Sir George Trevelyan: memories and observations
Memories of Sir George Trevelyan
a tribute to a Knight from his Squire (1960 - 1975)
by Ruth Nesfield-CooksonRuth was Sir George's secretary at Attingham Park and at the start of the Wrekin Trust.
SIR GEORGE TREVELYAN was an adult educationalist with a vision and with the ability to share it. He was a prophet of the changes that are now beginning to come about around the world. An ever growing number of people are coming to see that Man is a spiritual being and that a spiritual world view is necessary if we are to meet the current challenges facing humanity. Through his lectures, courses and written works George played his part in changing the thinking of vast numbers of people; in fact, the development of people's attitudes leading to our becoming a more caring and spiritually orientated society has been phenomenal in the years since he began his teaching in the 1960s. There is evidence of this in the flood of books now being published, internet sites being set up, and conferences, workshops and lectures being offered on spiritual matters, on complementary healing and on healing for the planet. This is an all-important process that is happening in the decades around the turn of the century.
In February 1960 George, in the name of the Shropshire Adult College at Attingham Park in Shropshire, was advertising for a secretary in the Times Educational Supplement at the same time as I was advertising for an 'interesting' post. I was appointed and was to find ideas which would completely change my life.
In 1947 George had been appointed by a Board of Governors to create a short term resident adult college. The College was closely related to the County Council and received some financial support from some local authorities and from Birmingham University. This was exactly what he had longed to do in the family home at Wallington in Northumberland, but his father had left the property to the National Trust. Attingham was, in fact, more geographically accessible for potential students. The setting was magical, an 18th Century Georgian mansion set in many acres of glorious parkland, landscaped by Repton, the River Tern flowing near to the house, a rhododendron and azalea lined 'mile walk' following its course. The College leased more than half of the house from the National Trust, including the magnificent Pompeian red dining room which was used as the main lecture room. About 65 people could be accommodated residentially and 90 catered for. The lecture room seated 100 comfortably, but as time went on, we achieved seating audiences of 170.
All George's earlier life experiences had fitted him for this incredible opportunity, though his natural humility left him amazed that he was offered the post. He was to run weekend (and some slightly longer) courses on every conceivable subject, including arts and crafts, music, history, archaeology, literature, nature studies (how George loved waking people at 3.30am to hear the dawn chorus down the mile walk!) drama, architecture, astronomy etc. He claimed that if a subject was worth thinking about he would run a course on it, providing that he could find suitable speakers – speakers who could enthuse people in a short space of time. As well as the courses open to everybody, the College was used by specific organisations, such as Salop County Council or university departments, during midweek periods. And evening events, including concerts, lectures and dramatic performances, were also offered.
George was a serious adult educationalist, caring passionately about the joy of learning, about what he called "the living idea" and "the living word". He was aware that only interest and enthusiasm, not detailed knowledge, could be given in a weekend. He was always able to give a 'lift' to a subject in his introduction and, in conclusion, place it within a wider context. He sought out speakers who could do more than simply read from notes.
George's personal qualities were exactly what his role required. His love of people and of knowledge, his charm, his energy and his enthusiasm were what was needed in a warden. As a speaker, his powers of oratory, his poetic repertoire, and the incredible way in which he could read one or two books on a subject about which he knew nothing over a few days and give an introductory lecture about it on the Friday evening were a rare gift. When lecturing on esoteric subjects he could digest vast thoughts and re-present them in a way accessible to the non-intellectual mind. And of course in 1948 there were few opportunities for general adult education – Attingham was amongst the earliest of the short term resident adult colleges to open after the Second World War. And it is difficult to understand at the beginning of the 21st Century that the amount of education going on in the spheres of spiritual or so-called 'new-age' thinking was virtually nil, except through movements dedicated to one view-point. But in 1948 George recognised there to be a thirst to recover from the war years, to explore the cultural world of ideas for the joy of it. George looked on adult education as not an escape out of reality, but an escape into reality. His vision was that adult education should bring people a sense of meaning, should add significance to their lives and give them a lead for the development of the self through cultivating new skills and wider capacities. For him a spiritual world view gave meaning to life.
When I arrived at Attingham in March 1960 the college was well launched and had weathered the early years when it had to be shown that the general public wanted to be educated. Then 53, George was an ideal warden and host, totally at home in a stately country home, elegant and handsome, dignified and caring deeply about ideas and people. As students arrived, generally on a Friday evening, I took fees and gave them room numbers, he hovered around to carry cases and escort people to their rooms, enjoying the winding stone staircase decorated with heraldic shields created at 'Creative Leisure' courses under his tuition. At this point he could not have foreseen what his future role was to be….. that was gradually to emerge out of one particular stream of courses.
George had discovered the work of Rudolf Steiner in 1942 when he heard a lecture by W.J. Stein. He said later that, as Stein introduced the ideas of Steiner one by one "Everything in me said yes, yes, yes." This transformed his own life, but he did not go to Attingham with any expectation of stressing such ideas or any thought that he would eventually come to be seen as a prophet of a new age, of a spiritual world view. He was to realise his responsibilities only gradually; his natural humility did not enable him to look forwards to the development of his role. I had to be his squire and press the point…. by the mid-sixties I was emphasising the responsibilities I could see coming towards him. His response was "Ruth, who do you think I am?" He was annoyed that I should insinuate there was anything special about him….. he could not believe it.
It is hard at the beginning of the 21st Century in the west to realise that in the 1950's those with an interest in the spiritual had little choice other than to attend a Christian Church. Independent thinking on spiritual or religious matters was rare. Early on in his time at Attingham George tentatively put on a few courses on such subjects as 'What can we believe?' He also put on a course about the spiritual science (Anthroposophy) of Rudolf Steiner. Few came and those who did could not understand what learned Anthroposophists were saying. George realised that he had to read and digest Anthroposophical ideas and put them over himself in a way suitable for the general public. He had to be very careful. He could not afford to draw a bad reaction from Governors or rate payers. It is very difficult now to realise how much courage and how much diplomacy and wisdom it took to present ideas that were, to most people, revolutionary.
