Merry we meet - Merry we meet - Merry we meet
Written and complied by George Knowles
Ernest Westlake was a naturalist, anthropologist and amateur geologist, best known as the founder of the Order of Woodcraft Chivalry (OWC) in 1916. Inspired by the work of Ernest Thompson Seton who founded Woodcraft Indians, America’s first ‘back to nature’ movement in 1906, and as a passive alternative to the increasingly militaristic overtones of the UK’s newly formed Scouting movement (founded in 1910 by Lord Baden-Powell), the focus of the OWC was more about social fellowship, conservation and woodcraft.
Ernest Westlake was born on November 16th, 1855, in Fordingbridge, Hampshire, to Thomas Westlake and his wife Hannah Sophia Neave. The Westlake’s were a family of Quakers with an ancestry that can be traced back to a John Westlake, an early convert of George Fox, the founder of the Society of Friends (a Christian sect committed to pacifism founded in England during the 17th century). Thomas Westlake, his father, had moved to Fordingbridge in 1843 and there joined his uncle Samuel Thompson in a successful Sail making business.
Thomas Westlake and his wife Hannah Sophia Neave
Sadly just 18 months after the birth of Ernest, and while pregnant with another child, his mother Hannah died of tuberculosis in July 1857. Before her death and perhaps even sensing it, she requested that her sister Agnes Neave should care for her son. Six years later in 1863 Thomas and Agnes married, and in 1869 moved into “Oaklands House” a large country home set in its own grounds which he had designed and built to reflect his growing wealth and position in society.
While Thomas was a strict Gospel preaching puritan, he was also a frustrated scientist with a keen interest in Astronomy and Meteorology. He owned an equatorial 12-inch reflecting telescope, and even built an observatory to house it. A fanatic about detail (a trait he passed on to his son Ernest), he kept exact records of local temperatures and rainfalls etc., and published them daily in the local press. However, his commitments to the family business were such that he was never able to pursue a scientific career for himself, and so encouraged his son Ernest in that direction.
Ernest Westlake c. 1872
Ernest Westlake grew up as an only child, raised by his stepmother Agnes aided by two maiden aunts. Theirs was a somber home with little social contact except for the small Quaker community, never the less he grew up to love the unspoiled countryside of the surrounding New Forrest from where he gained an early appreciation for nature and the environment. In 1867 at the age of 12, he started his formal education at Olivers Mount School in Scarborough, after which he returned home to work in the family business. His father however quickly realised he had no aptitude for business or commerce, and so encouraged him to enter University College London, where his main course of study was the early science of Geology and Mineralogy under the Darwinian biologist Thomas Henry Huxley.
Thomas Henry Huxley
Two years later, Westlake left university without completing his degree, preferring the out-door life of field-Geology to the stuffy classrooms of London. Returning to his family home in Fordingbridge, field-Geology became his lifetime passion; and thanks to his father’s support, he had the independent means necessary to pursue it. In 1877 he became a member of the Geologists Association, and in 1879 was elected a Fellow of the Geological Society of London.
From the late 1870s onwards Westlake embarked upon a far ranging program of research and fieldwork. He visited museums and studied private collections, then excavated coastal and inland areas all over the British Isles. His main areas of interest included: Artesian wells, Chalk formations and Tertiary deposits. Detailed records of his excavations filled volumes of notebooks (many of which have been preserved), and the huge amount of fossils and artefacts he collected were divided between the Salisbury Museum in Wiltshire and the Geology Department of Southampton University.
His notebooks also recorded his interest in spiritualism, hypnotism and psychical phenomena, particularly that of “Dowsing”, which was no doubt related to his earlier interests in Artesian wells. In 1882 he became one of the early members the Society for Psychical Research (founded that same year), and shared his findings with such eminent scholars as Edmund Gurney, Frederick Myers, and Henry Sidgwick the society’s first president.
Gurney – Myers - Sidgwick
Today Westlake is seldom if ever remembered for his early contributions to Geology, as those who followed and developed the science throughout the early 20th century, soon overshadowed his own work. However, it is clear that during the decades he was most active, he made some significant and important discoveries. His contributions occurred during a period when quarries of all kinds were being dug to support the rapidly expanding railway network across the UK. Today, many of the quarries, railway routes, tunnels and cuttings he excavated have been closed and filled-in, removing their scars from the natural landscape. However, the material he collected and his field-notebooks provide an important geological record of what would otherwise have been entirely lost.
