Scientology church founder's British refuge

By Jerome Taylor

With its sandstone columns and Union Jack fluttering in the wind, Saint Hill Manor looks like a quintessential English country house. Set in rolling Sussex countryside on the outskirts of East Grinstead, it has been the seat of numerous moneyed families over the centuries.

Yet visitors approaching the gates are confronted by a bank of security cameras and a troop of guards.

Saint Hill Manor is the spiritual home of Scientology in the UK, where church founder L. Ron Hubbard spent almost a decade refining his beliefs.

And the divorce between Tom Cruise - one of Scientology's most famous and zealous adherents - and Katie Holmes has put a new spotlight on the workings of the new-age faith.

The US media has been quick to question whether Cruise's attachment to Scientology - whose adherents eventually "discover" through paid-for courses that we are all extra-terrestrial entities known as thetans trapped in human bodies by an evil Lord Xenu - was a factor in Holmes's decision to separate.

With its Hollywood supporters, aggressive legal teams and sparkling campuses, L. Ron Hubbard's pseudo-scientific cult is often regarded as an entirely American invention.

Few know about the prominent role Britain played in spawning his faith.

Scientology's founder bought Saint Hill Manor in 1959 and lived there until 1966. While in Britain, the science-fiction author developed and wrote many of the books that set out the core beliefs of his new faith.

Those who have been inside say the manor is like a museum to Hubbard's life, while a nearby complex with castle-like battlements is a leading Scientology training college. As a movement that proselytises, Saint Hill puts on daily tours. According to a sign outside the main gate the public is allowed in free of charge. But when the Independent visited we were not allowed.

East Grinstead itself was a centre of nonconformism in the 19th century and has one of the country's biggest Mormon temples. "We've got all the religions around here," said one elderly resident. "I guess once you've got a couple turning up they all come."

- Independent

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