In 1964 George was brave and put on a course on 'Death and Becoming'. I remember we were sitting at the little table in front of the fireplace in his study where courses were planned, working on detail for the course. He turned to me and said "Ruth, don't let me ever be so brave again". He was implying that he had overstepped the mark. For the first time we packed 170 people into the lecture room for the weekend, lectures being given by George and Bernard Nesfield-Cookson (whom I married in 1977). This course was a landmark in George's life and in the life of the College. From then on what we came to term 'significant' courses for want of a better word (knowing full well that every course was significant) would be by far our most popular and would fill the house within days of the programme going out, people in Scotland complaining that they did not have a fair chance of getting places since post took longer to reach them. It is interesting also that George realised that this great series of courses illustrated his own biography. The number of 'significant' courses he felt he could mount in a year increased and from 1964 onwards four or five were generally included in the programme, this not including literature courses which could also be touching on similar ideas.
Wellesley Tudor Pole, the creator of the 'Silent Minute' movement in which the striking of Big Ben at 9pm during the war years was used by many as a signal for prayer that the menace of Nazism should be overcome, came to the course on 'Death and Becoming'. Immediately after this weekend he asked George to create a successor to this movement which was to be known as the Lamplighter Movement and would entail the lighting of dedicated perpetually burning lights with the serious intent of spreading light through the world. This George did and there was soon a network of Lamplighters in many parts of the world. George wrote a prayer for use in dedications which ended with the sentence "May peace and healing spread through the world and the regions of the borderland." (The Silent Minute and Lamplighter movements continue now).
How thrilled George and Wellesley Tudor Pole would be to know how widely dedicated lights were used in the many ceremonies at the beginning of the new millennium, the moment George had been looking forward to for some 50 years. Important national events included the televised programme devised by the Interfaith Network in the UK on 'Faith in a new Millennium' held in the Royal Gallery in the Houses of Parliament around new year. A year later the first Holocaust Memorial Day Ceremony in this country was held in the Methodist Hall at Westminster. The first of the lights at the latter occasion was lit by Prince Charles and he was followed by the Chief Rabbi in the UK, the Archbishop of Canterbury and religious leaders from the principal religions. Such times of the dedication of light, of united prayer are of paramount importance. It could well be that George was one of those who helped to prepare the ground for such major events to happen.
Literature and poetry were of paramount importance to George and he used them to illustrate a spiritual world view. In his youth, George's father had taken him into a wide space in the countryside and encouraged him to speak to a vast imaginary audience, presumably expecting him to become a politician. George's powers of oratory were magnificent, and his memory was incredible. I can see him now on a new year course, seated near to a log fire in the great fireplace in our lecture room (now shown to the public in its original condition as the dining room) with Kitty, his sister, both quoting verse after verse from memory. They loved 'capping' each other with poetry…. from border ballads to Shakespeare, from the romantic poets to the modern, in a completely unrehearsed way. The attention of his listeners could not fail to be arrested, their imaginations stirred. His idea was always to present ideas, to stir people, but never to constrain them, never to present dogma. He knew people must be left free to accept what rang true to them. He did not want followers. At Attingham and later in the Wrekin Trust he wanted to have no more than a mailing list, knowing it was not his role to be a leader of an organisation where members must think as he did. As time went on he was to become a prophet of changing times. Others claimed him to be the leader of a new age. He did not.
What was George teaching? What do we mean by a spiritual world view? He was advocating spiritual awakening, not a religious revival, an awakening that is available to those of all religions and those of none. Although the work of Rudolf Steiner was what led George into an interest in the spiritual he searched for the truth far and wide, in the work of Shakespeare, Goethe, Blake, Hopkins, the romantic poets etc., and also in the works of more modern thinkers including Teilhard de Chardin, Wellesley Tudor Pole, Grace Cook and the White Eagle teachings etc. And from his close link with Pierre Vilayat Inayat Khan, the leader of the Sufi movement in this country, he saw that the fruits of Eastern as well as Western thinking had to be considered and represented. He knew there were many routes up the mountain and no one route was right for everybody. However he never doubted that, to quote his own words "It is Cosmic Christianity we are about".
The ideas George was presenting are given elsewhere on this site, and in his books, videos and tapes, and can be explored further in the writings of Rudolf Steiner and many other thinkers. George always asked people to take the ideas he presented and to live with them for a time before deciding whether they rang true. I can only mention here a few of the core thoughts that were part of his being. For instance, the Cosmic Christ is far more than the Spiritual Being, the aspect of Divinity, that entered into Jesus at the Baptism on the Jordan. The Cosmic Christ is the Divine Spirit within all creation, always was and is indestructible. The Second Coming of Christ Steiner refers to is not an inspired individual, though there have been, are and will be people who bear more of the Christ Spirit than most of us; it is the gradual flooding of the Christ Spirit into the hearts, minds and souls of humanity. George constantly used the terms 'Spiritual Beings' and 'being'. He saw there to be an infinite number of Beings within the Spiritual Hierarchies, including ranges of Angelic Beings who are constantly wanting human beings to link with them, indeed we all have our own guardian angels. The Spiritual Hierarchies need mankind to reach towards them through their constant work on themselves. We have to become co-creators with the Divine, to develop creative imagination. We have to develop an 'inner eye' which can apprehend the being within form and requires a method of dynamic thinking through which we can all know the Divinity within nature and experience how it works within the whole. Men and women are droplets of the Divine Source, our spiritual beings encased within a body as they are encased in clothes; they are not their bodies, but use their bodies whilst on earth. And the earth itself is a living being. On this site I can but hint at the ideas George was finding in the work of Rudolf Steiner and elsewhere.
