The First Avalonians

In the early part of the Twentieth Century, several prominent figures were involved with Glastonbury. They included Bligh Bond, Dion Fortune, Wesley Tudor Pole, Alice Buckton, Rutland Boughton and later Katherine Maltwood. In their different ways, all these people were intuitively influenced by entities who guided them in their work. They used different names for their ‘guides’ but they seem to be referring to the same entities.

It was Dion Fortune who coined the term ‘Avalonians’ for this generation of Glastonbury seekers – and she wrote of the inspiring presence, in her book “Avalon of the Heart”.  

“Mediaeval piety and learning are in the very air of Glastonbury.  The stones of the Abbey are overthrown, but its spirit lives on like a haunting presence, and many have seen its ghost.

the word Avalonians was made more widely known in the book of the same name, first published by Patrick Benham in 1993.

In this paper we will look briefly at these inspired people, and what they brought to the town. We are calling them the ‘First Avalonians’ as they were the first group to become publicly known and to begin to publicize the energies of Glastonbury.  They are not the only a Avalonians ! - there has been a steady stream of people arriving in the town since the middle of the 20th century, each of whom has made their own unique contribution to the town and we will look at some of these people elsewhere.

Most of these First Avalonians  had a strong belief in Christianity linked with an understanding of myth and legend and an acceptance of intuitive guidance.  There was an acceptance of Glastonbury as a magical place,  but we do not find them defining it as a contemporary place of pilgrimage and transformation.

Today, what we call the New Avalonians are more eclectic in their beliefs. They believe in spiritual inspiration but also in a multitude of different spiritual and religious paths - indeed Christianity probably plays a only small part in the belief of these newcomers. There is also a waning interest in Arthurian legends and a wider interest in the more distant Celtic past and contemporary paths such as Wicca and Sufism.

Now let us look at our First Avalonians:

Alice Buckton -  1867 – 1944

She was the daughter of George Buckton who was a remarkable home-educated chemist, entomologist, astronomer, artist and musician. Alice was also educated at home in her early years. As a child, her family had, as a neighbour, poet laureate Alfred Lord Tennyson and she listened as he told her of his belief in the immortality of the soul. Tennyson had a remarkable effect on the Victorian mind in that he introduced the whole Arthurian saga including the Holy Grail and other poems and links to Avalon.

Like her father she became a talented all-rounder. She spent her early years working with a number of Charites serving  the poor.

She was an early feminist and spent time in Berlin where she met her life-long companion Annette Schepel. In 1898, she returned to England where she set up a centre in London providing services to help with the independence of women.

Alice was a competent poet and playwright her first book of poetry was published in 1901. In 1904 Alice produced her play, Eager Heart.

In 1907 she attended a lecture by Tudor Pole on the Blue Bowl.  She began visiting Glastonbury and exploring the old pilgrimage route that had been maintained by oral tradition.

 In 1912 Archdeacon Wilberforce persuaded Alice to leave London and buy the Catholic Seminary in Glastonbury that had recently come on the market. The Seminary had an interesting background in that it started off as the Anchor pub on Chilkwell Street.  In its grounds were the neglected Chalice Well and a Bathing Place which had been popular in the 1700s when Glastonbury boomed as a spa.  Around the mid-19th century, a Catholic group purchased the pub and its grounds. They extended and enlarged the buildings and set it up as a seminary offering a range of courses to students. The new seminary was a large building facing on to Chilkwell Street with a chapel, a lecture hall and a range of small cell like bedrooms to accommodate residential students.

Alice adapted the complex and used it as a base from which she offered a range of courses and workshops including beekeeping, weaving, painting, services for the sick and poor and education of small children. She adapted a Georgian building on the site as her home.

In 1919, she co-operated with Frederick Bligh Bond when he designed the vesica piscis lid for the Well which is still in place today. She shared his belief in what she called the ‘Watchers of Avalon’ – the heavenly company of one time monks who were overseeing the spiritual rebirth of Glastonbury and England.

In 1922, she brought the people of Glastonbury together to make a film ‘Glastonbury Past and Present’

She kept working at the centre until her death in 1944. In her will she left the properties to a group of trustees who were asked to set up a charitable trust and run the property as an international cultural and healing centre. Efforts were made to run the centre, but the trustees found themselves unable to maintain the buildings and in 1949 sold the whole complex to the owners of Glaston Tor school, on condition that the public could have access to the well. It was run by the school for nine years and then in 1958 the property was sold to the Chalice Well Trust set up by a group including Tudor Pole and Lord Grey.

