Gurdjieff International Review

English Pupils

The Gurdjieff Society of London

These pupils of Gurdjieff were members of the Gurdjieff Society of London. The Society produces a yearly publication entitled, Report of the Council to Members. These are obituaries from that publication.

Nesta Brooking (1906–2006)


esta grew up near Chester, where she discovered her love of dance in the famous Hammond School of Ballet. Later, in London, she searched out and found wonderful teaching with Margaret Craske, a direct pupil of the maestro Cecchetti, who established one of the great teaching methods for ballet. Later, when a well-known teacher herself, she worked ardently to preserve the purity and principles of his classical method, seeking real quality of dance, enriched by experience of all the arts.

Ninette de Valois had accepted Nesta, still in her twenties, to run her Abbey Theatre Ballet and School in Dublin, and there Nesta performed the dancer’s roles for Yeats’s “The Dreaming of the Bones.” Financial problems closed down the ballet section of the theatre and a damaged Achilles tendon ended Nesta’s own performing career.

But she had early discovered her talents for teaching and choreography, so, having set up her own professional training studio with a £50 bank loan, she soon became known for her inspiring gifts and principles and for leading a way for choreography. Her success had brought an unusual three-year Gulbenkian Award for the encouragement of choreography.

As a very young woman, a chance meeting in a train caused her to look for a spiritual teaching. Finding Ouspensky at last led her to Jane Heap, recently directed to London by Mr. Gurdjieff. When World War II ended, Jane took her group to meet Gurdjieff in Paris. Nesta was a faithful follower of the Gurdjieff Work until her death in her 100th year.[1]

Helen Entwistle (1923–2010)


here were perhaps few moments in Helen’s life that did not present great difficulty—and yet it was precisely these difficulties and the work that they engendered that were the raw material that she relished. For her they were the stuff of learning and self-knowledge.

Or the even greater challenge of the blindness that afflicted her towards the end of her life. When the threat of this infirmity was announced it became the stimulus for one of her most ambitious projects, the digital recording in her own voice of the writings of Gurdjieff, which were so central to her life. Learning the tricks of digital recording, editing and remastering on a computer was not easy for an octogenarian without a technical bent. But then, that was the point. And when almost total blindness came, not a word of complaint.

For Helen there was no discomfort, difficulty or mishap that was not an opportunity to discover something about herself or others. All were turned to her purpose.

What intrigued and beguiled those who met her was not her undeniable physical beauty as much as the beauty that came from within—her inner calm, her honesty, the clarity of her spirit.[2]

Hylda Field (1907–1999)


ylda became a member of the Ouspensky group in London in the 1930s. She was at the flat in Paris with Mr. Gurdjieff toward the end of his life. She gave her time unstintingly to the typing of All and Everything in preparation for its publication. In the Society’s library are several rebound copies of the first edition, which have bound into them an account by Hylda of the challenges facing those on the subscription list.

During the years with Madame Lannes when it was necessary to unify the work in England, Hylda played an active role as secretary and then as a Movements assistant. She was quiet, collected, patient and spoke to the point.

As her health declined over many years, she became greatly incapacitated physically and nearly totally blind. Yet in herself she remained strong and alert, with a phenomenal memory and an abiding interest in all we could tell her of the work in groups and of the activities at Bray.[3] She accepted pain and disability without complaint and was most concerned not to put her visitors to undue trouble. Up to the last it was possible to feel her work and to share it with her.[4]

Joanna Haggarty (?–1994)


he death of Joanna Haggarty on 13 September, after a lengthy, painful illness, which she endured courteously and without self-pity, leaves a huge gap in all areas of the Society’s activities, to which she had been faithfully committed for over 40 years: she even managed, in spite of her illness, to take part in the International Conference earlier this year.

At the suggestion of her mother, Elsie Lee, who had been a student of P.D. Ouspensky’s since the 1930s, Joanna attended the last of his lectures in 1946–1947, and then joined one of Kenneth Walker’s groups. (The two families had long been friends and neighbors in Sussex.) Again, with her mother she was present briefly in April 1949 in Mr. Gurdjieff’s flat and from then on devoted herself to a serious effort to put his teachings into practice.

She began learning the Movements in 1949 with Alfred Etievant and later she herself taught them for many years, not only in London but also in Norway, which meant that many members and students came into contact with her. She took part in the first and the last of the Movements films, and also in the film, Meetings with Remarkable Men.

When Tim Dahlberg died in 1983, she undertook, with James Watson, the responsibility for the continuation and enlarging of Tim’s group with which she had been helping since 1980.

