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.


L C V Wilkes

Mum Wilkes

L C V Wilkes   

Cicely Wilkes (Mum)


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.


St Cyprians School Photograph 1924


Extract of school photo 1924, showing Mrs Wilkes,

L C V Wilkes with daughter Deryn, R L Sillar

and Bill Tomlinson behind

Wispers near Midhurst


The school was located near the sea and the South Downs which gave endless opportunities for the boys to exercise and explore the natural history, as a balance to the routine of learning. Particularly popular teachers who appear in the accounts of more than one former pupil were “Old” Ellis who taught mathematics and treated his pupils with the respect due to equals, and the inspirational R L Sillar who taught art and natural history. The weekend entertainments were an important part of school life with live concerts and shows or magic lantern shows and gramophone records.


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 men, Cambridge cricket blue Bill Tomlinson married Rosemary the eldest Wilkes daughter and became headmaster on Lewis’ retirement.  Between the wars the “St Cyprian’s Cygnets”, a cricket team composed of masters, old boys, family and close friends and connections, established a fine reputation is Sussex. The family atmosphere was such that several Old Boys held their weddings at the school.


In May 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 Eastbourne College, who owned another prep school that had just closed. The school moved in September to Wispers, a large country house with magnificent grounds near Midhurst. But the house was then taken over by the military authorities in January 1941 and the prospects of returning to the coast receded as the war continued. The residual boys through various amalgamations became incorporated into Summer Fields Oxford. After Lewis died in 1947, Cicely moved into the school gatehouse – St Cyprians Lodge – where over the next 20 years a succession of devoted Old Boys visited her. In 1997 the Eastbourne Society in association with Eastbourne Council erected a plaque commemorating the school and some of its famous alumni on the front of the Lodge.  Some well-known Old Boys


Mum Wilkes in her 80s

Unveiling the plaque

“Mum” Wilkes in her eighties, visited by one 

of her “Old Boys”

Daughter Deryn unveils the plaque on “The Lodge” in 1997


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Last Updated February 2008

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