On the 01st May 1891, Westlake married Lucy Ann Rutter, a fellow Quaker from Mere in Wiltshire, who later bore him two children - Aubrey Thomas born in 1893 and Margaret Agnes born in 1896. However, despite these happy events the late 1890’s proved an extremely difficult time for the Westlake family. A series of disastrous investments made in 1895 caused him to lose most of his own and his wife’s fortunes, and gradually over the following few years they were forced to lease their large family home and move into cheaper rented accommodation. Indeed so dire was their financial position that the stress of their situation became too much for his wife, who already weak from worry, caught pleurisy and died in 1901.
The death of his wife was a great blow for Westlake, who still struggling to support himself and his mother-in-law, refused to give up custody for his two children. To help ease his situation the children spent half their time with his brother-in-law’s family in Wincanton, Somerset. In 1905, thinking it would be cheaper to live abroad; he planned a cycling/camping trip to France taking with him his nine-year old daughter Margaret, accompanied by her governess, Fraulein Saas. However, during a brief stop in Aurillac, south central France, he found an undiscovered prehistoric site of Eocene flints, which inspired his interest into Anthropology. He decided to stay and excavate the site, sending his daughter home to continue her education.
Returning to England in 1907 with another large collection of artifacts, and after making comparisons at the British Museum, he found what looked liked a similar collection from Tasmania, and so determined to travel there too. He therefore spent another two years from 1908-1910 in Tasmania making a new collection, some of which can still be seen today housed in the Pitt-Rivers Museum at Oxford, UK. On his return to England in 1910, he was honored for his work and elected a Fellow of the Royal Anthropological Institute.
Back in England and with what was left of his late wife’s share of her father’s estate, Westlake was able to secure a mortgage of £800 and purchase a 42 acre plot of woodland at Godshill Ridge in Hampshire, situated on the northern edge of the New Forest close to his old home in Fordingbridge. There he built a wooden bungalow and re-established his family unit.
The Order of Woodcraft Chivalry (OWC)
Once settled in his new home Westlake turned his interests to naturism, conservation and recapitulation. He believed that the future of mankind depended on educating children to appreciate life through all stages of evolution. His vision was to create a “Forest School” where people could experience nature at first hand in a natural environment, and so began to encourage camping and woodcraft activities on his land. Later with another precarious mortgage, he purchased a neighboring 100 acres of land called “Sandy Balls” on which he hoped to build his dreamed of Forest School.
While he had been away in Tasmania, Westlake’s son Aubrey had joined the Boy Scouts movement founded by Lord Baden-Powell in 1907. By the time his father had returned from Tasmania, he was studying medicine at Cambridge and was a Scoutmaster for a local group of boys. However, by the start of WWI (1914) both father and son became increasingly disenchanted with the militaristic emphasis of Scouting promoted by Baden-Powell, and in keeping with their Quaker beliefs, felt that a more passive co-educational movement was needed, not just for boys and girls, but also including adults, their parents. With this in mind, in 1916 they founded “The Order of Woodcraft Chivalry” (OWC).
Westlake was particularly inspired by the work of Ernest Thompson Seton, the American naturalist and founder of Woodcraft Indians in 1902, and using his “Birch Bark Roll” books as a guide, structured the OWC into local Lodges controlled by regional Councils. To constitute a Lodge, three or more of the following age groups had to be represented: Elves (5-8 years), Woodlings (8-12), Trackers (12-15), Pathfinders (15-18), Waywardens (18-25), Wayfarers (25-60) and Witana (60 and over). Each lodge was presided over by a Lodge Chief responsible for executive and administrative matters, and a Keeper of the Sacred Fire, responsible for the ceremonial and spiritual well-being of the lodge.
Lord Baden-Powell - Ernest Thompson Seton
At the regional level, local Lodge Chiefs formed area Councils (known as Guilds), which in turn was presided over by a Grand Chief and Grand Keeper of the Sacred Fire. At the highest level of the Order, the Grand Council consisted of Westlake and his son Aubrey, supported by Ernest Seton (as honorary Grand Chieftain) and the regional Grand Chiefs and Grand Keepers of the Sacred Fire. Another prominent advisor on the Grand Council was John Hargrave (at the time, a leading members of the Boy Scout movement and the Scout Commissioner for Woodcraft and Camping in the UK). Later Hargrave left the OWC to form his own group known as the Kibbo Kift Kindred (KKK).
John Gordon Hargrave
The first Lodge of the OWC was formed in July 1916 from teachers and pupils of Sidcot School in Somerset, a Quaker co-educational boarding school, and after this other Lodges formed and the Order continued to grow and expand. The first national Folkmoot of the Order was held at Sandy Balls on the 01st August (Lammas) in 1921. As part of the opening ceremony, four members of the Order marked the quarter points of the circle dressed in colours associated with the elements as the Sacred Fire was lit in the centre.
