Book review by Peter Bateson.

“Wraxall House, situated in Somerset, 6 miles west of Bristol, was opened as a Camphill venture on the 29th April 1950, as a hostel for St. Christopher’s School. Tilla König, Ann Harris, Robin Martin and Ruth Borchard  went south together, joined later by Karin Herms and Charlotte Baumert.” “Ursula Gleed had shown her family home, The Sheiling in Ringwood, to Karl König in 1948, but it was too early then for Camphill to begin in England. Now the leap, as it must have been experienced, to another country and far, far away from the thriving community on Deeside, had been ventured.”

In these two short extracts from an appendix by John Baum we are transported back 70 years to the very beginning of Camphill in England. To most people the names above will mean little or nothing; to some, mainly much older Camphillers, they are familiar and remind us that the Camphill Movement as we know it today was forged and fashioned from pioneering efforts by so many inspired, committed and hard-working individuals over long periods of time, all of whom were once as young and fresh as any new coworker arriving today.

One’s first impression of this book is that it is a weighty volume both physically and in its content. It is a visual treat, with exquisite line drawings of plants by Dorette Schwabe, a striking cover painting by Rose Hilton and a great wealth of colour and black-and-white photographs, maps and diagrams charting the entire history of The Sheiling Ringwood. Simon Figg has done a great deed, which was obviously a labour of love, in putting together this sweeping and detailed account of Camphill’s first major community in the south of England. Wraxall House was the temporary footstep which gave rise to the long-term development of both Ringwood and Thornbury as Camphill communities. The book offers a breath-taking panorama through the decades of development of the community in its physical forms and the innumerable stream of people who gave it life. It is in fact so panoramic, kaleidoscopic and detailed that it could easily become overwhelming, and some readers might prefer to dip into it from time to time to really immerse themselves in the thorough accounts of particular phases of development and specific impulses which were born and thrived in Ringwood. All in all it is a magnificent celebration of Camphill experience, brought to vibrant life by the innumerable individual portraits of children and young people, co-workers, teachers, houseparents, therapists, doctors, nurses, parents, relatives and friends. 

The bigger picture chronicles the unfolding and development of major long-term impulses at The Sheiling: the origins with Ursula Gleed and her family, the School, the Land, Folly Farm, The Lantern, Sturts Farm, the Sheiling Trust, the Ringwood Waldorf School and not least the Ringwood-Botton Eurythmy School which had such a special character and quality of a training embraced by Camphill community life and helped to bring great artistic riches to many social and community settings. 

The beauty of the book is in the constant interplay between the big picture and the small,  showing how the fascinating kaleidoscope of lives and personalities weave together into the great fabric of community striving for high ideals and impulses which serve the real and pressing needs of humanity.

For anyone who has had a connection with Ringwood in their life this book is a real joy. Although I never lived in Ringwood, but in Thornbury for over thirty years, I myself have known very many of the people in the book and remember them with great respect and fondness. It was a delightful and moving trip down memory lane and I can only imagine the full impact this marvellous volume would have on someone who actually lived and worked in Ringwood for any length of time. For those who have no connection with Ringwood at all it is an extremely valuable archive resource depicting a whole era of Camphill development which deserves to be documented and remembered in all its beauty and complexity.

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