George worked constantly upon himself. This included the practice of spending an hour in the middle of the night in meditation. He said that it often took him time to work through the darkness and come through to the light, but his outer life showed his training to have been successful. He was a rare being. Not only was he passionately keen about adult education, about widening horizons for the individual, about making life far more worth living for the people of the world, but he lived what he was talking about in every aspect of his life. He was full of positivity, joy and enthusiasm, he bore a magnetism, an energy which all recognised as he came into a room. He had a sense of awe and wonder, even of reverence, for the created world. He was filled with gratitude for the gifts of life and he had an excellent sense of humour and fun. (I remember one occasion when I was driving George and a group of friends in the college brake. We got into a traffic jam. George led joyful songs which must have been heard far away from our vehicle.) He was always true to himself, his characteristics were genuine, not an act, fine actor as he was. George's meditational and prayer life was essential to him. For him, meditation held the key to enabling him to fulfil his role. He remained true to his anthroposophical training but incorporated what he had learned from others who were teaching meditational practices such as the Maharishi, and the Tibetan Buddhists. The meditational practice which he used most often when leading others was that of creating imaginative and meaningful scenes, living into the realms of light, etc. He was very aware that the potency of meditation and prayer was greatly increased when a group worked together.
Carried through into everyday life, everyday relationships, what did George's ideas mean to him and what do they mean for us? George allowed no regrets about the past or fears about the future. We should live in the present. Thoughts for the future, whether personal or wider, should be filled with hope. He could be filled with hope even when looking at world problems; for instance, he saw the coming environmental problems long before they were foreseen by most people… Soil Association Conferences were held at Attingham and were dear to his heart and he had a close link with Lady Eve Balfour, a founding figure of the Association. He saw that a self-centred life was not a Christian one. He stressed the importance of the 'Perfect Language', of avoiding all words of negativity or of illwill. He believed that it is not what hits you in life that matters but how you react to it. From these thoughts it is evident that forgiveness is the only possible reaction to injury, forgiveness both to another person or to destiny. In fact, there is nothing to forgive if what is hurting is not the deed of the other, but reaction to it. He emphasised that the present moment is rarely too much to bear. And of course he had the certainty that life is eternal, that we have repeated earth lives, that we draw towards ourselves the settings and experiences we need. These thoughts cut out all thoughts of life treating us fairly or unfairly and George had to experience this last thought with great intensity in that he had to relinquish hopes of inheriting the family property of Wallington when his father left it to the National Trust, had to relinquish serving and living at Attingham when he reached retirement age and had to see our creation of the Wrekin Trust go into dormancy with little realistic hope of its coming to life again. He overcame all sadness at these losses, in the two latter cases thinking solely of the new setting for service. Only on one or two occasions in 15 years did I see him upset or disturbed by events. He was, however, disturbed if he had failed in any way and did all in his power to set things right. He aimed never to cause offence, even if he was sure he was right. He asked how the Christ can live within us if we think negatively about another. George always did all he could to encourage others in what they were doing, perhaps offering constructive comments, but never adverse criticism. If he saw characteristics or deeds he did not appreciate he preferred to remain silent. He always aimed to build the good rather than attack the bad or the evil. He might, when necessary, comment adversely about ideas or deeds, not those who held or did them. All these points would be carefully wrapped up in lectures, making it clear they resulted from ideas, never presented as categorical instructions.
One salient point for George was that it is unthinkable that 'death'; is the end. To him it was 'the great adventure', a return to the spiritual worlds after a short period of adult education on earth. The release into light of somebody who has fulfilled life on earth cannot be regretted. The regret and the pain is for those left behind and experiencing temporary parting (unless they are able to find their loved ones within their souls through stillness and meditation). He once said to me that if he did nothing in life beyond helping to dispel ideas that death is the end of life, he would consider his life well lived. And George had personal experience of bereavement in that his colleague, Gwen Orgill, who was domestic bursar in the College in its first 10 years, and had built up the College with him, died in America only a year after leaving Attingham. The idea that the core of the individual is eternal is to be found in the works of many great writers such as Shakespeare, the romantic poets etc. Those who come to know this to be true immediately find a great weight of fear lifted from their shoulders. To George it seemed incomprehensible that so many believe in the afterlife, but not that we were 'alive' before incarnating on earth. And of course the idea that we have repeated earth lives, bearing the fruits of the one into the next was, for George, a natural corollary of life being eternal.
Another subject of paramount importance to George was 'love'. By this he was not simply talking about love between two people. I remember him saying in a lecture "If adult education is not about love I don't know what it is about." He saw Love as an aspect of Divinity, perhaps the greatest force affecting the earth sphere, as a force to be nurtured in our every relationship personal and impersonal, even with the body of the earth. If we have love for our home, planet earth, then how can we pollute it? Love to him was unpossessive, unconditional, selfless and creative of the one loved. I shared an interesting moment with George at one of his 80th birthday parties. He said to me "Ruth, I have fallen deeply in love with" (here there was what he would call a 'pregnant pause') "everybody". This sounds a lighthearted remark. For George this represented the fruits of many years of hard work on himself. And he had said to me after the first year of Wrekin Trust Summer Schools: "Love has to be lifted beyond the personal. It has to be transmuted into universal love and sympathy."
To return to the story of the Attingham courses. I am referring almost exclusively to the stream of esoteric courses because it was these that led to his future field of service. 'Death and Becoming' was in 1964 and George reached retiring age in 1971. In these seven years the stream of esoteric courses developed from being merely introductory to discussing increasingly deep spiritual truths. By the latter 60's George was suffering from rheumatoid arthritis and was severely handicapped, but this in no way reduced his enthusiasm for life, nor his ability to put over great spiritual truths in a way that a general audience could comprehend. Many people came to course after course, and many who came to hear George and his co-lecturers were to become lecturers and workshop leaders themselves. Course titles show the progression from "What can we Believe?' to 'The Quest for the Grail', 'Towards Light and Love', 'The Power of the Spirit', 'The Expansion of Consciousness', 'Hope in Man's Future' and 'Living into the New Age'.
