The Library of Avalon

From blog posts May 29 and June 25 2014

David Taylor was upset that his role in setting up the Library of Avalon was said to have ‘come to nothing’, according to my telling of the story. I had got most of my information from Barry Taylor (no relation), and his book ‘A Pilgrim in Glastonbury’. So I set about finding out, and the truth is I didn’t know how much effort David had put in, nor how formative he had been.

Getting clear about how the Library of Avalon was founded and established became a lengthy process. After 25 years memories are unreliable, and faced with two different versions of events I went to the Library itself to have a look at the minutes of its early meetings. They no longer exist. Never imagining, I suppose, that anyone would come along wanting to research the Library itself, they had a clear-out some time ago and threw away all those untidy old pieces of paper.

The irony of this to me seems quite outstanding.

So I have been piecing the story together from what there is in the way of documentary evidence from the late 1980s: a short article in the Glastonbury Communicator (November 1988) and another in the Glastonbury Gazette (September 1989); the brochure and leaflet prepared for the Library’s official Appeal Launch (September 1989); and the dates of major meetings and resolutions passed as recorded on the Library of Avalon’s website and clearly copied from the minutes – though not the interpretation of these, which were written down 20 years after the events.

It has been a very interesting exercise in the nature and use of historical material. I now have a revised version that I am confident with, and which is different from the draft that I posted here last month. It also differs in several respects from the ‘history’ that appears on the Library’s website. Here is what I came up with. When ‘Free State’ was re-printed it replaced the piece that now goes from the last paragraph on page 183 to the bottom of page 184:

Upstairs, in the back room of 8a Market Place (also owned by the GE), the Library of Avalon was created. There had been interest for some time in setting up a spritually-based library in Glastonbury, and in 1987 David Taylor began to lay the groundwork, with the support of Geoffrey Ashe who was the library’s first patron. They established it as a library of mythology, though this was defined in very broad terms “as the source of creativity,” with “myth-related themes which gave the library a broad base.” (4) The Association was formed in July 1988 and the Library’s first premises were provided by Helene Koppejan the following month, initially free of charge.

A committee was established, which set up a membership system and began raising funds, collecting books and contacting suitable authors “who mostly gave generously.” At the Association’s first AGM in November 1988 six new committee members were appointed, including Kathy Jones, Barry Taylor and Helene Koppejan, whilst David Taylor continued as Appeal Secretary.

He prepared a public appeal and designed a brochure that defined the library’s aims as “To collate a unique archive of British mythology,” together with acting as a library of reference and lending, encouraging the academic study of British mythology, republishing rare source material, offering research facilities, and organising symposia, conferences and workshops. (5). The brochure included a foreword by Professor James Carley, author of a well known book about Glastonbury Abbey and President of the Appeal. (6)

The first symposium consisted of a debate between Geoffrey Ashe, who was a leading authority on King Arthur and related matters, and Kathy Jones, whose experience with Ariadne Productions had shown the transformative power of myth and legend. This set the tone, and a growing group of influential founder members asked for volunteers and for donations of books, both of which turned up in surprising numbers. By the end of 1988 the library had three hundred titles on its shelves and 43 paid-up members, with an expanding programme of evening events. (7) In January 1989 it had already outgrown its original one small room:

It moved into the larger front room on the first floor of 8a Market Place, which the GE had made available. This was an attractive room overlooking the Market Place which provided space for the expanding book collection and was a room in which to hold symposia. Helene Koppejan installed extensive shelving and the Library was able to settle into a manageable space. The original room was renamed the Sophia Room and was used for talks and symposia. (8)

The planned public launch took place in September 1989 and David stood down shortly afterwards; his own business, the EarthSpirit retreat centre in Compton Dundon, was taking more and more of his attention. Barry Taylor and Kathy Jones then put energy into carrying the project forward, “inspired by the vision of recreating the famous library of the old Abbey.” This vision was if anything more ambitious than ever:

A library suitable for the newly reborn Glastonbury as a great centre of international pilgrimage … It would contain at least one copy of all the classics of every religion and faith plus all the modern classics, and there would be CDs, tapes and videos. There would be a publishing department printing selected titles now out of print. We would actively seek out books to complete the library from private collections and, in particular, we would try to find any of the missing books from the old Abbey library that might still be in existence. There would be an excellent research facility used by the students of various colleges and by the media of the world. Lectures and seminars on matters directly related to the library would be offered. (9)

At the AGM in November 1989 the long-term vision for the library was the subject of a major discussion, and the emphasis was shifted from being a library of mythology to being a library ‘of the human spirit,’ with suggestions for several rooms and a substantial administration facility. Following on from this, plans for re-housing the library in more prestigious premises formed by rebuilding the GE’s Market Place properties were seriously entertained – though they could not be justified without the library generating sufficient money to pay the GE a realistic rent. Its modest income was unlikely to be substantially increased, and research was carried out to see how other similar libraries were financed …

Notes & References:

(4) Email from David Taylor, 2014.
(5) Avalon Library Association Foundation Appeal brochure, 1989.
(6) The Marquess of Bath, who had in his own library at Longleat some of the manuscripts from the original Glastonbury Abbey library, was one of the Vice Presidents of the Appeal. The others are Dr George Carey, the Bishop of Bath and Wells, and David Heathcote-Amory MP. None of these, however, played any active role in the development of the library. See ‘Avalon Libray: Appeal Launch,’ Glastonbury Gazette 5, September/October 1989, p5.
(7) See Annie Rudder, ‘Library of Avalon,’ Communicator 18, winter 1988/89, p 49.
(8) See http://libraryofavalon.org.uk/old-website/history.htm
(9) Barry Taylor, ‘A {Pilgrim in Glastonbury,’ p 130.