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Vera Chapman - Written and compiled by George Knowles
Vera Chapman is perhaps best known as the founder of the Tolkien Society of Great Britain, founded in 1969 to promote the works of the author J.R.R. Tolkien. Later she became an accomplished author herself, best known for the Arthurian Trilogy: The Green Knight (1975), King Arthur’s Daughter (1976) and The King’s Damosels (1976). However, less known was her interest in Woodcraft and Paganism, for she was an early member of the Kibbo Kift Kindred, a movement founded by John Gordon Hargrave in 1920, a member of the Ancient Druid Order, and later Pendragon of the Order of Bards, Ovates & Druids founded by Ross Nichols in 1964.
Born Vera Ivy May Fogerty in Christchurch, Bournemouth in England on the 08th May 1898, her father is believed to be John Frederick Fogerty (not confirmed), a wealthy architect and engineer of Irish descent. Shortly before 1914 her parents immigrated to South Africa, apparently for the benefit of her mother’s health. There at the start of WWI her father enlisted in the army, leaving his wife and daughter to wait out the war in the relative safety of South Africa. Returning to England at the end of WWI, Vera entered Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, to continue her education. There in 1920 she became one of the first women admitted as a full-time student of Oxford University.
Her time at Oxford University was not without incident however, as women in the early 1920’s were still struggling to gain equality in a male dominated society. Ladies from wealthy backgrounds, particularly those selected to enter influential institutions like Oxford University, were expected to conduct themselves according to very strict standards of respectability. As such Vera caused a minor scandal when she was seen with her fiancé walking along the nearby river Cherwell without a chaperone. This was considered a shocking breach of propriety, for which she was summoned to the College Principal’s office and reprimanded.
During her time in Oxford, Vera also became a dedicated member of the Kibbo Kift Kindred, a ‘back-to-nature’ orientated Woodcraft movement founded by John Gordon Hargrave (the White Fox). Vera’s woodcraft name was ‘Lavengri’ meaning ‘Woman of Letters’, reflecting her University status. After graduating from Oxford, Vera married a clergyman and returned to Africa for a number of years where he worked as a missionary. On her return to the UK in the late 1930’s, Vera found that the focus of the Kibbo Kift movement had changed from its ‘back-to-nature’ origins, to that of Social Credit. While she supported some of the aims of Social Credit, in particular the need for a fairer distribution of the nations wealth among workers, she did not favour political activism; and so ended her involvement with the movement. Today her original handmade Kinswoman leather belt and personal logbooks are preserved in the Kibbo Kift collection held at the Museum of London.
John Gordon Hargrave (the White Fox) - The KKK Logo (Pic's)
Throughout the war years 1939-1945 it is thought that Vera worked as a teacher/civil-servant in London, and at sometime thereafter joined the Ancient Druid Order (ADO), then the largest Druidic order in the UK with a history dating back to 1717. It was perhaps through the ADO, or through London’s academic and literary circles, that she made the acquaintance of Ross Nichols. Nichols was the Headmaster of a private teaching college in London (known as Jimmy’s); he was also an author, poet, artist and naturist. In 1954 he had helped a fellow naturist and member of the ADO, Gerald B. Gardner to produce his first non-fiction book on witchcraft called “Witchcraft Today”.
Gerald Gardner (third from left with bagpipes) at Stonehenge in 1951. Taken from a Festival Souvenir Brochure produced for the Festival of Britain in 1951 (Pic)
That same year 1954, more interested in the ancient history and practice Druidry, he was introduced into the ADO by Gardner, and quickly advanced through the ranks to the office of Scribe, a position that suited his academic and literary abilities. Later he was elected Chairman of the Order, in which capacity he frequently travelled around the country lecturing on its history. In 1963 together with Robert A. F. MacGregor-Reid then Chosen Chief of the ADO, Nichols was invited to the Breton Gorsedd in Brittany and ordained as ‘Archdeacon of the Isles’ (Isles of Britain) by Archbishop Tugdual of the Ancient Celtic Church.
