Mildred Robley-Browne (nee Peters)
This post is one in what will be a series of features about people connected with Irene Mawer. In this case I will be looking at Mrs Mildred Robley-Browne (nee Peters).
There are two links for you to follow. The first is to the blog post about Mildred. The second is to the complete book.
Unusually, I have not written this blog post myself. Instead, I feature the words of Mildred’s Great Nephew, Jack Tannett, who has written a fully-researched and complete book on sections of his family history.
This is the link to Jack Tannet’s blog post about Mildred: https://www.dropbox.com/s/5af2s584l74bezy/V2%20Mildred%20Blog.docx?dl=0: Please follow the link in the first instance, but if for any reason the link fails, then I will reproduce the text below. However, by following the link you will benefit from the amazing photos.
The information in the blog post is all taken from Jack Tannett’s spectacular on-line book “Robley and Mildred”. The whole book is available for free via this link: https://tannettfamilyhistory.ca/ It tells the story of Surgeon Captain Robley Browne, including his naval career, as well his marriage to Mildred Peters.
Please follow the link for the full experience, including the photos .
Blog post without photos: “MILDRED ROBLEY-BROWNE (née Peters)” by Jack Tannett
This article tells the story of Mildred Peters, a young gymnast who studied dance, mime, physiotherapy, child psychology, among many subjects, and became a beloved headmistress of three notable girls’ boarding schools over three decades between the 1920s and the 1950s.
The focus of this article is upon the influence of Ruby Ginner and Irene Mawer on Mildred, and the reciprocal influence which Mildred provided in return. Ginner and Mawer were compatriots of Mildred from the early 1900s right through the life of Mildred’s schools.
Mildred married my great-uncle, Surgeon Captain Robley H.J. Browne in 1923, at which point she styled herself Mildred Robley-Browne. Much of the material for this article comes from the diaries and photograph albums of Robley. He was a stickler for accuracy and so one can be confident of the facts.
Finally I add a note about the true benefits of historical research. It’s the people you meet along the way – kindred spirits with the same enthusiasm and excitement for the subject as you. So it was in this case, when I came upon Janet Fizz Curtis, who was researching the story of Irene Mawer, at the same time as I was writing my book on Mildred Peters. We are now good friends, and I look forward to crossing the
Atlantic one day and enjoying a meal and a chat with Janet. Her Wikipedia entry for Irene Mawer is a masterful work, and will stand as a lasting testament to a remarkable woman.
My own research on Mildred has also confirmed for me that Mildred, too, was a remarkable person, who influenced so many young women to take a positive, self-confident approach out into a world then dominated by men.
1935: Robley and Mildred going to a society wedding in London. Note Mildred’s confident poise.
My great-aunt Mildred Robley-Browne was an unforgettable character. She had striking red hair, and would write her correspondence in green ink. She had strong views, and an equally strong voice to share these views with anyone who happened to be in the room. She was a tall, well-built woman who carried herself with confidence and style. As young children, we were in awe of our elderly relation.
These few words, written in The Times newspaper in 1973, on the death of Mildred, at the age of 88, sum
up her life so well:
Preparing for a Career
Mildred Peters was born at Widmore Lodge in Bromley, Kent on 27th October 1884, eldest of four girls.
Her father, Alfred Peters, was butler to an enormously wealthy American family who lived in the grand Victorian Widmore House, with the adjacent Lodge being the butler’s residence.
We know little of Mildred’s childhood and teen years, but it is easy to imagine a lively red-headed young girl catching the attention of all around her. By her early twenties, she had become a teacher of gymnastics and calisthenics, and would entertain local groups with her acrobatic displays.
Mildred was destined to become a much-loved headmistress of three girls’ boarding schools for more than thirty years. Yet, by the time that she opened her first school in 1925, two of her younger sisters were already headmistresses of schools. Mildred’s particular focus would be very different from that of
her two sisters.
Mildred was methodically preparing for her headship role over many years, picking up the skills that would make her particular schools unique. Details of these early preparatory years are scarce, but we know that, by the age of 32, in 1917, she had become a registered physiotherapist and masseuse. And in April 1920, when she first met her future husband, Surgeon-Captain Robley H.J. Browne, her business card described her as a “Member of Incorporated Society Trained Masseuses. Trained at National Hospital for Nervous Diseases, Queen Square, London W.C.1.” and living in Hampstead in N.W. London. She had also shown a great interest in the area of child psychology, which she continued to study throughout her career.
It seems that dancing had also been a passion of Mildred. She had been a student of the early dance pioneer Jeanie Smurthwaite, and then at some time in the early 1900’s, possibly between 1910 and 1915, she made her first connection with Ruby Ginner, and then Irene Mawer. A strong bond must have formed almost instantly. Although older than both Ginner and Mawer, Mildred became their student, and was
soon qualified to teach Greek dancing and mime.
In late 1921, armed with these skills, Mildred set out for a year in New Zealand, where she would create a dancing school in Christchurch, based upon the methods of both Ginner and Mawer. This proved to be a very successful year. Here is her 1922 advertisement in the Christchurch Press newspaper:
While in Christchurch, Mildred would produce plays for her young students. One such play, called “The King of the Happy Wood”, was written by Irene Mawer. It was well received by the local press, as reported in the Christchurch Press newspaper on September 1st 1922:
Mildred left New Zealand in early 1923 to marry my great-uncle Robley Browne. However, her influence was felt in Christchurch for several years after she left. Her dance school was continued by fellow Ginner-Mawer student Irene Mulvany-Gray. In recognition of Mildred’s work, the school was renamed the Peters-Gray School of Dance, Drama and Mime.
