fifty people - none of whom is related by blood, or has shared any part of the other's childhood - are not a family.
But, like a happy family, this community did seem to have existed always, and to be unimaginable at an end. Finchden Manor was the old home and only war drove the family away. Afterwards the natural thing was to return as soon as possible. 'We, the undersigned,' the boys wrote, in Shropshire, their second wartime migration, 'want to return to Finchden Manor, so long as we have light, water, and a roof, building licences or no building licences.' Finchden was empty only once again, on the night of June 1, 1951, when its coming-of-age was celebrated in London.
A number of older boys at Finchden had been there several years. Some, still struggling with themselves, were of little help to the younger boys. Several, now at the stage of working for examinations, or about to take up jobs, were given a position almost on the staff; but not at all like prefects. They seemed about to cross a frontier. Helped to this point, the next stage of their growth would come through a deeper sensing of relations between boys and staff. They came not only to games or work more easily than before, but also to people. Mr Lyward would invite them to talk to a boy arrived for an interview, who might be the same age as themselves. By a word or two, he could indicate the new boy's particular need, and they responded. These older boys at Finchden Manor had a deeper understanding of people than most boys at their age elsewhere. They were likely, too, to feel a special understanding for younger boys now approaching the same stages they themsleves had passed through. This humanity, renewed each year as boys attained it and filled the places of others before them, was part of that 'strength of the community', which made impossible any organised bullying or forming of gangs.
Of course there were boys who did try to bully now and then. There were boys who stole from the others, or were conspicuous for their crude language. But they could not dominate the community, and could not impress or frighten any other boy for long. It was not only the staff who knew the fear and need to appear grown up from which bullying or swearing might spring: the other boys knew too. It might, in one or two instances be necessary to send an exceptionally disturbing boy away. But, in general, bullying, stealing, swearing, fell away as the need to bully, steal or swear, diminished.
Some boys tried to take Finchden Manor by storm at once. One of them was a boy deprived of love. He had wrenched attention to himself in the usual ways, and been found out. Sent to Finchden, he played for it again, and on his first evening succeeded in dominating a whole room by bravado. It shook him to find that the conquest did not last, and had not really been a conquest. He was not deliberately rebuffed, but the others did not respond.
At their different stages, the boys were aware of the deeper impulses behind the actions a newcomer might flaunt on the surface. They sensed fear at the root of any kind of compulsion to 'show off'. Boastful deeds, intended to provoke awe, were met with condolence, as if, at the end of a dictator's tirade, the audience were to rise silently, pat his hand, and murmur: 'We're sorry for you.' The audience at Finchden did not need to be told how the new boy had suffered in the past. They only knew that he had. They all had. Otherwise they would not be there.
One day there was to be a dance. The boys had borrowed some trellises
belonging to Nigs Walker, as a foundation for the décor. Someone
annoyed him, and he demanded his trellises back, which meant - as he
knew it meant - no décor. The dance was to start in a few hours.
Sid came in, and found the boys helpless.
Often this 'drawing in' just happened, as a beggar is drawn to a fire. Boys who agreed to stay, but with a blank and hostile condescension, which proclaimed 'Go ahead and cure us. We're not going to help', were drawn into a game of cards, or suddenly had to smile. It might be at a concert, or at someone playing with the monkey, or during a discussion - and the game of cards, or smile, might be a beginning, even though they afterwards went back to scowls. Some boys accepted Finchden from despair, saying to themselves that this was their last hope. Some revelled in it; one remembered sitting on his bed and thinking what a joy it was to wear a dirty shirt. The feeling that had come to these boys at their first interview - 'This is it' - never left them. They found there all that had been missing, and gave all that they had been unable to give, within their own family.