As well as the weekend courses there were summer schools and also longer courses over new year and Epiphany. These could be less formal than weekend courses and could illustrate different aspects of what George was. As well as the lectures there were informal drama, expeditions into the Shropshire hills, etc. How George loved donning old clothes and climbing hills, giving the elderly or young townspeople an experience of the joy and vigour to be found in such settings. And at new year there was always a kissing bough in the bell room outside our dining room. George made good use of it, aiming to have every woman in the house under it during the evening. And he always celebrated the moment of new year by, with the help of a sweeping brush, getting all the bells ringing at once. This was a special 'Georgian' area of the house, in that he had decorated it with the Ordnance Survey Maps of the British Isles. He was a great lover of maps….. they reminded him of travel. (On the first occasion when we were travelling together by car, I remember we had a map spread out before us and he said "when I reach the spiritual worlds…. I do hope they provide me with good maps!") To return to the new year courses and summer schools. In the drama, generally directed by Marabel Gardiner, mother of Sir John Eliot Gardiner and a life-long friend of George's, great and meaningful dramas were enacted. Obviously, George invariably played the role of the King, but never did he think that the roles he played were more than symbolic. He accepted his responsibilities in adult education without ever seeing himself as a leader, however others might look at him. I remember one dramatic moment when George and Kitty and I were at the front of a procession bearing lighted candles round the outside of the house at new year. As we passed the colonnade, a lone trumpeter sounded out from the roof and we led the party into 'Hark the Herald Angels Sing'. A very special occasion I remember was a performance of 'Persephone', a great legend of the light descending into the darkness and balancing with it. At the end of the performance in the lecture room everybody moved silently downstairs into the Rotunda (the round entrance room, leading into the inner courtyard), transformed into the darkness of the underworld, where Persephone and Pluto slept, and so into the courtyard to see Zeus and the other Gods floodlit high up on the clock tower. This was a magical moment. And then, performers first, the whole group lined up along the rose-clad drive down the centre of the outer courtyard linking the Gods and the underworld, a silent procession, Marabel moving priest-like amongst them. And then the Gods sent their messenger, fleet of foot, shooting from heaven (the clock tower) to the underworld, to dance to heaven with Persephone. And so, gradually, to a great spiral dance on the front lawn. I have already mentioned the Lamplighter Movement, the movement that Wellesley Tudor Pole had asked George to create, whereby little perpetually burning lights were kindled and dedicated all over the world. The dramatic events at Attingham often including lighted candles being carried either around the outside of the house or even, on one occasion, right round the mile walk around midnight, returning to the Rotunda with its 12 mosaics of the signs of the zodiac. And I remember some of the younger members of the course meditated until all the candles had burned out long after dawn. Occasions such as this were the direct result of what George was even when he was not present. He saw the necessity for the building of an inner, a spiritual 'internet' by those who were drawing down and radiating Light around the world, this being a network to which we can all contribute. He saw the Lamplighter Movement to be playing its part in this work.
With his perfect sense of timing, of fitness for the occasion, and with his sense of dignity and drama, George was able to consciously create this powerful atmosphere that enabled those in the audience to extend their consciousness, to become more alert and aware than usual, yet he always maintained the importance of not constraining people. The purpose was always adult education in the widest sense, never with any sense of making himself into a leader. At the end of the major 'significant' courses, Blake's 'Jerusalem' was invariably sung, the following encouraging lines being a summary of the vigour George was trying to engender in his listeners:
'I will not cease from mental fight
Excerpts from Wagner's 'Lohengrin' and the Great Invocation (given by Alice Bailey) were also used regularly.
Here it would be good to mention the Services which George offered at the beginning of every Sunday morning, always making them as appropriate as possible to the particular people who would be listening. Using suitable writings from great thinkers and poets and closing with music, George was invariably able to give people some widening vista, some lifting moments or new realisations that gave them something special to take home with them, something over and above the subject of the course they were attending.
There is one other important stream of courses that cannot be omitted and which illustrated a different aspect of George. This was the annual courses initially known as the National Trust Summer School and, after the closure of the college, as the Attingham Summer School. George was thrilled by Britain's art and architectural history and loved the opportunity to share it with enthusiastic students. Working with a colleague, Helen Lowenthal, George created this summer school mainly for American Art and Architectural Historians, offering lectures by such leading authorities in the field as Sir John Summerson of Sir John Soane's Museum, and Nikolaus Pevsner, author of the Architectural Guides to most of the counties of England. How the Americans adored this English aristocrat, who could take them to historic houses and gardens around the country, often gaining access to the houses when they were not normally open to the public. And how George loved the vigour and enthusiasm of the Americans.
Another important stream of courses were the 'Creative Leisure' summer schools. Introducing these schools George always said "if a thing is worth doing at all, it is worth doing badly" (rather than not doing it at all). This was of course to encourage beginners. He himself was a master craftsman and knew from personal experience the fulfilment to be found in art and craft work. On one such course Jasper and Molly Kettlewell were tutors, introducing stained glass and mosaic work. After experimenting with individual work, they and George conceived the idea of group work. This led to the making of the magnificent mosaic, uniting the arms of the Berwick family (who donated the house to the National Trust), of the Shropshire County Council and of the Trevelyan family, which still hangs in what was our dining room at Attingham. This was followed by 12 magnificent panels representing the signs of the zodiac, some 5ft by 3ft, taking some years to complete, which were hung in the Rotunda, which we so often used as a place of joy and peace, of song and worship at times such as new year and Epiphany. Set under the rounded ceiling decorated in dark blue and with milk bottle tops illustrating the starry heavens in the early days of the college, this was a magical setting. George used to romantically refer to these mosaics as 'the Ravenna of the North'. Sadly, when the college closed in 1975, George arranged for them to go to the Telford Technical College (where they are magnificently displayed and available to the public) since he could not have then foreseen that the National Trust tour of the house would include the lower ground floor. The final mosaic made as a group venture was of the Unicorn. This was presented to George as a personal gift and now hangs at the Findhorn Foundation in the north of Scotland.
