Mr Lyward's Answer
by Michael Burn

Mr Lyward's Answer (Abridged)

The story of George Lyward and Finchden Manor
First published 1956 by Hamish Hamilton Ltd - All Rights Reserved
Abridged for the World Wide Web


Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12

Home Page

"Mr Lyward's Answer"
in pdf format (732kb)
in word format (388kb)

A DISTINGUISHED doctor told me that work done at the depth of the work done at Finchden was badly needed. He knew of men with the vocation, but they lacked training. To love, and yet remain disinterested: what text-book could teach that? The staff needed to be aware of their own personal moods, determining their attitude towards each boy not by their preference, but by his need. If they felt bad-tempered, they had either to get over it or else use it, knowing they were using it. If in a good humour, they had equally to beware. Sid, to whom smaller boys often clung, took care never to turn into a kind of mother-figure; the whole place could do that when required. David and Neville had to avoid becoming exclusively figures of authority - or wastepaper baskets for surplus confidences.They had learnt much from Mr Lyward, though in them the control tower was still perceptible; in him it had disappeared.

The staff must be prepared to find and perhaps, in a report, explain that the first signs of new growth were not necessarily amiable. A boy released from moroseness or even primness might take to obscene swearing; another stop bed wetting and start stealing; a violent boy might become withdrawn, or the other way round. A boy who had idolised his mother decided that he hated her; one who had worried other boys chased girls. It was quite common for an unnaturally neat boy to become, to the same extreme, dirty and untidy.

Some of these inevitable stages of growth might be either awaited or induced. 'Peter Harrington,' wrote the famous Mr Knox, 'must be a reincarnation of Little Lord Fauntleroy. He has collected a series of bottles of toilet requisites, which he has marshalled like soldiers on a shelf. His arithmetic sums show a devastating neatness of arrangement and accuracy. I deplore it, but at present dare not interfere. The picture is completed by the fact that when he meets an academic problem he cannot see through, he just goes dumb.' And of another boy, he said that he came from a nice home 'and has the untidiest room. He has now lived through this and developed a rational neatness based on his personal desires.'

When the first change was outwardly for the worse, some parents complained. When it was for the better, they were likely to assume that the boy was 'cured' and could now return to his ordinary surroundings. Yet many masks might be formed and discarded, before true outlines were established: the process involved an awakening of the whole personality.

'I hate you!' cried one boy, reluctantly returning from Finchden to his real father, although Mr Lyward knew that he was ready to go, and the next moment flung himself into his father's arms. All that was essential to Finchden involved paradox: growth as always had a double face. Dying leaves clung to young branches, falling off almost unseen until one day most of the trees struck good roots. Thereafter all that parents had waited for - jobs, exams, self-control, 'taking his place in the world' - began just to happen. David said: 'The boys, too, see that they and others round them are growing, and they have a welcome feeling that there isn't a moment when anyone is fully grown.'

What Professorships have been endowed for timing, what degrees are given in learning how to wait? A boy took the staff something that to him mattered greatly, and they seemed to ignore it; after, when he had forgotten, they reminded him. At an apparently quite simple 'level', when Ivor Marples complained that his chocolate had been stolen, David appeared to pay no attention. Two days later he gave the boy a bar, saying 'I bought it for you.' Later, the secretary of the local cricket club telephoned to say that Ivor Marples had been infiltrating into the pavilion and taking his tea free with visiting teams. David asked him lightly if he could do this and at the same time grumble about someone at Finchden stealing from him. This magnification of small things, together with a lessening of big things, was part of the 'method'.

I once asked David whether the work done at Finchden was of the kind that can be passed on, and in reply he gave me some rough notes:

'I was one of those who came to Finchden Manor for help,' he wrote. 'This means that I have been "through the mill" myself. But in any case I am sure one would have to be the sort of person to "receive" from the "transmitter". Personally, I made, deliberately, a division at the point when I became employed and took on a job and did not expect my "employer" to help in the ways that he had, in another role, before. This was my way. As well as being the kind of person able to "receive", one must also attempt, quite soon, whilst still only perhaps sensing the truth and sometimes seeing proof of Mr Lyward's statements, to develop one's own beliefs and way of life. I suppose that at some such time as this I became ready to receive a more disciplined training. I think this meant, again as far as I was concerned, an enlightenment of what I was doing intuitively at one level, and an increased awareness of the kind of "structure" I had to work in. This latter was at another level, concerned with the boys' physical and material needs etc., as regards themselves and maybe involving their parents, teachers, local education authorities, and so on.'

