It is a cold Scottish May in 1939. Picture, if you will, a small but dedicated group of Austrian refugees, living and working in a manse, without electricity or heating, on a bleak, windy hill outside Aberdeen, Scotland. Some of them are Jewish, escaping inevitable war in their country. But they have come here for a specific purpose: to live with, care for and educate children with special needs. Their purpose is to set up a community based on Anthroposophical ideals and the teachings of Rudolf Steiner. From this group will evolve the Camphill Movement, which will grow to become a movement of more than 95 communities in 22 countries around the world.
Although working as a team, one man in particular stands out as the founder of the group. Karl König was born in late September 1902 in Vienna, Austria, and later studied medicine there. During his studies on Embryology, he came across Goethe's scientific writings, and later the Spiritual Science of Rudolf Steiner, with whom he immediately identified. On graduation, he was offered several high-profile jobs at the university and elsewhere, but declined them, knowing his heart and destiny lay elsewhere. When an offer came from the Clinical Therapeutic Institute in Switzerland, he accepted at once: here was a chance to help those in need, something he knew was his life's path.
Karl König's time at the Institute was to significantly help shape the movement he founded - it was here that he met his future wife and co-founder of the movement, Tilla Maasberg, and it was here that he first witnessed the Advent Garden. During this touching festival, where handicapped children walk around a spiral of moss or foliage and light their candle from a large central beacon, he promised himself to "dedicate my life to the care and education of these children". He started writing and lecturing about anthroposophy, and took a central role in a curative home and a medical practice in Germany with Tilla.
After several years working as a doctor at the home, he returned to Vienna, where the group of what were to be his Camphill co-founders began to meet regularly. They studied Anthroposophy and the work of Rudolf Steiner, and worked on plans to establish a community for children with special needs. Nazi Germany was bursting its borders, and it was a tense time for König's small group of friends, for most of them were of Jewish origin. They were desperately trying to find a suitable site for their community and a visit to Britain by König provided their big break. After an explanation from König of his plight, a Mr and Mrs Haughton said they were willing to rent the small manse on their estate at Kirkton, near Aberdeen, providing accommodation and food from the gardens for the small group and the children they were to care for.
This is where we return to the story of Camphill's development in Scotland. Shortly after the establishment of the community at Kirkton House, the men in the group were interned as enemy aliens, but the women, including Tilla König, Anke Weihs and Alix Roth, continued with the work.
Six months later, with the help of a loan from a Mr W. F. Macmillan, they purchased what is now Camphill Estate on June 1, 1940. This date is now recognised as Camphill's birthday. When the men finally returned to the new site, the community was active and thriving, with about 12 children working, living and learning with their dedicated co-workers. Some favourable publicity from the press earned Camphill interest, approval and respect from the local community, and within two years they had to rent another house to cope with the resulting expansion.
In April 1944 another property was acquired: 35 acres of farmland and three houses was ideal for Camphill's requirements, and Murtle Estate became the second estate of the Camphill-Rudolf Steiner-Schools. It is situated on the same bank of the River Dee, but a few miles closer to the city and the sea.
A year later, in May 1945, another 170-acre site almost adjacent to Murtle Estate, was purchased (thanks to another loan from the Macmillans) and set up as Newton Dee Village, an estate for delinquent and profoundly handicapped boys. Following biodynamic ideals (which had always been a part of Camphill's aims), Thomas Weihs worked with the deprived youngsters and helped to start the gardens there, which still produce fruit and vegetables.
During the next few years, the founding group nurtured these three inspiring projects amidst a growing following. In 1948 St John's School, a small Waldorf School, opened in Murtle Estate, soon becoming the source of education for Camphill and Murtle's pupils, the children of co-workers and also local Anthroposophists.
The end of Camphill's first decade brought about another new direction for growth: the Camphill Seminar Course. This has been fundamental to Camphill's growth, teaching co-workers the underlying principles of Camphill, to enable them to understand and to develop their role in the community. By now, in 1949, Camphill was looking after and teaching 180 children, and attracted more local media attention. The results were astonishing.
Another very important part of the history of Camphill was the ability of both Karl König and Thomas Weihs to give public lectures all over the country, and to hold interviews for prospective pupils in London - these changed people's lives and attracted many future co-workers and pupils.
The beginning of the 1950s saw the Camphill-Rudolf Steiner-Schools' acquisition of Cairnlee, another small estate on the same north bank of the Dee. This was predominantly for disturbed adolescent girls but has since become available to special needs' youngsters of both sexes.