Until the late 60's, most of those attending the esoteric courses at Attingham were over 50. Suddenly, on a new year course, we were 'invaded' by a small group of young people who were travelling the country in their caravans. I met them first, never having seen anybody like them, the young men in cloaks and earrings. I quickly fetched George! We challenged this group to draw friends to a course a few months later. That was a marvellous occasion. The young had no idea that older generations had non-orthodox views. I can still see some 60 young sitting around on the ground amongst the daffodils listening to George talking. He showed that the past was not to be jettisoned, but all the strength and aspirations of the past was to be carried forward. They adored him and his co-tutors, his sister Kitty and Father Andrew Glazewski, both for their wisdom and also for the way they could totally meet them where they were. We all had such fun on these courses as well as the eyes of all of us being opened to each other. One letter received after the course said "the course you instructed over the last few days was nothing short of a miracle." This was the beginning of George's close link with young people.
Many young Sufis were also drawn to George and Attingham by Reshad Feild, who was working closely with them in London. I have mentioned Pierre Vilayat Inayat Khan. He and George felt themselves to be brothers, representing Eastern and Western thinking, representing Feirefas and Parsifal. They lectured together not only at Attingham, but also at Sufi Congresses in London. These drew big audiences and were important in that the Sufis were honouring all religions, were looking towards Universal Brotherhood. Vast candles were lit by representatives of Moslems, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists etc. George and Pierre were very aware that the long-term goal was 'a new world religion' drawing together all religions that acknowledge the Divine Source, but holding no dogma. They were not looking for a religious revival, but for a spiritual awakening. Only by drawing closer together with tolerance and understanding of those following the many spiritual religions and routes could those with spiritual views hope to eventually influence all spheres of life, to lead humanity away from negativity, corruption, greed and illwill. How thrilled George would be to know that so many small movements are now being made to draw together the many spiritual streams. Only from small beginnings can big changes be firmly grounded.
George had a considerable influence on the field of organic husbandry and the environment. Soil Association Conferences had been held at Attingham since the 50's. At that time Lady Eve Balfour and her few colleagues were like lone voices in the wilderness, all orthodox thinking being that the only way to feed the people of the world was by the use of artificial fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides. The course in 1964 on 'Life Threatened' was probably the first of its kind to be offered to the general public.
Peter Caddy (co-founder, with his wife Eileen and Dorothy Maclean, of the Findhorn community) had first come to Attingham in 1965 for a course on 'The Significance of the Group in the New Age'. After this course George and I decided it would be good if I went up to Findhorn, in the north-east of Scotland, to survey this little group of three or four adults and 3 children, with occasional visitors such as their good friend Ogilvie Crombie, before he, George, showed his confidence in them by visiting them! (They are now of course well known and are one of the most successful spiritual communities in the world and a Non Governmental Organisation attached to the U.N.). I was enthusiastic and George was there in 1969, after which his link with Peter and Eileen and Findhorn was to become one of his closest links with any group. He gave them a great deal of encouragement in their early days when they needed to become known, became one of their first trustees, and lectured to the community and their courses many, many times. Here he made friends who would be helping to draw audiences towards him in his worldwide travels in later years.
George was involved with a vast number of organisations, some when he was at Attingham, more later. A big part of his work was as an en-courager, always emphasising the positive points in what others were doing. He had the habit of making whoever he was with feel special to him – and they were – all of them. George was responsible for so much that was to come after him, both because of what he did himself and because of the way he encouraged others. He felt a particularly close link with what was happening at Glastonbury (with the Chalice Well Trust and Wellesley Tudor Pole) and also on Iona. He loved our pilgrimages to the island, and spent many hours in the Abbey and meditating in the Columba Chapel. I think he loved every inch of the island, feeling it to be a very special place, and he took part in conferences at the Columba Hotel. And how well I remember Whitsuntide in 1965, when we went to the celebration of the 1400th anniversary of Columba's arrival on Iona. Some 800 pilgrims gathered for a service on the grass in front of the Abbey. The recently completed renovations to the cloisters were blessed and Holy Communion was celebrated. George was one of the servers. During the Communion Service a white and pink-amber dove walked down from the back to the front of the congregation, turned across in front of the servers, and alighted at the centre of the arched entrance to the cloisters. It felt as though Columba himself had sent his winged messenger.
In the later 60's George was struck with rheumatoid arthritis, starting in his knees and quickly spreading to the whole body. He reached the point of only being able to walk downstairs backwards and turning door handles presented a major problem. His legs were in callipers, he used a stick and needed help to rise from a chair. His local doctor was expecting him to need a wheelchair. He bore the pain without complaint, laughed at his efforts to open a door and never considered the possibility that he would not overcome this disease sufficiently to enable him to continue his work. On one occasion, during a Quartet Concert at Attingham, he came to me during the interval and said, with a voice that showed disdain "I have just walked downstairs in front of…. (his doctor) forwards." For a man who had so recently prided himself in being able to run down steep hillsides this must have been hard. He accepted it as an educational challenge he had to meet. He continued to lecture though he had to cut down on other aspects of his work. He was able to use even his handicap as a teaching aid. Those seeing him taking what he termed to be a "mild inconvenience" could not but rethink the way they looked at their own 'inconveniences.' There were times when George went away for treatment. He found these times of enforced rest a great blessing, a time when he had the chance to experience "infinite stillness, bliss consciousness. My room is like a sanctuary full of angels, of light and peace. In these nights my rediscovery is that God Is Joy…. how temporary are any worries." He was living the phrase he had used so often, "take courage". His words meant more from one who suffers than from one who speaks on principle. With the help of the nature cure doctor, Gordon Latto, and the leading healer Bruce MacManaway, and with a vast amount of courage and determination, George was able to get the disease sufficiently under control to continue his work for the next 20 years. Other comments he made about illness included: "it is just amusing to think this pain matters," and "it is part of life – you must accept it." And once when he was away for treatment he wrote to me saying "such times are nothing but an enforced withdrawal for a time of opportunity for spiritual development, and therefore to be welcomed." He had always maintained that we are not our bodies. Now he was showing that he was not his.
