Zoe Somerville and her mother inside Williams House
Written by Abigail Wharne, Archivist
Friday, 22 July 2016

Many names have strong associations with Brighton College. They are woven into the fabric of the school through plaques, memorials and the names of buildings. One example is Williams, from which our second-oldest girl’s house takes its name. Peggy Williams was born in Chichester House in 1896, and, rather amazingly, was able to attend the opening of ‘her’ house in 1990. Much of Peggy’s long life was connected to the school, as she married Reverend A J Williams, College Chaplain and Housemaster of Wilsons (a now extinct house).

Peggy’s daughter, Hilary Somerville, also remained closely tied to the College, having grown-up here and living close-by until her emigration to New Zealand, in 1994. Last month, we received the sad news that Hilary had passed away. Throughout her life and career, she left a positive mark on our unique city. In 1963, Hilary joined Brighton Borough Council and served as a Conservative councillor for more than 20 years. In this role, she represented Queen’s Park and Kingscliffe wards, and took several key posts including chairwoman of highways, children’s and social services committees. She was made mayor during the Queen’s Silver Jubilee year, becoming only the fourth mayor in the then town’s history. Further information about Hilary Somerville’s life and career, can be found in her obituary on the Brighton Argus website.

Just a few weeks after receiving this sad news, we took a telephone call from Zoe Somerville. Zoe is the great granddaughter of Peggy Williams, and granddaughter of Hilary Somerville. Zoe and her mother were visiting the UK from Australia, and wanted to donate a small collection of Hilary’s belongings – photographs, a Brighton College prospectus and copies of the Brightonian magazine. Both surprised and thrilled to hear from living relatives, we invited them for a tour of the school. This included a visit to the chapel, where Reverend A J Williams had led many services, and, of course, Williams House. It was inspiring to hear their memories and to be given an opportunity to keep such a long-standing connection alive.

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