Glastonbury Women

A Town of Strong Women

Glastonbury is a town of strong women. That was certainly my impression when I first moved here in 1993 and it remains true today. One of the reasons I moved here was to escape the sexism, racism and homophobia that was simply regarded as ‘normal’ in the small town I came from. I grew up in the seventies and eighties in a world where women were still generally seen as more decorative than powerful. It was a world where ‘girly’ calendars adorned the walls of many workplaces, comedians spewed mother-in-law jokes on TV, girls did needlework and cookery while boys did metalwork and Technical Drawing. At the age of 14 I was hauled into the headmistress’s office to account for the fact I had not chosen any of the ‘domestic sciences’ to study at O Level. How, she implored me, was I going to look after my husband?

Moving to London in my early twenties, I worked in Direct Services for Camden Council for a while. There was me and 400 men, in concession to the fact that there were women in the workplace the girly calendars were hidden away in lockers. I was working in the office rather than fitting locks or repairing windows, yet still, it was questioned whether a woman should be in the job at all.

Glastonbury Women in the Nineties

I could go on, but hopefully, that’s given you an idea of why I was so happy to arrive in a town where powerful, interesting, creative and loud women were everywhere. For the first four years, I worked at the Assembly Rooms. Lydia Lyte was the manager, Tess the Caretaker, Sally Pullinger ran the cafe, Jana Runnalls and Katrina Brown operated the PA and performed as the Wild Women, Viv Andrae did the accounts, Jan Preece was involved in theatrical productions, Sheena painted the banners that adorned the walls. There were numerous women musicians taking centre stage in the Avalonian Free State Choir, Silver on the Tree, Heathens All and Court of Miracles amongst others. Sue Palmer was producing art, Jo Waterworth was performing poetry. Many of the women I met at the Assembly Rooms were veterans of the Women’s Peace Camp at Molesworth, while younger women were taking a very active part in the road protests of the time. 

Elsewhere in town, Kathy Jones set up the Goddess Temple and Conferences. Frances Howard Gordon was running the Gothic Image Shop and Publishing. Isi Von Coels opened an art gallery. Liz Beech set up the Phoenix Art Project. Jacqui Memory Patterson was writing “Tree Wisdom”. Philippa Bowers was making her iconic goddess sculptures (and still is!). There were many more women – working, creating and contributing to every aspect of life in the town.

It was exciting and inspiring meeting these free-spirited, creative, empowered women. I was delighted to be in a tribe of women who generally didn’t wear make-up, dressed as they liked and were letting their hair go grey and untamed (or dyeing it in a myriad of rainbow colours). Some of them were lesbians, some were married, others lived independently of men, most I suspect would have described themselves as feminists. All of them, as far as I recall, worked happily alongside the many active men in the community. I recall being told by one woman that Glastonbury Town was women-led because many of us had been Priestesses in previous lives, while many of the men who chose to live in the town had been Christian Priests and were now choosing a role which was more subservient to women, in order to atone. It was perhaps a fanciful notion, but one I’ve not forgotten. 

Sadly I can’t recall much about the strong Somerset women in Glastonbury during my first few years here, as I was very much embedded in the ‘Alternative Community’, which was mostly composed of ‘incomers’. I would very much like to hear some stories of Glastonbury’s local women, so do get in touch if you would like to contribute something. 

Women of Glastonbury

History tells us that the women of the nineties were certainly not the first powerful characters to make an imprint on the Town. Here are just a few of the women from the last 100 years, now passed over, who helped make Glastonbury what it is today.

Alice Mary Buckton (1867-1944) 

An English educator, poet, community playwright, feminist and mystic and one of the founding members of the New Avalonians. In 1912 Buckton bought the Chalice Well in Glastonbury. establishing it as a hostel and helping to establish Glastonbury as a site of pilgrimage. She continued to live in Glastonbury for the rest of her life, where she did much to revive interest in the Arthurian legends. Most notably in 1922 she wrote and directed the film ‘Glastonbury Past and Present’, making the town the first to have its history recorded in film. 

Alice Buckton at Chalice Well Glastonbury by Wellesley Tudor Pole
Alice Buckton at Chalice Well Glastonbury by Wellesley Tudor Pole

Dion Fortune (1890-1946) 

Dion Fortune (born Violet Mary Firth) was a British occultist, ceremonial magician, novelist and author. In 1921 she embarked on a series of experiments in trance mediumship, culminating in an act of trance mediumship in Glastonbury with her mother and Frederick Bligh Bond. She claimed to have contacted spirit-entities known as “the Watchers of Avalon” who informed her that Glastonbury had once been the site of an ancient druidic college. 

