Beatrice Hankey (1858-1933) was the ninth of ten children in a moderately wealthy, secure, happy and close knit family. Towards the end of the nineteenth century she became active in mission work both at Walmer, Kent where she lived, and also in other towns. She became drawn towards those who were alienated from God and from their community, and she particularly enjoyed working with men.
In 1902 however, God called her to found a fellowship for young women from the more leisured classes, who at that period had little opportunity to pursue a vocation. She was not immediately willing to agree to this call. She records a wet Whitsunday walk during which she wrestled with God about this change of direction. By the end of the walk she had chosen to obey the new call.
Beatrice Hankey gathered a group of young women together as disciples of Christ. They met together to study and learn the bible, and went out to serve people, undertaking special missions to give help in response to particular needs. Within the group, members found (and still find) fellowship, friendship and acceptance. There were (and are) no codified rules, no formal status and no fixed and limited objectives that members had to achieve. The simple call is, ‘By love, serve’.
A medieval Bible translation gives ‘disciples’ as ‘learning knights’; put this together with Tennyson’s ‘Idylls of the King’ (widely read at the time) and there was a model for the Fellowship’s activities - meetings became ‘Camelots’ and ventures of service became ‘quests’; the Round Table of the Arthurian court enabled barriers of class to be overcome and, inspired first by the room names at a Retreat House, and then by the Spirit, members were given new names as a sign of belonging to the Knighthood Family. Beatrice Hankey became Pilgrim Help. These new names were, and remain, both a challenge and a direction to members of the Fellowship.
The Fellowship has always been led by women. As well as meeting together at Camelots there are smaller meetings held wherever there are enough Knights to make a Company. At present we have 4 active Companies – Eastern, Midlands, Thames and Wessex, and a Continental company, now small in number but praying about the future.
The Fellowship has never been a large movement. It has never gained wide publicity, and does not advertise. Help said it has been ‘I have gathered them one by one and then, when ready He sends us to tell others.’ It grows as friends come to see and experience ‘Knighthood’. Those who wish to join are received into the Fellowship regardless of their Christian denominational background or spiritual standing. As a family as much as a fellowship we have found it possible to keep unity in diversity without breaking the bond of fellowship.
Help was inspired and nourished by God’s love, and transmitted and communicated this in all her actions. Under her leadership and within the fellowship, members made the amazing discovery that they possessed freedom, strength and gifts to be used for God. Help’s message was one of total commitment and devotion, and her own obedience in 1902 to her (unwanted) call served to pioneer and enhance the ministry of women, though as time went by the Fellowship expanded to include men.
Somehow with Help even the commonest acts of everyday life were different, they became parables and opened the locks that kept people imprisoned in fear and despair. She taught the eternal truth that no one has the right to do anything for another from any other motive than love – and behind love for one another must lie the love for our Father. Help’s message and vision still speak to us today as we seek to follow the King and ‘By love, serve’.
The fellowship dates its beginnings to the Whitsunday walk in 1902. The call to serve has led to many places and activities:
- In 1912 Help went to Staffordshire in response to the Miners Strike.
- Through the First World War the Fellowship set up ‘Home huts’ in or near Army barracks for recreation, refreshment and prayers. It was at this time that the Pilgrims first wore the sky blue veils and pilgrim bags by which they became recognised and so gained their name ‘Blue Pilgrims’.
- In 1928, during the Depression, Staffordshire was revisited and visits were made to Wales, where there was great need. A small permanent centre of prayer and encouragement was established at Llantwit-Major. The link with the Welsh valleys remains to this day and present day Knights live at Llantwit.
- Links then became more international and from 1934 Camelots were held in Austria.
- This led on to a major quest in 1938 to rescue a group of Austrian refugees and bring them to the UK.
- In 1949, under the leadership of Knight Una, visits of reconciliation were made to West Germany and the Netherlands. This led to the formation of a strong Continental Company – now small in number but praying about the future.
- One of the most recent quests for reconciliation is in Northern Ireland where support was given to the first integrated Protestant-Catholic school in Belfast – Lagan College, and is now given to The Corrymeela Community’s work in Belfast.
- Since the beginning of the new millennium a group has grown in Bangladesh – a Knight has lived and worked in the country for over 50 years and her example has inspired others to take up the challenge and ‘By love, serve’
For many years the Knighthood family had a base at The Chantry in Sevenoaks, but this had to be sold, and since 1982 the Fellowship has continued without a central home. However a Knighthood home is wherever a Blue Pilgrim lives and works and shares the joy of belonging to the family. For our annual Assembly, and for regional and International Camelots, we use Retreat houses, as the early fellowship did.
In 1948 the Fellowship became a charity and a company limited by guarantee and had to adopt an organisational structure. It is registered as ‘The Beatrice Hankey Foundation Limited’. The sale of The Chantry released valuable resources, which are invested and managed to produce income that supports and enables the work of the Knighthood, including national and international gatherings. The Beatrice Hankey Foundation Council, made up of the Leader (ex officio) and twelve council members, deals with any financial aspects of the Fellowship and supports the quests of Knights by making grants.
The Knighthood Council helps set the direction of the Fellowship. Both Councils meet together once a year to pray and plan together.