John Seymour’s prescription for Dartington…

One of the arguments that I am making about Dartington and its effect on developing ‘alternative’ cultures in the Totnes area is that the actual direct input from the Trust itself was somewhat limited. It seems that the trustees of the era were somewhat divided on the direction that Dartington should take and on the extent to which it should engage with ‘alternative’ ideas. One such example is this extract relating to John Seymour and his proposals that Dartington should go self sufficient.

The other interesting thing about this piece are the parallels with the contemporary Transition Town process. I was born in 1975 and it has been fascinating to see the similarities between some of the debates of the 1970s and more recent times. That is not to say that modern environmentalists are wrong about peak oil, in fact, I think they are probably right. I also think that many of the predictions about environmental destruction that came out of the early environmental movement are pretty accurate too. However, I guess the danger with any prediction is the extent to which it can undermine your whole, wider argument, if you are perceived to have ‘got it wrong’.


Another influential figure who can into contact with Dartington was John Seymour author of The Complete Book of Self Sufficiency and a leading figure in the ‘back to the land’ self sufficiency movement of the 1970s. Seymour provided written evidence for a planning application that the Trust made to build houses linked to allotments and smallholdings at Meadowbrook and Broom Park in Dartington village.He subsequently came to speak at Dartington in April 1977. During his visit he wrote a report for the trustees, an extract of which was published in the May 1977 edition of Dartington Voice. Articulating concerns from the emerging environmental movement about impending energy and ecological crises and re argued that Dartington needed to adapt its operations to for the end of the era of cheap power. This prescription of localised economic self-sufficiency for the Dartington estate received a sympathetic response from Ruth Ash and John Lane but a withering critique from another trustee, Pom Elmhirst, brother of founder Leonard, perhaps indicative of the way in which ideas of the alternative movement were not wholly supported by the board of the Trust.

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2 Responses to John Seymour’s prescription for Dartington…

  1. lizi jamal says:

    yes i would also like to respond to this..i was involved with conveneing permaculture courses on the estate at Park School, in 1990-93,
    during that time myself & my partner submitted a proposal for an eco-hamlet on the estate, & a proposal to retrofit an existing building as a model & example of permaculture principles, that could have become a center for best ecological practise & design. Our ideas were not taken up, i also submitted the same proposal more recently when the landscope project started. Again there was no interest.
    I find it very disapointing & frustrating, & just seems to confirm that the trust is unfortunately not about “making ideas happen “as it puts out, but principly about making money, i wonder how it manages to maintain its charitable status…when its clearly not doing what it was set up to do.

  2. Gill Seyfang says:

    I believe that John Seymour later played a part in developing the countercultural milieu around his home in Pembrokeshire, Wales, and in particular the locality of Brithdir Mawr Community, around Fishguard, where the Community’s neighbour Tony Wrench’s low-impact roundhouse has been fighting for planning permission all these years.

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