Christina Feldman and Christopher Titmuss came back from India in around 1976, and started a community in Gilletts in Kent. From there, they began to teach Meditation Retreats around the country. In 1978-79 they rented East Farm House in Wylie, Wiltshire as a Retreat Centre. The aim was to create a place where people could come to learn about and practise meditation.
The original Gaia House was a former vicarage in Denbury, purchased in 1983. Maurice Ash simultaneously offered to host a Buddhist community in Sharpham House. At that point, Stephen and Martine Batchelor, returning from Korea, came to be part of the community. In time, they became part of the Gaia House teaching team.
A name was needed for the new house in Denbury, since the previous name was ‘taken’ next door by the previous owner! The name ‘Gaia House’ was offered by one of the co-founders, arising from his environmental passion… the Gaia House Trust received charitable status in 1990.
In April 1996, Gaia House Trust purchased the present building; an ex-Convent in the neighbouring village of West Ogwell, and the original house was sold to a private individual in August of that same year. The new property was needed to meet the increasing demand for retreat spaces, more single rooms, and to provide improved facilities for personal and group retreatants.
Christopher Titmuss remembers the history behind the choice of name:
“I joined the Green Party in 1979. At that time, the fledgling party kept their flyers in a squat in Battersea, where my partner, Gwanwyn Williams, lived. I read a leaflet and found it reflected the same concerns as the Dharma – the relationship of people to each other and to the environment. Later, I stood twice for the Green Party in 1986 and 1992 for the Totnes constituency.
In 1983, after we raised the money to buy the former vicarage in Denbury, we decided to call the vicarage ‘Gaia House’. It meant a sublime bridge between Dharma and Green issues. The Buddha came to full awakening in Bodh Gaya (same pronunciation). Gaia means Living Earth after the goddess of the Earth in Greek Mythology. Gaia House serves as an important bridge between deep thinking of the East and deep thinking of the West.
I had a second strong motivation behind the name Gaia House. I felt our centre had a major responsibility to apply environmental values to every aspect of the property, indoors and outdoors. We had to generate as much organic food as possible for the thousands of retreatants who pass through the doors annually for retreats and workshops. We had to ensure that work on the large historic building had to be in accordance with sustainability, energy conservation, recycling and use of resources.
Still, Gaia House continues to explore the relationship of the inner to the outer – a cornerstone of the Buddha’s teachings.”