It’s too long since I wrote my last blog so I thought I would write at this slightly unnerving juncture where I start to construct my 100,000 word thesis in earnest. And, on one level, it does feel like a construction process, in the sense that I have all the materials in place with which to build– screeds of notes on archival material; many articles and vignettes I’ve written already; a complete thematic analysis of all the interviews and memoirs I’ve undertaken and collected; a very comprehensive literature review, comprising all the books and articles I’ve read, and a detailed bibliography. Stepping into the world of construction sounds linear, organised and rational but, at the same time, this is a deeply emotional and highly subjective experience where the thinking process, the synthesis of my experience and learning over the last 22 months, the impact of the people I’ve met and the places I’ve been is being processed at a profoundly subterranean and inchoate level. It feels like the evolution of a tiny, fragile new life form, which is somewhat afraid to appear to the light of day at the moment, eyes wide and blinking, and body vulnerable. That sounds whimsical but I’m groping to express that disconcerting schism between construction and evolution, confidence in my material and personal anxiety and uncertainty.
The last few months since July have been a strange mix of detailed analysis, of loss and remembrance, and of celebration. In August, Frances Farrer, author and journalist, who wrote ‘Sir George Trevelyan and the New Spiritual Awakening’, a brilliantly written book and a touchstone for me which describes the evolution of Sir George’s thinking with great insight and sensitivity, passed away very suddenly aged 65. As the Oxford Mail obituary read, ‘She is deeply missed by all who knew her. Frances worked as a freelance journalist and wrote for publications including The Guardian, The Independent, T.E.S and Time Out’. She also wrote books for children and this showed. Frances and I talked regularly and at great length on the phone, often for 3 hours at a time and, as well as her tremendous erudition about education generally and her knowledge of the Trevelyan family, she had a gleeful, childlike sense of fun and would have me rolling with laughter. She had a gift for mimicry and did a great impression of Sir George, regaled me with tales of her meetings with older (now, sadly, deceased) members of the Trevelyan family when she was researching her book around 2000 and regularly sent me images via email to amuse and distract me during the research phase of my work. Frances had been commissioned by the Wrekin Trust to update and write a new chapter for her book on Sir George and had already undertaken much of the research. My work and hers dovetailed and we helped and supported one another, with a view to working more closely together in the future. I shall miss her very badly.
On August 28th it was the anniversary of my beloved dad’s death. This is not the space or place to express how I feel about that, except to say that I am trying to incorporate my feelings and also my dad’s thinking about education, class and community into my writing. I have been re-reading his essays from his time at Ruskin and here are a few quotes which resonated with my own study and my own philosophy, particularly in relation to adult education, capitalism and class. My dad was a humanist and a deeply liberal man. He never judged people and I rarely heard him criticise. He was humane and generous in his dealings with people, despite very humble origins:
‘People today are striving to improve their standard of living. In a capitalist society this is necessary! What disturbs me is the move away from ethics or moral judgement to the concept of self-gratification’
‘I consider myself to be socially aware – this awareness didn’t just happen, it has gradually emerged through study and introspection and a reluctance to accept anything at face value’.
‘Give me the child to the age of seven and I’ll show you the man. Robert Owen in the 19th century was an advocate of co-operation, he believed that man’s character is made for them and not by them. By character, he meant not the individual disposition of each person, but the make-up of social and moral ideas, instilled in the community as a whole by education and environment. Also, if they were taught co-operation and fellowship, instead of personal salvation and aggrandisement, society would speedily acquire a different character’.
‘For roughly 20 years of my life, home for me was a two up/two down terraced house, without bathroom, hot water and only an outside toilet. I am reluctant to call it a slum dwelling but it comes in that category. What I remember most about it was the neighbourliness and the unselfish attitude to help out if someone was ill or faced with a crisis. I never knew of any old people being neglected….the bonds of affinities remained until the people were split up after a slum clearance order…comfort and all mod-cons are not the be-all and end-all of everything. The town planners and architects, although with good intentions, are designing isolation units’
‘Class distinction…creates divisions between human beings and is a breeding ground for prejudice and pride. To quote Jacques Rousseau, ‘From pride all evil has grown and gone ranging round the world devouring men’’
‘I have been fortunate to have been given the opportunity for further education. This has increased my scope and knowledge through literature and interests, and brings me in contact with people from all walks of life. It has changed my concept of many things, and now, when I feel dissatisfied, I analyse and get to the root of the cause. If what John Stuart Mill wrote is true – ‘it is better to be dissatisfied than satisfied’, then I am better’
I celebrate my father’s thinking, as well as mourn his absence. He is a fundamental part of this evolutionary process of moving towards writing and crystallising my own thinking.
On a completely different note, in September, we held the College Celebration event at Attingham for all those who have contributed to the research through interview, written memoirs, as volunteers helping me in the research process, and as former College students, lecturers and colleagues of Sir George Trevelyan. It was a memorable and very moving experience, seeing people back in the old dining room again, experiencing the hubbub of voices, debate and discussion, as old friends and those unfamiliar to one another from different decades of the College – from the ‘40s through to the ‘70s – connected or became reacquainted after many years. There were several stirring talks, tea and cake, a chance to share memories, a group photograph on the Portico and an opportunity to re-visit the rooms in the house. Talks were given by Mark Agnew, Manager at Attingham, Sarah Kay, Curator, myself, Roger Orgill MBE (Chair of the Wrekin Trust and Sir George Trevelyan’s godson) and Barrie Trinder (eminent writer, College lecturer and Industrial Archaeologist). I recorded people as they walked round the building, storing away their recollections, and listening to their stories – a tremendous privilege. It has now formed part of the web of memory which is informing my thinking and my writing.
Finally, on the first weekend of October I was invited to speak about my research at the Wrekin Trust’s Round Table event, Being the Change, at Hawkwood College in Gloucestershire, an anthroposophical College which Sir George saw as a ‘daughter’ College to Attingham. The purpose of the Round Table event was as follows:
Amidst growing concerns about the precarious nature of life and the need to address the interconnected aspects of political, economic, social, environmental and spiritual understanding, the 2015 Wrekin Round Table, explored how we are each ‘Being the Change’ and how we can best support ourselves and each other during these unprecedented times.
‘Furthering the spiritual awakening of humanity’ was the impulse which moved Sir George Trevelyan Bt to found Wrekin Trust in 1971. He saw the need for a higher level of consciousness in the midst of the confusion of the crumbling nature of society and the work of the Trust has always been to provide safe and sacred space for people to work in community to explore the challenges and possibilities of practical spirituality.
Most importantly, the weekend was about community, the development of deep connection with each other and what’s possible when we are able to share our presence with each other.
My presentation focused on the complex issues stirred by Sir George’s growing interest in the spiritual whilst Warden at Attingham. I was asked to be honest and provocative about its ultimate impact and achievements, offering questions about whether or not this strand of his work had become decoupled from the social and political urgencies we face today, and faced then, and whether or not this process had already begun at Attingham. The respect with which my commentary was received was humbling. I found the weekend a very powerful learning experience, coming away with a much deeper understanding of the spiritual work (and values) of the Wrekin Trust and a strong sense of community with the people I met whilst at Hawkwood.
And now to write!