Three generations of the Powys family attended Sherborne School. Not only were John Cowper Powys and his brothers Littleton Charles Powys, Albert Reginald Powys, Llewelyn Powys and William Ernest Powys pupils at the School, but also was their uncle, Littleton Albert Powys, and John Cowper Powys’ son, Littleton Alfred Powys.
Littleton Albert Powys (1840-1879) was born on 27 July 1840 at West Bromwich, Staffordshire, the eldest son of the Rev. Littleton Charles Powys (1789-1872) and Amelia Powys (née Moilliot, the widow of Samuel Knight). The Rev. Littleton Charles Powys was for thirty years the rector of Stalbridge in Dorset, a living of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, and this was where Littleton Albert’s younger brother, Charles Francis Powys (1843-1923), was born in 1843. Littleton Albert attended Sherborne School from 1855 to 1857 where he was a member of School House, then run by Headmaster Hugo Daniel Harper. On leaving Sherborne, Littleton Albert joined the 83rd (County of Dublin) Regiment of Foot. He was a proud Shirburnian, subscribing to the Old Shirburnian Society Scholarship Fund and the School Cricket Pavilion Fund, and was also a member of the Old Shirburnian XI. Littleton Albert died of cholera at Kandahar in Afghanistan on 6 August 1879 while serving as a Brevet Major in the 59th (2nd Nottinghamshire) Regiment of Foot. He is commemorated at the Church of St Mary the Virgin at Stalbridge in Dorset.
John Cowper Powys (1872-1963) and his younger brother, Littleton Charles Powys (1874-1955) both attended Sherborne Preparatory School and in September 1886 they joined Sherborne School. They boarded at Mr W.B. Wildman‘s house, Mapperty in Westbury, Sherborne. John Cowper Powys was born on 8 October 1872 and Littleton Charles Powys on 25 April 1874. They were both born at Shirley vicarage in Derbyshire where their father the Rev. Charles Francis Powys (1843-1923) was then serving as vicar. In 1871, Charles Francis Powys had married Mary Cowper (1849-1914), daughter of William Cowper Johnson, rector of Yaxham, Norfolk, and in 1879 was appointed vicar of St. Peter’s in Dorchester, Dorset. From 1885 to 1918 the Rev. C.E. Powys was vicar of Montacute in Somerset.
Both John Cowper Powys and Littleton Charles Powys provided detailed accounts of their school days in their writings, John Cowper Powys in Autobiography (1934) and Littleton Charles Powys in The Joy of It (1937). John Cowper Powys also revisited Sherborne (‘Ramsgard’) in his novel, Wolf Solent (1929). John spent four and a half years at Sherborne School, during which time he played in his house rugby team and won the Cardew and Houghton Prizes for Divinity (1889), the Fifth Form Composition Prizes for Latin Prose and English Essay (1890), the English Prize Essay (1891), and the English Prize Poem (1891) for his poem ‘Corinth’, which he returned to School to read out at Commemoration Day on 23 June 1891. During his time at Sherborne School, John Cowper Powys was an avid reader and borrowed many books from the School Library.
John Cowper Powys went on to read history at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. In 1896, he married Margaret Alice Lyon (1874–1947) and they had a son, Littleton Alfred (1902–1954). During his lifetime, John Cowper Powys published sixteen novels, as well as numerous collections of poetry, short stories, essays, philosophical works and an autobiography. His major novels include Wolf Solent (1929), A Glastonbury Romance (1932), Weymouth Sands (1934), Maiden Castle (1936), Owen Glendower (1941) and Porius (1951). In 1906, he gave a series of six lectures on Shakespeare in the Big School Room at Sherborne School. From 1909 to 1934, John lived in the USA, initially in New York and then at Phudd Bottom in upper New York state. In 1958, he was awarded the plaque of the Hamburg Free Academy of Arts and in 1962 he was awarded a DLitt by the University of Wales. John Cowper Powys died at the Memorial Hospital, Blaenau Ffestiniog, Wales on 17 June 1963 and his ashes were scattered on the sea off Chesil Beach at Abbotsbury, Dorset.
Littleton Charles Powys (1874-1955) undoubtedly enjoyed his time at Sherborne School more than his brother John. After John left Sherborne School in 1891, Mr Wildman‘s House, Mapperty, closed and Littleton moved to Abbey House where he boarded until July 1893. Abbey House was then run by housemaster Mr C.S. Whitehead, himself an Old Shirburnian and brother of the mathematician and philosopher, Alfred North Whitehead. Littleton’s time at Sherborne was probably made easier because he was keen on sports. In 1892, Littleton was a member of both the 1st XV rugby team and the 1st XI cricket team. In 1893, he captained the 1st XI cricket team and achieved his first century, reaching 124 not out against Sherborne Cricket Club. He was described in the Characters of the 1st XI as ‘A determined bat, not extra lucky, with too much style; a useful bowler with somewhat awkward action; capital field and excellent captain.’ During his time at Sherborne, Littleton was also a School Prefect, Head of Abbey House and a member of the School Debating Society. Like his brother, Littleton also borrowed books from the School Library.