Finchden also had the hospitality of a happy family. When you said goodbye you were asked to return. When you returned you were welcomed. A place was kept for you, and food appeared. Nothing seemed to have changed. A few new boys might have arrived; you did not notice them at first, because they were already behaving as if they had been there for months. You recognised a boy you had seen on your previous visit, at his first interview, strained and unhappy; already he looked relaxed and younger. Sometimes there would be a boy who sat by himself and could not yet join in. An old member of Finchden might be at supper. Perhaps he had brought his girl, or you would see him wandering about on his own, remembering places, incidents, people, Mr Knox. So it could be at any ordinary school. Here the memories were more poignant; memories not only of youth, but of thankfulness, transformation.
Visitors were sometimes nervous of coming to the boys' meals, but had no need to be. If a stranger wanted to ask questions, many of the boys could give at least as good an impression of Finchden as anyone else. They were direct and unpretentious, and talked about themselves easily, on the level of ordinary conversation. Naturally, they championed the place. If a visitor were skeptical, they suggested he should stay there for a few days and live among them. Once half-a-dozen young psychiatrists arrived and spent an hour or two in the dining-hall, each amongst a group of boys. The boy who praised Finchden most highly was one who was doing his utmost to leave. Nearly all the boys understood they were learning something they would find in few other places. They no longer thought of themselves as odd or guilty or to be pitied, and wanted to describe Finchden because they thought it worth describing, and were proud of it.
They had visits from head-masters, social workers, doctors, probation officers, magistrates, men and women. The boys could quickly recognize whether strangers had or had not an open mind. Consequently, even in an hour or two, a visitor could often feel a touch of those intimate challenges to rigid attitudes which Finchden presented to the boys. It was sometimes the cleverest visitors who seemed to be the most closed. But the boys took to someone like the Educational Officer who asked 'Do you fellows ever cry?', and on being told 'Yes', said: 'You're lucky. It was a long time before I could.' They took less to a tough looking but vain Australian, who lectured them on I.Q.s. After they had begun to call him the Queen of Sheba, he came to Mr Lyward, said 'They don't like me,' and burst into tears. A person arrived, known ever afterwards as Educated Jones. He picked on two of the most intellectual boys and took them, without Mr Lyward's knowledge, to the local pub, where he bored and annoyed them with his views on complexes and inhibitions. Unwisely returning to interrogate the rest, he was all but thrown into the pond.
The boys liked an old lady called Mrs Hallam, grandmother of a boy who later came to Finchden for years. Her daughter, the boy's mother, had paid a brief visit and disapproved. Mrs Hallam, an intelligent dowager aged seventy, determined to see for herself. She tramped all over the place, had long talks, enjoyed and admired. 'I suppose she understood,' said one boy, 'because at her age she has no axes to grind.' Children felt at their ease at Finchden. One boy taught a little girl visitor pottery. A boy of twelve came for a few weeks before going to public school, because his mother wanted him to experience Finchden's depth and ease; he could hardly be persuaded to to leave. A visiting headmaster's child took off his clothes and bathed happily in the pond; but his parents stayed suspicious.
The boys had many friends in the neighbourhood, and no irreconcilable enemies. Any tradesman who saw them week in week out was bound to observe the alterations in them. Mr Bolton, who owned the sweetshop, would keep an eye on certain boys, perhaps for a long while: but a time came when - for most - he could take the eye away. Finchden had a good and much-loved neighbour in Colonel Cosens, who owned the adjoining orchard and took the swill from the kitchen for his hens. He and his daughter had long been friends of Mr and Mrs Lyward and the boys, and came to all their shows, pantomimes, concerts and parties. Now and then there would be big occasions, such as the play Fitzy produced and later took on tour. The hall would then be packed to the walls. The boys were hosts. They had good manners, worn as easily as their good suits, and completely without their tongues in their cheeks. This often surprised visitors. But why? It was 'the result of years of letting be, during which the boys have grown to feel that they could not buy approbation ... and that nobody will attempt to buy them either.' They had also a kind of chivalry towards one another.
