My Family Matters

Charles Henry and

Edith Annie Mills

My grandfather, Charles Henry Mills (Charlie), was born on 19 July 1880 He was the second son of a skilled and qualified shipwright who was employed at Portsmouth Dockyard. The Mills family were living at 7 Great Southsea Street, Southsea which was part of a development of Georgian and Victorian streets built to house dockyard craftsmen and workers.

 

By the turn of the nineteenth century, the Mills family (probably driven by Charlie’s mother, Rose) had climbed a rung or two of the social ladder. They had moved to 51 Lawrence Road, Southsea and Charlie had taken the first steps along his career path - he was a monitor on probation at Albert Road, Southsea  School in 1894 and an assistant schoolmaster from 1898 until 1903 at Portsmouth’s Beneficial School. His younger brother, Archibold John Mills (Archie) was also a pupil teacher in 1901.

 

There had been some signs that part of the Mills persona was the ability to instruct: Charlie’s grandfather,James Mills, had given ‘tuition for young gentlemen’ on HMS Asia in Portsmouth Harbour and Charlie’s maternal great grandmother was a school mistress in London in 1851.

To improve his teaching qualifications from 1903 until 1905, Charlie attended Hartley University College, Southampton from which he emerged with a first-class degree and a new fascination - he was enthralled by a fellow student, Edith Annie Dee, who was affectionately known as ‘Eadie’ (a name derived from her initials).

 

Eadie, however, was of a different social standing. Her father, George Dee, was a business man at Stoke Newington, London who owned a chain of small shops selling hardware products - what we would call DIY goods.  George was also a local councillor who had been offered the mayorship of Stoke Newington on more than one occasion.

 

Eadie was born on 17 June 1884 at Clapton, north London, the eldest of four sisters. One of her sibling’s husbands was later knighted and another received the CBE – which is a taste of the circle in which the Dees moved. Like many young, middle-class ladies, Eadie also entered the teaching profession, being a pupil teacher in 1901. She enrolled at Hartley College in 1903. Why Eadie went to Southampton to continue her training when there were several similar colleges in London is, perhaps, hard to understand.

 

Hartley University College

Eadie was living at 6 Carlton Crescent – in a ‘dignified residential district’ of Georgian houses - together with nineteen other students under the oversight of a supervisor who viewed them as ‘cherished chicks’. Her closest friends were “Bella’ Jeffries and Jeannie Forrest.

 

There were strict limitations placed on the social interaction between male and female students. Each term saw ‘half-a-dozen functions (called soirees) that included music, games and dancing’. Girls could only attend these if they were chaperoned. They were not allowed out without permission after 6.00 pm in wintertime and 8.30 pm in the summer and had to be in bed by 10.00 pm. They were also forbidden to converse with male students outside of the college precincts except when at recognised events.

Charlie began teaching at St Lukes School, Portsmouth on 28 August 1905 and also taught at the school’s Evening Institute. Eadie returned to London where she probably taught at Daniel Street School, Stoke Newington (there is an entry in the autograph book which reads Daniel Street School 1909).

 

Would Charlie’s feelings for Eadie wither because of the distance between them socially and geographically – Stoke Newington being about seventy-five miles from Portsmouth?

 

Charlie was an active man: he swam regularly and coached the school football team and cycled. It was quite possible to cycle to London and back spurred on by the fuel of ardour. However, on his arrival, probably dusty/muddy, flushed and unkempt, Charlie was turned away on more than one occasion by Eadie’s parents. This action may be somewhat hard to understand as Eadie’s father was a keen cyclist and the captain of a local cycling club. He would have known the effort that lay behind Charlie’s journey.

 

One senses therefore the hand of Eadie’s mother in the rejection of the weary suitor. According to his son, Charlie’s social skills were lacking and his manner of speech might include the occasional expl**tive. On the back of one photograph of himself, Charlie has plaintively written, ‘Dear Edie (sic), I’ve just come to wish you a Very Happy Xmas and for the New Year, every good wish for health and happiness. Yours always, Charlie.’ Was this card presented on an occasion when Charlie was not allowed across the portals of the Dee home?

