Sir George Trevelyan: obituary

Sir George Trevelyan
1906 - 1996

by Peter Dawkins

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Sir George Trevelyan, an Englishman beloved by many throughout the world, one of the great pioneers of New Renaissance thinking, died on the 7th February 1996, in his 90th year. In his own words:
“We are in the second Renaissance. In the first, our ancestors explored the seas and discovered new continents.... In this our present age, we are setting out to explore the cosmos and reality.”

Sir George was a visionary with magical powers of oratory that inspired a great number of people around the globe. Exactly how many he reached with his twinkling eyes, sparkling sense of humour and fun, challenging ideas and personal encouragement, is not possible to assess, but it must run into many thousands. Those he reached, inspired, encouraged and helped, have in turn spread their ideas and talents even wider, owing him a debt of gratitude for his courage and unwavering persistence in the face of adversity. For he was truly a pioneer and seeker after truth – not a walled-in, dogmatic truth, but a holistic, boundless truth. He loved and often quoted the metaphysical poets, and this following poem, one of his favourites, by the English poet Christopher Fry, sums up Sir George's view-point and sense of excitement and purpose, his driving force:
The human heart can go the lengths of God.
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.
The enterprise
Is exploration into God.


Christopher Fry, from A Sleep of Prisoners.

For a huge body of people in Britain, and many abroad, Sir George became the rallying point for a new initiative in spiritual awareness – “a spiritual world-view” as he put it – one that has grown out of a need for a greater sense of personal meaning in life and a feeling for the eternal. He has been fondly referred to as 'The Grandfather of the New Age Movement', a title somewhat misunderstood by those who did not know him, as his 'New Age' did not involve the ephemera of cult and fad, but a non-sectarian, holistic outlook, scientific as well as mystical, and a compassionate, global humanitarianism.

Sir George was the last in the line of male heirs to a very old and distinguished family. The Trevelyans trace their ancestry to Celtic Cornwall, and in particular to Lyonesse, the legendary land lost beneath the sea off the coast of Cornwall – a land that once existed when Britain was part of Atlantis. Sir George was proud of this ancestry which linked him to Sir Trevillian, one of King Arthur's knights, who swam ashore on horseback when Lyonesse finally sank. Legend says that Sir Trevillian emerged with a mighty effort from the waves and landed safely on the dry land of Cornwall. Sir George saw this as symbolic of the work he wished to do and to inspire others with: whilst mounted on the Pegasus of the higher mind, to leap from the wild and stormy seas of tempestuous life into a sun-filled land of harmony, beauty and joy.

Sir George grew up in his family's Northumberland home, Wallington Hall, which his father gave to the National Trust, effectively disinheriting George. He was greatly inspired by Wallington, by its fine architecture, its library and works of art, its beautiful gardens and park, and, in a more subtle way, by Simonside, his 'holy hill' as he called it, which lay some miles due north of Wallington. These, together with the house parties enjoyed with the great thinkers and artists of the time, greatly contributed to the inspired course of his life. He felt the hurt of disinheritance greatly, for he loved Wallington; yet this act pushed him into a path which enabled him to widen his vision and bring great joy and inspiration to many people.

Sir George read history at Cambridge University. Whilst there he began his 42-year long association with the famous 'Trevelyan Man Hunt', an extraordinary annual event which involved a chase on foot over the wild Lakeland fells, with human 'hunters' hunting after human 'hares'. This exciting and highly taxing event was started in 1898 by George's historian uncle G. M. Trevelyan and the Wynthrop Youngs, and still continues today.

After leaving Cambridge George went on to teach at Gordonstoun, which at that time was a school pioneering a radical education. Later, he became involved as a teacher of the Alexander Technique for postural integration, and apprenticed himself to a furniture designer and master craftsman in wood, Peter Waals, working at Waals' workshop in the Cotswold hills. Waals' work is now much sought after, and Sir George himself made many fine pieces of furniture, including a bed in which he finally died, as he wished.

Sir George's own spiritual awakening came in 1942, at a lecture given by Dr Walter Stein, a student of Rudolf Steiner. He found himself to be completely in tune with the idea of “man as a spiritual being” and of “Earth as a training ground for souls”.

Although his forebears were mainly historians and political radicals, Sir George was inevitably drawn towards adult education. On retirement from the army, in 1948 he was appointed Warden and Principal of Attingham Park, an adult training college in Shropshire, where he carried out his pioneering work in the teaching of spiritual knowledge as adult education. The courses ranged from chamber music and drama to esoteric subjects such as 'Finding the Inner Teacher' and 'Holistic Vision', the latter attracting large numbers of participants, many of them from other countries as well as Britain. The college was jointly sponsored by the local authority and the University of Birmingham, both of whom looked askance at Sir George's attraction towards the mystical; and so it took immense moral courage, for instance, for him to present a course on 'Death and Becoming', a subject that was in those days virtually taboo. This turned out to be, in fact, an unprecedented success; and, because the more esoteric courses brought in the greatest number of people, the authorities never felt disposed to say no to such courses being presented as part of the curriculum (a decision for which they, too, should be applauded).