Since purchase by the present Trust, the seminary buildings have been demolished, Alice Buckton’s home converted into a Retreat House and the grounds opened into lovingly cared for and spacious gardens including the ancient sacred well.

Dion Fortune - 1890 – 1946

This was her adopted spiritual name – she as christened Violet Mary Firth. Her father was a solicitor and her mother’s father ran a hydropathic therapy centre in Limpley Stoke near Bath -  in her her teenage years her family moved to live in Limple Stoke and at about sixteen the family moved to London.  Her family were followers of Christian Science and Violet was well grounded in their beliefs.

During the war she joined the women's land army and after the war studied psychology and trained as a lay analyst.  From this base she broadened understanding of all aspects of the esoteric and the occult.  

This lead her to start to visit Glastonbury,  first as an occasional visitor -  later she came to live in the town, buying a house opposite Charles Well. She wrote many books including ‘ Avalon of the Heart’  and became a well-known figure in Glastonbury

Dr John Arthur Goodchild - 1851–1914

He qualified as a medical doctor and in 1873 set up a private medical practice in Bordighera Italy.  He stayed there during the summer months and returned to the UK in the winters. The start of his link with Glastonbury was in 1880, when he came across an unusual glass bowl in a shop in Bordighera.  He felt that the bowl had special qualities and purchased it.

In 1900, he returned to the UK for good. He was a psychic and much caught up with the Celtic revival. In 1898, he wrote his book ‘The Light of the West’ in which he contends that the Irish, long ago, worshipped the female aspect of the deity, who was eventually Christianized as St Bride. He also suggests that the legends of Glastonbury and Ireland were somehow linked. On sending the book off to his publishers, he had a waking dream in which a voice told him that his blue bowl had once been carried by Jesus, that it had a powerful influence to play and that he should take it to Glastonbury and ‘place it in the Women’s Quarter’ there. He decided that the Women’s Quarter was Bride’s Hill, in Glastonbury and in due course hid it in a well, pending the arrival, as he was told, of a maiden who would come and retrieve it.

Sometime later he felt inspired to send a drawing of the bowl to his friend, Tudor Pole, who lived in Bristol.  Pole showed the drawing to two young sisters who were friends of his, Janet and Christine Allen. These ‘maidens’ felt called to endeavour to find this bowl, and, through various intuitive promptings, they finally found themselves in Glastonbury, and the well, and found the bowl. On their return to Bristol, they reported to Pole who became intrigued by the whole thing. This is the start of the involvement of the Blue Bowl with Tudor Pole and Chalice Well.

Frederick Bligh Bond 1864 –1945 

Was an architect, illustrator, archaeologist and. His family was related to William Bligh of HMS Bounty. He was educated at home by his father, who was headmaster of the Marlborough Royal Free Grammar School.  He practiced as an architect in Bristol from 1888. In 1899 he expressed his belief that the dimensions of the buildings at Glastonbury Abbey were based on gematria, an Assyro-Babylonian-Greek system of alphanumeric code that was later adopted into Jewish culture, and published a number of books on the subject

In 1908 the Church of England appointed him director of excavations at Glastonbury Abbey. Bond enlisted the help of a retired navy Captain John Allan Bartlett (also known as John Alleyne) as a medium through whom he contacted long-dead monks of the Abbey. who advised him where to excavate. With help of these monks, Bond’s excavations re-discovered the nature and dimensions of a number of buildings that had occupied the site. Bond's work at Glastonbury Abbey is one of the first documented examples of psychic archaeology.

In 1919, he published The Gates of Remembrance, which revealed that he had employed psychical methods to guide his excavation of the Glastonbury ruins. As a consequence of these revelations his relations with his employers, the Anglican Church, deteriorated and he was sacked in 1921.

Bligh Bond said that in the psychic writings which he had recorded, the monks claimed that one day the great Abbey of Glaston would be rebuilt. The original Abbey had been destroyed because it was imperfect. The new Abbey would be wholly appropriate to its time, would no longer suffer from imperfection and would be a spiritual beacon to the entire world.  There is also a legend that Austin Ringwood, one of the last of the Abbey monks, had forecast that:

‘One day the great Abbey of Glaston will be rebuilt –

when this is done, peace will reign upon the earth for a thousand years”

Rutland Boughton - 1878 – 1960

 was an English composer who became well known in the early 20th century as a composer of opera and choral music.

