SEVERAL of our leading actresses received part of their education in Seaford, among them Margaret Rutherford and Penelope Keith.
Margaret, related to the Wedgewood (pottery) family, was brought up by an aunt in South London and, about 100 years ago, became a pupil at Ravenscroft girls' school in Upper Warlingham, Surrey. In 1909 the school removed to Seaford, to premises at the eastern end of Sutton Avenue, where the Misses Margaret and Isabel Mullins added lacrosse to the games curriculum, claiming it as a 'first' in this country. Margaret enjoyed music and appeared in school plays; she became head girl. After only a few more years, the school moved to Eastbourne; during the First World War, the Seaford premises were taken over by the Army. 'A school building but occupied by the RAMC (Royal Army Medical Corps) as a military hospital since 1914,' says a document of the time, listing bed capacity approximately 100 with 75 occupied by Imperial (probably Canadian) patients in November 1916.
Margaret seemed set for a career as a teacher of piano and elocution, but turned to the stage in her early thirties, making her first professional appearance in pantomime at the Old Vic. Apart from appearing in a couple of films in the 1930s, she made little headway till, aged 46, she was given a stage role where her original playing of a comic eccentric brought general acclaim, leading to starring portrayals of Miss Prism in Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest, followed by that of Madame Arcati in Coward's Blithe Spirit.
So many people think of her on film as Miss Marple, but in fact she was in her 70th year when she first played the part! She was created DBE for services to the theatre in 1972, the year in which she died.
Penelope Keith was born (like me!) in Sutton, Surrey, now a London Borough. She attended the school at Annecy Convent – also in Sutton Avenue – and later studied at the Webber Douglas drama school, making her first professional appearance in 1959. She has created many popular roles on stage and television, and in some films, and also directed. Her distinctive voice was ideal for the ITN video celebrating the Queen Mother's centenary .
Miss Keith has maintained her interest in Seaford; on the few theatrical occasions when our paths have crossed, she has enquired after the town and been particularly concerned that the Downland has remained undeveloped.
Two years ago she was invested as High Sheriff of Surrey and last month The Good Life and To the Manor Born actress was appointed a Deputy Lieutenant of that county.
Annecy's story in Seaford began more than a century ago, when a group of nuns escaping from persecution in France sheltered in the holiday home of a church leader, who later gave them the premises, where they founded their convent. In 1903 they opened the Convent of Providence School for girls aged 10-16; boarders came from families on both sides of the Channel. The school has widened its scope and gone from strength to strength ever since.