St Cyprian’s School – Eastbourne
Although it was only in operation for some 40 years St Cyprians School was to have a significant effect in the 20th and 21st centuries. The creation of St Cyprians was down to the vision and energy of L C Vaughan Wilkes. St Cyprians was one of an increasing number of “Preparatory Schools” that were established at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century to prepare boys for entrance examinations and scholarships to the great Public Schools. Such schools were and still are boarding schools with pupils from the age of eight to thirteen.
Lewis Vaughan Wilkes and his wife founded the school after their marriage in 1899 in a large house in Carlisle Road Eastbourne. By 1906 the school had prospered enough for it to be possible to erect new buildings with extensive playing fields off Summerdown Road Eastboume. The school was designed with great care with everything in perfect order - the gym, the chapel the swimming pool and all the other components. Photographs of the accommodation show that this was a homely environment. Over the years the school achieved outstanding academic results through the excellent teaching skills of L CV Wilkes his wife and their colleague’s, but more than this, boys from the school later distinguished themselves to an exceptional degree in various walks of life
Lewis Vaughan Wilkes was a passionate believer in education and the creation of opportunity through education, and wanted his school to be the best. St Cyprian’s was to prepare boys for success in life as well as just educating them for Public School scholarships and entrance exams. The Wilkes recognised that Public School scholarships existed primarily to help children of less well-off parents and encouraged such children to the extent of offering them assisted places at St Cyprian’s at reduced or negligible fees. Lewis had probably benefited from scholarships and generous benefactors himself, and he wanted to do the same for others. He was not the first or last of the Wilkes to believe in “doing good by stealth” and the intention was that the beneficiaries of this largess should never know about it or be treated any differently at the school. The Wilkes’ would fund this by attracting the sons of the wealthy prepared to pay a premium rate for a first class education.
What also made the school special was exceptional character of Mrs Wilkes. While maintaining strict discipline, she was devoted to children and loved their company. As the boys were away from home and family life, she worked hard the fill the gap by acting as a substitute mother to every child - to the extent that she was known as “Mum”. A warm-hearted and an inspired teacher she was particularly successful as an English teacher, and spiced up history by making learning it an entertaining game. She had a remarkable skill in motivating her charges with a repertoire of encouraging phrases. On top of that she was extremely capable and ran the school with clockwork precision. She also had her own family of five children to bring up. However with such a demanding set of responsibilities she could also be rather temperamental and so when she was upset, the withdrawal of her affection was keenly felt.
The school was located near the sea and
A challenge came at the start of the
First World War, when all but two of the staff left to join up, together with
the 100 or so old boys who fought in the war. In spite of this the school
prospered and grew. In 1916 the Chronicle reports that the school received
490 letters from Old Boys fighting in the war and doubtless a similar number
were sent back. After the war enthusiastic young men came to teach at St
Cyprian’s and sporting successes were also achieved. One of these young
1939 the main house suffered severe fire damage. One boy particularly
remembered it as it was his 12th birthday and they rescued his
cake and ate on the playing fields while the school burned! The Wilkes found
temporary accommodation elsewhere in the town, thanks to the generosity of
Last Updated February 2008
© Tim Tomlinson. All Rights Reserved