In 1969 the Governors told George that they expected him to retire at the age of almost 65 in September 1971. He responded that I would be retiring with him as his work would continue and he would still need a secretary. At that point I think virtually everybody who knew him thought we were attempting the impossible for him to continue to work with his arthritis, but we both knew, without any doubt, that our work must not come to an end and therefore his 'mild inconvenience' could not but be sufficiently overcome to make this possible. It was in March 1970, during a large course on 'The Workings of the Spirit in Social and Economic Life' that I found that rumour had got around that George would be leaving Attingham in little over a year. Many had become very dependent on these courses because there were so few sources to feed their needs at that time. I realised that people could not be allowed to leave enthused by a final lecture, but depressed that these courses would not continue. I waylaid George in the Portrait Gallery on his way in to give the final lecture, explained and asked him to say something positive. His opening words were "rumour reaches me that rumour reaches you….. Ruth and I will continue….." We were committed to finding a way to keep on running courses.
Meanwhile we had another one and a half years at Attingham. There could be no sadness that we were to lose the privilege of living and working in a stately country house of such majestic beauty, an ideal setting for adult education. I was not amazed that there was no sadness in George that he had had to give up Wallington and was now having to give up Attingham. I expected it of him. I was amazed that I could honestly claim to feel the same way. George was totally committed to the fulfilment of God's Will, to the idea that we could have no regrets about our destiny, and he had total certainty that his work was to continue in a wider field, and therefore there was no pain for me either. The final courses were a triumph; we knew that the last in each stream of courses must be a special success.
And so to the retirement celebrations in August 1971, a vast marquee on the front lawn for the ceremonies, another in the outer courtyard for catering. 350 attended and we determined that there should be no feeling of 'this is the end'. The stress was on one great venture becoming two ventures, the college continuing under George's deputy, Geoffrey Toms, and George and I launching out into the unknown with an independent Trust which by then had come to be known as the Wrekin Trust, after the hill which could be seen from Attingham. There was a magical moment when the whole gathering was assembled in the marquee at the front of the house, including the Secretary for Education for the County etc. George came out of the front door onto the colonnade and down the gracious steps like a king giving away his kingdom, a red rose in his buttonhole. As he entered the marquee he paused to acknowledge the applause, a 'pregnant moment', as he would have put it. The next magical moment was at the end of the evening. George and his wife Helen had been invited to appear on the colonnade warmly clad but not knowing what was to happen. The whole company was gathered in a great semi-circle waiting…. and a horse came galloping round the corner of the house drawing a chaise. There was a sigh of wonder, and 'fare forward' from George and they galloped off down the drive, the coachman and pillion rider in 18th century dress. Those of us who had organised the occasion had achieved the balance of solemnity, drama and fun that was true to George. He was delighted. They returned up the back drive and in his final Attingham Sunday Service next morning he quoted Aurobindo: "it is a beginning…. an adventure absolutely unexpected, and unforeseeable….. I invite you to the great adventure. We are a new creation. What will happen tomorrow, I do not know; you must leave behind whatever has been foreseen, whatever has been designed, whatever has been built up, and then on the march into the unknown come what may." And his final words in the service were "So, in the end is my beginning, fare forward." Before the evening celebrations the previous day George's son-in-law, Matthew, had gone up in a hot air balloon symbolically representing George leaving Attingham. After the service on the Sunday George went up in a tethered flight, a garland round his neck. The night before he had symbolically left Attingham. Now he was launched in his symbolic upward flight. And for the best part of the next 20 years he was to continue his dedicated pilgrimage around the world.
In 1971 there were still very few organisations offering anything in the way of spiritual adult education. George had needed tremendous courage to achieve what he had done at Attingham where he had to retain the respect of orthodox authorities. Attingham had given him the perfect platform to begin his crusade. For most of the twenty three and a half years of his appointment he had not foreseen responsibilities beyond his time there. He had made the fullest use of the great gift of using Attingham as an adult college. In spite of the flood of appreciative letters he received he could not see himself as being in any way a leader.
A few days after the retirement celebrations in August 1971 George and his wife moved into a cottage to the north of Shrewsbury, I into a small modern house in Bomere Heath which housed our offices and me. Creating the Wrekin Trust was an act of faith in that neither of us had money to put into it. We had started preparing for this moment, creating a charity (with Mary Firth, who had been a close friend of George's since long before he went to Attingham, and the Trust's Solicitor as Trustees), appealing for money and planning our first courses in March 1969 when George had given his promise that courses would continue after he retired from Attingham. The idea was to promote residential conferences and single day meetings in different parts of the country in suitable centres. Some conferences would be large, held mainly in universities and colleges, some small in conference houses and retreat centres, some for newcomers to this field, some for more advanced students. And George was clear that he wanted not a membership of the Wrekin Trust but a mailing list. He did not want followers as in an organisation or cult, but simply to present living ideas about the spiritual nature of man and the universe that would enable people to find their own routes towards the Divine. This would involve a lot of travelling…. which is something he always loved. He started every expedition with the sense that it was to be a new adventure.
