A Memorial Address

John Prickett, Tenterden, UK

No one who knew him well is likely to deny that in his chosen sphere George Lyward had a gift which can only be described as genius, by which I mean a gift comparable to that of a poet, a gift which leaves both the poet himself and the listener (or reader) face to face with a mystery. Of that mystery George Lyward was intensely aware and knew that he had been called to communicate it and co-operate with it through the exercise of  is genius in creative personal relationships, and above all in the creation of the community with which his name is always associated, the  community of Finchden Manor.

It would be mistaken to conclude, however, that because genius is a gift, the exercise of it is easy or painless. It was certainly not so for George Lyward.

Those who saw him for only brief periods on occasional visits to Finchden may well have taken away with them the impression of someone of great strength and independence who could with equanimity defy custom and bureaucracy and get away with it. Because he took great risks, people assumed that he must be very secure, but the full measure of his achievement can only be understood in the light of his deep insecurity, and his dependence upon the esteem and encouragement of others. Complexity and ambivalence are the clues to any rounded picture of the man.

Apparently secure, yet constantly struggling with a deep sense of insecurity; fiercely independent of Government and Bureaucracy, of outside inspection or external financial control, yet personally dependent on the esteem and friendship of others; warm in his offering of and longing for friendship, yet ruthless in rejecting those who appeared to be a challenge to his vocation or his leadership; finding conventional and organised religion unhelpful (so that he could say “the moment I enter a church all religion leaves me”), yet claiming that religion, even more than education, was the main interest of his life; otherworldly in that his vocation involved a kind of retirement from the world, yet sybaritic (his own word for it) in that he enjoyed the comforts of life, and having beautiful things around him. Himself, as he would sometimes suggest, largely conditioned by a conventional morality, yet he would never judge anyone else by those same standards nor, in assessing the ethics of any situation, would he allow any moral rules to blind him to the reality of the personal relationships involved. It was these (and not abstractions) which would determine his attitude.

At Finchden he was the centre around whom everything rotated, yet he knew that he was not the Centre and that his role (while accepting temporarily to be the centre) was to point beyond himself to the mystery which was the Still Centre of the wheel which represented the changing universe in all its diversity. These are some of the paradoxical aspects of the most complex character it has ever been my privilege to know. Each of these conflicting forces was at times the cause of acute suffering, but that he never avoided, and where others of baser metal would have resolved the tension by some easy surrender, he was able to live with it and through it, with faith in the eventual positive outcome.

George Lyward’s early life was insecure. His father, an opera singer, left home when George was very young and visited them only rarely. His mother worked as a primary school teacher for the princely sum of £60 per annum and could not support a separate household herself and her children. The young George, therefore, found himself as the only male in a household consisting of two aunts, his mother and two sisters. As a result of an attack of  poliomyelitis he had a weak leg which prevented him from taking part in games. He suffered a good deal of bullying, both at school and in the street in Clapham Junction where he lived. This may have encouraged him to give more time to his school work and especially to reading. He won a scholarship from his primary school in Westminster to Emanuel School where he eventually became a prefect and House Captain and a Sergeant in the Officers’ Training Corps. At the age of 16 he had made the momentous decision to risk his frail limbs on the rugby field and before leaving he played for the 1st XV. He believed it was this decision which won him the respect of the staff and resulted later in an invitation to return as a master. It was when as a prefect at Emanuel he was put in charge of the lower fifth, known as the ‘toughs’, that he first became aware of his ability to get on with ‘difficult’ boys.

The family did not go away for holidays; they could not afford it. So during school holidays he spent much of his time reading in the public library on Lavender Hill or practising on the piano at home for hours at a time.

Within six weeks of leaving school he was teaching in a Prep. School at Wandsworth Common. It was here that he first stood in front of a group of children and, as he later wrote, “the thought came to me almost like a blow – these are people, we are all people together in a room, – that is the most important fact about this situation. That they were my pupils was a secondary fact completely dwarfed by the first almost alarming realization.”

The consequence of this realization he describes as follows:-

“(it) meant that I never again valued quantity too highly, or troubled about ‘mistakes’, or facts forgotten the next day, or interruptions, or ‘talking in class’, or momentary impertinence. Nothing could separate us: we were members one of another”.

(This was later to become one of his key phrases in talking about Finchden.)

After working in two Prep. Schools he was appointed to Kingston Grammar School and later invited to return to Emanuel, his old school, as a member of staff.

But by this time the desire to go to Oxford or Cambridge had become predominant and eventually he won a choral scholarship to St John’s College, Cambridge, which he was only able to take up with the help of a grant from a fund for ordinands, for he had now decided that he wanted to be a parson. Cambridge was for him sheer joy. He delighted in the music in College chapel and in the productions of the University Music Society in which he sang many of the principal roles.