Camphill's publicity spread into England, Northern Ireland and South Africa, where public demand helped Camphill to open five centres by 1953. Centres were also established in Ireland, Germany, America, Switzerland and Holland by the mid-sixties. Botton Village, deep in the Yorkshire Moors, was also opened in this period, epitomising König's vision of the 'sheltered' 'village community'. Shortly after this, Karl König became seriously ill; Thomas Weihs stepped in as superintendent of the Camphill-Rudolf Steiner-Schools in 1957. Throughout the next ten years though, König continued his work at Camphill, nurturing the organisation.
Around this time, in 1960, the Camphill-Rudolf Steiner-Schools sold Newton Dee to the Camphill Village Trust and its role changed to being a village community for adults as well. In Murtle Estate, big things were afoot with the opening ceremony of Camphill Hall taking place in July 1961. This special year also marked both Rudolf Steiner's centenary and Camphill's own 21st anniversary.
Throughout the early sixties, Karl König started to break down the management of Camphill, from just one organisational body to six different 'regions', independently chaired. Finalising this in 1964, he resigned as chairman of the Camphill Movement and continued his work in Camphill in Germany. Karl König died there in 1966, leaving behind a true testament to his life's work. His dedication had truly surpassed that promise to himself of lighting his candle on the hill and had helped to pass that flame on to many more 'beacons of hope', which still continue to shine brightly today.
The story of Camphill's development in Scotland continues in the 1970s in Perthshire, some 80 miles south of Aberdeen. Ochil Tower School was established in January 1972 and was initially a school for nine children with special needs from Aberdeen. It has grown since then, and is also now a venue for Camphill representative meetings, concerts and other performances.
Before the year was out, Thomas and Anke Weihs were setting up another home, "a community for mutual help" in Auchenblae, 25 miles south of Aberdeen. At first Templehill was an overflow facility for the communities in Aberdeen, dealing with a variety of people with special needs of all ages, but changed direction in 1979 when further land was purchased. Templehill had to be closed down in 2000.
Milltown Community started in 1974, when Lord Arbuthnott made the property available after he had discussed it with the local people. The community, an extended family household with seven special needs' adults, is still part of the Arbuthnott village, where they work with the support of their neighbours. Milltown was originally set up for house- and land-based work, but has developed over the years to include several workshops where they offer work opportunities which will interest and challenge the individual.
It was Anke Weihs again who, in 1975, found another house, overlooking Scotland's Safari Park near Stirling. Blair Drummond is now a community with several workshops, including basket making, weaving and a bakery. The main house is host to bedrooms and other living areas, classrooms and a chapel.
Just two years after setting this up, Thomas and Anke were busy again, looking at another house in Perthshire, this time a former hunting party hotel. The purchase of Corbenic in 1977 (in addition to regulation repairs on the building) was funded by the Scottish Camphill Neighbourhood, established not long before.
Another centre, Beannachar was bought and established in 1978. Also situated on the River Dee, but on the south bank and several miles closer to Aberdeen, this gracious manor house and its 27-acre estate now host a garden and several workshops. At first it was largely a horticultural training centre, and although the scope has widened over the years, the work on the land is still a central activity including farm and garden work, where vegetables and plants for the herb workshop are grown.
In 1983, the need for another village community in Scotland became apparent; Thomas Weihs was on the team again when plans for what was to become Loch Arthur village were proposed. Sadly, though, he become ill, and did not live to see its purchase and opening a year later. He had been instrumental in the development of Camphill in Scotland since the first small community at Kirkton, helping to set up several communities and farms throughout his productive work and life. Loch Arthur still survives today: a five-hundred acre estate surrounds the main house and other buildings, and its renowned creamery now thrives, providing award-winning cheese as well as work for some of its 70 inhabitants.
Around this time, another opportunity for growth of the movement was established, with many of the original participants of the movement becoming old. Simeon Care for the Elderly was set up in 1984 in the grounds of Cairnlee Estate, after conversion of one of the children's units there. At first it was occupied predominantly by Aberdonian citizens and parents of Camphill co-workers, and still continues to combine community living and working with a relaxed and paced lifestyle.
In 1987, another small house was purchased a few miles west of Murtle Estate. Tigh A'Chomainn is a home for more independently minded adults to find direction and fulfilment in their lives.
By the time Camphill reached its 50th anniversary in 1990, it had grown to incorporate 72 communities in 7 different regions all over the world. These continued to radiate König's message of a village community based on love and trust to the rest of the world. In this special year, a meeting of the Camphill board members from all over the world was held to look back on the last fifty years and discuss how Camphill might grow in the future. Fittingly, this meeting was held in Camphill Hall in Murtle, Scotland, the true home of Camphill.
An article based on Friedwart Bock's writing for 'Candle on the Hill'.
Article by John Phethean - reproduced with kind permission of Camphill Scotland.