1931–1941: London, Gadsden & Lyne

By the late 1920’s Ouspensky probably had 50-60 students in a small number of groups, but in 1931 he started to expand his operation. Several significant events occurred about that time:

P.D. Ouspensky riding

P.D. Ouspensky riding

  • There was a final meeting with Gurdjieff in Paris.
  • Mme Ouspensky settled in England on a permanent basis.
  • A New Model of the Universe was published, partly with the intention of attracting new students.
  • The Ouspenskys rented a much larger house, Gadsden, with an estate of about 10 acres, where a dozen people could live and work.
  • Ouspensky parted company with Maurice Nicoll, authorising him to teach on his own.

As the organisation expanded, even larger accommodation was needed and by the end of the decade Lyne Place in Surrey was purchased. The acquisition of Lyne Place secured Madame Ouspensky’s role. After an initial period Ouspensky’s new students would be invited to attend Lyne though it was left to ‘the people at Lyne’ to accept or reject them.

But there was a pressing need for larger premises in London. Ouspensky said at a business meeting in October 1936 that Lyne was nearly finished and would become self-supporting, but work in London had ‘come to a blank wall … that any kind of real work had to grow or it will degenerate … that we must make every effort to give it [the System] to as many people as possible.’ There was a need for a large room where he could talk to all his students together (and later where the Movements could be performed). So, the leasehold of a large house in London, known then as ‘Colet Gardens’ (now named ‘Colet House’), was acquired. This became the headquarters of Ouspensky’s newly founded Historico-Philosophical Society. The main aims were to pursue methods of self-study related to ‘psycho-transformism’ and the possibilities of development of mankind, and to study the idea and existence of schools and connect with them.

P.D. Ouspensky at Lyne Place

P.D. Ouspensky at Lyne Place

By the beginning of the war in 1939 numbers had expanded to well over 500. With increased numbers Ouspensky had to modify his teaching practice – up to this point he had taught largely alone. By the early 1930’s he had a cadre of perhaps a dozen trusted senior students, and he left it to them to introduce the ideas of the System using prepared material. He might come into a meeting halfway through and answer questions. He continued to take the more advanced classes himself.

There were two series of introductory lectures, one of which – The Psychological Lectures – was printed in a private edition by Fairfax Hall using a press in the basement of Colet House. The other series was the Cosmological Lectures (printed only posthumously). This material, though drawn from Ouspensky’s account in Fragments, was more organised. He said (quoted in Fourth Way) that “Mr Gurdjieff always insisted it was not a system; it was just fragments…Now I make it more of a system.”

The teaching at Lyne by Madame Ouspensky was more practical. The idea was that hard physical work coupled with efforts at attention and self-remembering would produce a more balanced individual; this regime could tap a source of inner energy and help to awaken higher centres. Madame was an expert at exposing anything that came from ‘false personality’, and helped people in very direct way to find their natural self.

The Ouspenskys’ organisation was at its prime, but war gradually took its toll and the Ouspenskys left for the USA in 1941.

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