The New Gymnosophy Society produced England's first nudist magazine a couple of cyclostyled sheets for members only. The magazine survived for eleven issues until April 1927. Inaddition, the Society held several public lectures in London and on Saturday afternoons in 1926, in a carpeted showroom in the heart of the City, little groups met for nude country dancing. One of the many people who attended the New Gymnosophy Society's public lectures was Mr. N. F. Barford. He was to create the first of many ideologica! splits in the English nudist movement.
"He proposed that the Society should endeavour to make a beginning by arranging facilities for sunbathing in slips or slips and brassières". This course did not at all commend itself to the active element; reported one of its members. Barford believed that by taking this more cautious approach, public opinion could be won round. Other members of the Society he1d that such an approach would make them look silly, would abnegate everything they stood foro The quarrels had begun.
Barford was proved right in the end. In 1929 he opened Sun Lodge, Upper Norwood, in the suburbs of London: The sun and air bathers frisked and jerked and exercised their way along the strenuous road to health. . . all, of course, decently attired in the scanty bathing wear by now tolerated and even approved. In this way sunbathing could be proclaimed from the housetops, and the starchiest folk be invited to view it with benevolent approval. In 1927 Barford had formed the Sun Bathing Society to promote his philosophy and recruit new members to the cause. In 1930, the respectable Pearson's magazine sent a journalist to Sun Lodge to investigate.
I was confronted by the master of the house, whose name I learned was N. F. Barford. He was wearing old flannel trousers and a high-necked pullover. He had very blu e eyes, and gave me a penetrating and slightly astringent look that did not exactly soften when I told him the purpose of my calI. In fact he gave the impression that he was rather suspicious of journalists, and perhaps not without some justification. I think he had taken a slight mauling from several of my species who had, seemingly, waxed very humorous in print at the expense of those pioneer sun bathers who gave themselves the grandiose name of The Sun Bathing Society. . . Sun bathing, I thought during those first minutes, must be about as chilly as Mr. Barford's reception of me. But I made promises that nothing I wrote would be published without Mr. Barford approving the manuscript. I was then invited to attend the next Sunday session of sun and air bathing at Sun Lodge.
I went, expecting to attend as a spectator. Mr. Barford invited me to take my clothes off and try the crowded garden in a pair of shorts. In a flash I was converted to sun bathing. It was like stepping into a new world. I wrote my article. My Editor liked it. I took it to Mr. Barford - would he like it? To my relief, as he read it he mellowed. He signed it. He congratulated me. He gave me a cup oftea. He let me pick out photographs to go with the article. Wonderofwonders, he invited me to be a regular attendant at Sun Lodge.
That summer Barford held the first of five annual conferences in the New Forest. The later ones were he1d at Bedales School, Harrogate and Haslemere. Barford had a knack of letting people do what they wanted and many chose to bathe naked at the summer conferences. The press was welcome and the Sun Bathing Society attracted a good deal of favourable publicity. So although it took him five years, Barford managed to achieve his goal, the public acceptance of nakedness. Indeed, the Yew Tree Club which he founded at Croydon in 1931 eventually became complete1y nudist.
His graduaI and openminded approach succeeded fifty years ago, whilst the clandestine purists still await their victory. Two years before Sun Lodge opened, in Spring 1927, the New Gymnosophy Society managed to acquire four acres of land at Bricket Wood in Hertfordshire. A barrister member advised that no payment should be taken for visitors. He feared a criminal charge of conspiring to commit an act of indecency. Instead the four members who jointly leased the land were 'hosts' to the carefully vetted visitors to Britain's first nudist colony, "'The Camp". It was not until 1931 that a democratic committee was formed.
The Camp was re-named "Four Acres" but it remained secretive and suspicious of outsiders. Harold Booth was still a leading light in the Society but, one ofhis fellow members later claimed, he had a certain furtiveness of manner; (this) and other peculiarities did not inspire confidence and enthusiasm in strangers; he was not cut out for the task That description would fit many present-day English nudist club leaders but Booth had reason to be careful. A Mrs. Nesta H. Webster had just made the first of many stinging attacks on the fledgling nudist movement.
In her book, The Socialist Network, she claimed that members of such organisations were part of a vast German-Russian-Jewish conspiracy directed against Christianity and the British Empire. The attack was far off the mark but it encouraged the gymnosophists to keep their heads down. It is true that many of them were professional people who would have been ruined if their double lives had become known, but it is also true that there were among them those who found their status enhanced by membership of this secret society. If 1930 was to be Christmas for the English nudists, 1928 was undoubtedly Advent. It was another heatwave summer.
The newspapers were full of pictures of sunbathers and giri harvesters in bathing costumes; there was news from the French Riviera of naughty nude bathing parties. Hans Surén's book Der Mensch und die Sonne, now in its sixty-seventh edition, had just been published in an English translationas "'Man and Sunlight" It became a best-seller when the Dean of St. Paul's endorsed it and defended its explicit illustrations. 'The new freedom of the body, which is sweeping Europe is a splendid omen of increasing health: wrote Dean Inge, "'I am in favour of publication - the author is a bit of a fanatic but the book will do good"......