Our story begins with endings: Chelsea's World's End at the end of the 1960s. For it was here that a community of people opened a shop which they called Gandalf's Garden. It was a meeting place for a spiritual community that focused on meditation and the mystical.
The founder, Muz Murray, started a magazine of the same name in 1968. You can look at copies of the magazine here but I would urge people to buy a copy of the complete Gandalf's Garden on disc here - profits go to help the poor and needy in India.
I suspect that the shop was demolished when the area was redeveloped - Darroll Pardoe writes on the Gandalf's Garden website thus; "Gandalf's Garden was a shop down by the World's End in Chelsea, run by a commune of flower-children held together by Muz Murray. It flourished for a while at the high end of the Sixties, but eventually they found Chelsea too constricting and moved out to Norfolk or somewhere. For all I know they may be there still......"
In any event, Baba Muz went to India and Nepal in 1971 / '72 and travelled for several years as a sadhu - an ascetic who renounces all material attachments.
On his return from India Muz pitched up in Norwich and eventually joined a squatted community of terraced houses on Bishopsgate.
Tim Sillence wrote to Pete Hoida (more about these two later) : "Martin is back from India and is staying with us for a few days thinking of finding a place to live here and slowly remembering what it's like after four years in the eastern arena. Beyond this they are currently preparing me a macrobiotic meal and persist in telling me about my liquor consumption and the need to eat this or that...the or derv wasn't bad."
From the Eastern Evening News Jan 1977.
WORKMEN were yesterday ripping the guts out of a row of Norwich terraced houses to prevent squatters from moving in. Empty windows and blazing fires in small suburban gardens brought a wartime look To St. Helen's Terrace in Bishopsgate as the first stage of clearing the Victorian terrace row got under way in preparation for the second phase of the Cotman Housing Association's development scheme.
Demolition cannot begin until the last few residents are found satisfactory accommodation. But to stop squatters from moving in work has already started on smashing up the insides of the 14-house row.
Squatters have been occupying some of the houses for about 18 months, but the Great Hospital, who own the properties, recently obtained court orders to have them evicted. Two of the last to leave will be Mr Muz Murray and Miss Flora Fenton - both of whom, said Miss Fenton, had been ordered to leave by today. And their accomodation prospects seemed bleak, she added.
And while the destruction went on around, 60-year old Mr. Albert Cornell - a resident of Bishopsgate for 20 years - wondered about his chances of finding another home.
Mr Cornell was angry at the prospect of further development in Bishopsgate, but said he would be pleased to get away from the squatters who, he said, destroyed St Anne's Terrace. He was hopeful of finding accomodation fairly soon.
Another man angry at the prospect of further development in Bishopsgate is Mr. John Lear, who lives in nearby Quayside.
Mr. Lear described the Victorian terrace as being in "quite superb condition." In better condition, he said, than the houses going up in their place.
He called the proposed demolition "vandalism" and said the housing association scheme was a "misuse of funds." He wondered why a demolition order on the row had been made in 1974, when it had been refused in 1970.
Norwich planning officer Mr. Desmond Elliot said that although the houses were in a conservation area they were not classed as listed buildings. A demolition order became effective in 1974 because the houses were considered sub-standard.
Mr. Sam Hornor, steward to the trustees of the Great Hospital, said that although the houses looked attractive from the outside they were very damp and in a bad condition.
They would be demolished, he added, when the last residents were rehoused. The aim of the new housing scheme was better housing for more people.
Mr. Ted Lamb, the housing association housing manager, said that phase two of the scheme included 93 units of one and two-bedroom accomodation with a substantial provision for young people. Mrs. Joan Luckhurst, a member of the sub-committee of the Cotman Housing Association, said that renovation of the terraced houses was considered too expensive in view of the poor state of the properties.
Not everyone was sympathetic to the squatters as this letter shows:
So Mr. Muz Murray has an aversion to the "Rat Race" (Whiffler's City, Thursday) and is content with a simple way of life on £10 a week.
I've no doubt many people would also be happy to shelve all responsibilities and accept the benefit of Social Security. But if everyone decided to grab free accomodation by squatting, and sponged on the State, where would all the money come from to pay for all these layabouts?
Referring to a plan for homes for old people, Mr. Murray moans that nothing is done for the young folk.
Surely he realises that most old folk have worked all their lives and have earned a measure of help. I suppose he hopes that by publicising his "plight" in the Eastern Evening News some kind soul will step forward and provide all he needs for a simple, contented life.
May I suggest that instead he returns to Cyprus or the Indian monastery to undergo a reversal of the spiritual experience which led him to drop out.
