From Elizabeth Lloyd, The Story of a Community.
I propose to donate part of a chapter to this remarkable woman, because from her stemmed the inspiration that made possible the Community's very existence.
She may be said to have begun her work in St. Pancras in 1911 and it only ended with her death in 1969 at the age of eight-six: she never, as far as is known, flagged, or left for more than a very short time the place that she loved more than anywhere else on earth.
She was a matriarchal figure both in appearance and outlook. She had a beautifully shaped head with a fine high forehead; it was a leonine head, denoting both power and thought. She was essentially a lover of humanity and above all, of children and young people and her love came perhaps from a passionate concern for their well-being, both physical, mental and emotional, for above all, she was a born educator with a passion to put right that which she thought to be wrong and to persuade others to do so too. In her inimitable way she was a pioneer as courageous, as far-seeing and visionary as those distant Americans trudging off into the wilderness of prairie and swamp with all their unknown hazards.
She was unafraid, seldom abashed and totally unselfconscious: she was also autocratic, sometimes demanding too much and she did not like her plans to be thwarted, yet she was curiously humble and was always ready to listen to an idea, a new proposal, from even the most immature: all of which made it possible for her to govern and rule a large mixed community of boys and girls, some of whom were deeply emotionally disturbed, and a diverse collection of adults of all ages, experience and temperaments.
So much has been written about the deprived, the maladjusted and delinquent child that it seems unnecessary to add to it; sufficient to say that all these categories of children came to the Community. Miss Leila, though, disliked what she called, the 'labelling' of children. All the children did come from 'broken homes' and as a result, all suffered from that lack of security, which was the birthright of every child, Miss Leila preached day in and day out.
It is interesting to read, as I did the other day in this year of 1976, that the Head of the King Alfred School in London, an experimental and in many ways presumably, a 'progressive' one, said that, "To be progressive a century ago, meant loosening all bonds. Today, in a disintegrating society, to be progressive means building up a child's security. This can only be done by adults of real but benevolent authority." Her words echoed those of Miss Leila.
This fundamental lack of stability must, said Miss Leila, be remedied: but how? and the answer she gave was that life at the Community was to be an ordered and patterned existence; that although freedom would be allowed, it must be within a framework of law and order; standards of behaviour were to be set and a general civilised way of life was to be taught to all and it was to be taught, to use Mrs. Archer's words again, by adults of real but benevolent authority."
So many of the children we had at The Mote seemed to have 'missed out' on the various stages of their lives with no proper babyhood, no proper 'small boy and girl life', consequently when they reached the adolescent stage, they were childish and immature and it took a long time for them to catch up emotionally with their mental powers, for they were, in the main, very intelligent and able children. So, the Community was run in many respects, as an ordinary boarding school with fixed bedtimes, meals, and rules that were made for everyone's convenience.
Life for the adolescent was of course, much more flexible, but the younger children, Miss Leila said, needed to go to bed at the same time and in the same way each night, get up at the same time, have regular school hours, regular meals, regular playtime and plenty of fresh air and exercise. Such a life as this would, no doubt, appear very old fashioned to many a modern young mother of today, but I came to feel most strongly that the Community's children must have found a kind of salvation in this regularity of life: 'wrapped in the warm cocoon of habit' as the American author, Edith Wharton, wrote.
I said previously that there was a feeling of unity among the staff which in itself made for a security and I think this must have been felt by the children - that here was a place of stability; that there would not be some drastic change at any moment; that the adult to whom the child was accustomed and whose ways were mutually understood, would be there at the beginning of each day and at the beginning of each term.
This is not to imply that there were never any changes or new experiments; far from it. There were many over the years and endless adaptations, but the basic pattern did not alter and there was always a nucleus of experienced staff who remained and were there to train up others.
Now, although I have said that the Community was, in many ways, run as an ordinary boarding-school, yet it was something much more than that: after all, it was called a 'community'; it is very difficult indeed to define just what that something more was. It was not, to my mind, in the least like a 'Children's Home', nor was it run as such. The groups were large and because of the size of the community, it was able to provide a life of a much wider interest than a Children's Home could hope to do - certainly in those days.