Marriage to Robley H.J. Browne
In April 1923, the very next day after Mildred arrived back in England, she and Robley were married, in London. Mildred immediately styled herself “Mildred Robley-Browne”. Twenty years older than Mildred, Robley had recently retired from a distinguished career in the Royal Navy, which included three years serving on the Royal Yacht under King Edward VII. He had just embarked upon a new career, with the White Star Line, as surgeon aboard the largest ocean liners in the world, crossing the Atlantic on a regular schedule.
As soon as he had retired from the Royal Navy, Robley had been keen to marry and to put his well-earned wealth to good use. He and Mildred were a perfect match. Robley made it possible for Mildred’s vision for her own school to become a reality.
Headmistress: a focus on the Dramatic Arts
In 1925, the ideal opportunity arose, with Beech Grove School in Ascot, Berkshire, becoming available. Almost overnight, Mildred embarked upon her thirty year career as headmistress.
Beech Grove was no ordinary girls’ boarding school. Mildred created a focus which she described in the School Prospectus in this manner:
Here, the influence of both Ginner and Mawer on Mildred’s vision for her school is most obvious. Her approach to the dramatic arts would be based directly upon “the Ginner-Mawer Method”:
The same principles applied to Mildred’s two subsequent schools. In 1931, she merged Beech Grove with Highfield School, Oxhey, Hertfordshire, and then, due to the impending bombing of London, in 1939, she moved her school further out into the country to Hampden House, Buckinghamshire.
The fruits of these dramatic arts goals were very much on display at all three schools. Each year, Mildredwould produce a major school show, called a “Display” or a “Matinée”, generally at a major venue in London. Here Greek dancing and mime were central to the events. A typical programme is that of the Highfield School Matinée, held at the Rudolf Steiner Hall in London on May 27th 1937:
Here is a photograph from one of the items in this production
These productions were often reported in the National Press, such as this note in the Daily Telegraph from
16 March 1937:
I found an old photograph of Ruby Ginner and her dancers performing Greek dancing in 1919. The similarity with a photograph from one of Mildred’s school productions from 1937 immediately struck me. This is a very good example of Ginner’s influence on Mildred. See these two photographs below:
Left/above: 1919, Ruby Ginner and her dancers. Right/below: 1937: Mildred’s girls performing
Mildred’s long relationship with Ginner and Mawer
Mildred maintained a connection with Ruby Ginner and Irene Mawer throughout her career. Robley was a diarist all his life. In his diaries covering the period of Mildred’s schools, many references are made to Ginner and Mawer. A few typical examples are:
1936 Mar. 14: Mildred takes most of the girls to Ginner-Mawer Show
(“Revived Greek Dancing”) at Albert Hall
1936 Nov. 7: Mildred takes party of girls to Rudolf Steiner Hall
for Matinée of Mime & lecture by Miss Irene Mawer
1948 May 29: Mildred takes 2 busloads of girls to Scala theatre for
Matinée: “Youth Festival”, Greek Dancing by finalists….
Miss Ruby Ginner
1948 Dec. 14: Miss Irene Mawer & Miss Woodcock come to hold
mime “Audition”: they & Miss Crouch lunch with
The connection between the three women is most graphically seen by an invitation to a party, contained in Robley’s diary. The Ginner-Mawer School was celebrating its 21st birthday in London on June 20th 1937, and the toast was proposed by Mildred:
As another example of this close link, Mildred is shown, also in 1937, as a patron of the Institute of Mime, whose Director was Irene Mawer. Note that Mildred’s name appears directly below that of the legendary
conductor Sir Adrian Boult. Several other names of patrons will be familiar to the reader.
A Two-Way Relationship
It is not too much of a stretch to say that this influence between Mildred, Ruby Ginner and Irene Mawer worked both ways. For Mildred’s schools represented a full-scale example of the ultimate application of the Ginner-Mawer method to real life – the creation of young women who would go into the world armed with a whole education based upon these principles. Mildred was creating, if you like, new recruits for, and ambassadors for the ideals espoused by, Ginner and Mawer. Just look at the way Mildred and her girls, who were so quickly becoming young women, would carry themselves, standing upright and proud, and confident in a world still dominated by men:
1936: Robley and Mildred with two of her strong-willed, self-confident pupils
For a period of time in the 1930s, Mildred’s “visiting mistress” (i.e. not a permanent live-in teacher) for Mime was Rose Bruford. Rose is mentioned in Janet Fizz Curtis’s Wikipedia entry for Irene Mawer, where she notes that Rose Bruford was an alumnus of Irene Mawer’s Institute of Mime. Rose remained in touch with Mildred and the school. In 1945, now at R.A.D.A., Rose organized a fencing match for three of her
R.A.D.A. students with three of Mildred’s girls at Hampden House school. Mildred’s girls were victorious. Fencing was considered to help dancers with body awareness. In 1948, a number of Mildred’s girls gave a demonstration of mime to Rose’s pupils at the Royal Academy of Music.
These exchanges of knowledge are good examples of the benefits to the students that resulted from the close relationship between Mildred and Irene Mawer and their alumni. So Mildred had been a student of Ginner and Mawer, yet they would probably have been very ready to acknowledge that they were also, in a way, students of Mildred.
1942: Hampden House School. Robley with Mildred and her pupils: applying the Ginner-Mawer method to education
The one joy of studying family history, or maybe just history in general, is that you soon find that it is only a little about old, dusty facts. It is the discovery of “kindred spirits”, who are also looking back with interest, that is most satisfying to the family historian. So it was that I met Janet Fizz Curtis, who was coincidentally studying the life of Irene Mawer, as I was gathering information on Mildred. We have become firm friends, and perhaps some day if I ever cross the Atlantic, I hope that we can meet for a good meal and a chat.
It is the people you meet on your historical journey who end up mattering as much as, if not more than, the historical figures whose life stories first caused you to set out on your voyage of discovery.
6 August 202