C. HARRIS, Peregrine Rd. Sprowston
Muz was kind enough to respond to my enquiries with an email when I asked him if it was indeed himself mentioned in the Norwich papers of 1977. He wrote:
"Hi Peter, Yes it was. On coming back from three years as a wandering monk in India, I was obliged to squat and organised a loosely co-operative squat all along the street, keeping the authorities at bay for a long term. Warmly, Muz".
The link between Gandalf's Garden and the Bishopsgate squats can be consolidated perhaps a bit further with the Inner Garden Newsletter reproduced below. The idea was for Seed-Centres to spring up and flourish throughout the country and beyond. Friends of the Garden could display a welcoming poster like this:
INNER GARDEN NEWSLETTER
GARDENWORLD ON THE ROAD No. 3 Midsummer 1971
At last only a few hours from departure I can sit and write farewell without regret. The Old Gandalf may be ded, but the Garden lives on! It has overgrown its borders and the flower-pods have burst and spread their seeds far and wide.
Friends of the Garden Seed-Centres are spreading all over the country. At World's End in London, the old Gandalf's Garden has changed hands again and continues to flourish under a completely new group, and is now simply known as "THE GARDEN".
Alan Fry and John Carnegie tried vey hard to run the Garden almost on their own for several months, but the strain became too much and eventually they had to close down the premises for a while. After a few days it re-opened again, thanks to Shelley Shapiro and friends (and the aid of Dr. Thos. Maughan Chief Druid and U Maung Maung Ji M.A, who have the Garden close to their hearts) who are carrying on in as much of the old Garden tradition as possible.
Tina and Geoff Coope are running the FRIENDS OF THE GARDEN Central Seed-Centre in Norwich, and are responsible for co-ordination of all Seed-Centres, Newsletters and forwarding all mail to the original Gardeners, now known as the INNER GARDEN ASHRAM group. The Gardeners are spread out all over the globe, but still feel very much linked with each other by the "group-soul" of which we became aware during our years together. ANANDA (ex Gerry Snelling) has now reached the Himalayas and is staying at the Rishkesh ashram in which JAY HEATH is stuying sanskrit and feeling very much at home. LIN GARDENCHILD with baby SAFFRON, 1st of the Gardenchildren, is working with the earth in the English countryside, hoping to get into herbal remedies and colour healing. CEE BEE WILLIAMS is recouping from her long muscular infirmity in Wales and is now also able to do a little daily earth gardening. KERI JINKS and MICK COTTON are setting up a Seed-Centre in Salisbury, where Mick is training in carpentry. JOHN HALLOWAY (smiley John) has developed a frieght haulage run up and down the country in his own truck. JOHN and RICKY OAKENLEAF and ACORN LOVEJOY are trying to get a Seed-Centre and commune going in York. PETER FIREBRACE is somewhere in India also studying sanskrit and Self. And many other Gardeners and Garden-friends are working on themselves and learning skills which will be useful when the INNER GARDEN ASHRAM comes into manifestation. Since we will not be able to "carry" anyone in the early stages of getting the Ashram together, everyone who lives-in must be able to do something practical to help the community to survive and grow.
As far as we can see, at this moment of biological time, we envisage the old Gardeners coming together again in about two to three years to develop the projected Inner Garden Ashram, although obviously no promises can be made. Who can tell what changes may occur in us as we travel? If we step out of the wood for a while the trees may take on a new colour and meaning. Perhaps only one or two of us may come together again, perhaps more. If not, it will be up to you, the Garden-friends to carry on. The world is so weird and wonderful to be too definite about anything. How can we confine ourselves to ideas and projected images? We have to be open to the moment. Every moment: in order to intuit what the universe really requires of us. Although, at this moment of writing, I can see no other direction for our Garden family but a steady walking towards that idea which is deeply implanted in us all.
It could be that whilst some of us are away, the Seed-Centres will grow and produce others in whom the Ashram will be a living idea and who have the abilities required to get it going. The Ashram Fund is still open, under the auspices of the Seed-Crystal Trust - our registered charity - and a body of Trustees have been appointed to safeguard all donation in cash or property, towards the founding of the Ashram. If capable people come together and the funds grow sufficiently to purchase the right place then something may well begin before we return.
As for myself, I take the road to unwind my mind from organising things and shake the office-dust from my soul. I do not go to gain so much as get rid of. There is much within me for which I have no longer use. And all the petty detail of daily running an organisation makes ones spiritual being feel like the Incredible Shrinking Man.
Many have asked me why I am going to the East when what I have to do is here. That is one of the problems. What exactly is it that is required? We have been struggling so hard uphill for so long that we have become deplleted. We have to stand back and see where we need to ring the changes.