 

 

 

The courtship

The ceremony was conducted by the Rector, Rev. E. B. Salmon. Eadie was dressed in white silk with a pretty lace veil and orange blossom wreath. She was attended by six bridesmaids: her three sisters, Dora, Gertrude and Marjorie Dee, and three cousins, Ethel Maude Dee, Violet Jamieson and Elsie Dear. The bridesmaids wore white muslin and silk dresses with rose trimmed, leghorn hats. Archie Mills was the best man. Charlie’s presents to the maids were white satin, hand-painted bags and scent bottles.

 

The wedding breakfast was served to more than fifty guests at George Dee’s home, Fairholt Road, Stoke Newington. Ironically (in view of Charlie’s travels and travails), the presents included a case of silver salt cellars from the Clapton Wanderers Cycling Club, of which George had been captain.

 

Charlie and Eadie left for their honeymoon at Bournemouth – the bride wearing a mole costume with Tuscan hat trimmed with scarf.

The wedding

Their children -

Grace Edith and Patrick

Charles Mills

 

The couple’s first home was at 3 Tredegar Road, Southsea but the couple soon moved to nearby 26 Rochester Road, which is close to the seafront.

 

In 1911, Charlie and Eadie were visiting newly-weds Bella (nee Jeffries) and her teacher husband, Harry Trodd, at Itchen.

 

A daughter, Grace Edith, (my mother) was born on 24 June 1912 and Patrick Mills was born on 15 March 1914.

The Great War

 

Shortly after Patrick’s birth, the Great War broke out and Charlie quickly enlisted on 31 July 1914. He joined the Somerset Light Infantry and was posted to Bognor with his family. Later, he served in France as a Lieutenant Quartermaster. His war seems unremarkable except that he escaped death on one occasion when a bomb dropped on his stores when he was reporting to the adjutant.

The War had a sweeping impact on many families and coloured Charlie’s relationship with his brother Archie. Although they had been close (Archie had been his best man) Archie was not conscripted because of varicose veins.

 

While the war was raging and Charlie was abroad, Archie was appointed headmaster of the Beneficial School at Portsmouth on 26 August 1907. When Charlie returned from France (he resumed teaching at St Lukes on 19 May 1919), he found his younger brother working as ‘Head’: a position he was never to fill. Archie was also a freemason for whom Charlie had ‘no time’.

Charlie and Edith’s homes in Portsmouth

After the war, Charlie and Eadie lodged with Daisy Tuck (a relation of Charlie’s mother) at 5 Playfair Road, Portsmouth. They then bought ‘Verona’, 16 Ophir Road, North End, Portsmouth (left) which cost £640. A move to a newly-built home at 74 Chatsworth Avenue, Cosham followed. Charlie rode to school on a Royal Enfield motor-cycle .

 

As Cosham became more ‘built-up’ Eadie wanted to move again so another new house, 86 Northern Parade, Portsmouth (right) was bought for £1,000 in 1937. It was christened, ‘Fairholt’ (which was the name of the road where Eadie had been raised). This was to be their final move.

Charlie at St Luke’s School

Charlie continued to teach at St Luke’s school. The school log book gives a glimpse of his life there. It mentions a few illnesses and that on 20 June 1921 he was engaged in ‘work connected with the census’ which had been taken the previous day – most satisfying for a family historian.

 

Charlie was also absent for six days in June 1920 ‘due to an accident to his foot whilst training the boys in football’. This training was successful as a later entry reported that the School Football Cup had been returned after being won for two years running. ‘Mr C. H. Mills has had charge of the team’.

1925 - 1948

Meanwhile, Grace and Patrick were growing older. The postcard above was sent by Eadie to her mother in around 1925 from Sandown, Isle of Wight which was a popular holiday destination for the family. That Eadie hopes that her parents do not think the photograph to be too rude gives an intriguing insight into the family’s moral code.