In 1924 Fortune’s occult group purchased an old orchard at the foot of Glastonbury Tor, where they built a series of chalets. “At Whitsun 1926, Fortune and several other members of her group were on Glastonbury Tor when they underwent a spiritual experience that produced a feeling of ecstasy among them. They later came to believe that this experience was a result of a messenger from the Elemental Kingdoms, and it greatly influenced their developing beliefs” (Wikipedia). 

At the time of her death Fortune was preparing for the coming Age of Aquarius, she is buried in Glastonbury cemetery. In “The Occult Novels of Dion Fortune” 2007, Susan Johnston Graf noted that “although Fortune was not involved in the feminist movement and did not associate with feminists” she “thought herself every bit as powerful, capable, independent, and discerning as any man, and she worked to spiritually empower women”. Fortune’s priestesses were an influence on the characters of Marion Zimmer Bradley‘s The Mists of Avalon

Katherine Maltwood ​​(1878 – 1961) 

British artist, author, and visionary mystic.

Moved to Somerset in 1917 and was led by her great interest in Arthurian mythology to discover what she called, ‘The Temple of the Stars’ – better known as ‘The Glastonbury Zodiac’.  Find out more about Katherine Maltwood on Wikipedia.

Glastonbury’s Temple of the Stars

Alison Collyer –

Alison came to Glastonbury in 1979 to run a Christian community and to help animals at her Greenlands Farm. In June 1985 survivors from the convoy of travellers’ vehicles attacked by the police at the infamous Battle of the Beanfield found refuge at the farm. In 2000 Stephen Clarke directed a film about Alison called “I Don’t Live Here” 

Pat Leyshon (1934-2021)

Artist Pat owned ‘Pat Li Shun’ a shop at the top of the town in the 1960’s. She decorated the exterior with a mural of stylised flowers. It became a famous landmark, the first thing visitors saw as they turned at the top of the High Street. 

Helène Koppejan (1927-1997)

Dutch astrologer and writer who, with her husband Willem, created the Glastonbury Experience, a courtyard trading haven for the first tourist-orientated alternative shops in the town. More on Wikipedia.

Arabella Churchill  (1949-2007)

Granddaughter of Sir Winston Churchill, co-founder of the Glastonbury Festival in 1970 and of the Theatre and Circus Fields at the Festival. Founder of the Children’s World Charity in 1981. In her obituary in the Guardian Frances Howard Gordon described her as “A huge, indomitable personality who knew her own mind, she chose a very different path from the dictates of convention and her family background. She ploughed her own furrow and was proud of it”.

Denise Michell (1952-2020)

Bard, Elder Ovate and founding Elder Druid of Gorsedh Ynys Witrin. Seamstress, Faerie Queen and former Mayor of Glastonbury.

Denny at Frost Fayre

Ann Galloway

This post is dedicated to Ann Galloway, my mother and very much my model of a strong woman, who lived in Glastonbury for the last two years of her life, until her death at the end of January 2023. 

I apologise to all the many wonderful women who I have neglected to mention in this short piece, which I have hurriedly assembled to publish on International Women’s Day 2023. Thanks to Alison Hall for her research on Glastonbury Women of the past and her suggestion that I put it together into a post. The women in the collage that heads this post are just a tiny number of the fantastic Glastonbury women.

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13 thoughts on “Glastonbury Women”

  1. What a fantastic, delightful and inspiring post! Thank you not only for sharing your personal memories with us (always a pleasure to hear/read them!), but also for reminding us of all these magnificent women who are embedded in the essence, heart and history of Glastonbury!

    • Hi Vicky really enjoyed that article. We have something in common I also worked for Camden Council for about 9 years as an Environmental Health Officer. I found Camden quite stifling and it was only the wages that kept me there. Glad you have found a home in Glastonbury – wish I could🙁

      • I worked there over 30 years ago, there was corruption on every level then, but my St Lucian manager was lovely. It sounds like you’ve got the kind of skills we could really do with in Glastonbury (we’ve got enough reiki healers now I think).

  2. Thank for you this great article. I wonder if we could get an official/unofficial blue plaque programme going in Glastonbury? There is a woman’s group near me in Burton on Trent doing it for local women forgetten in the last century.

  3. In a 100 years time you will be featured in an article such as this.. if not now
    Interesting, quirky and inspiring.. your posts continuously reflect what and who you are
    Big up Vicki P X


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