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
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
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 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.
Their children -
Grace Edith and Patrick
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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