In 1918 he was offered a post as house-tutor a the Schoolhouse of the Perse School and from then lived with W.H.D. Rowse, the Headmaster, and his family. It was at the Perse that he distinguished himself as a rugby coach.

From the Perse he went (in 1920) to Bishop’s College, Cheshunt, to be prepared for ordination, but withdrew only a fortnight before he was due to be ordained. This withdrawal from ordination was undoubtedly a traumatic experience to which he frequently returned in later life. It seems probable that throughout his emotional attitude to institutional religion was determined by it. On leaving Cheshunt he returned once more to Emanuel School, this time as Senior English Master.

Where should his ambitions take him next? His mind was soon set on teaching at a Public School, partly because that represented for him a standard of excellence not to be found elsewhere, but one cannot doubt that there were also compensating factors at work, not unrelated to the poverty and humiliation of his early life.

In 1923 he was invited by the newly appointed Headmaster to take charge of a large Modern Sixth at Trinity College, Glenalmond. This was the opportunity he had longed for and his happy and uninhibited relationship with that sixth form affected all his future experience with boys of that age group. It was there that he brought to fruition his own ideas about teaching in depth and the need to see that his pupils were satisfied emotionally as well as intellectually.
In 1928 a serious breakdown followed the breaking off of an engagement to marry, with the result that he had to leave Glenalmond and go for treatment to a nursing home under Dr Crichton-Miller. He remembered telling the psychiatrist that he had both a St Francis side and a Napoleonic side to his nature.

It was while he was recovering at this nursing home that Dr Crichton-Miller asked him to help some boy patients of his. He was so successful in this that eventually, as the demand for his help increased, he moved, at the suggestion of Dr Rees to the farm of one of Ree’s old patients known as the Guildables, in Edenbridge, Kent. That was in 1930. By 1935 he had 20 boys there and was looking out for better and bigger accommodation. And so it was that he eventually moved to Finchden Manor, where (including a break for evacuation to the Welsh border during the war) he worked for 38 years.

It was in 1931 that he went from the Guildables with a friend for a few days holiday at Cromer. On entering the hotel courtyard he saw a group having tea outdoors, among whom was a girl with wonderful copper coloured hair. He later claimed that as soon as he saw her he said to his friend, “there is my wife”. And so it proved to be. And so when he came to Finchden he had the support of a wife gifted in many remarkable ways whom he has rightly described as being “of heroic stature”. Her untimely death, and the tragic illness which led up to it, deprived Finchden of a source of warmth, colour and gaiety for which she will always be remembered with affection.

Outside Finchden his closest association for many years was with the Home and School Council, of which he became Chairman in succession to Lord Allen of Hurtwood. For 13 years he edited their magazine ‘Home & School’. It was the publication of Michael Burn’s book ‘Mr Lyward’s Answer’ in 1956 which first, however, brought him into prominence as a public figure of international standing. This book aroused great interest, not only here but also in the United States, and since that time American psychiatrists have constantly visited Finchden and sent over their patients for treatment.

Lyward’s achievement at Finchden has been described as one of the most important educational experiments of the century and has certainly had a considerable influence upon official policy concerning the treatment of disturbed adolescents, both in this country and abroad. This was recognised by the award of O.B.E. in 1970 and by the invitation he so much appreciated to ‘preach’ in Westminster Abbey in 1971.

How can we describe those special insights of Lyward’s which made Finchden Manor unique among therapeutic communities for disturbed adolescents?

First, he saw clearly that what these disturbed boys needed above all on coming to him was a RESPITE from all forms of nagging and pressure. And he was prepared to let them have such a respite for as long as they needed it, even for a matter of years. He would offer them ‘a form of hospitality’ in his house. This respite from the pressure to work was often the occasion of criticism, not only from local farmers, one of whom, in my hearing, when complaining that some of his strawberries were missing, described the boys as “a lot of bloody layabouts”, but also from people in the trade who frequently asked in real perplexity: “But what do they do all day?” One boy when asked this question gave the classic answer, “I don’t know
what we do, but it’s a fine place to be in.”

This leads me on to George Lyward’s attitude to time. To explain this I should perhaps say first of all that it was a basic axiom of his method that when the cause of disturbance is unconscious the cure must be at that same level. Here let me quote a passage from one of his early articles:

“I contend that experience shows that in the long run this security (i.e. the security children and adolescents require) must be an inner one realised unconsciously. Now all our boys have lost that sense of security owing to nagging or the breaking up of their homes or a too rigid insistence upon ‘right’ or wrong’ when they were young – and so forth. They are suspicious, lonely, self-pitying – compelled from within to be stealing in some form or other. Their faith in themselves can only return unconsciously as the result of something happening inside. No talk, as such, can do it, though much can be slipped slyly into talks which takes effect gradually chiefly because it didn’t appear to belong to the main current of the talk. Fixed reactions to their behaviour must fail to help them, because they tend to keep the reaction of adult and community to the child on a behaviour level ….they cannot feel secure while they are being ‘pleased’ or ‘excited’ by what they
only think they want, because they are not being very deeply satisfied.