'To restate some of the above in terms of daily contact and help for the boys, I have had to become able to recognise them for what they are. (One can be trained to spot camouflage, to interpret needs, actions, frustrations, help selfpity, etc.) I have had to become able to respect them as persons, not case histories. I have had to become able to be responsive to their needs as I see them, and sometimes, if I can get no nearer, responsive to their wants. All this I try to become with the object of building up a good relationship; and, to put this approach to practical use, I have been aware that I must remain open, at any time and any place to any thing - almost!'

David also wrote of instruction in letter-writing and the making of reports and of certain details of method, which included lightheartedness, skill in waiting, 'the employing on occasions of delaying tactics, and where necessary the taking of evasive action, while remaining true to one's convictions and belief in the best way to help the boy in question. Some of this in its turn involves leaving the door open for advance or retreat of oneself or of the boy.' He wrote of a stage arriving 'when some of the "R's" are beginning to be reciprocated', and of a third stage in his own training and development. 'Perhaps Professionalism is the word to use now. One has collected enough instruments to operate. I suppose co-operate would sound whimsical? One uses more incisively one's instruments, and becomes glad to work for one's results. With greater maturity I still found I had much to learn about protection. Many examples can be given of the boys' need of protection; protection against parents, against themselves, against outside contacts. One can be trained to see who is suffering from pressure from outside and who from pressure of his own making. One can be told what to say to either. So often one hopes to reach some reconciliation ...'

One other attitude of the staff's helped to keep the boys disarmed. Sometimes, if a child irritates its parents, they will say, 'There, you've done it again!' They thereby transform criticism of the action into criticism of the child - and make the action seem habitual. At Finchden care was taken that the action should be isolated, and not regarded as 'typical' of the boy who had done it. This restraint helped greatly to free the boys from the sense of guilt and of being 'hopeless' and 'incorrigible', which had been induced in so many of them. How many children have acquired a bad habit as a result of having it attributed to them!

David's notes are not those of someone attempting to impose a discipline from without, or some inner discipline which the boys 'ought' to learn. Rather, they are the notes of someone who had been such a boy himself, and had found his own way, which had kept him in their midst, in the same atmosphere, and still very much a member. David, and the rest of the staff were doing 'no more than' help the boys to find their ways; and yet how much this meant!

What it meant can further shown by answering three questions often asked about Finchden Manor; the first about violence, the second about sex, the third about the nature of the discipline.

As regards violence: no human being would have failed to be frightened, physically, by one or two of the boys. On one occasion Henry Carpenter asked for two shillings. Neville gave it him, and added: 'That's all for a while.' Carpenter threw it on the floor. When he asked for it again later, he was refused. He lost his temper and knocked things over. The next day he was given twice as much pocket money. Once he walked off the cricket field in a fury; when he asked to come back, Neville said: 'I never turned you off'
'All the same, may I come back?'
He came back, scored brilliantly, and said: 'I had to blow off to have my innings.'
He had blown off but without harm to others. Would it be far-fetched to substitute 'life' for 'innings'?

There were scraps, mostly friendly, though they might occasionally become dangerous; the staff had then to make up their minds quickly. Their decision depended upon the boys directly involved, and the onlookers. A scrap between two boys of equal size might be allowed to go on, if neither was likely to be upset and if no boy nearby might be upset. Obviously, if the boys looked like doing each other physical harm, they were stopped.

Remembering some of the boys' past stories, it was surprising how little they had injured one another during the twenty-five years of Finchden's existence. Sometimes inspired casualess averted violence. One enraged boy was chasing another with a poker, when he passed Fitzy, who said: 'Oh, give me that a moment, I want to poke the fire.' The boy gave it up. The few 'violent incidents' that did take place seem insignificant because the atmosphere of the whole place was one not of violence, but disarmament. Neville once had his face badly scratched, and David had a brick thrown at him. None of the boys ever suffered much worse than a black eye. During my time at Finchden, there was only one bad fight.