She was also among those responsible for starting the garden at Bray and for the first beauty of the flower beds around Mme. Lannes’ room in those early, rather bleak days. Only two years ago she asked for a mulberry tree to be planted at Bray as a gift from her. An outstanding gardener, it seemed only natural that the care of the garden at Addison Crescent would pass to her when Basil Tilley died in 1988.

A distinguished skin specialist and Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians, her undoubted gift for the diagnosis of many illnesses stemmed from her fine intelligence and intuitive nature.

She was a true ‘countrywoman,’ rooted deeply and unsentimentally in her knowledge and feeling for plants and animals, with a sense and acceptance of the ebb and flow of life, of cycles, of open moments and shut moments. All these qualities were evident in her ability to empathize with others, which meant that many turned to her, because she knew how to listen. And because she had respect for other people’s creativity and search, she was able to accommodate their difficulties and differences with a rare form of fairmindedness.

One has only to read her remarkable contribution to The Parabola Book of Healing to perceive how the seriousness of her search, her free spirit, her open, questioning mind, always humbly aware of being under something higher, underpinned all aspects of her life.

Her family and friends meant everything to her, and she meant everything to them. Supportive to them in all their endeavors, she was also that rare thing: a mother to her daughter-in-law and, as her son, Ben, said, taught her two grandchildren “silence and constructive play.”

She was an artist in the real sense of the word: a ‘maker,’ a maker of relationships, of gardens, of photos of flowers, of decoration drawn from nature in her painting and pottery, but above all, a maker of space for others to be themselves in.

She could not have led a more active life, but it was fed by an equally active contemplative well-spring, flowing from her wish to become, in one of her favorite lines from Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson, a particle “of the whole of the ‘Reasonable Whole.’”

The sense of this deep wish in her was loved and appreciated by everyone who knew her.[5]

Rina Hands (1907–1994)


t was well over half a century ago that Rina started attending Mr. P.D. Ouspensky’s lectures. She became a pupil of Mr. J.G. Bennett and worked in his group during the whole period of the Second World War. In 1948, the most overwhelming event in her life took place when it became possible for her to meet the Master in person. From then on until Mr. Gurdjieff’s death in October 1949, she spent every possible moment in Paris, typing drafts of Beelzebub and trying to bring the teaching to life in herself. These experiences she described in her book Diary of Madame Egout Pour Sweet in such an honest and direct way that we can share something of these extraordinary events.

When, in 1950, Mr. Bennett asked her to look after a newly formed group in Bradford, she took up his call with vigor, applying to it her tremendous strength and tenacity. For forty-four years she traveled from London to Yorkshire in all weather conditions and facing all difficulties, which were by no means always physical ones. She made her last trip at the age of almost 87, only one week before her death.

She arranged almost from the start for Mrs. Rosemary Nott to come to Bradford to teach Movements and both Lise Etievant and Solange Claustres visited during their ‘tour of duty’ in London.

When Mr. Bennett left … in 1955, she saw to it that the group remained faithful to the mainstream of the teaching. In 1960, together with Mr. Nott, Rina started a group in London.

The house of the Work in Bradford was sold in the early 1970s and the group moved to a then derelict farmhouse on the North Yorkshire moors. With great and prolonged effort this was converted into a place suitable for Groups, Movements and activities.

During all those years, Rina tried to transmit the teaching exactly as she had received it.[6]

John Lester (1919–1999)


native of Australia, John came to England in 1939, where he trained to become a medical doctor. His general interest as a doctor extended well beyond the orthodoxy of the day and after completing his medical training, he went on to qualify as an osteopath. He met the Work through Jane Heap and with others from her group, visited Mr. Gurdjieff in Paris in the late 1940s. John took an active part in the rocking horse project, a group activity concerned with the restoration of antique rocking horses which were then sold to the public. John’s task, appropriate for a keen horseman, was to develop the skills needed to make the harness and saddles.

For many years John took part in the work of the Gurdjieff Society in London and was a member of its Council. After his retirement from medical practice he emigrated to the USA to be with his long-standing colleague, Annie Lou Staveley, in her community at Two Rivers Farm, in Oregon. He settled there happily, remarried and entered into the life of the community. In his final years he contracted leukemia which he fought with courage, exploring every possible treatment. When none was successful, he accepted in serenely. He died at Two Rivers Farm at sunrise on 29 September 1999. At that time the men in the early morning movements class were working on “Ceremony for a Dead Dervish.”