Perhaps the word 'community' did describe it, for the Oxford Dictionary defines the word, among other definitions, as 'fellowship - of interests or 'identity of character' and the word 'fellowship' was one that Miss Leila liked and often used. There were no watertight compartments and everyone was accessible and above all, Miss Leila and Miss Dave.
I had first thought of the Community as a substitute for home-life; this idea I found erroneous: it was not. There was no substitute, said Miss Leila, for good parents who made a good home: this was just a different sort of place in which to bring up children, it was not the same as a good home - how could it be? But it did offer a wide way of life with many interests and all sorts and conditions of people to meet and live with and it did offer a security, and a very great concern on the part of the adults, for the happiness of the children. This could be achieved, I learnt, only by first making contact with the child and a contact that was a real and genuine one and not just a false surface sort of "oh, I love children" and "you just need to love them, that's enough"; it was not nearly enough and anyway it was my experience that love, or the emotional feeling that generally describes that over-worked, debased word of the English language, came at a much later stage. If this sounds somewhat sententious, it was a fact as far as I was concerned.
Miss Leila was the grand-daughter of Kegan Paul, the well-known Victorian Publisher, whose firm is still in existence, and it was from him, through her mother, that she inherited the fine collection of children's books, leather bound and beautifully cared for. She also had a fine collection of poetry and a wide range of novels, both modern and old, including many Victorian favourites; there were, too, Biographies, of which she had a great love, and Much Belle-lettres. She would lend any books to anyone but woe betide the borrower if they were not returned in mint condition. She kept all her books in her sitting-room which, at The Mote, was a beautiful room with a high ceiling and long Georgian windows looking out onto the park.
Miss Leila had, what she called a 'room sense'. The ability to make a room attractive to look at and comfortable to be in. She herself came from a comfortably-off family and had inherited good furniture and pictures. She did her best to instill into her staff this 'room-sense' and I think that on the whole she succeeded.
At one stage in my life at The Mote I shared a large outside room in the old stable-yard with another young woman. We had the necessary basic furniture, but that was all; we did our best with old orange-boxes, which we stained and used as lockers. We bought cheap curtain material but the hemming took so long that the bottom of the curtains was just pinned up. We thought the curtains looked rather elegant and the pins were invisible unless you looked for them. Miss Leila came round on a tour of inspection and lifted up the curtains and naturally saw the pins, "oh dear", she said, artistic, but no finish". We felt crushed; we did not remove the pins though.
Later, when I moved my room yet again and had a small one that looked on to the leads of the roof, (which total lack of outlook I did not mind in the least as I do not remember ever being in the room except when in bed at night), I discovered a new and novel way of furnishing it. Scattered round the house were numerous dustbins which were meant for paper or dust. One morning I found the remains of what had once been an extremely nice rush-seated chair. It now had no back but the seat and legs were, to my eyes, in perfectly good order. Miss Leila had put it there; she did not want it. I claimed it and it has made an admirable stool ever since. It was followed by a large papier-mache Indian box with a lid. I had that too and it was used for logs for the fire. A colleague of mine later had the lid, which is still in use as a waste paper basket. A very nice piece of Persian rug adorned my floor for many years. I understood it had been in the Rendel home for many years. Miss Leila had it at The Mote, got tired of it and so it came my way.
With regard to books, Miss Leila had such a high standard for their appearance, that the smallest defect or blemish would be detected at once and out they went. Many a book have I rescued from the dustbin and they are on my shelves still.
Of her love of a change of furniture in her room I shall have more to say in a later chapter, as at The Mote it was not so apparent. It was when we were at Mersham-le-Hatch, after the war, that it reached, as you might say, its peak.
I shall have more to say, too, about the close and creative partnership between Miss Leila and Ethel Davies. Considering the ups and downs and the various stresses and strains within and without the Community, this completely harmonious relationship, which lasted for more than forty years, and was only ended by Miss Leila's death, seemed to me to be almost miraculous: it was also the great strength of the Community.