The Whiteway Colony was a cooperative community with pacifist ideals and attracted radical thinkers from around the world
Over a century ago, radical thinkers built a socialist utopia in the heart of the Cotswolds.
Some 129 years later the cooperative community at Whiteway Colony, eight miles from Stroud, is still going strong with 150 people calling it home.
The 41 acre ‘colony’ was started in 1898 by a non-conformist Quaker journalist, Samuel Veale Bracher, and other middle-class progressives who rejected the idea of private property.
In the beginning the founders freely allocated land to people who were willing to cultivate it and help the colony prosper. If people wished to leave, they would give the land back to the community.
All property was shared and the founders allegedly burnt the land deeds on the end of a pitchfork in a symbolic rejection of the principle of private property.
The early colonists were Tolstoyans and followed the philosophical teachings of the famous Russian writer. The Whitewater colonists identified themselves as Christians but did not affiliate with any institutionalised churches.
Preferring a simple and healthy rural life, the early colonists were often vegetarian, didn’t smoke and abstained from alcohol. They spurned wealth and luxury and embraced an agrarian life based on egalitarian ideals, sharing provisions and sustaining themselves by working the land.
They considered themselves Christian pacifists and believed in non-resistance in all circumstances. Their non-conformist lifestyles attracted condemnation from many social commentators at the time because they refused to recognise the jurisdiction of the state and the authority of police and law courts. The community was the subject of considerable gossip and disparagement because of its unconventional lifestyle and the local press made efforts to smear them by accusing the residents of running a nudist colony.
For the first few decades, everything was shared and anyone was welcome to set up home at the Cotswold colony. Over the years, the community became a sanctuary home to immigrant anarchists, conscientious objectors and refugees from the Spanish Civil War. The colony continued to grow as families took root and their open door policy provided safe haven to radicals and freethinkers from all corners of Britain and beyond. The colonists built a school, library and, in 1969, even a swimming pool.
Gandhi wrote about Whiteway Colony in 1909, impressed by its peaceful ideals and vegetarian diets. It’s been recorded that he visited the community during his extensive travels in Britain. It’s also believed that it was during this same visit to Gloucestershire that Gandhi purchased his iconic rimless spectacles from an opticians in St Aldate Street in Gloucester.
Government officials were so concerned about what went on at Whiteway that they allegedly sent spies to infiltrate it. In 2000, The Citizen reported that files from the 1920s, released to the public record office, revealed that officials were so concerned about its operation that they paid a man and woman £400 to go undercover and join the socialist fraternity to see what was happening in the camp.
The authorities hoped they would find evidence of ‘unspeakable activities’ but no proof was ever found.
The colony continues today and there are descendants of the original settlers still living there. But now all the properties are privately owned and many families run successful local businesses. The Sunshine Health Shop in Stroud was first opened by Lilian Wolfe, an early member of the self-sufficient Whiteway Colony and it continues to trade in the town 90 years later. The influence of the Whiteway Colony led to Stroud becoming one of the birthplaces of the Organic food lifestyle.
Today Whiteway Colony occupies the same 41 acres of communally held land with which it began but colonists now live in their own privately owned homes as individual families. With no spare land remaining, a person must buy an existing property to become part of the community.
In 2017, there are over 150 residents of all ages living in 60 homes and there is still a strong community spirit. Community activities are organised at a monthly meeting held at the original Colony Hall where all decisions affecting the colony are made.
Traditions that originated with Whiteway’s founding fathers are still respected and adhered to and visitors must request permission to visit the site by penning a letter to the Colony Secretary.
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