He is remembered for his enthusiasm, his warmth and his concern for the well-being of others. He is survived by a son, Kim, who lives in Australia.[7]

John Mills (1924?–2013)


ohn Mills served as a lieutenant in the army in World War II. An electrical engineer graduate of MIT, his career was in the new sport of scuba diving and in underwater exploration and he started his own company to distribute diving equipment. His curiosity and engineering interests were boundless, leading him to explore the underwater world with the Cousteaus and to set up sonar equipment— in Loch Ness to search for “Nessie,” and around the English coast. His lasting legacy is the identification of the exact resting place in the Solent[8] of the Mary Rose, Henry VIII’s flagship.

When 19 years old, he was introduced to Mr. Gurdjieff by his parents and spent time with him in Paris and New York. His career was inspired by Mr. Gurdjieff who told him to leave Paris to study “for a piece of paper!” Mr. Gurdjieff spoke to him on one of his famous picnics and told both him and Bernard Courtenay-Mayers to grow a mustache. John found that he was unable to sleep that night as he was so worried that he would forget in the morning; he never shaved his mustache again. John was a generous benefactor of the Work throughout his life.[9]

Irene Tilley (1911–1995)


rene Tilley’s girlhood was unusual, not least for someone who had a special gift for making any place a warmly welcoming home. Her father had worked and traveled in the Far East. After his death she traveled around Europe with her mother, living in hotels. It was in the corridors of a hotel that she learned to ride a bicycle.

She met her husband, Basil, in 1940 at Lyne, the house where the Ouspenskys lived and worked, and they married in November 1941. By then the Ouspenskys had left for America and the Tilleys went to see them after the war in 1946. After three months they reached a decision that exemplified their evaluation of and loyalty to Gurdjieff’s teaching. Mrs. Tilley remained at Mendham to work with and care for the widowed Madame Ouspensky. Mr. Tilley returned to England and made regular visits to his wife. Four years later Mr. Gurdjieff encouraged them to return to England and start a family. Their son, Charles, was born soon afterwards.

Many of us met Mr. and Mrs. Tilley, as we always respectfully called them, later, as pupils. They lived and invited us to live and work with them from time to time, in a way that was both deeply satisfying and painfully challenging in about equal measure. In this quite new and fresh experience, Mrs. Tilley was an essential force. She was characteristically at her husband’s side. She complemented from a more intellectual aspect what he emanated and demanded. She could bring a clear formulation of ideas that helped to focus the mind on an actual reality of life, situated within a scale of possibility.

She gave a clear, direct look that challenged inertia and assumptions. She was there, giving way not an inch from her flexible uprightness. Her search for attention was manifest in her light, elegant physical presence. When it was a question of facing something in ourselves, there was no wavering, no avoiding or let up. But equally her welcome, when we came to work with her, was simple, warm; her laugh delightful. We felt welcomed into a family of work.

She attempted to give all things their due: to pay attention to their needs as a family, to individuals, gatherings and ideas and to work of every kind. This attempt meant freedom from—but proper respect for—convention, custom and people of all kinds, and helped to make improbable combinations possible and brought “work together” into new places. She was equal to anything different styles of life could demand and the fabric of human life was her currency.

She respected craft and practical work of all kinds: could turn her hand to carpentry, draw well, modestly try a piece of piano music.

Her own craft was creative sewing, for which she had an extraordinary flair. Mme. de Salzmann turned to her to make the costumes for a movements film in the early 1950s. She quickly gathered a team of sewers. Despite acute postwar shortages and rationing, she attracted gifts of materials of all kinds and was ready to innovate, to fulfill all that was needed, often at very short notice. To the members of the sewing activity she gave not only her experience and practicality but a sense of adventure: the impossible might be possible; the inflexible flexible.

The shock of her husband’s death shook her. Although she was tested hard by grief and by ill health, she tried to make her difficulty part of the work she shared with others. In the time that followed, amidst all the paraphernalia of the nursing home, she was there, still there, a presence and a silent mind.[10] □

[1] The Gurdjieff Society: Report of the Council to Members (2005–2006), p. 29.

[2] Ibid. (2009–2010), p. 28.

[3] Bray is an English village where the Gurdjieff Society of London has property.

[4] Ibid. (1998–1999), p. 23.

[5] Ibid. (1993–1994), pp. 29–31.

[6] Ibid. (1993–1994), pp. 25–26.

[7] Ibid. (1998–1999), p. 24.

[8] The straits north of the Isle of Wight.

[9] The Gurdjieff Society: Report of the Council to Members (2013–2014), p. 27.

[10] Ibid. (1994–1995), pp. 33–34.


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Featured: Fall 2020 Issue, Vol. XIV (2)
Revision: January 1, 2021