 

The holiday snaps which have been passed down show that Charlie and Eadie enjoyed the seaside. Indeed, many of the Dee family spent time together at various resorts which shows the close relationship between Eadie and her sisters.

The mid-1940s were a stressful time for Charlie. His daughter, Grace, married a farm labourer in 1945. Charlie and Eadie did not smile on this match. Then, in the summer of 1945, Charlie retired from teaching. Early in 1946, Grace returned to Portsmouth for the birth of her son - and stayed with Charlie and Eadie for eighteen months. Eadie’s widowed mother, Annie was also in residence.

Charlie’s beloved Eadie had not enjoyed the best of health. She appears slight in photographs. She lost weight and her hands were deformed by arthritis. After a prolonged illness, she died (aged 65) at 3.00 pm on 26 October 1948 from a stroke and bronchitis brought on by “fibrosis of the lungs”. If that bereavement wasn’t sufficient burden, Eadie’s mother who was now living in a nursing home at Southsea died less than three months later.

 

Charlie’s retirement

Charlie’s time now was divided between his bowls club, gardening and his newly-acquired family. He had been a bowler for many years and had been secretary of the Alexander Park Bowling Club which was conveniently based across the road from his home. When Eadie was alive, this was a source of contention as she demanded that he spend more time with her rather than his bowls. I remember him writing in his club ledgers in the front bedroom.

 

In 1951, he organised the Southsea bowling tournament. He wrote about this achievement:

Charlie spent a lot of time with Grace and his  two grandchildren. He drove a Morris Minor (GTP 914 - right) and in the summer we would sally forth to Slindon Down, the Meon valley and Petersfield. I have sharp memories of these jaunts, and so clearly enjoyed them.

 

In the summer, Charlie would hire a beach hut at Eastney and every day we would all troop down to the seaside. On one occasion while in hospital he wrote, ‘I wanted Saturday off to see Grace and the kiddies to their (beach) hut. You can guess the amount of bits and pieces that were wanted for the fortnight and I’m hoping to be out in time to carry it all back home again’.

Mum also took us to a hotel at Ventnor, Isle of Wight, for a summer holiday. I have no doubt that Charlie funded this. I also fondly recall him teaching me arithmetic using a small blackboard and chalk as I was perched on his knee. The sum of my recollections is that he spent a lot of happy and instructive time with us.

 

Charlie enjoyed gardening. He built a rockery at the end of the garden. There were espaliered plum and apple trees along a south-facing wall and the garden was dominated by a beautiful copper beech tree. A heavy garden roller was parked in the corner. He loved Canterbury Bells, Sweet Williams and Fuschias.

 

 

 

Although he loved his pipe – and the convoluted operation to set it alight – Charlie was fit and healthy. As a young man he would swim in the sea in all seasons. He thought nothing of cycling to London and back. The school logbooks notes only two absences for illnesses when he had flebitis and lymphangitis.

 

In 1951, he was in hospital for tests: ‘this hall of beds and mixed smells’. He wrote, ‘the problem is I lose a quantity of blood through the back passage and until the doctors find out why, there will not be much progress’. He was diagnosed as having leukemia (like his mother) and was treated at St Mary’s hospital – where his father had died. My mother was disturbed because he cried out for a transfusion at the height of his discomfort.

 

Near the end he was allowed out of hospital and typically took his family on a trip. We were introduced to a huge (and stinking) whale carcass which was displayed on a trailor at Southsea Common. Charlie died on 15 August 1954. I distinctly remember Mum sitting on the side of my bed to tell me the sad news.