One evening Sid was in the yard and heard shouting from the kitchen. There he found Seton and Henry Carpenter pounding one another wildly. He walked between, pushing them apart, and then circled round until they stopped. Later they started again. Peter was then in the room. He managed to get the other boys out, but - for once - could not manage to separate the two fighters, who seemed 'possessed'. They were fairly equally matched and both strong; both, in that mood, were capable of using anything they could lay their hands on. Peter, after sending a message to Mr Lyward, followed them carefully, removing possible weapons; he trailed them into the big hall, where they went on wildly hammering one another.

Mr Lyward had just come back from speaking at a conference. He did not feel well and was sitting half-asleep in front of the fire when Peter came in. He went down into the hall, and saw in an instant that both boys were in a mood to go on fighting till they dropped, and worse. 'I knew,' Mr Lyward wrote afterwards, with emphatic underlinings, 'that I had got something that belonged outside here. The two boys had, as it were, already removed themselves from the community, but there were their bodies still in Finchden Manor. I knew at once that I had got to bring them back to Finchden Manor if I could.'

Seton turned on Mr Lyward for a moment, threatening him. Mr Lyward clapped his hands, then said in effect, in a very quiet voice, to both of them, while they were momentarily separated, 'You are outsiders brawling in my house. This isn't a fight between two boys. This is something that belongs outside Finchden. You must come back here, or your bodies must be removed. If you decide that you belong outside, then I shall send for the police.' Then he walked away.

The boys stopped fighting; nor did they continue after Mr Lyward had gone. 'The word "police",' he wrote afterwards, 'might easily lead a stranger to believe that I make threats. I never do. I state facts. I stated it as a fact that they were outsiders brawling in my house, and did not just say that they were "behaving like" outsiders. It was the only time I have ever used the word "police" to the boys in that way, and its use then had NOTHING in common with a threat.'

Either boy could have floored Mr Lyward. He had said little, and that little quietly; but the effort he had made and the after vibrations left him exhausted for two or three days.

Sometimes it was hard to believe that parents and doctors and schoolmasters had written with such grim foreboding about these boys. There was a day I especially remember towards the end of winter. I had not realised how late I had been working, and was surprised when I put away my papers and went outside to find that dawn was breaking. The trees were coal-black against the lightening sky. Nothing was stirring. The doors and windows of the house were all open. The cock crew and the sun rose beneath gathering clouds.

I slept for a few hours, till someone woke me to say that the local hounds were meeting in the neighbourhood and that some boys wanted to go. Mr and Mrs Lyward took two in the back of their car, and I filled up mine. The day was windless and sunny, with a blue sky and frosty air. On the way the boys argued whether blood sports should be forbidden and, as usual, dashed off to all kinds of subjects, among them Plato. It turned out that Oliver Newton really had read the Republic. He admitted that he had not understood a great deal, and Mr Lyward thought it time for him to stop. Fred Stiles, a Cockney, wanted to know what was meant by Platonic love. I told him, and he said: 'Crikey! Is that all? I thought it was something illegal.' Soon they were discussing film stars, forgetting Plato.

We arrived at the meet. Mr and Mrs Lyward stood patting the horses. Mr Lyward wore his brown Trilby and a thick coat and muffler, and was looking in an abstracted way at the faces of the hunt followers. He seemed to have taken to a Jorrocks-like character, with leggings, stock, and a windbitten face. 'I like people who are real,' he said as they moved off 'I can get on with that kind of parent, even though they disagree with everything I do.'

Two boys wanted to walk. We left them on the road, and after we had followed the glimpses of scarlet for a while, drove back to Finchden. Sid was in the Guildables room playing with the monkey. The boys had alarmed it, and Sid was coaxing it along. It was trying to crack a nut. Sid showed, and the monkey copied. Sid sneezed and the monkey sneezed. Sid shook out his handkerchief, then gave it to the monkey, who shook it out in just the same way. Sid put some sticks together, and said to the monkey 'This is the jungle', then scattered some grains of earth above and said: 'This is rain.' The monkey neatly collected all the sticks and scattered some earth. By evening Sid would probably have taught it to play the piano.