To return to his attitude to TIME, I went to Finchden Manor from a conventional Boarding School. It was not unusual for me, seeing that I had half an hour to spare between morning school and lunch, to arrange to see a boy then, it might sometimes be on a matter which affected him at quite a deep level.

It would not be surprising to anyone who knows Finchden to discover that I often met with monosyllabic answers which in no way promoted the purpose of the interview. Half an hour! What was my astonishment on arriving at Finchden to find that 3, 4 or even 5 hours for such an interview was not considered too long! Nor were weeks, months or years too long to wait for the thawing of what had been in deep freeze at an unconscious level for many years. Lyward saw that it was not just a question of release from the pressures a boy was consciously aware of, and this, as he saw it, was the explanation of the slowness and depth required in the treatment.

When speaking about time he liked to tell the story of the missionary with African bearers walking through the bush. They walked steadily on the first day and the second day, but on the third day they all sat still and did nothing. They refused to move. When the missionary asked for the explanation they said “You see, our bodies walked all day yesterday and the day before, and now our souls need time to catch up.”

Ancillary to this attitude was his belief that the delayed response was often more powerful than the immediate; that the casual word could penetrate and germinate whereas the direct confrontation would meet resistance on the hard surface and bounce back again.

Because time was needed for thawing, warming, weaning, loosening, healing, disarming (for that was another favourite word) only a consistently friendly relationship over a long period could be of any help.

He saw that the loosening up of compulsive patterns and reactions could be helped by paradoxical treatment which surprised, even shocked, and forced the boy to ask himself questions. Whereas on arrival a boy knew what reaction to expect to his own rebellious and anti-social behaviour, he would be startled and bewildered by what some have called ‘paradoxical’ reactions, so unexpected as to disturb quite deeply the fixed patterns formerly ingrained.

When a boy had been absent without permission for several days causing any hours of additional work for Lyward and the staff in trying to trace him and to allay the anxiety of parents, not only would he be fetched by car, if necessary from considerable distances, but on arrival would be warmly welcomed back, and opportunities would be sought of giving him permissions or articles of clothing or whatever, for which he had previously been asking without success.

Gentle as he could be with a frightened patient, his anger could nevertheless on occasion be quite terrifying. The silence which descended upon a Session of the whole house when ‘Chief’ arrived in an angry mood was eloquent of the respectful awe with which on such occasions he was regarded. Yet his mood would quickly change and, where the voice of thunder had sounded against a back-ground of chilled silence, only a moment later a sudden flash of wit would cause the whole house to collapse in mirth.

Upon visitors his wrath would fall most often when they confused his methods with those of the ‘do as you like’ progressive school of educationalists. If his attitude at times appeared ‘permissive’ it was not due to indifference as to the way people behaved. It was due, at least in part, to a recognition of his limitations. If you knew that someone who was asking permission to go into town would go whether you said ‘yes’ or ‘no’, it seemed more sensible to say ‘yes’. At least that would save you from an embarrassing situation when he ignored your ‘no’, and it might encourage him to come and ask permission again the next time, instead of slinking off discourteously and without reference as an unrelated individual.

But the acceptance by a rebellious boy of his first ‘no’ was always regarded as a major advance. “It is the nos which give shape to our personality”, he would say, “like a fat woman’s corsets.”

Which brings me to the whole question of GIVING. George Lyward would distinguish between two ways of giving, – as a sign or symbol of the giving of oneself, or as a substitute for the giving of oneself. The second kind of giving was very common among the parents of rejected or neglected children; at Finchden the first was woven into the pattern of daily life. A boy would be given more pocket money or new clothing, not because he had made out a good case for it, but because he specially needed at that moment to be reassured that he was loved.

To be effective, giving as a sign or symbol must be generous and unconditional – “good measure, pressed down, running over” (he was always quoting the Bible and just because he was so unpious, people could take it from him). He would use anything on any occasion to provide such symbols.

At one period he used to appear at breakfast and distribute the letters. Cooked breakfasts were not normally supplied, or only on order from the Chief. He had just given such an order for one boy and David, sitting near me, said “He would never do that for me.” When Lyward came round, David, on a sudden impulse asked him, “May I have bacon and eggs today, Sir?” Of course you may, David,” was the reply, “and not only today but tomorrow and the next day as well.