These were not the only pagan practices used by the OWC, for a special “Sun Lodge” was created into which the Orders core elite were initiated through three degrees into the mysteries and spiritual aspects of nature and Woodcraft. Despite these pagan practices, Westlake never consider they were departing from their Christian-Quaker beliefs, and later claimed “One must be a good pagan before one can be a good Christian”.
It has long been speculated that Gerald Gardner later adopted some of the practices of the OWC into his newly formed Gardnerian Wicca in the 1950’s, although he claimed them to have been from a long established New Forrest coven? According to some historians however, none of the members of that New Forest coven, including Gardner, were ever involved with the OWC? On the other hand, other sources reports that members of the Fellowship of Crotona, the local group of occultist Co-masons and members of the Rosicrucian Theatre that Gardner had joined, may well have been associated with them? Whatever maybe the case, there is no doubting the similarities between the OWC pagan practices, and now those commonly used in Wiccan circles today, such as:
Opening and consecrating the circle
Invoking the spirits of the four directions
Invoking the Great spirit/god/goddess
Dancing to the rhythmic beating of a drum
Sharing a small feast
Thanking and dismissing the spirits/god/goddess
Closing the circle
Gerald Brosseau Gardner
Sadly just a year after their first Folkmoot, Ernest Westlake died in a tragic road accident. On the 29th November 1922 he was traveling through Holborn, London, as a passenger in the sidecar of his son Aubrey’s motorcycle, when they were forced into the side of the road by oncoming traffic. As they crashed, the sidecar toppled over and Westlake hit is head on the curb and never regained consciousness. He was later buried at Woodling Point in the centre of his beloved Sandy Balls estate at Godshill.
After death Ernest Westlake in 1922, his son Aubrey became the legal heir of the Sandy Balls estate, and while he remained an active member of the Grand Council of the OWC, as a General Practitioner with a new Doctors surgery in Bermondsey, he was much to busy to take on the main leadership of the Order. The role of British Chief of the Order was therefore given to Harry Byngham, a decision that proved to be a disaster. Byngham was not bent on Christianity or Quakerism, and soon after began promoting paganism and naturism. He even changed his name to Dion (short for Dionysus) and worshiped the deities Pan and Artemis.
Later Byngham started an OWC periodical called The Pinecone, in which he published controversial articles with provocative images. One issue included a nude photograph of himself with a girlfriend semi-nude in Grecian dress, and in another featured a play by Victor Benjamin Neuburg, an English poet, and a close friend and working partner of the infamous Aleister Crowley. Naturally such associations brought him into conflict with the mainly Christian-Quaker members of the Order. In 1924 after again posing nude with his girlfriend promoting naturism, Byngham was replaced as editor of The Pinecone and later suspended from the Council of Chiefs. However mud sticks, and from a peak of 1,200 members in 1926, membership in the Order began to fall.
In the meantime Aubrey Westlake had been working quietly in the background to realise his fathers earlier vision to create a co-educational Forest School where children could be educated while experiencing nature at first hand in a natural environment. Housed in two wooden buildings on the Sandy Balls estate, the first Forest School opened in 1929 with four pupils. However this first attempt to open the School failed when all four pupils contracted scarlet fever and they were forced to send them home. Undeterred by this set back, a year later Aubrey appointed his cousin Cuthbert Rutter as the Headmaster and the school re-opened successfully and continued to grow.
At its peak, the Forrest School had about forty pupils aged between 5 and 16, and by 1938 had outgrown the facilities at Sandy Balls, which necessitated a move to new premises at Whitwell Hall in Norfolk. However, just a year later in 1939, at the start of WWII, the Schools buildings were requisitioned for military use, and many of their staff and teachers called up for service, thus forcing the School to close in 1940. After the War, former staff members and pupils tried to re-establish the School, but for various reasons their attempts failed. The best they could achieve was annual reunions, which in turn led to the establishment of today’s Forest School Camps (FSC), now an International Organization catering to children’s education in outdoor activities.
Sadly the same success cannot be attached to the OWC. After the debacle of Harry Byngham’s leadership, in 1929 the Quaker “Society of Friends” formally withdrew their support for the Order, and by 1930 there were only 400 members remaining. In 1934 Aubrey Westlake resigned from the Grand Council, and a year later left the Order altogether depriving them of their meeting place at Sandy Balls. Over the years since then the OWC has continued to survive but with a much reduced membership. In the 1990s, Martin Westlake, the son of Aubrey Westlake, and the grandson of Ernest Westlake, allowed the Order to celebrate its Folkmoot again on the Sandy Balls estate.