The day continued merry. Nigs Walker was in one of his boyish moods, more like the others, less of the infant camouflaged. I took him up Tenterden Church tower and we waited for the bells to ring. Back at Finchden, someone was searching for Mr Hannen to make him pose in the position of the Rokeby Venus, which the boy said was physically impossible. A conversation began in the dining room, among the debris, in the middle of which Flynn asked artfully: 'Are you writing a book about Finchden?'
I said that it deserved a book, and they began to remember.
'Remember the day the psychos came? Remember the bloke who sang all night? Eight solid hours, at the top of his voice. Wasn't there a guy who used to ride a bike into Tenterden dressed as a woman? Who was the one who set fire to churches before he came here?'
A boy turned to me: 'If you go off and write a book about this place without asking the Chief's permission, I'll knock your block off! Some journalist bloke did that.'
'Why shouldn't Dr Singe?' said Flynn. 'He used to be a journalist.'
'Because it'd be too easy. Crikey, though, I'd like to put the Chief into a book. What'd you call him, Dr Singe? A trick-cyclist?'
Chorus of 'no'.
'Why not?'
'They just dope you and try to make you talk.'
'What would you call him then?'
'God knows. He's certainly not a ruddy schoolmaster, or none I've ever come across.' And they began to tell stories about the places they had been to before, with singularly little malice - the past was the past - and a lot of comedy.

In the evening came one of those informal concerts which Mr Lyward would demand at a few days' notice. It was an intimate occasion, without guests. The boys put on some cross talk and slapstick; a trumpet solo; an aria of Handel; and a take-off of an Oedipus complex, which began with a mother carrying a difficult child and ended with the child carrying a difficult mother - a story that had occurred more than once in Finchden's life. The unrehearsed standard was not high, but the concert gave pleasure because of its lack of self-consciousness, and because some of the boys were taking part for the first time and it had meant a struggle for them. After community singing, they danced or stood discussing by the smouldering log fire. Nigs Walker gave Mr Lyward another lesson in the St Bernard Waltz, and a boy accustomed to hunt balls taught an eightsome reel. Mr Lyward accompanied old songs on the tired piano, the boys gathering round him to turn the pages and join in the choruses. He remained until past eleven, playing Bach and Brahms and Beethoven, stopping to discuss a composer for a few moments and continuing to answer the boys' questions as he played.

They stayed up for a time, and I wondered, as I had the first day Mr Lyward had pointed them out from his window, if anything was really 'wrong' with them. If they were all so 'normal' and contented, as they had seemed during the whole of this day, was this prolonged respite necessary? Why should they not be studying all day and made to do the same as everybody else? Especially a boy like Drake. Look at him, talking to Neville in the corridor. He was nearly twenty. He had been at Finchden four years. He had an extremely good brain. He ought to be in a University. Suddenly Drake's intelligent face became red, then white. His voice blazed up like a paraffin thrown on a fire, and he hit Neville ferociously on the side of the head. 'Come on!' he screamed, 'what about that fight!' Neville did nothing. Drake hit him again. Neville went to bathe his face, and Drake rushed into the staff room. Old early resentments poured out. 'I felt it boiling up for days,' he said. 'I'm confused if I do lose my temper, and I'm confused if I don't. I feel utterly unwanted.' I saw him later when he went to bed, again looking calm and intelligent, the one who ought to go to a University. Neville had a black eye and was lucky not to have worse.

So ended the perfect day, far from perfectly; yet for Drake perhaps something necessary had now happened. Occasionally a day might be all disturbance, and no scherzo, and yet have some healing close. That evening was the only time I ever saw one of the staff hit. Why? One reason that there was so little violence was that the boys knew they needed Finchden; another, that the staff, by virtue of their training, did not provoke the boys. The boys also knew they would get little satisfaction out of attacking the staff, who were not going to hit back.

The story which best illustrates what became of violence was a stock one, told best by the boys. The boy concerned - 'dear old Ed' - was a square stolid gruff 'tough' with a ponderous voice. 'Before I came to Finchden,' he used to lecture new arrivals, 'I was no good. No good at all. After three months, I stopped being no good. I was born.' Towards the end of his time there he became restive again and now and then threw things at the staff. David said something that enraged him. He rushed into the garden, picked up a brick and stood fingering it under Mr Lyward's window. David went after him and was in time to hear him growl, 'No ... no ... perhaps not. After all, the old ***'s only doing his best.'

next chapter
previous chapter
top of this page

Mr Lyward's Web Page