Although concerts given by people outside were rare, Mr Lyward once invited the local string quartet. One or two guests sat in front in the home-made chairs, with the boys all round. The monkey perched in one boy's lap, a dog, a cat, a hamster in somebody else's, and the log-fire blazed. In an interval between Schubert and Schumann, Richard rose without a word, felt his way between the musicians to the piano and played Chopin. No one was embarrassed, or thought it strange. When my wife went later to speak to Richard, two boys at once joined her, in case she did not know he was blind. Another night Fitzy was given a farewell present, in a hall crowded with old members of Finchden, parents, and friends from Tenterden. The presentation was made after a revue, which ended with a scene from Hamlet, and the boys chose Tubby John as their spokesman. Aged nineteen, he was an amateur of heraldry, and weighed forty stone. They helped him on to the stage, where he made his speech surrounded by the Danish court in jewels and slashed hose.
It is within a corner of this quiet picture that one should place the troubles - the burning of a barn, a theft, a dog, supposed to be tied up, left loose and killing chickens. Every so often something of this kind happened, just as every so often some boy ran away. These events were not the atmosphere; like Flynn, they were the atmospherics. Ordinary people in the neighbourhood did not judge the boys. The police showed understanding, never came to the house without telephoning - and never came at all unless they had to. When they did I used to have an impression as if all the windows had been shut, or someone were walking over a grave. When the police had gone everything seemed to open up again. While I was at Finchden they only came about five times.
The happiest families have sorrows; and the most healing communities have those they cannot heal. No true account of Finchden Manor could leave out those boys the community either could not help or could only help a little. How sick some were will become clear from the following extract from a diary by one of the staff concerning a boy called Peter Fell.
'On Wednesday afternoon I saw him in the hall, and he was crying. He said he was not unhappy. The reason for crying was that he was so happy to realise he was cured and could lead a normal life again. His chore for that day was washing supper dishes. This job, which normally takes fifteen minutes, took him an hour and three-quarters. Next day, after playing the piano, he came to me and said: "Shake me by the hand." I did so. "You may now say," he continued, "that you have shaken hands with the second Mozart, the next genius." He burst into tears, and ran upstairs.... Later he started singing. He sang all night ...'.
One boy, who went into a mental home after a week or two, did damage to Finchden costing a large sum, and disturbed the others by talking about his experiences in mental hospitals. He had an obsession that he could cure everyone. Another arrived with over thirty convictions. He committed two offences outside Finchden almost at once, which were quashed in the hope that he might remain there. He had an obsessive hatred of the police, stole a car, drove at seventy miles an hour, and tried to knife the policeman who arrested him. He gave no trouble as long as he remained within the grounds of Finchden, and the other boys were never frightened by him. He could only be persuaded to go to the police station on condition one of the staff went too. He had a warm affection for Neville, and has kept up a cheerful correspondence with Finchden from a State Institute.
Such boys - and the rest were similar - were unlikely even to have been considered at any other place without warders or resident doctors. One proved so disturbing that after several exhausting months both staff and boys asked for his removal. 'When he walks in, all the laughs become forced, and nobody dares say anything. He teases people in a way that really hurts them, and says he has only just started. If two boys are playing he has to spoil their game, he terrifies the little boys and threw one of them out of a car. He steals from shops, pushes people off the pavement, uses obscene language to girls in the town, and taunts the Jewish boys.' Every member of Finchden to whom I mentioned his name said that he was the most disturbing person they had ever met.
Just over ten percent of the boys who came to Finchden Manor remained less than six months. About a quarter of these ran away and for various reasons could not be brought back. Jim Learoyd stayed two weeks of May, 1947. There was a dance in the hall and all the doors in Mr and Mrs Lyward's part of the house were left open for the guests from Tenterden. Jim Learoyd slipped into Mr Lyward's study, pocketed a large sum lying in an unlocked drawer, and vanished. He was found a fortnight later in London, with only a quarter of the money left. The law took its course, and he could not come back, though Mr Lyward would have taken him. The remainder of these boys were taken away by parents or guardians before they had been allowed to give Finchden a fair trial.
