Millfield was founded by RJO (Jack) Meyer in 1935, following his return from India with seven Indian boys, six of whom were princes. The school was originally based in Millfield House, which is today a boarding house, but then was rented from the Clark family who owned most of Street. The school grew steadily and in 1939 became one of the first independent schools to be co-educational. In 1942, Martin Attlee, son of the then Deputy Prime Minister, Clem, joined the school in the hope of overcoming ‘word-blindness’. The Millfield method was so successful that Martin Attlee went on to university, with the school gaining fame as the first in the country to deal successfully with dyslexic pupils.
Edgarley Hall, one mile from Glastonbury, became the ‘Junior School’ for Millfield in 1945 when Jack Meyer, realising the need to accommodate increasing numbers of younger pupils arriving at his school in Street, bought the house and grounds from his friends the Thomas-Ferrands, who had seen their family home suffer from Army occupation during the war. The school itself was initially very much a ‘crammer’, under the direction of Jack Meyer himself. By the late 60s, however, a much larger proportion of pupils, including increasing numbers of girls, were transferring to Millfield Senior instead of other public schools, and by the mid-80s numbers reached nearly 500, with a corresponding improvement and expansion in facilities. In the mid-80s, a Pre-Prep School was started on the site of the old St Louis Convent School in Glastonbury, later re-locating to the Edgarley campus, where it now shares the extensive grounds with the Prep School. Like its senior counterpart, Millfield Prep School has always stood by its founder’s ethos of attempting to discover and nurture whatever talent a young person has. It has gained an international reputation for sport and its success with dyslexic pupils, but it also achieves excellence in many other areas, not least music and the arts.
Successful Prep School Old Millfieldians include politician Ruth Kelly; cricketer and Chairman of Selectors David Graveney; Professor of History at Oxford University Christopher Wickham; financier Roland Rudd (now Chairman of Governors); Oscar-winning film producer Jeremy Thomas and ex-rugby international Matt Perry. The best-known Prep School OMs of the current era are; World Championships-winning swimmer James Guy, former England Rugby Captain Chris Robshaw and GB and England Hockey Internationals, Richard and Simon Mantell, all of whom went on to Millfield.
Successful Old Millfieldians from the Senior School include former British Lions and Wales rugby captain Gareth Edwards; England Rugby players Jonathan Joseph and Mako Vunipola; Ireland Rugby International Rhys Ruddock; Pam Cookey, former captain of the England Netball team; BBC chief political correspondent John Sergeant; Olympic Gold medallists Duncan Goodhew, Peter Wilson and Helen Glover; entrepreneur Richard Caring; entrepreneur and political advisor Michael Hayman and drummer of legendary rock group The Police, Stewart Copeland.
Today Millfield, along with the Prep School, has some 1700 pupils and over 600 employees, but the school’s philosophy remains the same. Millfield still aims to help every individual child to achieve their full potential.
A brief history of the early days of Millfield House
Millfield House has a remarkable history which stretches back to its construction in 1889 and beyond. It was designed by George Skipper, a Norwich architect favoured by the Clark family, who also designed the Crispin Hall and Wilfred and Cobden Terraces in Street. Prior to this date, William Stephens Clark and his wife Helen Bright Priestman Clark lived in Greenbank House on the High Street. Although this was convenient for its proximity to the Clarks factory next door, the family wanted to move away from the associated pollution, particularly as two of their six children, John and Alice, suffered from tuberculosis. In fact, the family had already built the chalet (which is now the school's chapel) in 1882 as a place for their children to get fresh air - a kind of family alpine sanatorium. Perhaps they liked the breezy location on top of a hill, with a lovely outlook over the local countryside: they decided to build their new house on the same spot.
The letters, diaries, household books and visitors books of the family tell us a great deal about the house and its visitors between 1889 and 1935. The move from Greenbank House was an emotional one for Helen, who described the family's final night in their old home, concluded by her husband praying and giving thanks for 'the many years of happiness and the unbroken circle that had been permitted to us - and I think nearly all were in tears.' She describes their possessions being moved in a van 'like Noah's Ark' and their first night spent at Millfield House without their children but with furniture from Helen's family home in Lancashire: 'William + I slept alone at the new house last night [...] in the old mahogany bedstead from the brown room at One Ash [...] It was very strange to be alone in this new house.' It seems like the old furniture offers some comfort and familiarity to Helen in the large, empty house, a connection to her past as she moves into a new phase of her life.
The Clarks were at the centre of a wide network of Quaker family and friends, and Millfield House became the hub of this, a place where visitors stayed and where social reform topics such as the movements to promote women's suffrage and racial and social equality were discussed and debated. The three visitors books, now held by the Alfred Gillett Trust, reveal an extraordinary range of people coming to stay at the house including Ida B Wells, Booker T Washington and at least four of the many suffragists who were participating in the Great Pilgrimage from Lands End to Westminster in July 1913. The family were passionate supporters of many social causes - most notably women's suffrage, anti-slavery and temperance - and their visitors reflect these interests. The visitors books are in some way a catalogue of individuals who played significant roles in changing the world for the better - human rights campaigners, artists, Nobel prize winners, politicians and people working with the poor and marginalised in society. What is especially remarkable is the number of talented and innovative women and people of colour who crossed the threshold of Millfield House. Many of these gave public lectures at the Crispin Hall during their visits, sharing their views and experiences with local people. The Clarks were also great animal lovers and in addition to horses such as Rupert and Roland, they had cats, guinea pigs, chickens and dogs as pets. Helen was also a keen observer of the natural world around her and in her diary she often noted the birds and animals she had observed in the gardens. The family also planted several of the large trees, certainly the cedars, which we still enjoy on the school site.
At the end of the nineteenth century and into the twentieth, Millfield House was a busy place, with several members of staff to ensure guests and family were well-looked after; gardeners and grooms took care of the outside areas. It has always been a place where learning, community and education are important, with values of tolerance and justice at its heart. When it was finally sold to Boss Meyer in 1935 these became some of the guiding principals of the new school which educated local and international students alike. We still enjoy the wonderful views over the school site and some of the original interiors are preserved and used by students on a day-to-day basis. Even now, it's easy to pause and imagine some fiery debates happening around the table in the wood-paneled dining room. It is a privilege to be able to live in a building which has, over the years, hosted countless remarkable individuals.