Memoirs of Lawrence from former Red Hill staff and pupils

Jack Hazelgrove: I was asked to write a few words about my friend and colleague from the sixties - Lawrence Mills which I am honoured to do. The top attic which I occupied when I arrived in the spring of 1963 also served as the venue for the staff meetings. Extra chairs were hauled in and as the meeting proceeded cigarette smoke gradually engulfed the room to which Lawrence contributed his fair share. Lawrence soon became a friend and when he was staff on duty often called me in to witness a life and death struggle of diplomacy or reciprocated by offering me a milky coffee in the cottage. When I bought my house in Brighton in 1966 where I still live he offered to give up a week of his holidays to lavish large quantities of white paint on every available surface which have never been repainted since. One year I told him that I had booked a holiday to Istanbul by train and boat. He asked me if I would like to go by car instead in which case we could fly the Sunbeam Alpine over the channel, put the car on the train to Villach and then drive on to Istanbul. So thats what we did. The next year we did Spain and Portugal and finally France in search of Cezanne's studio and Van Gogh's asylum at St Remy de Provence. Noting my growing interest in Art, Lawrence asked me if I would be interested in collaborating in offering Art history A level which I gladly did. Lawrence and Phyllis were major players in the Red Hill community for so many years that this short memoir can only tap the surface - hopefully others will add their contributions. One last note of how Lawrence made a difference to the boys' lives. During the long summer break a few boys remained at the school throughout. Lawrence offered to take two brothers to Butlins for the week which they eagerly accepted and had a great time. Lawrence would have made a great headmaster of a special school but by serving the Red Hill community until its closure he made an immense contribution to the role of art in therapeutic education and of course to the lives of many boys over the decades where he lived and worked at Red Hill School. Jack Hazelgrove - July 2011

Above: one of the many landscapes by Lawrence (courtesy of John Spiers)

Andrew Cleare: I knew Lawrence for a couple of years in which I did both O and A level Art. After O level he mentioned to me in passing that he had put me in for A level. This would have been about the time that exam entries had to be sent in to the board some time in January. When the pressure was on we would spend evenings in the art room. Keith Groves [O level only] and I both used to get up early in the spring/summer and would also be up to the art room for an hour or so before breakfast. Folders of work were duly submitted and signed for as authentic!
A couple of trivia - I recall doing an exam, Lawrence had been banging on about putting in the background first, but I was much more interested in the subject matter. Come the exam I asked "Shall I put in the background first?" "What have I been telling you for the last........!!" Someone brought up drinks for us. It was a 2 or 3 hr exam. I was not into tea so it was a cup of milk for me, which I promptly washed my brush in! Andrew C - July 2011

Terry Wilson: I don't know why Lawrence picked me out of the crowd in 1962 or 1963 as 95% of us boys smoked like troopers. At the time Lawrence chain-smoked 60 to 80 Senior Service a day. I think he was trying to give up the habit himself and when he saw me smoking on the front lawn he gave me 2 shillings to give it up - which I did. I'm not aware of anyone else that received a similar offer. I will always be very grateful to him for inducing me to give up the habit. As an art student of his I was (& still am) completely useless. Lawrence took pity on me though and entered a painting titled "Storm" (no.27) under my name at the 1962 Cooling Galleries Art Exhibition. I contributed nothing - Lawrence did the entire work, even signing my name. I remember him asking me permission to do this and I said it would be OK. A super fellow who will be greatly missed. Terry W - July 2011

Above: a sculpture by Lawrence - believed to be of Mark Thewlis (courtesy of John Spiers)

John Spiers: Lawrence faced a very considerable challenge when he came to RHS in 1956 from a teaching job in Essex. At East Sutton he succeeded two genuinely distinguished art masters: Bob Payne, whose achievements included setting up the 'Magic Theatre' puppet company in the old barn, and who was much loved by everyone who knew him. And John Jones, who was a painter of outstanding talents, an expert on Modern Art and a great personality - he of the taxi left abandoned when he went to Montevideo to get married to the beautiful Gabriella before embarking on a career at the University of Leeds.

Lawrence did all he could to inspire and encourage/support people interested in art, and he got me an interview at Hornsey College of Art, where I was admitted in September 1960. This was the only careers advice or guidance offered to me, and if I'd followed it I would have gone into interior design - which still interests me today. I decided, however, against following this course and went into journalism instead, but appreciated the opportunity. I stayed in touch with LM and with Phyllis over the years, and Lawrence told me that it would have been OK at Hornsey but he wasn't offended at all at my decision.

Lawrence, however, had other special intuitions. Somehow he had encouraged the spirits above to improve my portfolio for the Hornsey interview, and my talents had improved in range and skills without my being aware.

He did, too, have an x-ray vision. And a sense of what examiners might ask. For A-level art we did some very hasty last minute revisions on Watteau and others, and lo and behold there were the questions. Somehow, too, he had arranged with the examiners to circulate some additional notes with the actual questions. When the papers were opened (or re-opened?) on the day we sailed through with flying colours, several of us achieving high marks. For those who had any prospect of a college entry an additional Grade A made a lot of difference.

He was also a good painter, and I always thought it a great pity that he abandoned this after leaving RHS. I have some photos of some of his pictures, and can send these for the website if wanted.

Lawrence also ran a school sing-song class one afternoon a week. Last year I told him how much I'd loved this, and how even now when I'm out walking I sing some of those old English songs, and thank him for it. He said he had not much liked doing the class, but was glad to hear how much some had valued this. John S - July 2011

Ken Newman: I remember Lawrence encouraging me in art. Even though I never had any talent at all I was delighted to obtain an 'O' level. His enthusiasm for making a topological model of the school and it's surroundings was contagious and everyone was pleased with the final model. He had a genuine care for student's welfare. Ken N - July 2011

Peter Still: It is difficult to write about Lawrence. He never taught me much about art - in fact he told me at the Red Hill reunion in August 2009 that he didn't consider teaching art as part of his job. He inspired many of us to try though, and in doing so revealed the considerable talent of some of us. Not me though. Lawrence persuaded Shaw to stump up for a little Adana printing machine, and steered me towards an interest in printing and typography that has stayed with me.
He didn't often paint, but when he did he managed to produce oil paintings that most full-time artists would have been proud of. A couple of his paintings that I remember show a masterful handling of sunlight in woodland.
Milly wasn't one of the 'chattier' members of staff. Sometimes he'd say things that made me wonder why he'd said them, and only made sense after a lot of thought. Sometimes these Mills-isms showed a deep perception, and told me things about myself that I wasn't aware of. Perhaps that was his greatest strength - his understanding and, when necessary, sympathy. He was very helpful to me when I most needed support, and while he perhaps wasn't the most influential member of RHS staff, he was the one I most thought of as my friend. Peter S - Aug 2011