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
MR LYWARD was a man with certain exceptional gifts and a number of distinguished accomplishments. His uncommonly varied experience of teaching extended over more than forty years. He was well-known as a lecturer, writer of pamphlets, and speaker at public conferences. In his other role he was (technically speaking) a lay psychotherapist, in the sense that he did not hold a medical degree. But most psychiatrists would have considered him to be highly skilled, highly trained, and his work as arduous and responsible as their own. He had woven the work of teacher and healer so closely together that the two cannot really be separated. Education, in the sense in which he used the word, meant a marriage of both roles.
Mr Lyward came from London. He suffered from ill-health, domestic disturbances, and from poverty; and at eighteen began to teach for £40 a year, at a nondescript private school. He had a fine bass voice and won a choral studentship to St John's College, Cambridge, where he took a second in History. He taught at various schools, and while still a young man was shortlisted for the headmastership of a large grammar school. In his late twenties he went to Glenalmond, where he took charge of the sixth forms and was responsible for English and history throughout the school. The Warden of Glenalmond, Canon F. W. Matheson, wrote of him as 'a born teacher'. He was invited, in addition to his sixth form work, to start and take charge of a house for junior boys. In much that he learnt and initiated then he was preparing his way what he was later to do at greater depth at Finchden. After strenuous years at Glenalmond he had a breakdown and went away to recover.
'I had by that time an inside knowledge of a variety of elementary and secondary schools and fifteen years' teaching experience.... But teaching can be a way of avoiding growing pains. I... at last found myself sufficiently released from the fear of plunging out, to turn my back upon a too cloistered safety.' Chance had put him in touch with two or three doctors looking for someone to treat and coach the kind of public school boy who either could not or would not fit. These boys had nowhere to go and it was suggested that Mr Lyward might be able to help them.
He went to live at Guildables, a Kent farmhouse owned by a friend, and the first boys shared the farm-work. He began with two, and made a success of them. In a letter written early in 1931 he described his work: 'This place is the result of my determination, when a house-master at a public school, that those boys who were sent away for delinquency, or for obvious mental sickness, should have a chance of being put right, instead of being left to the further mercy of their inward conflicts and compulsions. This work here has more than justified my contention that the boy who was generally left to "go to seed" could, with the right help at the critical moment, turn into a very useful and happy member of society. There is no difference in the emotional condition of any of them. They are all cases of arrested feeling development. The community life here is arranged so as to give them confidence in life and one another, the while they are severally going through analysis, or whatever I feel is likely to help them best towards a life in which their thoughts and feelings will diverge less widely than they did when the boy came to me. Before anybody has been here very long, he has come to accept without resentment the fact that, like many people who never come here, he has failed to grow up. The fact that the boys do all accept it makes life easier for each of them than before, where there was need for camouflage. I am, as it were, the house-master. But, while treating them all as grown- ups, I know them personally as small boys, who need encouragement and fatherliness and firmness in order to grow out of their frightened and therefore self-loving state of mind.'
Mr Lyward became more widely known in this new role. A celebrated psychiatrist wrote at that time: 'I have seen him catch hold of and enthuse a boy who is a scholastic failure, in a way little short of miraculous. He has an insight into the adolescent mind which is unsurpassed in my experience of school-masters.' Mr Lyward's 'practice' came to include girls, women and grown men. The numbers of boys went up rapidly to twelve, then twenty. The farmhouse became too small and unsuitable, and in 1935 he and Mrs Lyward discovered Finchden. They passed through the wicket-gate on the Tenterden-Appledore road on a day in high summer. The grass, parched and brown with sun, was waving waist-high. Bees and dragon-flies swarmed everywhere, roses sprawled over the half-hidden brick, and the way to the house was thick with briars.
They bought it on mortgage and gradually reclaimed it from the wilderness. By the beginning of the war they had nearly forty boys. They lived through the summer of 1940 in a shored-up cellar, on the direct route of the German bombers, while the Battle of Britain was fought overhead. The house was not hit, but the Army took it over at three hours' notice, for soldiers evacuated after the fall of France. Nine of the staff - which was larger then - and eight servants - there were servants then - were called up. Nearly all the boys were sent home for a fortnight. Had it not been for Mr Lyward's perseverance, the encouragement of doctors, officials (and that of many parents) he would have been forced to close down. With large debts, little capital, and reduced numbers, he moved to a Hall on the Welsh marches.
When he returned Finchden Manor was again on its way to ruin. Grass had obliterated beds and paths, and was marching on the windows. Only one window had more than one pane of glass. Lighting and plumbing had been torn away. Compensation was far below the cost of the repairs. But Peter, Sid, David and Fitzy, together with one or two of the boys, set to work, builders were brought in, and life was resumed in the old home.
New conditions after the war gave Finchden wider importance. Mr Lyward had begun by helping public school boys and undergraduates, but '... more and more news reaches us,' he had written in 1942, 'concerning the effect of the war and the years preceding it on all our young people. We cannot shut our eyes to the increase in juvenile crime, that is, to the number of people who are found out. And to listen to stories illustrating the shifting standards of the many who are not found out (parents of the near future) is a painful experience. Must we face with more certainty the fact that the world we know is being smashed to pieces ... what must we do ?'
