Born: Helene van Woelderen 20/08/1927, in Vlissingen (Netherlands)
Married: Willem Koppejan 03/04/1970
Died: 27/02/1998 in Glastonbury
Born in Vlissingen (Netherlands) on 20th August 1927, Helene was the daughter of Cecilia Sprenger and Carel Albert van Woelderen - Mayor of Vlissingen (1919 -1945) and grew up during the war in German occupied Holland. After the war she attended Amsterdam University and graduated with a degree in Social Psychology and set up her own practice as a child psychologist. In her mid-twenties she met Dr. Willem Koppejan, also a widely respected Astrologer. Together they set up a joint Psychological and Astrological Consulting practice. Their work also included working with schools and publication of books and papers. Willem was quite a bit older than Helene and shared with her his well-established knowledge of astrology, and the history of the Christian and Hebrew religions. Helene developed an active interest in these subjects and together they wrote and published several books and films on the subject of Astrology and lost tribes of Israel. In their activities in Holland, Helene and Willem were deeply involved in researching the Christian and Hebrew legends. In the early 1950s their research led them to make occasional visits to Glastonbury. In 1959 they became amongst the first companions of Chalice Well.
Property in Glastonbury
On a visit to Glastonbury, Helene was walking up Hill Head when a woman who she'd met at Chalice Well, Grace Emmerson, came out of her cottage at number 55. “Ah, there you are”, said Grace, “I just wanted to inform you that one day you will live in this cottage – would you like to see it?” – Helene had no intention of living permanently in Glastonbury, but accepted the invitation and looked around the property.
Some years later, a Dutch friend of Helene was visiting Glastonbury and walking up Hill Head. Grace somehow knew that this woman was from Holland and, coming out of her cottage said “Do you know a Dutch woman called Helene? If you do, please tell her that I am now ready to sell her the cottage”, and mentioned the asking price.
The visitor knew there were many Helenes in Holland but she would at least mention it to her friend Helene Koppejan. Helene had no plans for a house in Glastonbury but on hearing the news, it occurred that the cottage would make a good base for summer visits, but she could not afford the asking price.
A few days later Helene heard from a solicitor that she had been left, in the will of a relative, a plot of land, its value exactly that which was being asked for the cottage. Helene, seeing the synchronicity of these events, decided to sell her newly inherited plot and buy the cottage. In 1967 Helene bought 55 Hill Head.
Willem and Helene used the cottage for occasional visits for a number of years and became very familiar with Glastonbury, the surrounding countryside and the local community.
Moving to Glastonbury
On 3 April 1970 Helene and Willem married in England. In 1976, Willem felt it was time to retire from his practice to give him time to write. During the same period, there was a growing concern that Holland might once more be invaded, this time by the Russians. In the same period, there was a growing concern that Holland might once more be invaded, this time by the Russians. In 1977, feeling that Glastonbury would probably be a more peaceful place in which to retire, they sold their practice and their various houses in The Hague and moved to the cottage at Hill Head, bringing with them their now substantial capital and a huge library of thousands of books.
Needing extra space to house their books and as Helene was a believer in property as an investment, they purchased a number of houses in and around Glastonbury to give themselves extra space and an investment income. One of these was the adjoining Landmark which they set up as a bed and breakfast.
Willem, with Helene’s support, could finally settle down to completing the books on Astrology, which he had long wished to write. At this time, they invited their old friend Niek Scheps to come from Holland and join them to help with the writing of books and to manage the running of the Landmark.
Creating the Glastonbury Experience Complex
On their arrival as permanent residents, Helene and Willem already knew the town quite well and had made many friends. Willem set about his writing but Helene, who was a very active person, soon found that supporting Willem with his writing was not enough. One of Helene’s hobbies was needlework. She found that the materials that she needed were not readily available in Glastonbury and thought about setting up a small craft shop in the town subsequently employing an estate agent to find something for her.
On a cold and rainy November day, the agent took her to view numbers 2 and 4 High Street. These were two adjoining dilapidated shops, with a passage way between, leading to what had once been gardens but now filled with seventy-five years of accumulated rubbish, including the remains of a garage and its petrol tanks.
This appalling sight was enough to put anyone off, but Helene had a vision of the whole converted into a medieval style courtyard, complete with gallery. Helene felt strongly that she was being called to buy the properties but her advisers were against it, due to plans for compulsory purchase of the rear of the property, to make way for a proposed relief road and car park. Despite this, Helene decided to go ahead and in November 1977 she purchased both properties. Furious development work took place, clearing out the rubbish, renovating the High Street buildings and creating the new inner courtyard with surrounding buildings. Helene decided to call this complex The Glastonbury Experience (GE).
Helene had only planned to set up a small shop, as a hobby, but now found herself the owner of a complex of two High Street shops and another ten rooms. Her own craft shop occupied only one of these spaces. In her usual dynamic manner, she set about filling the new spaces with other craft shops and exhibition spaces. She also set up and stocked a number of shops selling books, candles and craft materials, installed a café and equipped exhibition galleries and function rooms in the upper floors.
In March 1978, after the extraordinarily short time of four months, the Mayor of Glastonbury opened the gleaming new complex, welcomed by the town as a great contributor to the economic prosperity of the High Street.
