Kent College, Canterbury
and Edward Pillow
The purpose of this page is to recognize the generosity of one Mr. Edward Pillow, whose name was later commemorated at the school in the form of the mysterious “Pillow Prize”. It was Edward Pillow who gave the school five and a quarter acres of land on which to establish itself. His generosity aroused the curiosity of Mr. P.W. Richards, who was on the staff of K.C. from 1917 to 1955, and caused him to write the following paper Benefits Forgot.
“The first K.C. Speech Day, which was also the formal inauguration of the new Wesleyan College, was held in the dining-hall on Thursday 2nd June, 1887, soon after the school had moved from Hoathe Court, where it has spent the first two and a half years of its existence.
Who was Edward Pillow, that generous benefactor? An easy and natural question to ask, but, until quite recently, one impossible to answer. The receding years quickly drew a veil over him. No plaque or panel recorded his “most generous act”, no mention of his name can be found in any magazine or in the Jubilee Book published fifty years later. Even at the Speech Day of 1910, Frank Morris Facer, headmaster made no reference to his death a few months earlier.
Edward Pillow, born in 1827, was the son of John Pillow, architect, a member of the Huguenot family of Pilon which came to Canterbury at the end of the sixteenth century along with many others, escaping from persecution, whose names and activities are incorporated in the history of Canterbury – Lefevre, Fleury, Paidherbe, Poile are well-known names in the city and its neighbourhood. In St. Dunstan’s parish lived many a Pilon, Pillon, Pilen, Pillen, spelling the name in different ways, even at the same period, according to the predilection, or ignorance, of its owner or of the person who had to write it in the parish register. They joined with other Huguenots to worship in the crypt of Canterbury Cathedral where French Protestant services have been held for nearly four hundred years, and where the baptismal registers record many generations of Pilons from 1594 onwards. About 1750 Edward’s great-grandfather changed his name to Pillow which effectually disguised its French origin although it in no wise affected his connection with the French church. Edward’s grandfather was probably the John Pillow, Printer, who was installed as a freeman of Canterbury in 1824.
Edward’s early history is obscure. He became a schoolmaster, and after a period at Pluckley he was given the mastership of Harbledown National School. In the Harbledown vestry book is a memorandum dated Sunday, 21st June, 1857: “On this day I made publication in the church of my appointment of Mr. Edward Pillow to the office of parish clerk of the parish of Harbledown – Alfred Lyall, Rector.” The next entry in the book reads: “At a vestry holden for the parish of Harbledown in the National Schoolroom, on Thursday, the 25th day of June, 1857, at noon, for the purposes of appointing an assistant overseer and assessor in the room of the late William Anderson, deceased – Mr. Edward Pillow, clerk of the parish, and National School-master was appointed to the said office at the salary of eight pounds per annum. At the same vestry, the said Mr. Edward Pillow was nominated to the office of assessor for the parish of Harbledown – Alfred Lyall, Chairman.”
In 1933, at the writer’s request, the late Mr. George Nicholls committed to writing what he could remember of a long life spent in Rough Common and Harbledown. At 79 he could clearly recall his brief schooling under Edward Pillow at Harbledown National School.
“We Rough Common children went to Harbledown School and on the way could see the men building the London, Chatham and Dover Railway at Tonford. We also saw, in the dinner-hour, the last of the stage coaches on the way to London. In the school were about a hundred and twenty scholars, some from Blean (no school at Blean then). One boy walked from the ‘Church and State’ public house at Denstroude.
A very real holiday for the schoolmaster himself was 30th May, 1862, when, as assessor, he joined the churchwardens, overseers, farmers and other parishioners for a perambulation of the bounds of the parish “ – met for that purpose and commencing at No.4 mark on the old ash tree at Whitstable road, near Cherry Garden Farm.”
