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    Happy 90th Birthday, Sunfolk!

    Celebrating 90 Years of Naturism at British Naturism Sunfolk

    Most BN members will be familiar with the recent history of the British Naturism: Sunfolk venue close to St Albans, Hertfordshire, and the acquisition by British Naturism of the site early in 2020, but did you know that this only the latest chapter in the Sunfolk story?

    The Sunfolk site has been in continuous use as a Naturist venue for the last 90 years, making it one of the longest-established spaces available for Naturists anywhere in the country. As we look forward to the venue opening again next Spring—and beyond to the exciting development plans you can read more about elsewhere in this issue—we should also reflect on the pioneering work of the members of the Sun-Folk Society who we have to thank for establishing and maintaining the site for everyone to enjoy today—and for generously allowing BN to acquire the site.

    As part of our planning application for the development of Sunfolk we worked with former members of the society, to prepare a short history of the venue. The 90th anniversary of the establishment of Sunfolk on 1 December 1931 seemed like the perfect time to share this more widely!

    The Sun-Folk Society was established by a group of Naturists associated with the New Gymnosophy Society, founded in the late 1920s to provide opportunities for Naturist outdoor recreation and social activity, inspired by the model of German Naturist clubs collectively represented by the 'Reichbund fur Freikorperkultur’ (RFK). These clubs had been built on a model of open and accessible membership, with the ownership and operation of the club, its land and facilities shared between members.

    At this time, the first Naturist clubs in the UK were already in existence but operated either on a commercial basis (such as Spielplatz) or as private clubs with membership only available through invitation—the model used by the Five Acres club at the time.

    The guiding force behind the foundation of The Sun-Folk Society was Rod Martin, who had developed close relationships with German Naturists in the 1920s.Together with eight other Naturists, Rod established the society in April 1931, originally renting land on the Spielplatz site before purchasing the five acres which make up the current British Naturism: Sunfolk site in 1 December 1931.

    From its inception, The Sun-Folk Society operated as a members’ club, controlled by a properly constituted committee, and providing opportunities for outdoor Naturist recreation and social activity to any Naturist who might wish to join and contribute to the club. Thus, although the land was purchased privately by two of the founder members (Rod Martin and Eustace Mills), it was transferred into a trust in May 1936, ensuring that the land could only be used for Naturist recreation and not disposed of for any other purpose.

    The pre-war period saw considerable work completed by the members of The Sun-Folk Society to clear areas of the wooded site, to build a clubhouse, and to excavate a swimming pool. The original clubhouse remains in use.

    The site also provided a foundation throughout this period for efforts to increase the public profile and acceptance of Naturism in the UK and beyond. The Sun-Folk Society advertised for new members in the Times, the Spectator, the New Statesman, and the London Evening Standard, and published their own Naturist magazine, Gymnos, for open sale in 1932. The site would also have hosted the first international Naturist conference in 1934, but this was cancelled following the forced closure of the German RFK and Naturist clubs by the National Socialist government.

    The Sun-Folk Society went from strength-to-strength in the post war period with a significant increase in individual and family membership which in turn enabled investment in and improvement of the site. For the fifty-year period between the 1940s and the 1990s, The Sun-Folk Society boasted a large and active membership of several hundred individuals often including two or three generations of the same family. Communal recreation and social activity remained at the core of the site, with the society deliberately choosing not to allow the development of buildings for individual use to protect this ethos. Investment in sports facilities was completed throughout this period with miniten and volleyball courts, and pétanque pistes being created to complement the swimming pool established in the 1930s.


    The Sun-Folk Society AGM, 1948


    Buildings on the site were also expanded throughout this period to provide facilities for social activity and to support outdoor recreation. These included the expansion of the existing clubhouse to include a modern kitchen in the 1970s, the development of a modern toilet block in the 1980s, and the installation of a sauna and sun lounge in the 1990s. Sunbathing lawns were expanded plus ornamental planting to provide variety and interest, and the creation of a ‘sun walk’ around the perimeter of the site, enclosed by conifers to screen members from neighbouring non-Naturist sites.

    The site was a focus for Naturist activity in the area for much of this period, hosting regional sports events for Naturist clubs, meetings of other Naturist organisations and social events such as country dancing and an annual firework display.

    The Sun-Folk Society continued its work to attract new members into the twenty-first century with its first website, launched in 2000. A bequest from a member also allowed the development of a new swimming pool, completed in 2016. A number of unique challenges from the mid-1990s, led to a decline in membership in the 25 years up to 2020. To ensure that the site remained accessible for Naturism, the management board of the society started discussions with BN, which led to the acquisition of the site early last year.

    The conditions of the acquisition by British Naturism specify that the site must continue to be used for the furtherance of Naturism, continuing the 90-year history of Naturism on the site, and honouring the key role of the site in development of UK Naturism. But most importantly in the words of Allan Kidney, the last chairman of The Sun-Folk Society, ‘The acquisition allows the return of the missing generations of Naturists to this historically significant site.’


    Jon Williams, BN Vice-chair


    What's next for Sunfolk? Read about what the future holds, in the new BN Magazine, Winter 2021, to be published in early December.


    Photo Credit: Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

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