The remaining ninety percent or so stayed at least six months. Some stayed less than a year, a few for six years or more. It cost Mr Lyward an effort to send any boy away, but about seven others had to go because they were too disquieting to the other boys, the townsfolk or the neighbours. One or two of these stories illustrate the limits of 'maladjustment', as distinct from mental sickness in the strict sense, beyond which Finchden could not go.
Simon Parker was cruel to small animals. He refused to stop going for walks on a hill the Army used for training with live bombs. It was also fairly common for Simon to avoid meals, having sources of income from home which enabled him to feed outside Finchden. Simon was also unique in that he used to insult boys of 'lower social status', which 'is resented,' Mr Lyward wrote, 'by boys who have been to public schools, on behalf of those who have not.' He went about boasting: 'I refuse to recognise the group', and provoked bigger boys by 'borrowing' their property and offering money in compensation. 'I fear violence beyond the ordinary school-boy scuffles,' Mr Lyward wrote, 'if Simon's insults and general behaviour lead the others to retort, and he then defends himself by kicking and biting.' When the boy understood that he was to go 'into the world', he became overwrought and burst into tears. Other boys consoled him and helped him to pack, and Mr Lyward's letter to the father said that Simon 'had left with everybody's good wishes. I hope that the memory of the boys' kindnesses will remain, in spite of what he may say, and that he will continue to look on me as a friend. Our best contribution is to write him a short friendly letter now and then, and let him know that he can visit us if he wants'. Mr Lyward was asked a year later to take Simon back, but could not.
How did the mentally sick boys ever find their way to Finchden Manor? One Mr Lyward took to save from a remand home - 'perhaps a mistake?' he noted. Of another he wrote that 'the hopes of those who recommend such boys to us are not always based on any very sound knowledge of their case'. In several instances it was through Finchden's efforts on a boy's behalf that room was found for him in hospital. That these boys were sent at all is a measure of the hopes placed in Mr Lyward, and of the extreme cases he has been ready to attempt.
I was in the dining room one evening. Lights were out, and I meant to go to bed. David passed along the corridor with a boy I had never seen. I supposed it was a new arrival, except that he looked unusually ragged and furtive. Soon David returned, and told me that this had been a boy called Walter Finch. He came to Finchden the 'complete institution child'. Soon after his arrival neighbours had invited him into their home, thereby showing him something Mr Lyward was holding back. He had run away, then he had been in a hospital, and later in a job in London, from which he had suddenly disappeared. For weeks nothing had been heard of him. According to one rumour, he had stolen something; according to another, he had been living in the neighbourhood and been seen in Tenterden Church.
The truth was that he had not been living anywhere. There was a lorry parked in the drive which had been used to take the play on tour and now was used for collecting rations. It turned out that he had been sleeping there, creeping into it after lights out and leaving before anyone was awake. Unable to face any of his former companions, he had slept there for a week; during the day he wandered. David said the police would be coming for Finch in the morning. The boy's sister had charged him with stealing, and the charge could not be dropped. David had found him, fed him, and made him welcome. While he was telling me the story, I felt something of the suffering David himself must go through on such occasions, and something of what Mr Lyward had shouldered from the beginning. Some could be saved, others perhaps could not. In Finch's case, the law had now been invoked, the machinery set in motion, and all that could come from Finchden was intercession. Mr Lyward would send David to court, where he would give evidence of the boy's sickness and plead for treatment rather than punishment. He would ask for one of the gentler remand homes, and the rest would lie with magistrates, wardens, police.
