The Moonella Group
The first club with any kind of established home was founded near Wickford in Essex in the late summer of 1924. The club adopted the name of the Moonella Group from the club name of the owner of the ground, and called its site The Camp. Moonella, who was still living in 1965 but whose identity remains to be discovered, had inherited a house and land, heavily mortgaged, and in 1923 made it available to certain members of the New Gymnosophy Society.
The Society had been founded a few years before by H.C. Booth, M.H. Sorensen and Rex Wellbye under the name of the English Gymnosophical Society. It met for discussions at the Minerva Cafe at 144 High Holborn in London, the headquarters of the Women's Freedom League.
Those who were permitted to join the Moonella Group were carefully selected, and the club was run by an "aristocracy" of the original members, all of whom had club names, Chong and Lorelli (Mark Harold Sorensen and his wife Helen Morley Sorensen), Flang or fflang (Harold Clare Booth), Gart, Moonella, Thwang (Roland Berrill), Tob (Mr. L.B.) and Zex (Rex Wellbye).
Some of the group's rules are familiar in later naturist clubs, for example that the identity of members must not be revealed to others, that photographs and sketches must not be made without the approval of the committee and the subject, and that the location of the club site must not be revealed to others. In other ways the example of this club has not been so closely followed. The Committee had virtually all power in its hands and was self perpetuating. A member was known, for example, as The Noble Flang or the Gracious Moonella. They were even instructed how to write to one another, beginning "To the Noble Chong, greeting" and ending with a wish without verb or subject, for example "Blue Sky", followed by the signature. The wearing of sandals and headbands of brilliant colours was encouraged, provided that were in Greek rather than oriental style. Jewellery was discouraged. Care had to be taken to avoid complimenting visitors and members upon their beauty. The club kept an attendance book, which in 1965 was still in the possession of Mark Sorensen. He died in 1974 - where is it now?
Before the end of the 1925 season the Moonella Group had to close. There is mention of building on adjacent land making it impossible to use the grounds. The members were without a site until in May 1927 Fouracres at Bricket Wood near St. Albans, which was at first also called "The Camp", was acquired in its place, with the help of a Derbyshire benefactor - but that is another story.
Harold Booth died in 1943, Rex Wellbye in 1963. Could any members of the Moonella Group still be living?
How the split came to pass
The British Sun Bathing Society had been formed in February 1943, a surprising initiative in the dark days of the war. It took the place of the National Sun and Air Society, founded in 1930, which had been highly successful in the 1930s, but ceased to meet or exist about 1940. BSBA was a club organisation, but from the beginning it also enrolled associate members, soon renamed subscribers and then registered subscribers. Naturists are individualistic people and, as every other naturist organisation, BSBA suffered internal dissension. Problems came to a head in 1953. The previous AGM had agreed to employ Arthur Hodgson as full-time paid General Secretary at ?300 p.a. At the September 1953 AGM it was agreed to reorganise the registered subscriber section with limited voting rights and to appoint a small committee to revise the constitution, which was long out of date. An additional factor was that Frank Mitchell of Sheplegh Court condemned BSBA as a nudist organisation, demanding that the nudist President be dismissed and that it should in future use only the term "naturist".
Against this background, in January 1953 a meeting of clubs that were not members of BSBA was called by the North Kent Sun Club at the Bonnington Hotel. Fifteen clubs attended, but the meeting was generally inconclusive. In October 1953, under the sponsorship of David Johnson, Editor of H.& E., an informal meeting of non-affiliated clubs, under the title Conference of Sun Clubs, was called at the Cora Hotel in London. The meeting was convened by Jim Butterfield of Diogenes, Andy Jepsen of the Kent Regional Sunbathing Association and Rod Martin of Sunfolk, and was chaired by Wallace Arter. Ten clubs attended. This led the following March to the formulation of a new constitution, which the BSBA committee revising the constitution refused to adopt. BSBA then, in its turn, invited discussion of their draft revised constitution, which was also refused. The emotions of the time are well represented in a report published in The Grove, the North Kent Sun Club newsletter in April 1953, which stated that "certain BSBA officers are so far out of sympathy with the aims and object and constitution of the Association ... that they are actively working to somersault BSBA into an organisation of individuals." The same article objected that BSBA had a full-time paid Secretary. North Kent also asked the Administration Committee of BSBA to call a special general meeting "with an open agenda", a motion that was rejected.
The Federation of British Sun Clubs was accordingly inaugurated at a meeting at the Kenilworth Hotel on 25th April 1954, again under the chairmanship of Wallace Arter. After much discussion a constitution was adopted. Rod Martin was reluctantly elected as Chairman, Dave Jenkinson of North Kent as Secretary and John Sherwood of Nottingham as Treasurer. Initial membership was the thirteen clubs which attended the meeting. Three others sent apologies and another four attended as observers.