On his retirement as Principal of the college, in 1971 Sir George was asked to found the Wrekin Trust (named by him after the holy hill which he could see from the window of his office at Attingham), so that the exciting pioneering courses that he had instituted could continue. The Wrekin Trust was founded as an educational charity concerned with promoting awareness and study of the spiritual principles that operate through individuals and the universe. After more than 15 years of pioneering courses and conferences on the holistic world view and introductory approaches to various disciplines, many of which were carried out in English country houses as per George's vision, the Trust added a specific curriculum for spiritual training which combined the ageless wisdom with modern developments in psychology and scientific knowledge. One of its famous innovations was the establishment of the annual 'Mystics and Scientists' conference, at which leading mystics and scientists from around the world come together and share their knowledge. For its “Work forming an essential contribution to making life more whole, healing our planet and uplifting humanity,” the Trust received the Right Livelihood Award (also known as the 'Alternative Nobel Prize'), presented at Stockholm in 1982.

The tremendous enthusiasm and imagination that George brought to bear on life, together with the conviction that our generation, in the closing decades of this millennium, has a mighty destiny to bring about a massive evolutionary transformation, made him an active supporter of many new ventures, into which he poured his wisdom and vision. These included the Findhorn Foundation, the Gatekeeper and Open Gate Trusts, and the Lamplighter Movement. The Findhorn Foundation, located in Moray, Scotland, is a world-famous international experiment in community living and personal growth, which became the model and inspiration for many other such communities worldwide. The Gatekeeper and Open Gate Trusts are concerned, amongst other things, with the reawakening of pilgrimage to sacred places. The Lamplighter Movement, through the use of dedicated 'ever-burning' lamps, links together light centres around Britain and the world in a conscious network of light.

Sir George was a great lover of nature and of sacred places. Being adventurous himself, he would encourage and help sponsor adventures, such as expeditions to the mountains and rainforests of the world, searches for lost cities and cultures, and almost anything that would stretch the mind and all one's faculties, and lead to a greater consciousness and understanding of man's place in the universe. He loved pilgrimages, and made many journeys with his friends to holy mountains and islands, as well as cathedrals and abbeys. He was deeply concerned about health and right living. He strongly advocated food reform, organic horticul ture, holistic healing (embracing conventional and alterna tive medicine), inner awareness in sport, and the development of the arts and crafts. He always had an intuitive eye towards any person or situation, an instinct to spot talent and an ability to draw it out. He listened intently to other people, and, whilst encouraging them, often challenged their thinking in order to promote a greater understanding and will to action. Frequently his first question to a stranger was, “And what are you doing?”

He was a superb networker, with a flair for bringing the right people together at the right moments in time. For many years he convened an annual 'Round Table' conference of leaders of healing centres, holistic organisations and those at the forefront of spiritual growth, and these meetings contributed significantly to a wider sense of cooperation and spiritual regeneration in Britain.

George loved good architecture. Many people enjoyed his Goethean way of seeing sacred architecture, as a growing, living organism transcending the earthly limitations of solidity and soaring into the airy heights of lightness and transparency. He found the Gothic cathedrals of England and the churches of Somerset particularly good for this, and wrote a classic book on the subject entitled The Active Eye in Architecture.

Deafness was only one of George's many difficulties in life which he was forced to face up to and overcome; an other was a severe attack of arthritis, also inherited, which twisted his joints gruesomely and caused him much pain in the last 30 years of his life. Having been an extremely active and athletic man in his younger days, a climber of mountains, a caver and cross-country runner, the spread of the debilitating arthritis was a huge challenge, the worst effects of which he largely overcame through sheer will-power and a strict diet. The one thing that his friends quickly learnt never to ask him was, “How are you George?” – for he would never give an answer.

From 1977 Sir George began to write a series of books on the subjects that most interested him, and later on al lowed a series of documentary video films to be made of him, as a record and a continuing inspiration. Two of his books are on the power and magic of poetry – A Tent in which to pass a Winter's Night, which he co-authored with Belle Valerie Gaunt, and Magic Casements. On architecture he wrote The Active Eye in Architecture. His interest in Arthurian matters and the celestial Zodiac was expressed in Twelve Seats at the Round Table, which he wrote with Ted Matchett. His trilogy on a spiritual world-view and awakening in our time comprises A Vision of the Aquarian Age, the first of the series, Operation Redemption in which he discusses the meaning and role of the Christ Impulse in our present age, and Exploration into God, a personal quest for spiritual unity and a plea for us to take our own initiative in exploring into the field of God-thought.

Sir George was a great man, a dear friend to his friends, a uniter of hearts, an inspiration to many, a pioneer to be remembered fondly, with gratitude, and a soul who did good in the world.


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"Affairs are now soul size – the enterprise is exploration into God"
- Christopher Fry
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