Lyward used to say that those who feel indebted (to parents or others) must live on credit in both senses of the word. They become takers and, if they are to take, somebody must give. They will, of course, try to liquidate the debt (by various forms of enuresis). He once said to me laughingly “There are two phrases I should like to be remembered for – ‘living on credit’ and ‘liquidating the debt’.”

But there was another way of giving advocated by George Lyward which was less acceptable to his critics – writing about Children’s Homes he once expressed it in this way:

“The real secret of living in a Home with children is to know how to be creative in taking away, and in being unfair and haphazard, so that the gift shall never deny the children increasing awareness of the giver”.

This is so contrary to the book of rules, which always insists upon consistency of treatment and fairness, that the sheer temerity of it takes the breath away, – in the same sort of way, I imagine, as the story of Jesus about the workers in the vineyard did for those who first heard it.

I liked to think of the whole process of what happened to people at Finchden as ‘learning to live’ and that was not just a matter of behaviour (he was never taken in by ‘good behaviour’) or of getting rid of some ‘objectionable traits’, but ‘a gradual and infinitely thorough recreation’.

His technique for interviews was surely original. Once again it was based on his awareness of the need for time so that the deeper levels of personality could come into play.

Let us suppose that he wished to talk to a boy about his relationship with his mother. Near the beginning of the interview he would, as it were, announce the subject matter of the interview by some such remark as “You don’t get on very well with your mother, do you Peter?” At this stage a monosyllabic reply was all that could be expected, “No, Sir.” Lyward would then drop the subject and a wide ranging discussion might follow (he was never at a loss for something to talk about and his witty comments on current Finchden events were sure of a good reception) for the next hour or so. During this time a small group would have been gathered (“You went out with Jeremy yesterday, didn’t you? Would you like to have him in?” A member of staff puts his head round the door to ask a question and, if known to be on good terms with Peter, is invited to stay). Some chance remark will then cause Lyward to return to the matter in hand. “That’s rather like your relationship with your mother, isn’t it Peter? Just like Tom hammering at the goal time after time yesterday and each time hitting the post and getting a rebound! Does your mother do that Jeremy? Does she ‘go on’ at you, does she nag? What sort of rebound does she get?”

If, at this stage, Peter suddenly chimes in and begins to talk about his mother, the interview will have been an easy one.

Most frequently the hatred of his Most frequently the hatred of his mother is so deeply buried that it cannot reach the surface in so short a time. And so, almost imperceptibly, the conversation is allowed to drift away again, and become general. Another friend may be invited to join the group. And so on. Only when Peter at last (it may be after 3 or 4 hours of moving ‘to and fro’ and, after a stammering start) lets the floods of his anger burst through, only then can the group concentrate on the matter in hand.

From then on Peter will be doing most of the talking. The fact that the group of friends is there to share in this confidence has a twofold significance. Peter has brought his trouble out into the open. (It would not have been the same if he had said to Geroge Lyward in a huddle, “I’ll tell you, but you must promise not to tell anyone else”). Secondly it means that those who have (at his invitation) shared his confidence, will both know more about him, understand him better and feel a greater intimacy and responsibility for him.

Lyward often said that the boys did far more to help each other than he could do to help them by private interviews.

It will be recognized that this technique is time-demanding and exhausting. There is only one thing to be said for it: it works.

I will end with an extract from one of the many letters written by Old Boys of Finchden saying what Geroge Lyward meant to them:

“To me at various times he was father, mother, brother, uncle and whatever was my need at the time. I can never forget him as in a peculiar way he is always with me, as part of me – He did so much for so many of us and I count myself uncommonly lucky to have passed through his spell and care.
“Without him I could never have qualified from college and obtained the job I now hold and enjoy. Without him I would never have had such a happy and enjoyable marriage with two gorgeous unconfused sons.”

It is not for me to attempt an assessment of Lyward’s work. Others will no doubt do this in the course of time. If, however, there is one factor common to the attitudes and methods I have mentioned, it is that they are all addressed to the deeper levels of the personality where alone significant change is generated. Taken all in all I suspect that they amount to a change of climate (involving a freshness of perception, of insight, of creative relationship) which may help to determine our ways of seeing disturbed and disturbing adolescents for a long time to come.

This article consists of the text of an address delivered by John Prickett at the memorial service at St Martin’s in the Fields, London, on 26 October 1973. It has not previously been published but permission to reproduce extracts has been given by the author to “The Times Educational Supplement “ and to “The Social Worker”.

John Prickett.
After teaching for periods in Egypt and Liverpool, was headmaster of Kent College (Canterbury) from 1934-1960. From 1960 – 1967 he worked with George Lyward at Finchden Manor. From 1967-1971 he was Secretary of Education Department of the British Council for Churches, and is now Hon. Secretary of the Standing Conference on Inter-Faith Dialogue in Education.