In 1947, Ernestine Amy Buller was gifted the use of Cumberland Lodge by King George VI in order to establish the St Catharine’s Foundation. The foundation, now known by the name of its home, Cumberland Lodge, was set up by Buller and her supporters as a college of sorts.
Buller, whose background was in working with university students, had a life-long connection with Germany. During the 1930s, she led delegations of British academics to meet and challenge Nazi leaders. For a woman at this time her ability to bend the ear of powerful men was remarkable. Among those she engaged in discussions with the leading Nazi ideologue, Alfred Rosenburg, and Joachim von Ribbentrop, the first Nazi to be hanged after the Nuremberg trials.
The rise of National Socialism and its pull for the German youth both fascinated and disturbed Buller. She had developed a considerable interest in the intellectual formation of young people during her work for the Student Christian Movement and Liverpool University. It was through this lens that she began to analyse the German situation. She was highly critical of the Treaty of Versailles, both in terms of its impact on the German economy – starving young Germans of opportunities – and on the national German psyche.
It was Buller’s belief in the need to understand how an entire generation could be enveloped unquestioningly into Nazism that drove her to set up a college. In order for the youth of England to avoid the same fate Buller decided it was necessary to have conversations about differences and to value the ability to disagree constructively with one another.
In 1943, Darkness over Germany was published for the first time. The book is Buller’s account of the discussions she had with German teachers, intellectuals, army officers, clergy and youths during the 1930s. In March 1944 Buller was invited to Buckingham Palace. The reason for the invitation was that Queen Elizabeth (later the Queen Mother) was impressed by the book Buller had written and wanted to meet its author.
During their meeting, Buller explained her idea of a college. The Queen asked to be kept informed of the developments in her search for a premises for her college. After some searching, and several disappointments, Buller was gifted the use of Cumberland Lodge after the death of the former occupant of the house, Lord FitzAlan, in 1947.
It is known that Buller was a formidable organiser and networker, and that she could be terrifying as well as charming – hence her nickname ‘the bulldozer’.
Without Amy Buller’s vision and her ferocious determination Cumberland Lodge would not be here. We strive to uphold Amy Buller’s primary aim and continue her work to allow discussions on difficult issues facing society to happen in a safe space.