Half a Century of Educational Excellence
The origins of Villiers Park Educational Trust can be traced back to 1909 when Gerald Wellesley (an old Etonian) formed an Old Boys’ Club for young men who had been in the Eton College Mission’s Boys’ Club in Hackney Wick, East London. By 1913 the Eton Boys’ Club and Old Boys’ Club were running entirely separately from the Eton Mission, and Gerald Wellesley and several other Old Etonian friends had raised the funds to build a magnificent clubhouse for them in Hackney Wick. The Manor Charitable Trust was founded in 1924, by four of these Old Etonians (Gerald Wellesley, Arthur Villiers, Alfred Wagg and Sir Edward Cadogan), to finance and administer the Eton Manor Clubs and undertake other charitable work in the area and elsewhere.
Much has been documented about the first fifty years as it provides a fascinating insight into social history. However, the second half of the century, when the charity moved away from its London origins are less well known. Following the recent death of a friend and peer, Derek Marsh, a member of Eton Manor since 1950; a Manager of the Boys’ Club from 1956 to 1968 and from 1968 to early l996 the Manager of Villiers Park at Middleton Stoney, Oxfordshire, charts the birth of the modern day charity.
How it all Began and Developed
On 22 August 2016, Peter Muncey¹ a member of the Eton Manor Boys’ Club, died aged 82. In 1950 he had a serious head injury playing football and missed a lot of schooling. Major Arthur Villiers, a trustee of The Manor Charitable Trust, which financed the Boys’ Club, made arrangements with Sir Edward Cadogan, a fellow trustee, for Peter to be given some private tuition with a graduate from Oxford University at Sir Edward’s home, Warren Farm near Lewknor, Oxfordshire.
The seeds of an idea were planted.
In 1951 half a dozen members of the Club who were studying for their GCSE O-level examinations were put on a revision course at Warren Farm during the Easter holidays, tutored by two graduates of Pembroke College, Oxford.
Revision courses held during the school Easter holidays became a regular feature and continued until Sir Edward died in 1962. [I participated in the second one during the Easter holidays in 1952.]
Arising from those revision courses, in the mid-1960s, Arthur Villiers decided to create a study centre utilising two properties in Middleton Stoney, Oxfordshire, where The Manor Charitable Trust had created a 3,000 acre estate by purchasing a number of farms around the village. A few Eton Manor members spent private study weeks there and Reading Parties² were held during the Easter and Christmas holidays for O-level students. [The first Reading Party with a more general theme (study combined with visits of interest) was held after Christmas 1965. It was set up by myself and Alistair Graham, a beak ie teacher of Eton College, who was also the resident tutor for the period.]
And so began the creation of a residential education centre. It was initially named Eton Manor but in 1968 it was changed to Villiers Park, using the family name of The Earls of Jersey, of which Arthur was the second son of the 7th Earl, and whose family estate was at Middleton Stoney, most of which was bought by The Manor Charitable Trust. Without going into too much detail, the Reading Party residential courses eventually covered most school sixth form subjects during the 36 years (until 2001) it existed. As well as the residential Reading Parties, a programme of Outreach Courses and Tours was also arranged e.g. Science Projects Weeks at schools and universities (Charterhouse, Bloxham School, Solihull Sixth Form College, Birmingham University); Computer Courses at Eton College (using its Eton Dorney Centre), and foreign tours to Greece (from 1966 to 1995) and Italy (1989) for Classical Studies and to Russia (1973 and 1974) for language and culture. Reading Parties were also held over the years during school Easter and Summer holidays in Oxford at Hertford College, St John’s College, the University Science Department, St Anne’s College, St Catherine’s, St Hugh’s and St Hilda’s. In addition, Industrial Tours were set up during the Easter Holidays to most industrial areas of Britain from 1964 (started in the Boys’ Club days) to 1995. There was even one in Germany, based in Frankfurt.
During that period the trustees took up the idea of developing a second centre and a property was bought in Foxton, Cambridgeshire, where a burnt out manor house was knocked down and a new residential centre was built and opened in 1989. It consisted of three buildings, including one for a resident manager and administrative offices. (Later a fourth building was added). The Cambridge Centre took off. The two centres ran simultaneously (the one at Foxton also organising Industrial Tours for a short while) and when the Middleton Stoney site was closed in 2001, Foxton continued and is run in the manner it is today.
¹ Peter was a member of The Eton Manor Boys’ Club, and later became a Geography and Sports teacher. In between his teaching posts in Wokingham and at The Leys, Cambridge, from 1957 to 1967 he was a Manager of the Eton Manor Boys’ Club.
² It should be noted that while the Reading Parties were running at Sir Edward Cadogan’s Warren Farm and just after until the late 1960s, The Manor Charitable Trust also embarked on organising educational courses for pupils of Leyton County High School in Essex at Wickham Bonhunt and Thaxted, and Study Weeks at Eton College [Eton Manor Manager’s E.A. “Taff” Wilson and Peter Muncey were involved with the organisation of them]; at Timsbury Manor, Hampshire (through a contact of Les Golding, another Eton Manor Manager) and at the Isle of Thorns, Eton Manor’s summer camp venue and the home of Mr Alfred Wagg, a Manor Charitable Trust trustee. Peter Muncey and Eton Manor Old Boy and teacher Cyril Jenkins helped run them. At this time too Taff Wilson collaborated with Mr Felix Markham, a History Fellow, to organise Reading Parties at Hertford College – as is mentioned above, this Hertford College course continued to be organised annually by Villiers Park, Middleton Stoney. There was even one, for visits to City of London institutions, in 1966 or 1967 on The Wilderness, the Eton Manor Sports Ground, using the running track pavilion for accommodation.