From an early age, he showed signs of exceptional talent for music. In 1892, he studied at the Royal College of Music in London. In1905 he became recognised as an excellent teacher and an outstanding choral conductor which won him much recognition. He was drawn into socialist ideas through the writings of Ruskin and George Bernard Shaw and became attached to a young art student, Christina Walsh, who later to became his partner in his Glastonbury projects.

In 1907 Boughton's discovered the theories of Richard Wagner, and turned to a new subject – King Arthur. Based upon the Ring Cycle at Bayreuth, and the ideas of Reginald Buckley in his book "Arthur of Britain", Boughton set out to create a new form of opera which he later called "choral drama".,

In 1911 Boughton moved to Glastonbury where he began to focus on establishing the country's first national annual summer school of music. The first production was Boughton's new choral-drama, ‘The Immortal Hour’. It was written in 1912 and a lavish production planned - but before it could be staged, war broke out in 1914.  Despite this Boughton was determined to stage his master work, and produced it in the modest Assembly Rooms of Glastonbury - a grand piano instead of a full orchestra. This remained the centre of is activities until the end of the Festivals in 1926, by which time Boughton had mounted over 350 staged works, 100 chamber concerts, a number of exhibitions and a series of lectures and recitals – something never previously witnessed in England.

From 1927 until his death in 1960, Boughton lived at Kilcot, near Newent in Gloucestershire where he completed the last two operas of his Arthurian cycle.

Major Wellesley Tudor Pole 1884 - 1968

He was educated at Blundell's School in Tiverton in Devon and at the age of 20 became managing director of the family firm marketing grains and continued to be involved though his life

He had various adventures to find the Holy Grail. He pursued investigations in the Middle East and on a visit to Constantinople in 1908 he met Abdul Baha, head of the Baha’i faith. For the next few years he was active in the Baha’i Faith.

During World War I, Tudor Pole served in the Directorate of Military Intelligence in the Middle East and was directly involved in addressing the concerns raised by the Ottoman threats against `Abdu'l-Bahá.

After the War, Tudor Pole began his writing career with Private Dowding and continued to write until his death. He instituted the Silent Minute that united the British people with the chiming of Big Ben on the radio each evening at 9 p.m.  

From a young age, he had connections with Glastonbury, Dr. Goodchild, Alice Buckton and an-on-going interest in the holy spring of Chalice Well. In 1959, he founded the charity that has since preserved the Well and its surroundings. 

.An interesting comment on Tudor Pole was given in the introduction by Brinsley le Poer Trench to Pole’s book The Silent Road:

Some people are publicists; others act unseen behind the scenes and let their deeds speak for themselves. Tudor Pole is one of the latter group. If you passed him in the street you would not realize that there was anything particularly unusual about him. But he is, I assure you, a quite exceptional man.

Katherine Maltwood – 1878 - 1961

Throughout her childhood, she was reared to be an artist. She matriculated at the Slade School of Fine Art, University College, London (1896–97). Here, she studied sculpture.

She was fascinated by Buddhism, theosophy, Masonic rituals, Goddess Spirituality, and Egyptian culture.

She married a rich business man, who was said to have invented the Oxo cube, and together they travelled widely. These travels made the objects of her spiritual curiosity accessible and enabled her to understand their esoteric and hidden meanings. All of which inspired her artwork and writing

In 1917, they purchased a summer house on the Polden hills, on the main road between Glastonbury and Bridgewater, and from then until 1938 they stayed there regularly.  The house was an old priory with a curious Gothic tower and from this vantage point Katherine could look out over the countryside towards Glastonbury.  

In 1925, she was commissioned to draw a map outlining the adventures of the Knights of King Arthur and the Holy Grail, a subject made popular by Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

 in 1929, she had a flash of inspiration seeing how her Arthurian map linked in with the land she saw before her around the Glastonbury Tor. She said that she saw the effigies of the zodiac in a huge circle on the fields of Somerset around Glastonbury — the very fields that the tales of King Arthur had transpired upon. She devoted the rest of her life to researching, writing, and publicizing what she termed the “Temple of the Stars.”

  Her theory regarding the zodiac was a combination of Sumerian, theosophy, Masonry, Egyptosophy, Early Christianity, and Rosicrucianism.

She moved to Victoria, Canada, in 1938 with her husband because of her disillusionment with the state of Europe.

 Patrick Benham includes Katherine as one of his First Avalonians, but she was active 10 years after the others we have mentioned in this paper, and played no part in working with them.  Katherine was also different from the others in that her work was based upon non-Christian concepts whist the others were Christian with esoteric overtones