Of course, the Biography of Newton Dee begins with the birth of Camphill in Scotland on the 1st of June, 1940.
Dr. Karl König, with a group of young refugees from Austria, moved into Camphill House on Royal Deeside near Aberdeen, which had been bought by the publisher W.F. Macmillan and rented to Camphill. They had first come to Kirkton House in 1939 but the men were interned locally because of the war. The real life and work with special needs children began on the 1st of June, and has continued ever since.
Besides Dr. König and his wife Tilla, two of the most important founders at that time were Anke and Thomas Weihs. Anke had been a dancer in Vienna (see biography article about Anke, page 4) before meeting the young doctor Thomas and following him to Britain, where Thomas had caught one of the last boats leaving Europe before the invasion by the Nazis.
The first decade was one of pioneering development and change. In April of 1944 the nearby Murtle House was bought with its thirty-five acres. Soon a group of lads, some of whom had been before the juvenile courts because of different delinquency charges, arrived. To provide a better environment for them, away from the more frail and handicapped children, Newton Dee estate, further along the Dee River, with its 170 acres, was acquired in March of 1945. The farm and workshops provided a perfect setting for these “difficult” teenage boys.
It was at Martinmas 1946 that Thomas took on the 80 acre arable farm and ran it with these boys. The Basel-trained doctor turned farmer wrote a report on the first steps of his new venture:
“One year has gone round since we started ‘Our Farm’ …
“Out of the work with the children the conviction has grown that from the work on the land a healing power could flow, if this work is guided in a right way. We knew that it was the actual work that could bring this healing and not the mere taking part in certain chosen activities on a farm while the rough work was done by others…
“The farm was to be incorporated into the work of Newton Dee House, where curative education for ‘delinquent children’ has been undertaken for a year already. Though the farm with its 80 acres of arable land presented a rather large task to be tackled with children only, we had the faith that things would develop in the right way…
“At Martinmas 1946, the day we took possession of the farm, two boys were already drawing their first furrows through the stubble with a horse-drawn plough. Since then twelve boys (and two co-workers) have lived through the rhythms of the seasonal work on the farm. They have not only learned to plough and to cultivate, to sow and to harrow, to harvest and to lead, but also to handle horses, to milk and feed cattle, to rear calves and a great number of manifold other activities.
“It was amazing to see how the children, even those who seemed very handicapped, acquire great skill in these tasks in the shortest time.”
The farm and fields were in poor condition, due to past flooding, and the overuse of chemical fertilisers. Thomas and his team had a tremendous job to redeem this past neglect and convert to his favoured bio-dynamic methods. Later a drought, then a fire that destroyed the farmstead, caused further setbacks. But soon the farmstead was rebuilt with a steel structure, with byres, horse stables, calf pens and dairy being under one large roof. The loft space was converted to a granary with an electrically powered stone flour mill. A Dutch barn was erected and a bakery built ready to supply the first bread from homegrown flour. Increasing numbers of pupils moved into the expanding houses, with weaving, pottery and the bakery workshops, as well as the farm, for training.
From then on, through the 50s and beyond, the farm at Newton Dee flourished after the remarkable development work initiated and guided by Thomas.
It was in March of 1951 that Anke Neerhoed married Thomas and became Anke Weihs. After she had joined Dr. Konig and the others at Camphill House, she was soon asked to become the housemother of Murtle House in the Schools and then in 1952 at Newton Dee House.
She involved herself with every aspect of life in the house - cooking, cleaning, laundry, nursing - with her enthusiasm and idealism inspiring others to help create a lively, buoyant and harmonious house community. There were nine to twelve co-workers and teachers in the house, along with Thomas and Anke, and over thirty boys. It was a formidable job to provide leadership and understanding to such a task. The co-workers would all meet before breakfast to discuss the most urgent arrangements for the day and look at any problems arising. Anke dealt with this daily routine smoothly and efficiently.
Anke was the guiding light in all cultural activates in the community as well. From her love of mythology and fairy tales, and her early ballet training, she developed an appreciation for the therapeutic value of folk dancing which she used to help heal the emotional disturbances faced by the children in her care. She would tell the stories of ancient Greece to spellbound adolescents, while putting on many of Dr. Konig’s festival plays and acting in them as well - her Woman of Samaria in the Easter Saturday Play, was “so soul-filled that one actually became a participant in that experience”, a longtime friend remembers.
When Thomas and she left Newton Dee in 1957 another formidable couple moved in to look after the burgeoning household - Friedwart and Nora Bock.
“It was an enormous responsibility to become housemother to such a large group of children - 38 of them! I had come from working in Cairnlee with the school children to Newton Dee to take over the running of Newton Dee house. I was 24 years old in 1957, had just married Friedwart, and during my time there I gave birth to all my three children.
“I was very green with this kind of work, but it was very nice! It was something easy for me because the boys were all of the same age, 15, 16 years old. They were shared out according to the size of the room - two rooms of eight and two rooms of seven, upstairs in Newton Dee House, with a few downstairs. Friedwart and our family lived in a big room upstairs; it was bliss, we had such a wonderful view down to the Dee River.
“Friedwart was the main teacher in the schoolhouse by the Village Green. We had 12 co-workers to help in the house and the school. The boys had school in the morning and crafts in the afternoon. I had the overall view of the whole thing, the distribution of the children and co-workers and their programme. There was music, and handwork; there was gym and gardening, and we did plays. There were 2 or 3 classes arranged by age. We had a weekly choir on Friday afternoons with Georg Schad; he was very young and very enthusiastic - but everybody was enthusiastic!
“We’d get up at 7am with me playing the violin. After breakfast we would do housework together, especially the bumpering of the floor - no one was spared from that - and the washing up. We had a very strict cleaning rota for the house and the dormitories, all before school. Then they went to school at 9 o’clock. I did all the organisation in the morning. Back they came at 1pm for lunch, then a rest hour until 2pm, then to craftwork - making dolls with Marianne Gorge - until 5pm, then helping with the cooking of supper. After supper there would be games, storytelling - of Parsifal, for instance - and more music and singing. They went to bed at 8pm; they weren’t allowed to hang around. Each dormitory had a young dormitory-parent to look after them, just like in the schools.
“The boys didn’t often get into trouble, though sometimes they ran off. They were not ‘delinquents’ as many people thought. I was a new mum with three bairns and I ran the whole show. I don’t know what everybody did, but I do know that everybody was busy! It was bliss having these 38 youngsters together, all of them at the threshold of adulthood. There was a mutual helping - one could call on them, experience the wholeness. It was a perfect way for the new community to begin. There was such a richness at that time - one could feel the potential of these youngsters.
“The school element became very strong when we took over from Thomas and Anke, where the work on the farm had been most important. We were preparing the children to become villagers. It was a festive moment for me, that step towards Newton Dee becoming a village.”
And in September of 1960, Newton Dee did indeed take that step and become part of the Camphill Village Trust, the second Camphill Village in the world, after Botton Village in North Yorkshire. But that’s another story, still to be told. To be continued…