In 1893, Littleton followed his brother to Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, to read Classics. He graduated in 1896 and took up a teaching post at King’s School, Bruton, followed by a brief stint at Llandovery College. In 1905, he was appointed Headmaster of Sherborne Preparatory School where he remained until he retired due to ill-health in 1923. Like his uncle before him, Littleton played for the Old Shirburnian XI cricket team, and from 1928 to 1948 he was Vice-President of the Sherborne Pilgrims’ Club, which had been founded in 1923 by his school friend, G.M. Carey, ‘to recognise athletic talent, whether shown at School or afterwards, to promote cricket and football tours, to encourage all forms of athletics, and to keep members in touch with one another and with the School.’
Littleton Charles Powys died at St Mary’s Nursing Home at Clifton, Bristol on 27 September 1955 and was buried at Sherborne Cemetery on 30 September 1955. During his lifetime he published an autobiography, The Joy of It (1937), The Letters of Elizabeth Myers (1951) and The Powys Family (1952). A second autobiographical work, Still the Joy of It (1956) was published posthumously.
Theodore Francis Powys (1875–1953) was born on 20 December 1875 at Shirley, Derbyshire. He was educated at Hardye’s School, Dorchester, and at Sherborne Preparatory School, but, unlike his brothers, he did not attend Sherborne School, instead, he went to Eaton House School at Aldeburgh, Suffolk. Theodore farmed in Suffolk for a while before retiring to Dorset in 1901. In 1904, he moved to Chaldon Herring (also known as East Chaldon) in Dorset, where he began writing the many novels and short stories that were to make him famous, amongst them Soliloquies of a Hermit (1918), Mr Weston’s Good Wine (1927), The Left Leg (1923), Black Bryony (1923), Mark Only (1924), Mr Tasker’s Gods (1925), Mockery Gap (1925), Innocent Birds (1926), Fables (1928), Kindness in a Corner (1930), The Only Penitent (1931), and Unclay (1931). He died on 27 November 1953 at The Lodge, Mappowder, Dorset and was buried in Mappowder churchyard.
Albert Reginald Powys (1881-1936) was born at Dorchester on 16 July 1881. He attended Sherborne Preparatory School, and from September 1895 attended Sherborne School where he was a member of The Green, then run by housemaster T.W. Wilson. Albert left Sherborne School in April 1899, determined to study architecture. His obituary in The Shirburnian (June 1936) stated that:
‘He took no prominent part in School life; he was no great athlete; in fact, as has happened with many another, cricket meant little or nothing to him; but the beauty of the country round Sherborne, and the Abbey, the School buildings, the churches and old houses of the neighbourhood, and the workshop of the School meant much; and it was largely here that the seeds were sown which bore fruit in his valuable life’s work.’
Albert was articled successively to C.B. Benson of Yeovil, Walter Frederick Cave, and William Weir. In 1905, he was made an Associate of the Royal Institute of British Architects (ARIBA) and in 1908 commenced an independent architectural practice in London. During the First World War, Albert served as a Captain in the 2/4th Bn. (T.), Green Howards (Princess of Wales’s Own Yorkshire Regiment).
Albert was Secretary of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) for 25 years. In 1934 and 1935 he lectured at Sherborne School on ‘Architecture – Old and New’ and ‘The Development of Church Architecture in England.’ He died on 9 March 1936 at Stoneycrest Nursing Home, Hindhead, Surrey and was buried beneath the south wall of Winterborne Tomson church in Dorset. He was the author of a number of books on architecture: Repair of Ancient Buildings (1929), The English House (1929), The English Parish Church (1930). From the Ground Up: Collected Papers of A.R. Powys (1937), with an introduction by John Cowper Powys, was published posthumously. His obituary in The Shirburnian included the following tribute to his work and achievements:
‘For his work was of national importance. Through his society, of which for nearly a quarter of a century he was the guiding spirit, many an old building, a priceless heritage, has been preserved; many an old cottage beautiful to look upon and telling the story of the past, but doomed as uninhabitable, has been re-adapted and saved; many a famous bridge has been spared. Sherborne may well be proud that through the zeal, the energy, and the enthusiasm of one of her sons the ideals of this Society and the value of its work have become more and more understood and appreciated throughout the length and breadth of the country. No more fitting ending to this short tribute to his memory could be made than to quote the final words spoken of him in the little church of Winterborne Tomson beneath the south wall of which his body now lies: “His Spirit, as they believed, would carry on his work, finding gladly, where it could, kindred hearts and minds to inspire and guide, learning still in wider spheres, and as it learned, teaching others in turn to finish what he began.” ‘
Llewelyn Powys (1884-1939) was born on 13 August 1884 in Dorchester, Dorset, the fifth son and eighth child of the Rev. Charles Francis Powys, then vicar of St. Peter’s, Dorchester. Llewelyn attended Sherborne Preparatory School, and from January 1899 he attended Sherborne School where he was a member of The Green, then run by housemaster T.W. Wilson. Llewelyn remained at Sherborne School until April 1903, during which time he was a member of The Duffers society and in 1903 he was awarded his 2nd XV colours. He also borrowed books from the School Library.
