COMPANION

Penhill House

Penhill House was F. M. Alexander’s second home 1925–55 and also housed the Little School 1934–40.

History

Penhill House was located near Sidcup, Bexley, Bexleyheath, Kent. It was originally part of the Lamorbey Estate (Lamorbey House still exists and now houses Rose Bruford college[1]). The Estate had been divided up in 1761, and one part comprised Penhill House, a cottage, stables with adjacent gardens and outbuildings. By the time Alexander bought it in 1925 it consisted of 19 acres of farm land. The house had two drawing rooms, a smoking room, a lobby hall and a kitchen on the ground floor, five bedrooms and a dressing room on the first floor, and four servants’ bedrooms on the second floor.[2]

F. M. Alexander at Penhill House

As the Little School started in 1924 (and located at Ashley Place until 1934), Ashley Place became too small for Alexander and his wife (he had married Edith Page 10 August 1914), especially since he at that time ceased to spend several months of the year teaching in New York and Boston. He therefore bought Penhill House 25 March 1925. Edith would live at Penhill together with their adopted daughter, Peggy, and Alexander would travel to London every day (although he would occasionally spend a night at Ashley Place).

Alexander employed a number of staff taking care of the grounds and the house, and some of these lived in Penhill House or an adjacent cottage.

Edith separated from Alexander and moved out of Penhill House together with Peggy in 1929.[3]

As the teachers training course grew in size and there was more demand for teaching rooms, it was decided to move the Little School to Penhill House in the summer of 1934 and make it a boarding school. It remained there until the school was evacuated to the US in 1940.

The South African Libel case had been expensive, and Jackie Evans writes in her family history of Alexander that Alexander sold the property because of the cost of the libel case. (But there were probably also other reasons for selling Penhill. The Little School had ceased after its sojourn in the US, and probably it was getting difficult to get staff as wages increased after WWII.) Because of local council restrictions he could not sell the house for its full value, and a legal appeal against these restrictions failed. Penhill House was finally sold 18 March 1955.[4] It was torn down and the area was used mainly for housing.

Descriptions

Lulie Westfeldt was critical of the colours Edith Page had selected for the interiors:

Outside, the house was pleasing, unpretentious and comfortable. Inside, one saw again the strange colour schemes of Mrs Alexander. They did not look so well at Penhill as they did at Ashley Place. They seemed less suitable for a simple country house, too sophisticated and somewhat unwholesome.[5]

A number of pictures of the outside of the house and garden exists. The ‘Penhill House’ brochure, advertising the ‘The F. Matthias Alexander Trust Fund’ school as a boarding school in Penhill, contains three pictures.[6]

Marjorie Barstow’s video from around 1931-34 contains film footage of the first training course students working in the garden, of a garden party, and of a walk in the surrounding park land.[7]

This film footage also contains a brief section of a summer term dinner party inside the house but it is so dark that it is difficult to make out details of the room.

See also South African Libel Case, Ashley Place.

References

[2] Frederick Matthias Alexander – A Family History by Jackie Evans (Phillimore & Co., 2001), pp. 176–78.
[3] Frederick Matthias Alexander – A Family History by Jackie Evans (Phillimore & Co., 2001), p. 186.
[4] Frederick Matthias Alexander – A Family History by Jackie Evans (Phillimore & Co., 2001), p. 238.
[5] F. Matthias Alexander: The Man and His Work by Lulie Westfeldt (Mouritz, 1998 [1964]), p. 43.
[6] Reproduced in appendix one in The Alexander Times Vol. 2: 1933-1934 edited by Jean M. O. Fischer (Mouritz, 2017), pp. 206–10.
[7] F. M. Alexander 1949-50 DVD narrated by Walter Carrington (Mouritz, 2010).