FOUR generations of a family who have run one of Southend’s oldest fee-paying schools - thanks to a literary giant - have handed over the reigns to others to ensure its future.

The Wilcox family has been at the helm the Alleyn Court Preparatory School in Wakering Road, Southend for 112 years but the family has recently transferred ownership from the Wilcox dynasty to a charitable trust, set up to guarantee the future of the school.

The school was set up by Theodore Wilcox in 1904 with money earned by sales of the 150-year-old classic children’s tale, The Adventures of Alice in Wonderland.

The book’s author, Charles Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll, amassed a fortune with sales of his book and gave some of the money to his cousin and close friend, William Wilcox.

Mr Wilcox died young, when Theo was just eight years old, from diabetes and Dodgson supported his widow and three children for the rest of his life.

Theo was educated at The King’s School, in Canterbury, before attending Selwyn College, Cambridge, at Dodgson’s expense, and in 1904 set up the school in Westcliff.

John Wilcox, now 75 and living in Somerset, was the third generation of his family to take the reins at Alleyn Court.

He was headteacher for 22 years, from 1968 to 1990, and then chairman of the board for another 20 years.

His father, Denys, was second in line after Theo, and his son William has previously been headteacher and is now the chairman of directors.

He said: “As the school’s ownership becomes more fragmented the governance is more difficult.

“Families are not always in agreement about everything and we came to a point where the next generations of the family were not ready to take over may not want to.

“We wanted to find a way to guarantee the school’s longevity and make the future more secure.”

The continued success of the school can be attributed to a number of specific reasons.

The careful leadership of the Wilcox family, who invest readily in major developments, is extremely important, as is the school’s adherence to its motto – not to move forwards is to move backwards.

The school retains a community feel where family values and traditional manners and courtesy are encouraged yet it continues to develop and adapt to current educational trends and developments.

The family believes it’s now time to hand it over the school to trustees but they will remain involved.

John Wilcox was keen to stress that despite the family no longer being the sole owners of the school, the sense of family and community will not be lost.

He added: “The charitable trust is a legal entity, run not for profit, that will maintain the school for the future.

“We are not disappearing from the school though.

“William is the chairman of the trustees and I am one of the trustees and still visit the school once a month.

“We have never forgotten the generosity of Charles Dodgson and it’s with the same spirit that the school has been gifted to the charitable trust.”

When the school first opened in September 1904, Theo and Ruth Wilcox taught just four children.

Now, in 2016, the school has around 300 pupils on its roll and can count a number of famous faces on its list of alumni.

Alleyn Court has produced everything from sporting heroes to pop stars to MPs.

In recent times James Bourne, of Busted fame, and British Olympian and world swimming champion, Mark Foster, have walked the corridors of Alleyn Court.

In more distant history David Atkinson, former MP for Bournemouth East, England cricketer Trevor Bailey and Arsenal footballer Stewart Robson have called the school home.

The school moved from its Westcliff home to its current site in Thorpe Bay in 1993 but even now, more than a century after it first opened and with the Wilcox family having loosened their ties to the school a little, there is still the feeling that family and community will live on in the school, no matter who is in charge.