John Norman Glaister

John Norman Glaister (1883 -1961)


Norman Glaister was a medical student during the period when Wilfred Trotter was Professor of Surgery at University College Hospital, although he was unaware of Trotter’s interest in sociology. However, when Glaister was serving as a Captain in the RAMC in Palestine and heard that his wife (neĆ© Irene Sowerbutts) had died in the ‘flu epidemic of 1918, he felt that he could only face the future if he could find some meaningful research and activity that would improve the human condition. The chance finding of Trotter’s The Instincts of the Herd in Peace and War gave him his inspiration.

Back in, England, he studied psychiatry, worked for the Ministry of Pensions, the Tavistock Clinic and the Royal Free Hospital. He built up his own practice.

Glaister became interested in the Order of Woodcraft Chivalry, a pacifist, camping movement that encouraged children and adults to work together learning woodcraft skills and fostering new educational ideas coming from the study of evolution and psychology. He took his three young children to the annual camp in 1924. There he met Dorothy Revel, who was starting to become known as a progressive educationist: she was also to become his second wife. Theodore Faithfull was there with his progressive school, Priory Gate, including his son Glynn Faithfull. So Glaister was soon involved in shaping education first at Priory Gate and then at the Order’s Forest School. He succeeded in persuading the Order to introduce a full Sensory Committee (an extension of the existing Advisory Body) to achieve dual governance.

Another social experiment that involved Glaister was the institution of a system of barter for goods and work, called New Commerce. Glaister was largely instrumental in setting up a third enterprise, namely, self-governing camps for unemployed men, which included building their accommodation, voluntary education classes and the opportunity to improve self-esteem. This Grith Fyrd movement received national acclaim.

At the beginning of the Second World War, Glaister and his friends joined Common Wealth, Sir Richard Acland’s new political party. Again he successfully introduced a Sensory Committee. This small group held three Summer Schools (1947-9) in which they decided that the resistive-sensory experiment needed a residential component to develop further. So, the Braziers Park School of Integrative Social Research was set up in 1950 and the experiment continues 50 years later.