Here’s just a few:
70 Years A-Growing - by Jean Westlake (Hawthorn Press, 2000)
Wiccan Roots - by Philip Heselton (Capall Bann Publishing, 2000)
The Triumph of the Moon - Ronald Hutton (Oxford University Press, 1999)
The Element Encyclopedia of Secret Societies by John Michael Greer (Element, 2006)
First published on the 03 July 2011 © George Knowles
Best wishes and Blessed Be
Site Contents - Links to all Pages
A Universal Message:
Let there be peace in the world - Where have all the flowers gone?
Wicca & Witchcraft
The Wiccan Rede / Charge of the Goddess / Charge of the God / The Three-Fold Law (includes The Law of Power and The Four Powers of the Magus) / The Witches Chant / The Witches Creed / Descent of the Goddess / Drawing Down the Moon / The Great Rite Invocation / Invocation of the Horned God / The 13 Principles of Wiccan Belief / The Witches Rede of Chivalry / A Pledge to Pagan Spirituality
Traditions Part 1 - Alexandrian Wicca / Aquarian Tabernacle Church (ATC) / Ár Ndraíocht Féin (ADF) / Blue Star Wicca / British Traditional (Druidic Witchcraft) / Celtic Wicca / Ceremonial Magic / Chaos Magic / Church and School of Wicca / Circle Sanctuary / Covenant of the Goddess (COG) / Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans (CUUPS) / Cyber Wicca / Dianic Wicca / Eclectic Wicca / Feri Wicca /
Traditions Part 2 - Gardnerian Wicca / Georgian Tradition / Henge of Keltria / Hereditary Witchcraft / Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (H.O.G.D.) / Kitchen Witch (Hedge Witch) / Minoan Brotherhood and Minoan Sisterhood Tradition / Nordic Paganism / Pagan Federation / Pectic-Wita / Seax-Wica / Shamanism / Solitary / Strega / Sylvan Tradition / Vodoun or Voodoo / Witches League of Public Awareness (WLPA) /
Other things of interest:
Gods and Goddesses (Greek Mythology) / Esbats & Full Moons / Links to Personal Friends & Resources / Wicca/Witchcraft Resources / What's a spell? / Circle Casting and Sacred Space / Pentagram - Pentacle / Marks of a Witch / The Witches Power / The Witches Hat / An esoteric guide to visiting London / Satanism / Pow-wow / The Unitarian Universalist Association / Numerology: Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3 / A history of the Malleus Maleficarum: includes: Pope Innocent VIII / The papal Bull / The Malleus Maleficarum / An extract from the Malleus Maleficarum / The letter of approbation / Johann Nider’s Formicarius / Jacob Sprenger / Heinrich Kramer / Stefano Infessura / Montague Summers / The Waldenses / The Albigenses / The Hussites / The Native American Sun Dance / Shielding (Occult and Psychic Protection) /
Sabbats and Festivals:
The Sabbats in History and Mythology / Samhain (October 31st) / Yule (December 21st) / Imbolc (February 2nd) / Ostara (March 21st) / Beltane (April 30th) / Litha (June 21st) / Lammas/Lughnasadh (August 1st) / Mabon (September 21st)
Rituals contributed by Crone:
Animals in Witchcraft (The Witches Familiar) / Antelope / Bats / Crow / Fox / Frog and Toads / Goat / Honeybee / Kangaroo / Lion / Owl / Phoenix / Rabbits and Hares / Raven / Robin Redbreast / Sheep / Spider / Squirrel / Swans / Wild Boar / Wolf / Serpent / Pig / Stag / Horse / Mouse / Cat
In Worship of Trees - Myths, Lore and the Celtic Tree Calendar. For descriptions and correspondences of the thirteen sacred trees of Wicca/Witchcraft see the following: Birch / Rowan / Ash / Alder / Willow / Hawthorn / Oak / Holly / Hazel / Vine / Ivy / Reed / Elder
Rocks and Stones:
Stones - History, Myths and Lore
Articles contributed by Patricia Jean Martin:
Apophyllite / Amber / Amethyst / Aquamarine / Aragonite / Aventurine / Black Tourmaline / Bloodstone / Calcite / Carnelian / Celestite / Citrine / Chrysanthemum Stone / Diamond / Emerald / Fluorite / Garnet / Hematite / Herkimer Diamond / Labradorite / Lapis Lazuli / Malachite / Moonstone / Obsidian / Opal / Pyrite / Quartz (Rock Crystal) / Rose Quartz / Ruby / Selenite / Seraphinite / Silver and Gold / Smoky Quartz / Sodalite / Sunstone / Thunderegg / Tree Agate / Zebra Marble