The boy slept in my room. He had my bed, and I pulled the couch across the door and lay awake. On David's instructions, I had removed everything with which Finch might have harmed himself, but he lay talking about his friends. He liked the piano. Was it still in tune? Did Riff still play the Boogie Woogies? Was there to be another concert? He came to breakfast in the morning, and the others treated him as if he had been on holiday. Whatever curiosity anyone may have felt, no one showed. Riff surrendered the piano, and Finch sat down and played the Moonlight Sonata. Neville came to the door while he was playing and beckoned to me. The police had come, and Finch went away with them. Riff went back to the piano and everything in the hall continued as before.
A little while later, David had a letter on yellow paper, from the boys' prison at Wormwood Scrubs. 'I know this is rather a sordid address,' Finch wrote, 'but there is nothing I can do about that. Well, I thank you and all the staff for all they have done for me.' He was sorry to have been so much trouble, and said that the short time he had spent at Finchden had been the happiest in his life.
A small group stayed well over a year, and either left 'on their own judgment' or were withdrawn by parents strongly against Mr Lyward's advice. The great majority regretted it. A few went to prison or to a mental home. Some begged to come back; of these Mr Lyward was able to take back a few. One, taken away, sent back, then taken away again, wrote: 'It is no go ... I long to be at Finchden', and when he came on a visit, could not say good-bye. As I studied on in the oak-room, I heard many cries from the heart, while music came from upstairs and the boys shouted in the garden.
All those around me would remain but two or three. At Mr Lyward's suggestion Arthur Ney began to cook. 'I was a gibbering wreck after the first try-out,' said Sid, laughing. The boy showed willingness, but the basic things had not occurred to him. For example, that the oven had to be hot, or that a pan put into a hot oven to heat the fat for a batter pudding would be hot too. He took it out with his bare hands. He did not drop it, or appear to blister, but gazed at it in surprise, as if this were his first real contact with worldly things. Later he had to drain the potatoes. Sid heard a dull thud, and saw them all on the floor. Arthur had taken the boiling saucepan out bodily, instead of by the handles. At the end of the day he said: 'I don't think I was so hot, but the food was,' and grinned. He continued sitting aloof, but now and then a smile broke through, making his morose face young.
About another boy, Mr Lyward wrote: 'He finds excuse after excuse for leaving his fellows and invading me in my private sanctum. I can't allow this robbery on his part to continue unchecked. But I must recognise him, behind it, for the small lonely thing he is. I must watch, for instance, that he is not compelled by his feelings of guilt and his lovehunger, nor by anybody else's blindness, into undertaking a heavy or even average programme of schoolwork. Challenging has its place, but so has the feeding which should precede it.'
Nigs Walker was a voracious 'feeder'. At times one had happy glimpses of a child, unhampered by some inner compulsion to prove himself adult. I remember how he ran under Mr Lyward's window, tilting a long pole and wearing a biscuit tin for crusader's helmet. At a dance he was the child at a party, excitedly teaching Mr Lyward the St Bernard's Waltz and the Dashing White Sergeant. After a year something still kept him at Finchden, although he had 'beaten the Sussex County Council single-handed', and had never stayed anywhere else more than a few weeks. He might announce that he was going and still be there next morning, or put on his mackintosh and go. The same with Flynn - except that Flynn would have despised a mackintosh.
Flynn was Irish, but his people lived in North London. He was the youngest of a large family and at a very early age had been adopted by a well-to-do benevolent woman who lived in the country. When he first came to Finchden, a year before, he had been impossible. He boasted that he knew all the ropes and ran away repeatedly. One of his ideas was to go to Austria and be schooled on the famous Lippizaner horses. He knew a certain amount about the theory of haute école, and had compiled from learned works an enormous genealogical chart, showing the family tree of the horse. He had also read all the books of W. H. Hudson and dreamed of thumbing his way to South America. When Mr Lyward had allowed him to go on two hikes to distant counties, he had returned from both. But he still talked every day of leaving. 'The outdoor neurotics are often the most difficult,' Mr Lyward once said. 'You can't communicate with them, because they're simply not there.'
