In PETiTathon2015! Day 2 we presented Frank Mathews' 1944 'Report on visit to Barns School, Peebles & Dunnow Hall, Cheshire", for the Birmingham Society for the Care of Invalid and Nervous Children. There we see what Frank Mathews thought of therapeutic community pioneer David Wills. In this section from his unpublished Autobiography, we get a glimpse from the other side: What David Wills thought of Frank Mathews
From Part Three "Fulfilment", Chapter 14 "Barns Hostel School", of David Wills' unpublished Autobiography (transcribed by volunteer Helen Moore)
Birmingham had another magnet, to explain which it is necessary to go back a year or two. In the middle of the war I had had a visit from a remarkable and loveable old character called Frank Mathews. Writing on paper with the formidable heading “Birmingham Society for the Care of Invalid and Nervous Children”, with a Bournville address, he had enquired whether he might visit Barns, and himself followed shortly afterwards. He was, I suppose, approaching seventy, a tall, lean grizzled man with a large beak, a slightly twisted spine, and a hearing aid, his frequent exasperation with which he would express in the most picturesque terms. He made it clear to me straight away that he had no use for Quakers although (or because?) he had lived in Bournville for forty years; nor for any kind of religious belief, though he was later to give me from his shelves (or was that his wife?) Evelyn Underhill’s “Mysticism”. He told me he had once been a market gardener, but when he and Evelyn had married about the beginning of the century they found that if they pooled their resources they had just about enough to live on in a very modest way, so they decided to live on it and devote their lives to pious works. He had started an organisation for looking after crippled children, which led to the founding of a large hospital for them (“I persuaded George Cadbury to give us this house, so it’s his bust that stands on the pedestal in the hall, not mine”) and the organisation on whose letter head he wrote was also his creation. He had in the fullness of time resigned from the Committee (which he had formed) of the hospital because they insisted on admitting adults as well as children. When eventually he had some spinal trouble himself I was to have the interesting experience of visiting him there, and listening to him cursing in a deaf man’s loud voice that echoed down the passages the irony of his having to accept the ministrations of an institution from which he had dissociated himself for the very reason that it insisted on helping people like him. But that was later. Talking to me at Barns he went out of his way to make it clear that he had no use for committees and that kind of thing, which in his view were nothing but a bloody nuisance”, but it was alas necessary to have them in order to get money for your projects without people wondering whether you’re a fraud.
The chief activity of his society was the boarding out on farms of city children who needed a period of recruitment in a healthy atmosphere. His present problem was that many of the children referred to him were not so much invalid as emotionally disturbed and needed long-term skilled help in a therapeutic environment rather than the simple ministrations of his farm wives. He planned therefore when the war was over to open a boarding school for such children – a place like Barns. And he wanted me to run it.
I gave an evasive reply both because it was then far too early to commit myself to any post-war plan, and because the old boy, though a most engaging character, did not really inspire a great deal of confidence. If he had represented a like-minded group of people (like the Barns Committee for example) I might have reacted differently, but clearly he was the only pebble on the beach, and intended to resist the appearance of any other pebbles. He asked me if I could suggest anyone else if I should turn him down, and I gave him the name and address of Bunny Barron who had done such splendid work at Hawkspur and was then himself running a hostel for evacuated children. Frank visited again a year or so later, this time bringing with him his personal assistant Hilda Rees* and also arranged for Dr. Charles Burns, who acted as psychiatrist to his organisation, to pay us a visit. I was thus thoroughly vetted, and he made up his mind more firmly than ever that I was the man he wanted. But he also visited Bunny and kept that line open, though I don’t know whether he ever told Bunny why he was so assiduously cultivating his acquaintance. He wrote to me often about his plans on notepaper which did nothing to increase my confidence because that imposing heading was now put on with a rubber stamp, and by the time Barns had moved to its new address this indomitable, persistent, irresistible old man was very much taking it for granted that he had recruited me.
When therefore the suggestion of going to Woodbrooke came along it seemed most providential. I could go to Woodbrooke for a year and write my book on punishment. At the same time, as Woodbrooke was almost in Bournville, I could find out something more about Frank Mathews and his organisation. If further enquiries revealed him as being unreliable I could back down; if he seemed like a good bet, the new school would be just about ready to receive me by the time my fellowship expired.
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