How George loved travel and, as he put it, "travelling light in to the new age". He never really liked the term 'new age'. He knew every age to be new in its time, yet also knew that 2000 years after the incarnation of the Christ was a very special time, a time when we must change our thinking, people must learn to live in harmony with each other, to respect creation, to accept that they are part of the Divine whole.
In the first year of the Wrekin Trust we were running on average one weekend course every two weeks, George lecturing and I being administrator/hostess on most of them. Most courses were held in the South or the Midlands of England, though a few were further north. And there were especially memorable visits to Scotland. Also, George was giving single lectures at the invitation of others. Most courses were entirely our responsibility though some were run in association with other organisations such as the Beshara Trust.
Our first course on 'Health and Healing' was at the University of Surrey at Guildford, directed by Bruce MacManaway, in the summer of 1972. This was a 'leap into the dark'. George was very uncertain whether a course drawing together different healing streams, such as nature cure, homeopathy, radionics etc. would attract sufficient numbers to avoid financial disaster. As far as we knew this was the first such conference for the general public. As it turned out we accepted the first 500 applications and could have filled the course twice over. This gave us real confidence for booking large-scale accommodation in the future.
The summer schools that year were a rich experience for George. In May he was in Scotland for a course on Iona on 'The Cosmic Future' and for a visit to Findhorn. Then a course at Killerton House in Devon, a place where, as at Attingham, the nature forces were much in evidence. Then up to the College of Education at Ponteland in Northumberland, near to his old home at Wallington, for a summer school on 'The Inward Journey' with Marabel Gardiner, and then to Beshara in Gloucestershire for a summer school. The first year of the Wrekin Trust had shown George that people could find the same lift of consciousness, the same 'magic' as they had found at Attingham in many different settings. It was easier to find in settings such as Killerton or Ponteland, but perfectly possible in bleak modern buildings. In thinking the first year through with me, before the Beshara course, George said that "in the story of Parsifal, which was to be en-acted at Beshara, man was finding his way, and that this was the completion of Odysseus launching the modern scientific ego-consciousness which needed to be Christ-ened and lifted into higher thinking (the 'Odyssey' having been performed at Ponteland)."
How George loved his travels, above all when we were in Scotland. Even when arthritis prevented him from climbing the mountains which had been such a joy to him in earlier years, being driven through them was a never-ending thrill. He cherished their physical challenge, their beauty, their encouragement to strive ever upwards. He was very aware that spiritual beings lived within all nature. He felt awe, wonder, reverence for wild landscapes. Early one morning I was sitting in bed listing the work I hoped we should do that day en-route when I heard the sound of a flute in the distance. The sound came towards my room. From the door George said "this is a reveille because if you get up now we could take in one more great glen than planned." My hopes of thinking about administration while driving through his beloved Scotland had any way been unrealistic! At one time he wote to me saying "I consider Scotland sublime."
In March 1974 there was an important course at Reading University on 'The Polluted Planet and the Living Spirit' in which George was joined by Lady Eve Balfour, Dr. E.F. Schumacher and other friends. This course was historic in that it was before the time it was usual to link the fields of ecology and spiritual awakening. Since the Soil Association Conferences had been held at Attingham, George and Lady Eve had been totally convinced that the two spheres of thinking could not but be linked. George maintained that "if man could learn to co-operate with spiritual energies and higher intelligence, there is great hope that pollution could be overcome and the planet regenerated." For this course he was drawing together a team of speakers representing both a deep understanding of what is involved at a 'down to earth' level, and those seeing this as a spiritual challenge to the world population.
Over Michaelmas there was a course advertised as 'The Michaelmas Festival: A Pilgrimage to Cornwall.' It was the first time a pilgrimage had been included on a Wrekin Trust programme, though George had a deep awareness of the significance of pilgrimages to the centres of power; and of course the Trevelyan family originally came from Cornwall. George wrote in the programme:
"The Archangel Michael, Lord of the Cosmic Intelligence, is the Regent of the Forces of Light in this age. The Festival of Michael now holds a new relevance for mankind….. and the pilgrimage takes on a new significance today as a deed in service of the light."
He also wrote:
"Michaelmas is a festival for the future. We are called to bring it to birth in our own initiative."
The event was a tremendous success, a heart-warming occasion for George, an occasion when (as at Wallington 2 years earlier) there was drama and romance in the situations as well as serious purpose.
By early in 1974 George was flourishing but I was becoming increasingly unwell and unable to fulfil my administrative work. In July, George met Malcolm Lazarus and he soon joined us in the Wrekin Trust work. Soon after this the money loaned for the purchase of the house in which the office and I were housed would be due for repayment and we did not have the necessary funds. In April of the following year I happily left to spend a few months at Findhorn, George and Malcolm and the Wrekin Trust offices moving into Herefordshire. George was accepting an ever increasing number of engagements which had not been planned by the Wrekin Trust, so needed an administrator able to continue the planning of courses, and I clearly needed a complete break from administration. The fifteen years in which I had been George's secretary and squire had been a privilege and a joy for which I am eternally grateful. As George and the Wrekin Trust went in one direction, I in another, I remember George (slightly mis-) quoting from 'King Lear' to me "I have a journey shortly to go, my master calls me: I must not say no." In November of that year, sadly, the college at Attingham closed, not through any fault of George's successor, Geoffrey Toms, but for unforeseeable financial reasons. George wrote to me at Findhorn saying "We have wound up Attingham. It was certainly a tremendous final day….. I got the chance of a final oration which was designed to give a lift and was followed by Bill Jenkins' Brass Ensemble playing the Trumpet Voluntary. Everyone went away with some sense of triumph in the heart." As always, George looked at what had been achieved, not at what had been lost, accepted what had been happening as Divine Will, and allowed no sense of regret.