Ross Nichols - Gerald Gardner - Robert MacGregor-Reid - Dr Thomas Maughan (Pic's)
Sadly in the following year 1964, his friends Gerald B. Gardner, Robert MacGregor-Reid and Archbishop Tugdual all died. Each had played a major role in his life and to lose them all in the same year naturally devastated Nichols, but he was aided and encouraged by his friendship with Vera. With the death of MacGregor-Reid, a schism soon developed among senior members of the ADO and as a result the Order split into two factions. The first group elected Dr Thomas Maughan as the new Chosen Chief of the ADO, while the second group elected Nichols as the first Chosen Chief of the Order of Bards, Ovates & Druids (OBOD) a new reconstructed Order focusing on the same three grades - Bard, Ovate and Druid. As his senior officer in the new Order, Nichols appointed Vera his first Pendragon, a position she would hold until 1991.
OBOD Triumvirate: Chosen Chief – Ross Nichols (center), Pendragan – Vera Chapman (left) and Scribe (right), laying hands on a sword during the Spring Equinox ceremony of 1967 at Parliament Hill in Highgate, London. (Pic)
“Whilst this sword is unsheathed, promise you all that the Earth our home and mother shall be protected and illuminated by the swords of our spirits and wills.”
Into the 1960’s fearing that the hippie cult-culture was undermining the literary value of books like The Hobbit (1937) and The Lord of the Rings (1954) by J.R.R. Tolkien, Vera founded the first Tolkien Society of Great Britain dedicated to restoring a more scholarly appreciation of his works. In 1969 taking the name Belladonna Took from The Hobbit, she placed an advertisement in the New Statesman, an influential weekly magazine published in London, announcing the creation of the Society.
J.R.R. Tolkien - Gandalf played by Ian McKellen in The Lord of the Rings (Pic's)
Acting as Secretary of the Society, new members initially met at her flat in Chapman, North London, from where they produced a newsletter called the Belladonna Broadsheet, named after her Middle-earth alias. Later on the 27th June 1972, she was invited to a party given by Tolkien’s publisher Rayner Unwin, and there met Tolkien himself and persuaded him to become the Society’s Honorary President. Vera was Secretary of the Society for six years before she handed it over to other enthusiasts, during which time it had expanded rapidly, as did the newsletter, which today is a bimonthly publication called Amon Hen, containing: Tolkien-related news, reviews, letters, artwork and associated articles.
Amon Hen the bulletin of the tolkien society (Pic)
In 1975 (aged 77), Vera began writing herself. Her first novel The Green Knight (1975) followed by King Arthur’s Daughter (1976) and The King’s Damosel (1976) together made up an Arthurian trilogy, the last of which Warner Bros. bought the film rights and used it as the basis for a 1998 animated feature film called Quest for Camelot. As well as writing, Vera continued to attend OBOD events until 1991, at which time she resigned her position as Pendragon and was succeeded by the artist/illustrator Will Worthington.
A year later she also attended the Tolkien Centenary Conference commemorating the 100th anniversary of J.R.R. Tolkien’s birth in 1892. This was to be her last meeting with the Tolkien Society, after which her general health began to fail and she was rarely seen in public again. She died on the 14th May 1996 just a few days after her 98th birthday.
The Green Knight (1975)
King Arthur’s Daughter (1976)
The King’s Damosel (1976) – Film rights bought by Warner Bros. for a 1998 animated feature film called Quest for Camelot.
Judy and Julia (1977)
Blaedud the Birdman (1978)
The Wife of Bath (1978)
Three Damosels (1978)
Miranty and the Alchemist (1983)
Around Darlington in Old Photographs (1990)
The Notorious Abbess (1993)
Croft, Hurworth, Neasham, Middleton And Dinsdale in Old Picture Postcards (1996)
The Enchantresses (1998) (with Mike Ashley)
The Book of Druidry by Ross Nicholshttp://www.kibbokift.org/who.htmlhttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vera_Chapmanhttp://www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/c/vera-chapman/http://tolkiengateway.net/wiki/The_Tolkien_Societyhttp://www.tolkiensociety.org/ts_info/f ... apman.html
Written and compiled on the 06th July 2012 © George Knowles
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George Knowles (Man in Black).
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