When I look up my diary for 1922, I find an entry dated Saturday, July 1st, saying: "Van Gelder was here, he can sell his house and came to ask what I intended doing about the school, saying that if I did not remain in Neutral Bay he would not remain there either. It is a hard case."
Little did I think when I wrote those lines some two and a half year ago, that they contained the germ of the idea which later developed into our Manor community. Yet it was so.
At that time many of our Theosophical workers in Sydney were living in different parts of Mosman and surrounding suburbs. First of all, Bishop Leadbeater was at "Crendon," the home of the Kollerström family in Neutral Bay, at that time the center of the Work; then the Mackays at "Malahide" in Kirribilli; the van Gelder family at "Suryastana," in Cremorne - all known to many Theosophists for their splendid hospitality. Luncheons and dinners to twenty of more people at an hour's notice were quite usual in those ever-open homes, and luncheon at "Crendon" meant usually a gathering of at least twelve! At that time I ran a small school for the young people gathered around the Bishop and used for the purpose a house called "Lyne Flats," in Neutral Bay, a few hundred yards from "Crendon". As ever, in education my trouble was lack of funds, and at the time of Mrs van Gelder's visit and the above-mentioned entry in my diary, I was considering giving up the house and renting a cheaper one elsewhere. However, I had to remain near the families whose children attended the achool and to provide for my borders. It certainly was "a hard case", especially as at that time houses were scarce.
The next entry in my diary is of Sunday. July 16th, 1922. It runs: "More than two weeks since my last entry! But then there were busy weeks, especially taken up by the Clifton-compound idea. Of course, the idea of a 'compound' is already old; Van Gelder has been busy for some time on his community scheme which is to make life more reasonable, cheaper and more useful. Everyone here is at his wits' end financially, so the idea of a 'compound' appeals to all. Van Gelder sold his house a fortnight ago and has been looking for a suitable place. Amongst other a house in Clifton Gardens was offered to him, called "Garrock"; containing sixteen rooms, having a splendid view and well built. It was at lunch at the Van Gelder's when he discussed it and deplored the fact that it was too large for him. I then suggested sharing it with him and Mr. Labberton, who is to arrive from Java in a few weeks. He at once accepted, and we decided to rent the house."
This was the real birth of the idea of sharing a house, which later became our Manor-community. The course of our plan, however, did not run smoothly, and it was all the better for us in the end that it did not. The owner of "Garrock" refused to let it at the last moment, and as we could not arrange to buy it all seemed rather hopeless. I then suggested to Mr. van Gelder renting another house belonging to the same owner and situated near "Garrock", which house several of us had inspected previously on more than one occasion, the house now called "The Manor", then "Bakewell's Folly."
It was built some ten years ago by a Mr. Bakewell, who began building it as an eight-room cottage and ended up by making it a fifty-two room mansion. It is said that he used to dream about new rooms during the night and start building them in the morning, outlining them with his walking-stick on the ground. Judging by some rather strange rooms found here and there in the house, his dreams at times must have been troubled or even nightmares!
However, Mr. Bakewell had one great principle, his house was to stand for generations, and he spared no effort to make it strong. All that was put in was of the very best, and workmen who come to make occasional alterations now, stand amazed and often dismayed at the solidity of the material they have to deal with. The house alone cost over 36,000 pounds to build ten years ago, and Mr. Bakewell furnished most of the material from his own brick-and-tile factory. This then was the house which I suggested sharing when our first plan fell through. The idea was to get in a few more families and make it a joint household. Mr. van Gelder, however, was a little afraid of the difficulties of such a household and did not at first feel inclined to carry out this very much greater scheme. It was then that Providence intervened in the shape of Bishop Leadbeater. He heard of our plans and with characteristic promptness went over to the place with a number of people and looked all over it. He seemed very much taken with its possibilities as a community-home and declared his willingness to come and live there himself, provided all other things could be arranged. The end was that the different families met in council and that Bishop Leadbeater invited Mr. van Gelder to assume the most difficult task of managing the community. He accepted, the rooms in the house were divided amongst the families, the lease signed for three years with two years' optional extention, and on August 3rd, while a howling southerly was shaking the house, the first group of new inhabitants came in, consisting of Walter Hassal, Hely Labberton, Lucius van Gelder and myself.
During the next week Bishop Leadbeater, with the Kollerström family, the van Gelder, Mazel and Vreede families and "those without family" arrived. They were chaotic days those first two weeks of the Manor. Mr. van Gelder certainly had a great task to perform, and, with the help of the whole household, he accomplished it successfully; the community never experienced any serious trouble. This certainly proves the splendid spirit in which all undertook the work and the willingness of all who hitherto had run their own households to fit in with whatever was necessary. But then with one like Bishop Leadbeater in its midst as a constant source of serenity and inspiration, what work would not succeed?