In 1992, after my husband and I had retired from running Hawkwood College in Gloucestershire, George, his close friend Rhoda Cowen, and Bernard and I went to Ireland where George and Bernard had been invited to lecture. On our return George needed an airport buggy driven by an air hostess to take him from the aircraft to the terminal. As he and the young air hostess drove ahead of us, his stick went into the air and he shouted "Hurrah." Physical disabilities could not daunt his enthusiasm for life. And in 1995 came a privilege for George which I feel was well-deserved and which he clearly enjoyed enormously… he was invited to Highgrove for a private meeting with Prince Charles. To me, this seemed a fitting acknowledgement of his work.
Looking back at George from a few years after he embarked on what he so often called 'the great adventure', what had he achieved? This is incalculable. He could express profound truths clearly so that a non-intellectual audience could grasp what he was saying. He would use the phrase 'it could be that….' describing widening horizons. He constantly suggested people think an idea before judging it. He saw that education should draw from people the highest that is within them, should provide a vision a little beyond them so that they were encouraged to 'stretch'. Appreciative letters talking of changed lives showed he had often achieved just this. He used his every attribute, his charisma, his aristocratic charm, his powers of drama and oratory, even his physical ailments as teaching aids. He was a prophet, a visionary, a pioneer of a new age of exploration of the Cosmos, of reality and our inner life, an adventurer and a lover of freedom. And what is clear at the beginning of the third millennium is that much that is happening now arises from the work he did to change ideas and attitudes. With his courage, his positivity, his determination and his humility he was truly a Michaelic crusader. In the last 40 years of the 20th century we have seen great and rapid changes in many fields of thinking, including the importance of organic husbandry and complementary healing methods. George had the vision of the possibility that if sufficient numbers of people could change their thinking they could make a spiritual world view their own equally quickly. He wrote to me saying that this spreading of a spiritual world view could lead to an atmosphere of forgiveness and goodwill to all "neighbours the world over, and this in turn could lead to great changes in all spheres of life including politics and economics, education, culture etc." He was not denying all the vast problems of these years around the turn of the century, but seeing the possibility of overcoming them.
George was issuing a Wake-Up-Call to a mankind mainly unaware of what it was doing. He was amongst the first to be offering this challenge to the general public. It is now a wake-up-call being taken up by many people, but must be taken up by many, many more. He was asking us to find a new sense of meaning, a new morality based on the Love of God, the Love of Christ and our fellow men, to become mature enough to fulfil our responsibilities as children of God. He wrote in 'Exploration into God':
"We are grasping the supreme hope that lies within darkest despair, the pearl of great price to be found and won by those that seek. In our extraordinary age, at the close of the 20th century, we very clearly approach a culmination point. Things simply cannot go on as they are without terrible disaster. A technocratic civilisation gone mad in the quest for power and profit, overshadowed by terrible fear, rushes headlong towards the abyss. This is a great drama – perhaps the greatest ever staged. We have to learn who are the chief actors, who the producer. Who directs it all? Is it merely blind, inhuman, brutal forces of death? It is a playing-out of the myth of the human soul, and every one of us has a part to play. Indeed like Frodo and Sam, the ringbearers in Tolkein, it must appear that we, little people, do have a very important part to play among the Great Ones who act the leading roles. And in this drama the outcome remains unknown. We all play a part we cannot learn beforehand, for the story unfolds as we enact it."
He goes on to say that the human race is not alone, but that overlighting it "there appears to be a vast Intelligence which knows what It is doing and ultimately is Love." It has been part of the role of humanity to plunge into materialism and lose God in the process. "Now into human thinking re-emerges the vision of the sacred, the deep certainty that the Universe is mind and that behind the wisdom poured into the diverse forms of nature is a great oneness of Intelligence." He continues:
"Our generation – us now – face the clear possibility of extinction and the complete breakdown of civilisation. The world is appalling, mad and wicked, a patriarchal, technocratic culture which has gone insane in its drive for power and profit and is haunted by a terrible fear. It seems that the one real measure of good is whether a thing pays! To the rational, logical mind the future looks very grim indeed……"
"Now note this strange and very significant fact. Though it seems to the logical mind that irrevocable disaster looms ahead, yet most of the seers, mystics and initiates who have touched the higher vision do not see an end of civilisation. Change – yes; cleansing of the planet – yes; but total destruction by flood or ice or nuclear bombs; no. They can see ahead through the dark tunnel into the light. Humanity indeed must learn its lesson. That which is evil must be washed away and burned out or cauterised. It cannot be allowed to go on, and the field must be cleansed for a New Age to emerge….. This seems to me implicit in holism and the spiritual world-world view. Let us explore it and then see the part we have to play and how we can implement it and train ourselves for our role of 'freedom fighters' – for every man and woman is called upon by free choice to ally with the forces of Light which now are cleansing the planet."
The lines which George quoted most frequently come from Christopher Fry's A Sleep of Prisoners. They give the core of his thinking:
Dark and cold we may be, but this
Is no winter now. The frozen misery
Of centuries breaks, cracks, begins to move;
The thunder is the thunder of the floes,
The thaw, the flood, the upstart Spring.
Thank God our time is now when wrong
Comes up to face us everywhere,
Never to leave us till we take
The longest stride of soul men ever took.
Affairs are now soul size.
Is exploration into God.
Where are you making for? It takes
So many thousand years to wake,
But will you wake for pity's sake?
A Yew Tree was planted down the mile walk, by the river at Attingham, late in 1996. A short ceremony was conducted by the Revd. Gordon Barker, a close friend of George's who ran many Wrekin Trust courses. After the event Gordon wrote to me saying "I feel very much that George's work, and his writing, will grow in importance, influence and recognition as the years go by. As the Yew Tree grows towards maturity over the centuries, so will his work mature and fulfil."
(NB. Attingham Park, including the rooms used by the college, is open to the public for six months of the year).
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