Out of the forty boys at Finchden while I was there, only three or four were permanently restive. The remainder had put their trust in Mr Lyward. These boys were willing to leave the decision, when they should go, to him. They were the community, stable, ever altering, and light of heart. They used technical terms as jokes. Mr Lyward once said that 'you can talk to them about themselves as a doctor talks to his students about his patients, and they don't think of the subject as themselves', but they did not get the technical terms from him. They did sketches like the following:
Enter a Boy disguised as Mr Lyward. To him enter a Boy to be interviewed.
G. L.: And what can we do for you, my boy?
That 'ritual' hour in the Guildables room was the time at which the boys were together. Only two or three were regularly missing and sooner or later the absent phase would end. Nobody will be surprised that in such a community the externals of social and financial status appeared little. All the boys had the same basic pocket money, all wore alternately the same good or torn clothes. I have no memory at all of social bitterness at Finchden, although one or two boys came from among the richest in the land, four or five from among the poorest.
The boys' awakening relationship with their fellows was of the utmost importance, and is difficult to describe. Part of the secret of Mr Lyward's psychotherapy was the contact of each one, not merely with Mr Lyward or with the staff, but with the group. One reason that he now undertook far less interviewing than before was because the group had shown him how great a healing effect it could produce of its own; the interviews themselves now turned often around current happenings at Finchden, and their significance in terms of general problems, rather than around the past of the boy being interviewed.
'A balance was struck between each boy's interests as an individual and as a member of the group'. This balance may have been claimed by every community that ever existed, and has certainly been advocated by innumerable teachers and preachers. At Finchden it was neither imposed as a rule, nor advanced as a precept. It was simply developed as part of the recommencing of a boy's whole life. Preparations for a dance, for a pantomime, or for Christmas, apart from all the daily co-operation involved in cooking or games or the evening hour in the Guildables Room, enabled boys, who hitherto had been unable to form a living relationship with even one person, almost effortlessly to achieve it with twenty or more, though it might be only for a short time and mark no more than a beginning.
This awakening was part of their rehabilitation, their 'cure'. On the educational side - although the two are not really to be separated - the group worked equally as a casual and all-important agent. Discussions sprang up repeatedly, impromptu. One began in the middle of a pantomime rehearsal. Mr Lyward, stopping the actors, asked whether they preferred a play to be enacted all in one place or to range through several places. The cast gathered round, other boys joined in, and soon he was telling them about the dramatic unities, and Dr Johnson on Shakespeare, and Sir Philip Sidney. Another discussion started somehow at tea, during which Mr Lyward fetched two books and talked about the constitutional significance of the old forest laws. Once the boys were talking about the Bible. Six of them went to their rooms and brought down six different Bibles. Mr Lyward explained why the versions were different. The boys fell silent, listening. 'It's when they're quiet,' he said afterwards, 'that you feel that they're little.' Examinations are usually forgotten afterwards; so is the kind of work done merely to pass examinations. These group discussions, unorganised, at random, remembered, were followed up as links in a continuous story.
'This is a community with a personality,' Mr Lyward once wrote to a County Education officer. One boy said to Mr Lyward, 'You treat us as if we were grown-up', meaning 'as persons'. Finchden Manor was therefore something both more and less than a family. No family can prepare a child for the world without yielding him to some other group, be it community or school. No other group can wholly take the place of a family. The analogy with a family is indeed best confined to illustrating those characteristics - of hospitality, cheerfulness, warmth, and sanity - Finchden shared with happy families anywhere.
Many boys went home at Christmas; some might not. Those who stayed had all the festivities one would expect. Mrs Lyward sent about two hundred cards to former boys and friends of Finchden. At such a time the sense of family was more deeply felt, maybe, than at others; but once you had grown conscious of it, that sense was as likely to strike you unexpectedly as on a set occasion. Since nearly all that was missing in the boys' childhood homes had been re-created, it seems true to say that on returning to their own hearth (or going on to marriage) the boys took with them embers from the hearth at Finchden.