The History of Bricket Wood Coven
Post World War II
Gerald Gardner founded the coven at the Five Acres nudist camp in Bricket Wood in 1946. The Gardners had been staying in Highcliffe, in the New Forest area, from 1938, which they saw as a better place than London to ride out the approaching war and this had facilitated his growing relationship with the New Forest coven. It seems Gerald had been planning to set up his own coven for some time as he had purchased the Five Acres camp the year before, in 1945.
Initially Gerald acted as the Bricket Wood Coven's High Priest, with Dafo acting as his High Priestess. Dafo had also been a member of the New Forest coven where she was Gerald’s initiator at their Mill House covenstead and she remained a member of the Bricket Wood coven until she left it in late1952, irritated at Gerald’s publicity seeking
During that time Gerald gained several new members to the coven, all of whom were either members of the Five Acres naturist club or were already witches. Donna, Gerald’s wife, rarely got involved, having no interest in witchcraft, though we believe she helped out on occasions. The early coven meetings were in the grounds of the club.
Gerald then reconstructed what he called "The Witches' Cottage" on a plot of land which he owned in the club grounds. He had purchased this building from John Ward, a freemason friend, who was interested in the restoration of historical buildings and had located the cottage in Ledbury, Hertfordshire. It was within this 16th-century cottage that the coven gathered to perform their rituals. The small cottage was decorated with magical sigils on the inside.
Doreen Valiente, 1953-1957
Gerald Gardner had initiated Doreen Valiente into the Craft at Midsummer 1953 at the home of Dafo in the New Forest. When Gerald formed the Bricket Wood coven she joined it and become High Priestess on Dafo’s departure. Doreen was a natural wordsmith and a huge help to Gerald in refining and developing the coven rituals and invocations.
In 1956, Jack Bracelin was initiated into the coven by Doreen. He became a trusted favourite of Gerald, who gave him the job of running the Five Acres club.
In the mid -1950s, Gerald began to encourage more media publicity, as he saw this as a way of promoting a better understanding of the Craft and combatting the ignorance and prejudice against Witchcraft prevalent at that time. However, Doreen and some other coven members felt this conflicted with their oaths of secrecy and the ethos of the Craft as a mystery religion. Several other coven members confronted Gerald over this, claiming that they should have a set of rules to regulate such things. Gerald, in response, brought about the Wiccan Laws, which offended Doreen and in 1957 she and many of the group's older members left to form their own coven.
Gardner was left with a small and much younger coven, composed of Dayonis, her then partner Jack Bracelin, a hospital anaesthetist and a new initiate.
With Doreen gone, Dayonis took over as the High Priestess of the coven in January 1958. Gerald encouraged her to initiate into the Craft anyone who they thought was a suitable candidate without delay, in contrast with his former belief that prospective candidates should wait for a year and a day before initiation. One such of these new fast-tracked initiates was Fred Lamond, who was initiated only four months after meeting the coven for the first time. Gardner also insisted on the initiation of Eleanor “Ray” Bone, despite the fact that the coven members felt that they "simply couldn't circle with her" because of differences in exuberance. Within a month, Gerald had brought about her 2nd and 3rd initiations and set her up as the High Priestess of a new coven, independent of the Bricket Wood Coven, which was the start of a new initiatory line.
Dayonis, who helped Jack Bracelin manage the Five Acres Club, moved to Canada with her partner in October 1959, leaving Lois Bourne to become the coven’s new High Priestess.
After Gerald Gardner’s death in 1964, Jack Bracelin, who had remained loyal to Gardner throughout, took over the group as High Priest. At the same time, he inherited the Five Acres club from Gerald. However, shortly after this he had a crisis of faith and left the coven and abandoned the Craft;
Lois Bourne was succeeded as High Priestess by June Cox and Zachary Cox, her then husband, succeeded Jack Bracelin as High Priest. Zach went on to serve as the coven High Priest for over 50 years.
When June left the coven, she was succeeded as High Priestess by Jean Morton Williams – who had a highly successful working partnership with Zachary and they ran the coven together until Jean’s death in 2015. They were incredibly influential, both in running the coven and helping it to thrive, and in the pagan community in general.
In 1972 the group stopped using the Witches Cottage exclusively and started to have some of their meetings at Jean and Zach’s Crouch End home in North London. In 1975 they stopped working at Bricket Wood completely.
Under Jean and Zach, at their large Victorian Crouch End house, the coven thrived until Jean’s death in 2015 and Zach, due to his advanced years and ill health, then took an honorary role in the coven until his own death in 2019.
Jean and Zach had a significant influence on many people who are key members of today’s Wiccan community. Outside the coven, as their biographies (shown on this site) demonstrate, they both made a very active and important contribution to the British Pagan community.
Jean was succeeded in 2016 as coven High Priestess by Ruth, the Coven Maiden who had lived and worked with them for over 30 years. Zach was succeeded as High Priest by Jon in 2017, who had also known Jean and Zach for 30 years. The coven meets regularly in North London where it has a dedicated Temple.