History Of Ashram

In the late sixties what is now Ashram/The Wild Pear Centre was called ‘The Kingston Club’. Bill and Judy Mitchell owned the club, garage (that was originally on the ground floor) and Kingston House, they ran it as a private club taking in guests, but old age began to take its toll. The club and garage were then bought by a limited company formed by two school friends, Mike Tanner and Mike Golding, and their wives Alex and Betty. Initially they also rented part of Kingston House.

They ran the garage, mending cars, selling petrol (surely the only garage in the world where the petrol attendant sometimes wore an evening suit). Took in guests for bed & breakfast and evening meal and also opened the club to the public.

They were able to hold dinner dances for 120 people for groups such as The Conservative Party, The Liberal Party, The Football Club and The Catholic Society. It was ‘the’ place to be on a Saturday Night.

The stage and bar went through several positions and sizes, until the bar filled the street end of the dancehall. On different nights there would be Old Time Dancing, a Folk Club, Ballroom dancing, Rock Groups and Disco.

Eventually the strain of running the businesses with summer hours from 6.30am (early morning teas) to sometimes 4.00am, usually 2.00am, took its toll. Mike Tanner and his wife split up and Mike Golding’s wife became pregnant. It was decided to lease out the garage and club. As part of this deal Mike Tanner moved into The Hollies in Woodlands and within a few weeks Tony and Brenda Crisp with their family moved into The Pines – next door.

Tony, a writer, yoga teacher, dream expert had moved from Amersham in Bucks where, amongst other things he had developed a business selling esoteric books.

Mike, who had nothing to do, an income and somewhere to live, regularly borrowed books and became deeply interested in the philosophy connected with yoga.

The lessee was not as successful with the business and it reverted back to the two Mikes who decided to split the property between them, Mike Golding taking the garage, Mike Tanner the club. The garage was sold on and became a dairy bottling local milk run by Joe and Sheila Lakin who later bought Kingston House. The dairy later became a video shop and is now converted into an apartment.

The club was rented out to a different tenant, The Hollies was sold and Mike bought a building site at Morthoe living in a caravan and became the head lifeguard at Woolacombe beach.

This tenant eventually failed and Mike moved back into the club but did not run it as a business. By this time Mike had become a Samaritan where he met Sheila Johns who also had an interest in Yoga, he introduced Sheila to Tony.

Just before Christmas a client, who was a single mother with three children was made homeless. It was agreed since there appeared to be no other way of keeping the family together that they could move into some of the spare space in what was the Kingston Club. Once there was someone else living there it was not long before others moved in and a motley crew of ‘alternative types’ took up residence.

Sheila was made responsible for this client and when visiting one day mentioned to Mike that she was going to see Tony. He decided to go along as well and was surprised when Tony said, ‘Oh Mike has come too’. Mike had not realized that Shelagh and Tony had made an arrangement to work together. As it happened this was the beginning of the Seed Group, Relaxation Therapy, and LifeStream (Self Regulation). Looking back this was one of those unconscious, synchronistic, serendipitous moments that have reverberated through the lives of many, since the Seed Group required three to interact as seed, water and earth.

This work was fundamentally based on self-help. Jo May, writing about one of the techniques developed in the group says: “About eighteen years ago in a workshop I came across a small group structure called the Seed Group. The Seed Group was later developed by David Boadella into his form of working with small groups, and certainly up until a few years ago when I last had contact with him, formed the basis for his trainings in Biosynthesis. Tony Crisp’s Seed Group may also have been one of the first structures for working with people therapeutically in small groups.” The Seed Group was a means to enable a synthesis between physical, emotional and mental expressions via the body interrelating with others.

Another aspect of what happened at that time was the exploration of how the self-regulatory process innate in body and psyche could express if allowed. This work carried on through the seventies, and attracted much attention from people seeking personal growth. Thanks to an anonymous donation the hall was cleared of its former stage and bar, and was partitioned to form the Meditation Room. The ceiling was strong enough to be used as another level for sleeping.

During those years Mike also allowed the Kingston Club, now named Ashram, to become a commune. This had an open door policy and allowed anyone to come in, eat and stay without any obligation to pay. One could of course donate money or work, if one took a room then one agreed to make an agreed weekly donation. This open door system mixed with groups of people paying coming to courses on Yoga, Meditation, Reflexology, Dreams, Kinesiology and LifeStream led to many wonderful and bizarre moments.

Mike saw that many people had no home or family to which they could turn and understood how he had been helped by knowing that he was always accepted by his mother. By providing a space that people knew they could return to at any time, without judgement, with shelter and food available enabled some people to venture on and take chances that they may otherwise not have risked. The success of Ashram depended upon many people who gave their time and energy to maintain and help others less fortunate, their efforts are acknowledged.

There was a very casual attitude to dress which resulted in Wild Pear beach becoming recognized as a Naturalist Beach.

There was a great deal of concern in the village about some of the activities and animosity from the more rigid residents of Combe Martin, the feelings aroused at that time resonated long after Mike left and the commune was disbanded.

Mike and his partner Winifred had a baby, Santhé, born in Ashram. They then toured Canada, North and Central America leaving Ashram in the care of the residents and Zengo, who now is known as Buddha Maitraya, a Japanese teacher of Za Zen.

After their return another daughter was born there, Aisha, and this led Winifred to decide that she wanted a more stable environment for the two children. This was largely due to an influx of ‘New Age Travellers’ who had made it a more difficult environment to live in because of the violence, usually alcohol related, and bad language that developed.

Ashram or The Club, as some called it, lasted about 5 years without any major control. In this time, until the end, there were only two people asked to leave. There are many people who have had life changing experiences through having been there.

At the end of the seventies Mike sold it to Tony, who had then split up with his first wife Brenda, and was with his new partner, later wife, Hyone. The sale was concluded on July 17th 1978.

Tony and Hyone closed the doors to the commune and started the long process of renovating the rooms and the hall. When they took over the building it had been torn apart by the many people using it as a commune. A small coin meter served the whole building with electricity and the wiring needed replacing.

Some of the plumbing and gas fixtures consisted of garden hosepipe, and nowhere was tidy or really fit to live. Many cartloads of rubbish were carted away, including parts of motorbikes. The upstairs flat did not exist as it does today. There was a landing at the top of the stairs, leading to a long passage with four rooms off it. Tony and Hyone had an extension built to form a kitchen, built a bathroom, and took down the passage wall enclosing the first bedroom, making a living area.

What is now the downstairs kitchen was a ruin, full of junk. It had got so bad that the commune had deserted it and built a makeshift kitchen in the hall.

During these years Tony and Hyone made Ashram their home, living in the top flat. The rooms off the lower passage were gradually renovated, and were let out as self-contained accommodation. Gradually some of the hall was renovated and rewired, along with the building of the two toilets serving the hall.

Tony and Hyone ran some evening classes, but the large numbers of people attending courses during the early seventies never returned.

So in 1994 Tony and Hyone moved to Australia and sold Ashram to the present owners Juliana Brown and Richard Mowbray. It’s now called The Wildpear Centre.

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