By Frances Farrer
Floris Books pound;14.99
This is not only a book for those interested in the early days of the New Age movement. At its centre is a slice of adult education history which is a reminder of the importance of all-round lifelong learning today.
Sir George Trevelyan, who died in 1996, spent 25 years as warden of Attingham College in Shropshire, one of the first residential adult education colleges opened after the Second World War to help raise morale.
About 80,000 students attended short courses there between 1946 and 1975. The programme had what became standard adult education offerings - drama, heraldry, child development, archaeology, nature studies - but with the Trevelyan effect. He lured Yehudi Menuhin and Benjamin Britten to music weekends; Nikolaus Pevsner did architecture; Edmund Hillary and John Hunt came hotfoot from Everest. There were also courses unique to Attingham: early opportunities to exchange ideas on conservation, organic farming and later issues related to New Age spirituality. Sir George had trained as a furniture maker, then as one of the first Alexander technique teachers; he was committed to the liberating effect of learning something new.
He made the most of the college's setting in a crumbling stately home which volunteers renovated after it had been used as a wartime billet. He introduced ceremony and ritual at every opportunity; Twelfth Night celebrations were legendary.
The house-party atmosphere can be traced back to his youth. His father, Sir Charles Trevelyan, was a Liberal MP who moved to Labour because he wanted to do more for the education of the poor; in 1928 he tried unsuccessfully to introduce grants for poor pupils' families. The family seat, Wallingford in Northumberland, was a gathering place for left-wing intellectuals and famous as a hothouse for new ideas. Later, Sir Charles gave Wallingford to the National Trust and a youth hostel was opened in the grounds. When his son later helped to set up the first Outward Bound courses while teaching at Gordonstoun, it was with the same aim of widening the experience of all.
Attingham closed in 1975, four years after Sir George left to set up the Wrekin Trust.
In its heyday, writes Frances Farrer, "it seems to have been a power house, an energy vortex which people never forgot, an experience which was memorable almost regardless of what was being studied. The intention of reviving the national imagination was being thrillingly realised."