The quest for the facts of Pillow’s life now leads to Neal’s Place (now demolished and replaced by a couple of modern houses which stand on the corner of Neal's Place Road where it joins the Whitstable Road opposite St. Edmund's School), which stands by the way leading from the Cos Pond to Harbledown Church, and was one of the properties owned by the well-to-do Twyman family. He must have known Mary Twyman – in 1868 a spinster of 42 – extremely well; and one may wonder why the marriage had not taken place before. But business caution regulates this alliance:
“1868 – An Indenture between Mary Twyman of Neal’s Place, Edward Pillow of Harbledown, Gentleman, Robert Sankey and Herbert T. Sankey on the occasion of the marriage agreed and shortly to be solemnized between the said Mary Twyman and Edward Pillow.”
The marriage took place on December 22nd, the register entry describing Edward as farmer: schoolmaster no longer, but still the parish rate-collector.
The only surviving Harbledown resident of that period through whom it is possible to get a glimpse of Edward Pillow is Mrs. de Vere of Giles Lane, who, at the age of 97, has a well-furnished and responsive memory and enjoyed answering some questions on Thursday 16 July, 1933.
“Of course I remember the meadow before Kent College was built there, and old Edward Pillow too. Since my daughter told me you were coming to ask for information I have had a very clear picture of him in my mind. He was a thin man, very tall with rather stooping shoulders, a small moustache and side-whiskers. I can see him now wearing a boater, or that sort of hat, moving about the countryside collecting the rates. He was kindly and genial, and never pushed for immediate payment if he knew it would cause hardship. Many a time I’ve walked from my home at 4 Summer Hill, up past the rectory and over Dike’s Meadow to Neal’s Place with rates for Mr. Pillow. Mrs. Pillow was a bit woman, one of the thrifty sort. I know that Edward Pillow did not live at Neal’s Place after her death. No, I don’t remember him before he became a farmer when he was schoolmaster at Harbledown, but I don’t think he did a lot on the farm as he was mainly busy collecting the rates.”
Mr. Charles Nicholls, now in his nineties, of Los Angeles, California, throws light upon Pillow’s eccentricity, and tells how he built a small room in the top of a tree in his meadow and called it the “Crow’s Nest.” People came from Canterbury to see the sight, for it then overlooked the city and surrounding country with unimpeded view.
On Mary Pillow’s death in 1886, Edward, left without issue, gave the land for the building of K.C., and in 1902 followed this gift with another of £200, invested in the Kent Wesleyan Methodist School Association, which after his death was, by a deed of trust, to create “a prize, exhibition or scholarship to be known as the Edward Pillow Prize which shall keep the name of Edward Pillow in perpetual memory.” From 1902 these dividends were allowed to accumulate, and no prize was given until about 1022 when it was first awarded to J.B. Kitchen as simply the “Pillow Prize” which to most parents, masters and boys was just a conjuror’s mystery.
From about this time his association with the parish church ceases, and he is now an enthusiastic Huguenot and Methodist. A record of the Wesleyan Chapel states that he paid his pew rent for 1886. The Rev. E.R. Pillow writes: “The Rev. Jean Barnabas told us that he had known well my father’s cousin, Mr. Edward Pillow, late of St. Thomas’s Hill, Canterbury, who had been a deacon of the Huguenot Church there for many years prior to his death in 1909; that for several years before Mr. Barnabas’s appointment as pastor in 1899, Mr. Edward Pillow had maintained the continuity of their worship in the crypt by his faithful service as lay reader. He spoke in terms of the warmest appreciation of Mr. Pillow, and said he had buried him in the grave of his wife at the side of the parish church of Harbledown."
Pillow, then living at Love Lane, Canterbury, made his will on 20th August, 1907. He died at Key Street, Borden near Sittingbourne, on 26th November, 1907, leaving a modest estate of less than £500. His stone at the north side of Harbledown Church can easily be identified; it bears his wife's name but not his own, his executors evidently finding the cutting of EDWARD PILLOW an expense that could be avoided, a neglect which this short sketch may now defeat and grant him the 'perpetual memory' he so earnestly desired for his name.