Epilogue

Eadie was ‘vivacious, a loving, faithful wife and a good cook’. She clearly had middle-class standards. Charlie appears stern and brusque – a man who didn’t leave his school master’s manner behind at the school gates. His son was a little in awe of him and I clearly recall Charlie threatening to ‘come down on me like a ton of bricks’ on several occasions. Few of the photographs show him smiling. However, I have been taken to task about this description by a cousin who has pleasant memories of a bright and breezy character.

He was impatient. To have a deaf wife and daughter must have put a strain on the family. His daughter remembered that he drew attention to her left-handedness and unladylike feet. Archie was more outgoing and made friends easily unlike Charlie who was inclined to speak his mind and had few friends apart from his bowling cronies.

 

The family was comfortably-off and lived in homes of good quality. Even in 1932, Charlie was driving a Singer car (right).

From his father, Charlie inherited a natural talent for working with his hands. He made well crafted items of furniture such as a mahogany bureau in the living room. He was a competent artist (see the example below) and had a flowing style of handwriting.

 

My last memory of grandpa is of him waving goodbye to us all from an upper window of St James’ Hospital, Milton, Portsmouth

Home page

Right: a group photograph of Hartley students. Charlie is at the rear and Eadie,  the girl on the left. ‘Bella’ Jeffries is next to her.

(From l to r): seated at the front, Marjorie Dee and Elsie Dear. Next row, bridesmaids - Violet Jamieson and Dora Dee; Rose Mills; Annie Dear,  Ann Dear, George Dee and William Dear.  To Charlie’s left is Bella Jeffrey

and behind the bride is Archie Mills.  Above him is Matilda Mayston.  To the bride’s right are

Gertie, Ethel and Eliza Dee with her husband.

(Right) Eadie and children in 1915 and 1916

(Right) After Charlie retired, he participated (smiling!) in a symbolic ceremony at St Lukes of planting grass seed.

Charlie poses while the Mayor of Portsmouth bounces a bowl at the Southsea tournament.

Edith’s

autograph book

Grace Wray

(nee Mills)

Postscript - a glimpse of the artistic talent of Charlie and Eadie

In 1910, Dora Dee invited contributions to her autograph book. Below are the creations of Charlie and Eadie:

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From 1901 until 1910, Eadie kept an autograph book in which her fellow-students and friends contributed drawings, poems and other pieces. It provides a fascinating insight into student life in the early twentieth century.

 

The book also shows Charlie’s evident interest: as well as a pencil drawing of the bar-gate at Southampton, he also penned a portrait of an anonymous young vamp with the caption: ‘All the girls are lov-er-ly’ (shown right).

 

This overt sentiment was quite different from the contributions of other young men, although there may be an entry from Charlie’s brother, Archie Mills, in the book – the author signs him (or-herself) A M s – which maybe indicates that Charlie had a rival for Eadie’s affections.

 

The Hartley Institution was founded at High Street, Southampton (left) by Henry Robinson Hartley in 1862. Today, it has evolved into Southampton University but in the 1890s there was a serious need for re-organisation of the institution. When Eadie and Charlie attended the college, it had become a ‘technical college of the first rate’ and had been renamed 'Hartley University College’ on 23 November 1902. The college’s motto was ‘Strenuis ardua cedunt’ or, ‘The heights yield to endeavour’.

 

As well as day and evening classes, from 1896 the College ran courses to help pupil teachers to attain the certificate of teaching. There were 130 pupil teachers in 1896-97 at the college and 200-300 uncertified teachers in part-time attendance. Several of Eadie’s friends were pupil teachers in 1901. There was no corresponding college at Portsmouth which was the reason that Charlie went twenty-six miles along the coast to Southampton. Hartley attracted students from Southampton, Portsmouth, London and Wales. On St David’s Day, Common Room reeked with the smell of roasted leeks

Charlie’s love and persistence won through. Four years after leaving college the couple were married at St Mary’s Parish Church, Stoke Newington on Saturday afternoon, 29 May 1909. The local interest in the marriage of the daughter of a local councillor was reflected in the assigning of three column inches to the wedding by the Hackney Recorder!