The Path to Unity
It was not long before the two organisations realised that they were duplicating some of one another's work and voices were raised urging cooperation. At the 1959 AGM of FBSC Surrey Downs urged better relations with BSBA and the Secretary was instructed to make enquiries from BSBA. The Vice-Chairman, Frank Mitchell, queried the possibility of amalgamation, but his seemed to be a lone voice. In January 1960 a slight improvement in relations was reported, but the Chairman advised that it must not be rushed. By the 1960 AGM a meeting had been held between representatives of the two organisations, but this was only an exploratory meeting to discover what differences existed and to put them forward for further consideration. No positive result was forthcoming. Kent Region protested against any negotiation with the BSBA if Hugh Shayler was representing them. The Secretary agreed to suggest that BSBA should make changes in their delegation. Springwood advised that negotiations should be only with the Clubs Section of BSBA. At the same time BSBA agreed to endorse the action of its officers in opening discussions with FBSC and hoped that further discussions would take place. The BSBA General Secretary, Arthur Hodgson, reported to the annual conference that BSBA had been prepared to meet the Federation, but it was the latter who had not yet been able to offer a date to meet their own convenience. He regretted that FBSC had broken away and would welcome any move that would bring them back within BSBA ranks.
In 1961 the BSBA annual conference unanimously approved a resolution, originated by the Sunlanders Youth Group, deploring the continued unsatisfactory relationship between BSBA and FBSC and instructing the Central Committee to pursue energetically all practicable steps to solve outstanding difficulties. At the AGM Arthur Hodgson regretted that negotiations with FBSC about closer cooperation had not yet made any progress, though there had been some collaboration at both national and local levels.
So far thoughts on both sides had been simply to improve relations and to eliminate overlapping work. In 1961, however, the FBSC AGM resolved to invite the BSBA Clubs Section to merge with it under a mutually agreed constitution. Muriel Clark, President of BSBA, said at the 1961 AGM that she wished to see an understanding reached and intended to do her best to achieve it. Dorothy Thornton welcomed the change of climate at FBSC resulting from a change of officers, since there was now a basis for cooperation and officials on both sides were prepared to listen to each other. She referred presumably to the election in 1960 of Jack Watkins as Chairman of FBSC in place of Ted Coleman. Unfortunately Muriel Clark died in December, being succeeded by Dorothy Thornton. In February 1962 the BSBA Cental Committee were told that discussions had commenced between Headquarters representatives of FBSC and BSBA, that the position had been carefully examined and arrangements made for a further meeting. The Federation is recorded as complaining that Denys Rendell was a representative of BSBA in the discussions. As with Hugh Shayler no reason for the objection is stated. About the same time Jack Watkins told the FBSC Central Council that exploratory meetings had been held with BSBA officers and that some headway had been made. It was agreed to invite Dorothy Thornton, Arthur Hodgson and John Rowlinson, the Editor of Verity, to the FBSC AGM.
A breakthrough happened on 19 August 1962 at a meeting of the Negotiating Committee when Jack Watkins reported a proposal by an unnamed "staunch supporter of BSBA" that a recommendation should be made to the Annual Conferences of both organisations that arrangements should be undertaken for the union of the BSBA and the FBSC as a club controlled organisation, that the effective date of the union should be no later than 1964 when a meeting of club delegates of all known approved sun clubs should be held to determine its constitution and elect its first officers. Preliminary arrangements were to be discussed between the officers of the organisations during 1963. This resolution was unanimously approved at both the FBSC AGM and the BSBA AGM in September 1962.
The Unity Committee first met on 18th November. Initial membership of nine from each side was promptly reduced to four. By the fourth meeting in June 1963 a draft constitution had been produced. Two further meetings followed in 1964, followed by the formal unity meeting of all member clubs of both organisations, held at the Royal Hotel, Woburn Place, London, on Sunday May 10th. Erik Holm, President of the INF, attended as guest of honour. The constitution was accepted unanimously by both sets of member clubs and it was agreed that vesting day would be 1st July 1964, the first AGM being held on 13th September at East Midlands. The principal officers of each organisation were assigned places in the new CCBN, Frank Mitchell (FBSC) being President, Dorothy Thornton (BSBA) Vice-President, Jack Watkins (FBSC) Chairman, and Keith Pickering (BSBA) Vice-Chairman. Roy Lambert (FBSC) became General Secretary, George Hulm (BSBA) Treasurer and Peter Fallows (FBSC) Editor.