Wisdom and Inspiration:
Articles and Stories about Witchcraft:
Murdered by Witchcraft / The Fairy Witch of Clonmel / A Battleship, U-boat, and a Witch / The Troll-Tear (A story for Children) / Goody Hawkins - The Wise Goodwife / The Story of Jack-O-Lantern / The Murder of the Hammersmith Ghost / Josephine Gray (The Infamous Black Widow) / The Two Brothers - Light and Dark
Old Masters of Academia:
(Ancient, Past and Present)
(Departed Pagan Pioneers, Founders, Elders and Others)
Abramelin the Mage / Agrippa / Aidan A Kelly / Albertus Magnus - “Albert the Great” / Aleister Crowley - “The Great Beast” / Alex Sanders - “King of the Witches” / Alison Harlow / Amber K / Anna Franklin / Anodea Judith / Anton Szandor LaVey / Arnold Crowther / Arthur Edward Waite / Austin Osman Spare / Biddy Early / Bridget Cleary - The Fairy Witch of Clonmel / Carl " Llewellyn" Weschcke / Cecil Hugh Williamson / Charles Godfrey Leland / Charles Henry Allan Bennett - the Ven. Ananda Metteyya / Charles Walton / Christina Oakley Harrington / Damh the Bard - "Dave Smith" / Dion Fortune / Dolores Aschroft-Nowicki / Doreen Valiente / Dorothy Morrison / Dr. John Dee & Edward Kelly / Dr. Leo Louis Martello / Edward Fitch / Eleanor Ray Bone - “Matriarch of British Witchcraft” / Eliphas Levi / Ernest Thompson Seton / Ernest Westlake / Fiona Horne / Frederick McLaren Adams - Feraferia / Friedrich von Spee / Francis Barrett / Gavin and Yvonne Frost and the School and Church of Wicca / Gerald B. Gardner - The father of contemporary Witchcraft / Gwydion Pendderwen / Hans Holzer / Helen Duncan / Herman Slater - Horrible Herman / Isaac Bonewits / Israel Regardie / Jack Whiteside Parsons - Rocket Science and Magick / James "Cunning" Murrell - The Master of Witches / Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone / Jessie Wicker Bell - “Lady Sheba” / Johannes Junius - "The Burgomaster of Bamberg" / John Belham-Payne / John George Hohman - "Pow-wow" / John Gerard / John Gordon Hargrave and the Kibbo Kith Kindred / John Michael Greer / John Score / Joseph John Campbell / Karl von Eckartshausen / Lady Gwen Thompson - and "The Rede of the Wiccae" / Laurie Cabot - "the Official Witch of Salem" / Lewis Spence / Margaret Alice Murray / Margot Adler / Marie Laveau - " the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans" / Marion Weinstein / Matthew Hopkins - “The Witch-Finder General” / Max Ehrmann and the "Desiderata" / Michael A. Aquino - and The Temple of Set / Monique Wilson / Montague Summers / Nicholas Culpeper / Nicholas Remy / M. R. Sellars / Mrs. Maud Grieve - "A Modern Herbal" / Oberon Zell-Ravenheart and Morning Glory / Old Dorothy Clutterbuck / Old George Pickingill / Olivia Durdin-Robertson - co-founder of the Fellowship of Isis / Paddy Slade / Pamela Colman-Smith / Paracelsus / Patricia Crowther / Patricia Monaghan / Patricia “Trish” Telesco / Philip Heselton / Raymond Buckland / Reginald Scot / Robert Cochrane / Robert ‘von Ranke’ Graves and the "The White Goddess" / Rosaleen Norton - “The Witch of Kings Cross” / Ross Nichols and the " Order of Bards, Ovates & Druids" (OBOD) / Rudolf Steiner / Sabrina Underwood - "The Ink Witch" / Scott Cunningham / Selena Fox - founder of "Circle Sanctuary" / Silver Ravenwolf / Sir Francis Dashwood / Sir James George Frazer and the " The Golden Bough" / S.L. MacGregor Mathers and the “Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn” / Starhawk / Stewart Farrar / Sybil Leek / Ted Andrews / The Mather Family - (includes: Richard Mather, Increase Mather and Cotton Mather ) / Thomas Ady / T. Thorn Coyle / Vera Chapman / Victor & Cora Anderson and the " Feri Tradition" / Vivianne Crowley / Walter Brown Gibson / Walter Ernest Butler / William Butler Yeats / Zsuzsanna Budapest /
Many of the above biographies are briefs and far from complete. If you know about any of these individuals and can help with additional information, please contact me privately at my email address below. Many thanks for reading :-)
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