The British Pestalozzi Children’s Village Association was founded in in 1948 by Dr Henry Alexander (Chairman) and Mrs Mary Buchanan (Honorary General Secretary – and, later, Vice President of the Pestalozzi Children’s Village Trust). The Association, established as a sister organisation to the Swiss Pestalozzi Children’s Village Foundation, was created with a twofold purpose: to raise funds to support British children in the Swiss village and to promote the idea of a similar community in the UK.
Dr Henry Alexander Ph.D., LL.D., Dr med. H.C.
(b. Germany 1897, d. Montreaux, Switzerland 13 June 1988)
One of three brothers born into a Berlin family with a long tradition of literature, music and science. Henry Alexander was drafted into the German army during the First World War and served on the easter front, in Poland. The effects of the war strengthened his already existing pacifist beliefs.
His wife, Hilde, was a singer of some renown who sang several roles with the Berlin State Opera and, later, specialised in Lieder.
Henry established himself as a lawyer in Berlin in 1925 and observed the rise of National Socialism in Germany. His involvement with the smuggling of refugees out of Germany saw him become the target of Gestapo interest and, as a result, he fled with his family to England in 1938.
During World War 2, after initially being interned as an enemy alien, Henry joined the BBC German Language Service as an announcer on “London Calling” (“Hier Spricht London”) which transmitted across Europe.
After WW2, Henry served as an advisor to the Allied Control Commission, which had assumed the control and administration of Germany. Following the earlier publication of an article by the Swiss philosopher and publicist, Dr Walter Rober Corti (about the Swiss plans for a Pestalozzi Children’s Village to accommodate refugee children), Henry travelled to Switzerland to meet Corti and discover more. Along with other interested groups from Britain (including the Quakers, the Save The Children Fund and the New Education Fellowship) and Mary Buchanan, the British Pestalozzi Children’s Village Association was formed in early 1948.
During the following decade, Dr Alexander used his personality and influence to engage the involvement of nobility, academics, business leaders and clergy in turning the vision of a British children’s community into a reality.
Henry ceased his involvement with the Pestalozzi Children’s Village by the mid 1960s but continued to communicate with some of the children who had been cared for at the Oaklands estate. For a while, he pursued further interests with F.I.C.E – the Fédération Internationale des Communautés Educatives (previously the Fédération Internationale des Communautés d’Enfants). Following the death of Hilde, Henry later remarried and moved to Switzerland, where he remained until his death in 1988.
Mrs Mary Buchanan F.R.G.S. (nee Corn)
(b. Stone, Staffordshire 1909, d. Catsfield, East Sussex, 2 March 1971)
Winifred Mary Corn was born into a family of earthenware manufacturers in Staffordshire and was the youngest of three daughters. Mary appears to have had a privileged upbringing, including an education at an international school in Switzerland and culminating in a degree in Social Science from the London School of Economics.
Over many years, Mary appears to have had an insatiable appetite for anthropological studies and travelled to various parts of the world, studying women’s activities and children’s welfare, including Africa, the Middle East, Canada and Alaska. She was also editor of the publication “World Directory of Women’s Organisations”. In 1954 she was elected as a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.
In 1938 Mary married the Irish novelist, George Henry Perrot Buchanan. During the Second World War, George served with the RAF and Mary was General Secretary of the London Refugee Council.
George and Mary divorced in 1945. Mary retained her married name and did not remarry. We believe that Mary had no children.
Following the Second World War, she is thought to have worked with the Home Office. This gave her invalualbe contacts for her work towards a UK Pestalozzi Children’s Village. After Mary became involved with the British Pestalozzi Children’s Village Association, she published a book “The Children’s Village – the Village of Peace” (Bannisdale Press, London, 1951), about the Swiss community in Trogen and the vision for the British community.
During the 1950s and early 1960s, Mary’s efforts were focussed on the promotion, at community level, of the Pestalozzi vision. She tirelessly travelled (both in UK and abroad) to schools, social groups and academic communities, etc. Internet records today show a variety of archived school diaries noting a visit by Mary and the establishment of “ladybird clubs”. By the time children began to arrive at the Pestalozzi Children’s Village in 1959, hundreds of organisations across the UK were actively selling ladybird pins and Pestalozzi Christmas cards to raise funds.
Mary is thought to have ceased her involvement with the Pestalozzi Children’s Village in the early-to-mid 1960s. She settled in Catsfield, East Sussex and continued to promote herself as a lecturer, offering presentations about Israel and Bedouins. Mary died in 1971.
We don’t know how Mrs Buchanan and Dr Alexander met – nor do we know the details of how they worked together to foster such national enthusiasm for the idea of a British Pestalozzi Children’s Village. We do know that, by the time children began to arrive, the two founders had amassed a huge national interest and public involvement in our community.
We also don’t know the true story of how they came to cease their involvement with Pestalozzi Children’s Village Trust.
Can You Help?
Presently, we are relying on existing found documents, our personal recollections and some generosity from our connections.
We know that the story of how our community came to be has to be fascinating and needs to be told.
We are looking for any archival information, photographs and personal documents that will help us shed light on this story. If you can help – please do get in touch with us.
Our thanks to Frank & Tom Alexander for material about their father, to Lynn Loader for providing previously undisovered material about Mary Buchanan and to our volunteers, Greg Hopkins and Roger Whybrew for tracking down some of Mary Buchanan’s past.
To learn about other people involved in the early Pestalozzi children’s story, click here.