Llewelyn followed the family tradition and went up to Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, where he founded an epicurean society known as the Club of the Honest Cods. He graduated in 1906 and taught at schools in Broadstairs, Bromsgrove, Calne, and at Sherborne Preparatory School. After many years spent travelling in Switzerland, Africa (where he joined his brother William on his farm) and the USA, he returned to England in 1925, settling in 1931 at Chydyok, East Chaldon.
While in America, Llewelyn gained a reputation as a writer through his journalism and book reviews for The Dial and the New York Evening Post. His major novels and essays include Ebony and Ivory (1923), Thirteen Worthies (1923), Black Laughter (1924), Skin for Skin (1925), The Verdict of Bridlegoose (1926), Henry Hudson (1927), The Cradle of God (1929), The Pathetic Fallacy (1930), Apples Be Ripe (1930), A Pagan’s Pilgrimage (1931), Impassioned Clay (1931), Glory of Life (1934), Earth Memories (1934), Damnable Opinions (1935), Dorset Essays (1935), The Twelve Months (1936), Rats in the Sacristy (1937), Somerset Essays (1937), Love and Death (1939), A Baker’s Dozen (1939), and Swiss Essays (1947).
Llewelyn Powys died on 2 December 1939 at Clavadel near Davos-Platz in Switzerland. He was cremated and his ashes were buried on the cliffs near Chydyok, Dorset. In 1949, a stone carved by Elizabeth Muntz was erected over his ashes.
William Ernest Powys (1888-1978) was born on 3 March 1888 at Montacute, Somerset. He attended Sherborne Preparatory School, and from September 1902 he attended Sherborne School where he was a member of The Green, then run by housemaster T.W. Wilson. William remained at Sherborne until April 1906, during which time he played for the House XV rugby team, came second in the Half-Mile Handicap (1905), entered a sketch of a mill in the summer Sketch Competition (1905), and took part in the 1905 Sherborne Pageant. After leaving Sherborne, William farmed in England until 1913 and in 1914 he went to farm in what was then known as British East Africa. He served in the First World War in the East African Mounted Rifles, East African Supply Corps, and was awarded the Croix de Chevalier de l’Ordre de Leopold II. In 1950 William was living in Kisima Timau, Kenya. He died on 9 October 1978.
Littleton Alfred Powys (1902-1954) was born on the 30 August 1902 at East Preston, Sussex, the only son of John Cowper Powys and Margaret Alice Lyon. He attended Sherborne Preparatory School, and from September 1916 he attended Sherborne School where he was a member of Abbey House, then run by G.M. Carey. Littleton Alfred Powys remained at Sherborne until July 1920, during which time he sang in the Chorus of Israelitish Women in the Easter concert in 1918 and also sang ‘Where the bee sucks’ at the Commemoration Day concert in 1919. He was a member of the School’s shooting viii team (1919-1920) and was appointed a Lance-Corporal in the School OTC.
Littleton Alfred Powys followed family tradition and went to Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, from where he graduated in 1923. He was ordained in 1927, was Vice-Principal of St Stephen’s House, Oxford (1930-1936), rector at Wiston in West Sussex, and, during the Second World War served as a chaplain. He was ordained a priest in June 1944, and from that date until his death he served as curate at St John’s Roman Catholic Church, South Parade, Bath. He died on 16 February 1954 at St Teresa’s Private Hospital, Corston, Bath. His poem, ‘Ode to the West Wind’ was published in The Shirburnian in Summer 1954, at the request of his uncle, Littleton Charles Powys.
The Powys sisters must not be forgotten. Gertrude Powys (1877-1952) was an artist and studied at the Slade School of Art and the Academie de la Grande Chaumiere, Paris, and many of her paintings are held at the Dorset County Museum; Eleanor (Nellie) Powys (1879-1892), died at the age of 13; Marian (May) Powys (1882-1972) became an authority on lace and lace-making; Philippa (Katie) Powys (1886-1963) was a novelist and author; and Lucy Amelia Powys (1890-1986) was the youngest of the siblings. To find out more the Powys sisters, read ‘Powys Women’ by Jacqueline Peltier (2010).
Books borrowed by John Cowper Powys from Sherborne School Library 1890-1891 (pdf)
‘Corinth’ by John Cowper Powys, English Prize Poem, 1891 (pdf)
Extract from John Cowper Powys’ English Prize Essay, 1891 (pdf)
Books borrowed by Littleton Charles Powys from Sherborne School Library 1890-1893 (pdf)
Books borrowed by Llewelyn Powys from Sherborne School Library 1902-1903 (pdf)
‘Ode to the West Wind’ by Littleton Alfred Powys, January 1954 (pdf)
The Powys Library at Sherborne School
The Powys Society
The Sundial Press
John Cowper Powys manuscripts and papers, National Library of Wales
The Powys Collection, Dorset History Centre
The Powys Family Collection, University of Exeter
Artwork of Gertrude Powys
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