The Executive Council of the new organisation met prematurely at Diogenes on 14th June (since CCBN did not yet exist) and again on the eve of the AGM. Membership of the Supporters Section Committee was agreed. Roy Lambert as Secretary would move to a caravan in the grounds of North Kent and a portable office building would be bought for his use. Sport and Sunshine, the FBSC magazine, became the model for the new magazine, to be called British Naturism, a title in which BSBA representatives were not consulted. Neville Payne was coopted to the Central Council as News Secretary and George Carter as Assistant Secretary. Supporter Section fees were to be 25s a year for married couples, 20s for single persons. At the first AGM the remaining officers were elected - Ron Cox, Overseas, Bob Turnbull, PRO, and Douglas Gibson, Research & Liaison. Member clubs were to pay 1s 6d per head for adult membership.
At the time of unity there were 23 clubs members of BSBA, 25 members of FBSC and 15 members of both. In addition three "recognised" clubs and six others are listed. Fifty clubs were represented at the Unity meeting. By September the number had already risen to 72, plus two affiliated societies. New found unity was proving popular.
The Fellowship of the Naked Trust
What was probably the earliest naturist club existed in 1891, not in this country, France or Germany, but in British India. It is described in a series of letters sent by Charles Edward Gordon Crawford, a member of the Bombay Civil Service, working at Thana, to Edward Carpenter, a well-known writer on social subjects, who had rejected Victorian conventions.
The club required members to go stark naked wherever suitable and to encourage others to do the same. It also required them to be plainspoken when desirable on sexual and other subjects usually tabooed, and to discourage unnecessary reticence about such subjects in others. The motto of the club was Vincat Natura (Let Nature Win) and the club badge consisted of these words and the initials of the club. There were no officers, though there could be a Secretary and a Chairman for the day. Anyone could be admitted who was vouched for by two members and was willing to obey the rules. At meetings all must be stark naked except for rings, eyeglasses and false teeth! Women must wear their hair loose without ribbons, combs or hairpins and they must not wear rouge or powder. Sectarian and political discussion was forbidden. Anyone guilty of indecency was subject to suspension or expulsion. Acts of indecency were defined as wearing clothes at a meeting, gestures or acts of personal contact giving offence to the opposite sex, indecent assault at or following a meeting, even with the consent of the other party, and consenting to indecent assault. The mode of handshake on greeting was even prescribed. Women who did not feel able to attend meetings could be Outside Members, conforming to all the rules and wearing the badge. No man could be an Outside Member. Crawford asked for his name to be treated confidentially since "for personal reasons it would be inconvenient for it to be associated with these views - so easily misrepresented - by those who are opposed to them." (Have we ever heard similar fears expressed nowadays?)
Such a constitution would surely have qualified the club for election to CCBN provided the Overseas Region was prepared to recommend it! It is surprising, however, that this carefully organised club turns out to have consisted of only three persons, Crawford, a widower since November 1886, a District and Sessions Judge, and Andrew Calderwood and his brother, Kellogg Calderwood, sons of a missionary.
Apparently Carpenter expressed sympathy with their ideals, for two months later Crawford writes again, with a statement of motives, now added to the rules. The motives are in fact reasons for nakedness. Physically, given a suitable temperature, it is good for the body to be exposed to the air and no costume has been invented equal in comfort to perfect nakedness; morally, because false shame of our own bodies and morbid curiosity as to those of the opposite sex, which result from always wearing clothes, are the chief sources of impurity; and aesthetically, because the human body is God's noblest work, and it is good for everyone to gaze on such beauty freely.
Crawford had always had a passion for nakedness, but had found no one of similar mind until he met the Calderwood brothers in November 1890. His ideal was a state of society in which clothes would be worn or not as convenient "without reference to the conventionalities which at present rule the roost". They knew one young lady who was in sympathy, but was not prepared to be even an outside member on account of what people would think. He was writing an essay, which unfortunately does not survive, dealing pretty fully with F.N.T. ideals.
In a later letter he welcomed the suggestion that women should form branches of their own, a thing he had always wanted, though Calderwood did not want to encourage timidity too much. The last letter, in June 1892, reveals that Crawford was planning to marry again. He had not yet spoken of the F.N.T. to the lady, though she fully shared his "democratic impulses". Andrew Calderwood was planning to make his future in British Columbia. Carpenter had written to him about people in Vienna and Munich who in some way shared Crawford's ideas, and he enquires whether "they go as far as we do in our particular direction". (Nothing has so far been discovered about these people.
Crawford did indeed marry again, in August 1892, to Florence Ethel Willis, but died in May 1894. His son, by his first marriage, Osbert Guy Stanhope Crawford, became a prominent archaeologist and author, but probably knew nothing of his father's club in India.