Utopia Britannica - British Utopian Experiments 1325 - 1945

One hundred years of anarchy

Gazetter entry

Centenary guided tour in front of Whiteway House Picture C.Coates

In the summer of 1998 in the small Cotswold settlement of Whiteway a unique centenary was celebrated. As the crowd of intrigued onlookers followed the colony historian on a guided tour of the 40 acre site behind the veneer of late 20th century life the ghosts of anarchists past could be sensed hiding in old sheds and quiet corners of this mature anarchist arcadia.

Long gone are the wide open fields of the Dry Ground and the Wet Ground, replaced by a patchwork of gardens and allotments set amongst a canopy of mature trees. Long gone are the heady days of Tolstoyan anarchism when all talk was of building a community free from restraint and injustice where everyone would share work, love and comradeship. Long gone also is the spartan simple life where the 'Most ideally minded they wouldn't use any money, just living from earth product, for instance for want of matches, they had to save time and light getting up therefore very early in the morning when the sun rises, and went to bed a sunset time. Lit the fire primitively helping themselves with two bricks and so. We never had bread, and used to eat raw wheat in the hollow of the hand. No salt, no sugar, nothing of this kind....' Carmen Maurice C1914

In a hundred years the colony has seen it's share of comings and goings. Not just people; the early settlers, immigrant anarchists, Spanish refugees & wartime CO's, but with each decade the particular ideas and fads of the era; the no money period, vegetarianism, rational dress, naturism, free-love unions. Some of the 'fads' have endured mainly because the outside world has caught up with Whiteway and what once seemed extreme now passes without mention. Many of the early buildings have gone, the huts put up when 'individual living' started; William Sinclair's hand-made brick & thatch hut. Some of the original timber clapboard houses have been extended and converted beyond recognition. Today houses have all the conveniences of modern living; piped water having arrived in 1949 and electricity in time for Christmas 1954.
On one level life at Whiteway seems little different today from that of other surrounding villages. But a rich vein of anarchism runs below the surface of modern day life. Present day colonists are aware of the stories and myths of the early days. The symbolic burning of the deeds spiked on the end of a pitchfork, the land tribunal case that upheld the principle of communal ownership of the land and the endless rumours of the 'nudist colony'. Anarchy is implicit in the jigsaw layout of the plots, the endlessly twisting and winding lanes that make no concession to the age of the car and in the patchwork of house styles; from modern brickbuilt bungalows to others still recognisably early 20th century DIY style. The governance of the community as a whole is still carried out through the general meeting, which oversees the communal facilities; the lanes and paths, the colony hall, the playing fields & swimming pool. And on our centenary-guided tour at least one house was proudly flying a black flag.

Whiteway Colony Hall 1998 Picture C.Coates

Two books have been written chronicling Whiteways history. A Colony in the Cotswolds in the 1930's by Nellie Shaw one of the original colonist and more recently an account by Joy Thacker a local woman who moved to the colony in the 1960's. In a century of colony life Whitewayans it would seem have been through the whole panoply of community activity practiced or dreamt of by communards before or since. As well as their smallholding and self-build activities there was; Protheroe's Bakery, the Cotswold Co-operative Handicraft guild, Whiteway Modern School, the Co-operative Gardening Group, the Whiteway Youth Club and the Whiteway Wanderers football team. On top of that various individual ventures; Lillian Woolf's wholefood shop, the temporary home for Freedom Press, numerous small businesses, craftworkers and artists................
The pattern of social life over its lifetime, from intense communality through to increasing individuality, could lead to the conclusion that Whiteway had failed the aspirations of its original settlers. It would be difficult for a penniless anarchist to find a way to join Whiteway today. But the sheer tenacity of the ideas that have underpinned its entire existence, and have arguably been responsible for its longevity, are an inspiration to all would be utopians everywhere. Today the Colony Hall has a new roof and coat of paint, 'Protheroe's' bakery has reopened and MI5 have just opened their files on the colony!

Home Office sought to wipe out 'beastly' commune!

Home Office officials tried to shut down a prototype "free: love" hippy commune in the 1920s, according to official papers released yesterday. Files from the 1920's released to the Public Record Office showed that officials regarded the Whiteways Colony in Gloucestershire as a security risk. The commune had been created in the Cotswold Hills near Stroud around the turn of the century, attracting an assortment of socialists, pacifists, "free thinkers and refugees." "Manners had they none and their customs are beastly," wrote an official in 1925.Police paid a husband and wife £400 to infiltrate the commune in the hope of finding evidence of their unspeakable activities.The couple emerged claiming that "promiscuous fornication " was indeed a feature of life in the colony, but they were unable to produce proof. The Home Office could not even work up popular agitation against the commune, as local residents viewed members as cranks rather than as objects of fear.
Morning Star March 12 1999

'All this just goes to prove that having once lived here, those who find it suits them are reluctant to live anywhere else, and those who have left feel drawn to return when they can.'
Joy Thacker colony historian 1993

The full story of Whiteway is told in: Whiteway Colony: The Social History of a Tolstoyan Community
By Joy Thacker. Self Published. Whiteway.1993.Available from the Author: Fairhaven, Whiteway, Gloustershire.

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