The headlines were soon echoing him. Spivs, cosh boys, delinquency - terms that had scarcely been news before the war - became household words, and people looked round bewildered for an answer. Mr Lyward's work had become recognised as a national need. The first boy whose fees were paid from public funds arrived in 1944. After the passing of the Education Act, 1944, and Children's Act, 1948, applications came in dozens, and by the time I went to Finchden, doctors far beyond Harley Street, and Councils far removed from London, had begun to make use of Mr Lyward's gifts and experience. Yet lack of money, uncertainty about the future - his own and that of his staff - never ceased to be anxieties. One might say that Finchden has given security to everyone who lived there, except to its founder and director.
Mr Lyward had a pale slender face. His hair lay flat across the top of his head, above a high forehead. With him, as with Finchden, it is easier to say what he was not than what he was. He was never cruel, mean, sneering, or disloyal. But when one begins to think of other characteristics and say 'he was this', the opposites occur at once and one has to say 'he was that too'. His moods and expressions ranged between the extreme of withdrawal and the extreme of participation. He had once had polio, which had injured the muscles of his neck. This was the reason he often held his head so low, which made his withdrawn moods seem more withdrawn. With his spectacles well down his nose, and his eyes looking over the rims like scouts over a half-lowered drawbridge, Nigs Walker might well call him 'Old Tortoise'. But when 'withdrawn', among a crowd of boys or in private conversation, he was very much present, enjoying, listening between the words, absorbing. He seldom seemed absent-minded or preoccupied.
When he joined in, he chaffed and chivvied and laughed and seemed as young as the boys. He enjoyed looking on at people, and overhearing the conversations of complete strangers, and seldom came back from some visit outside Finchden without an account of a family playing on a beach, or people seen in a restaurant, who had been 'just like a Chekhov play'. He acted them. He acted boys and parents of ten or twenty years ago, gaily and without malice. These flashbacks were continually interrupting his answers to my questions. 'Oh, but surely I told you that story?' - and suddenly the lights seemed to go out and I to be watching a film of something that had happened in the thirties.
He had no hobbies apart from occasionally making rugs. 'The only thing I can really do is sing,' he said, but he could also and almost daily did play the piano. Bach, Mozart, Scarlatti were his musicians His heart was in music and I enjoyed listening, especially when working late and he was playing in the room above. He often led rollicking choruses on the hall piano, leaving the high notes to Peter Storey. There was always music in the house. Boys believed not to have a note in them learnt to play the piano, after a fashion. All this came from him. He loved beautiful things and cherished good furniture without fuss. His house was seldom without guests. He was fastidious in personal taste and the boys' untidiness repelled him. When he gave a present he did it unexpectedly, after great trouble to select; he once gave me a rare medallion, and Neville an ivory chess set. He did not dun parents who owed him money - some still owed him hundreds of pounds. He once paid for a boy's operation out of his own money, and was always keeping several boys for nothing. For himself, he seldom bought anything but books.
The atmosphere of civilisation at Finchden came from him. Although he had rejected the forms and limits of a public-school education, he had felt at home in those surroundings. They were recalled by his way of speaking, unhurried and amused, by his books, his habit of quotation, even by the panelling in his room. No one would have been surprised to find him blue-pencilling Greek verse. Everyone knows that life at a public school can pamper and stunt those who are already too sheltered, rendering them fearful yet envious of the rough world outside, and perpetually homesick for their youth. But a public school can also offer the tranquillity and the respite from emotional disturbance, which elementary and secondary schools do not offer; and Mr Lyward, who knew both - as pupil and master - once wrote: 'Does the isolation of a public school protect its members from a too premature challenge? And if this is a psychological fact, would it be possible to provide similar security for those who cannot afford to buy it?'
It was the security of the public school he valued, not the trademark, and the security he had recreated at Finchden, in a physical as well as emotional sense. True, he had only a few fields, a garden and a romantic manor house; but as he walked about and talked to the boys, he conveyed the leisure of meads and cloisters, and into a quiet setting had successfully gathered many who were raw and loud, much that was unorthodox and adventurous. Finchden may have had many characteristics of the 'rebel' school, but Mr Lyward was not a rebel. He was both daring and original, but in ways too serious and profound to boast. He did not set out to shock, and if he did shock, it did not gratify; that was not the point...
There are orthodox rebels and orthodox diehards; one thrives on the other. In education, one bellows 'Obey!', the other 'Do as you like'. One demands corporal punishment and blazers; the other wants no discipline and insists that children should go about with nothing on. Mr Lyward came to his conviction by life. Self-government, once so popular among reformist teachers, he described as an extra - liable to be 'served out in parcels, and no solution for the boys' tautness, being only another kind of imprisoning formalism'. He thought little of any training 'divorced from the child's wishes, fantasies, and needs'. Finchden was neither explicitly 'for' nor explicitly 'against' the various attitudes for which various schools have become known. There was discipline, but none you could see. Finchden was neither Left Wing nor Right. Mr Lyward said that it was 'neither one thing nor the other, but the third'. He did possess the gift of power, in the sense that many people trusted him and were willing to put themselves in his hands. But he also stood in awe of power. He never stamped the boys at Finchden with his own image, nor bound them to him, nor insinuated his own theories. His life was spent trying to erase the disaster of such errors.