Helene personally owned all the buildings and owned and managed all the enterprises, employing staff wherever necessary. The first year was a success and it made a small loss which was to be expected in a new venture. A huge amount of work was involved in getting this new project going and Willem helped in the whole project. Calling them, ‘Helene’s little shoppies’, he completely supported the project but catastrophe struck when Willem died suddenly and unexpectedly on May 20th 1979.
Willem had been Helene’s, friend, husband and mentor all her adult life. They had moved to Glastonbury to write Willem’s books and he had supported her in the intense work of developing the GE. Missing him desperately, Helene threw herself into running the GE. She had no experience of running and managing a business but had had Willem at her side to give advice. With the loss of his steadying hand Helene’s lack or experience became more and more apparent.
Helene’s area of competence was astrology and this became the area in which she was most tested. She relied heavily on astrology for her guidance in decision making but did not have the practical experience that would have allowed her to moderate what her charts revealed.
There were two direct results from this method of working. With the staff and managers that she employed, Helene was inclined to make sudden decisions without prior consultation with those involved. These lead too many deeply disturbing relationship problems. With the businesses, Helene was reluctant to agree with her staff a clear steady policy and the result was frequent interference and unexpected changes of plan.
The result of this was that, despite the best efforts of a number of sturdy helpers, the businesses made steady and increasingly heavy losses. There was also a marked change from conventional crafts to more esoteric activities. The complex gradually came to be seen by the town as a precarious place, financially unstable and full of undesirable goings-on. The steady down hill spiral continued for some years with the increasing losses being funded by a combination of the proceeds from the sale of Helene’s houses and steadily increasing bank borrowings.
By 1986 the bank had finally had enough. They took financial control away from Helene and installed a management committee. The committee was instructed to give notice to all the occupants who were not capable of paying a commercial rent and to fill the vacant spaces with acceptable new tenants. Helene was allowed a say in the activities of the new tenants. This decision effectively meant that that Helene had to close all her businesses as none of them could afford a proper rent. Helene incurred further heavy losses as unsold stock was disposed of.
In 1987, after running the new scheme for a year, the bank decided that, despite the changes, there was no hope of the GE generating a sufficient surplus to allow it to service and pay off the substantial loans. They insisted that Helene put all the buildings up for sale and appointed an agent to find a buyer. Coupled with this a charity which Helene had been running was investigated by the Charity Commission and found to be operating illegally. At one time there was talk of her being prosecuted but, as no money other than Helene’s was involved, the case was dropped and the charity closed.
Helene, as a proud law-abiding Dutchwoman of independent means, found the whole process of financial failure, possible law suits and passionate resentment from many people, humiliating and difficult to bear. The selling agent produced an offer from a property developer for the GE. Sale at the price offered would have cleared her debts and still left her with a small income on which to retire in peace, to pursue her hobbies of writing, music and embroidery - and back in Holland.
Helene could not bear the thought of the GE being turned into a commercial office block. She felt passionately that she should continue to be responsible for the GE until such time as its sustainable future could be assured; a future in which the GE could continue to operate within the spiritual ethos with which it had been invested.
Although she did not know how this could be achieved, she made the decision to stay in Glastonbury and finish her work, whatever this might involve.
Helene’s decision to stay with the GE until it was in safe hands seems to have been a turning point in its fortunes. About this time, new help arrived from various people including Barry Taylor. This enabled a plan to be drawn up for the continuation of the GE, in Helene’s ownership, for a further twelve months to prove whether or not it could be made viable. The bank accepted this plan and Helene was able to refuse the offer from the property developers.
The new plan was successful and, in due course, the finances of the GE were stabilized and the complex began to generate sufficient income to enable a competent manager to be employed.
In 1994 all the GE premises and their borrowings were transferred to a new company, The Glastonbury Courtyard, the shares being owned by Helene and Barry. The bank did not ask for personal guarantees, but insisted on an insurance policy on the life of Helene to cover their borrowings.
Helene’s huge personal borrowings had been transferred to the new company and the GE was being competently managed. Helene had made the decision to stay in Glastonbury; she continued to take an active interest in the GE but was now able to spend time on the hobbies which she had neglected for many years.
In 1996 a new charity, The Glastonbury Trust, was set up with the charitable objects of promoting religion and education but with the underlying objectives of supporting the growth of spiritual awareness. Helene and Barry drew up an agreement that they would leave all their shares in the Glastonbury Courtyard, and its bank borrowings to the Trust in the event of either of them dying. Quite unexpectedly, on the 27th of February 1998, Helene died in her home at 55 Hillhead. All the shares in Glastonbury Courtyard Ltd were left to the Glastonbury Trust and the life policy paid off all the remaining bank loans.
Helene did not talk much of her personal spiritual life - so we do not know how she felt about any personal spiritual transformation that resulted from her traumatic experiences in Glastonbury. But she found tranquility and a sense of completion and fulfillment in her last few years, as she saw how the completion of her allotted task had lead to the setting up of a soundly based charity which could carry on her work.
Strange Parallel: Zebulun a Tribe of Israel
Artisan Pub; Revised edition (Feb. 1984) ISBN: 978-0934666138
The Zodiac Image Handbook (With Willem Koppejan)
Element Books Ltd. (1990) ISBN: 978-1852301927
Return to The Glastonbury Trust page.
Helene Koppejan Author: Barry Taylor 10.07.15 Edited: MW 12.07.15 / SD 12.07.15