Thus the community continued, and we all realised how much it did to bring the workers together, and how very much more work we could accomplish being thus together. We already began to discuss the possibility of buying the house, but money was lacking.
It was then, about a year after the beginning of our community, that I had to visit Europe and while there was able to arrange with some generous friends to help us financially if at any time we had to buy "The Manor", as we had re-christened "Bakewell's Foly."
When I returned to Sydney on July 13th, 1924, it was to find Mr. van Gelder on the eve of leaving for Java, where he had to look after certain business interests. The management of the house was turned over to me, and, much to the regret of all their friends, Mr. and Mrs. van Gelder sailed for Java on July 16th. Previously Mr. and Mrs. Labberton had left our community for Japan, Bishop Mazel for Holland, and several new members had been added to it during the year I had been away. Our family now numbered some thrity members, and a very real family it had become.
As there was some danger of the house being sold to strangers I straightaway began negotiations with the owner about purchasing it. The price asked, on the basis of the tremendous cost of building the house, and the greatly increased value of the land since it was built, was more than we were willing or able to give, and it was only after half a year's negociating that on January 9th, at 3:41 p.m. (astrologers beware!) I had the pleasure of signing the contract of purchase. It was a great relief to know that now our community was safe for ever.
The price for which we bought was 14,000 pounds, half of which we were able to pay down straightaway, thanks to the generosity of Mr. John Mackay and our two European friends, who both made good their promise of a year ago. A trust was then formed, and on Monday, February 9th, at 7:48 p.m. (more horoscopes!) the Trust deed was signed by Bishop Leadbeater and myself, with John Mackay as witness. This was the physical birth of our community, at that moment the property was formally and legally dedicated to the purposes of the Trust, which are: The formation of a spiritual center where people may be trained in religious matters, and the formation of a community based on Theosophical ideals. Bishop Leadbeater accepted the position of Trustee, while the appointment of Trustees at any time is in the hands of Dr. Annie Besant and her successors (*). She is also the supreme court of appeal for all difficulties, and under her as final authority the Trustee has absolute power in both Center and Community, being able to accept and refuse applicants and even to dismiss members.
Thus our Community and Center are hierarchically governed and made what they are intended to be - a place for the Masters of the Wisdom to use in Their Work through those of our leaders who are in close touch with Them.
Now that "The Manor" has been bought, our wider work is beginning. Already several houses have been bought or built by members who wanted to live around "The Manor," and some of them intend to leave their house to the Trust. The Trust deed provides for the organisation of a community with its own school, church, press, and whatsoever else may be necessary for a self-contained community. We hope that, as time goes on, more and more members will come to settle round "The Manor" and enter the Community, so that in another ten or twenty years our Manor community may give an example of a "community based on Theosophical ideals" with as its heart "The Manor" as the spiritual center for the training of people in religeous matters. Thus those in the Community who are willing to make the necessary sacrifice of personnality and undergo the required discipline shall have the opportunity to come in touch with inner things, thus becoming more useful to the Work.
It is truly a wonderful future, this future of our Manor-Community and Center. We have been told that it is to be the greatest Spiritual Center of the Southern Hemisphere, and Sydney is blessed in having such a home of the Masters in its midst.
In the immediate future, we hope to acquire some more land and build a guest-house for the many visitors who come to us and for whom at present there is no accomodation. Possibly there is a member somewhere in or outside Australia who would like to enable us to buy land and build such a guest-house and thus make it possible for many to be benefited by this wonderful spiritual Center? When I bought "The Manor," I purposely refrained from asking any of our Australian members to contribute financially, as I knew how hard pressed they were already. One of them has helped us all the same, saying that he thought it a privilege to help a Center which is to be the heart of the Work not only for Australia but for the entire Southern Hemisphere. There are no doubt many who, in like manner, would like to contribute, and I need hardly say that we are in need of funds, as some of the money advanced has been paid back and the remainder of the purchase-money is still to be paid. We need a thousand pounds this coming month, and I know that it will come. But I think some of our Australian friends would like to help in the building of this Spiritual Center through which the Blessing of the Great Ones flow out to further evolution in these southern lands.
Such then was the genesis of "The Manor", to all outer appearances accidental, yet undoubtedly guided by Those who use our small daily affairs to accomplish Their great Purpose. Much has already been accomplished, many have attained to spiritual Reality in this Center of our Work. The future is to be greater still, privileged indeed are those of us who are granted a share in the pioneering work!