History of Maye Bruce

The following is a brief background to the remarkable life and work of Maye Emily Bruce, or 'Miss Bruce' as she was known.

Born in Dublin, Ireland on 3rd May 1879, she was the eldest of seven children. From an affluent and influential Northern Irish family, her father made his fortune as the chairman of a distillery company.

In the early 1880's the family moved to Chipping Campden in Gloucestershire.

Miss Bruce was interested in nature from an early age and collected wild flowers and butterflies. She also had many other interests including photography, and painting.

In 1921, Miss Bruce purchased her own property, a neglected farm near Cirencester in the Cotswolds. Initially, she used the manure from the farm to restore and bring life to the stony Cotswold soil, however, the manure eventually ran out and the soil became in desperate need of sustenance. As a means of producing compost, she had heard about the Anthroposophical society through a friend and decided to join. The society based their work on the theories of Rudolf Steiner and Miss Bruce learnt the virtues of biodynamic compost making. Whilst she maintained a good relationship with the society, she had her own thoughts about the methods and decided to move on and follow her own ideas. Inspiration came in the shape of her theory; 'The Divinity within the flower is sufficient in itself'. Miss Bruce decided to experiment; she extracted the essences from the flowers used in the biodynamic method (yarrow, chamomile, nettle, dandelion and valerian), combined them with oak bark and honey and at a dilution ratio of 10,000 to 1, her activator produced a compost of excellent 'manurial' value. What made her compost even more special was the speed with which it was produced; Miss Bruce claimed the compost could be made in 4 weeks for a heap made in the spring, 8 weeks for a summer heap, 12 weeks for an autumn heap and hence she named her composting system 'The Quick Return Method'. Furthermore, because of the way in which the activator worked, the heap required no turning.

In 1938, L F Easterbrook, the agricultural correspondent from the daily newspaper 'The News-Chronicle' wrote an article about Q.R. composting which provoked a huge response. Hundreds of people wrote in asking about the compost and how it was made.

By 1940, Miss Bruce had written her first book, 'From Vegetable Waste to Fertile Soil', concisely describing the Q.R method, the benefits the compost gave to the soil, the health of crops grown in this soil and the well being of those animals and people who fed on them.

Miss Bruce's intention was to make the composting method available to as many people as possible. It was not her aim to gain from it financially, her primary motive was to 'Give back Life to the soil, and thus eventually abolishing disease in plant, animal and man'. It would also help gardeners and farmers make their own compost where manure was not available and vegetable waste was predominant.

Her second book, 'Common Sense Compost Making' was published in 1946, telling the story of Q.R. compost making, partly set amidst the back drop of World War II. The book reached wide acclaim selling untold thousands of copies over the thirty years or so the book was in print and the method became popular in many countries including Canada, Australia and South Africa.

Miss Bruce was a founder member of the Soil Association and close friend of Lady Eve Balfour, the founder of the Soil Association, and together they would attend farming shows, such as the Royal show, taking with them samples of the compost in punnets and leaflets on how to make Q.R. compost.

Miss Bruce died in 1964, however, during her time on this earth she made a tremendous impact towards achieving her main aim in life; 'Give back life to the soil, and thus eventually abolishing disease in plant, animal and man'.

Acknowledgement and thanks go to the following:

The family members, descendants of Miss Bruce.

Mrs. P - the maid for Miss Bruce for 26 years.
Carol Jackson & the Campden & District Historical & Archaelogical Society (CADHAS)
Richard Graham
The Soil Association

For further reading:

'Common Sense Compost Making' by Maye E Bruce Faber & Faber. Out of print but usually available from specialist second hand bookshops.

'Quick Return Compost Making - The Essence of the Sustainable Organic Garden' by Andrew E. Davenport. Available for purchase from this website.


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