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Forty Years On: A Brief History of Wellspring by Maggie Mackechnie

It is impossible to separate any reflections on Wellspring from its main founder Winifred Rushforth whose life’s work culminated in establishing a place in Edinburgh where all people could be helped by psychotherapy, the creative arts and spiritual exploration.

Early Life 

Winifred Rushforth was born Margaret Winifred Bartholomew in Duntarvie, near Winchburgh, West Lothian on 21st August 1885. She died in Edinburgh on 29th August 1983. 

In her late teens, she studied medicine at the Edinburgh Medical College for Women, graduating with M.B., Ch. B. In 1908. She was influenced by her aunt Isabella Mears, who was the tenth woman on the medical register and who worked with her husband as a medical missionary in China. 

At the age of 24, Winifred set sail for India to become a medical missionary at a Church of Scotland mission hospital in Nagpur, central India. For the next twenty years, India was to be her home. 

Winifred concerned herself with the health of women and children; spiritual, ideological, psychological and physical, both Indian and European and was elected president of the YWCA of India, Burma and Ceylon. 

In the late 1920s, she was reading books on the new psychology and leading a study circle for young European wives about child development training.


On a longer home leave in 1929, she applied to the Tavistock Clinic in London for training as a psychoanalyst. She was now 44 and embarking on a career which she followed with ever-growing enthusiasm for the next 54 years. 

The Tavistock Clinic was founded in 1920 after the first world war, by Dr Hugh Crichton-Miller. He wanted to provide civilians with treatment for nervous disorders based on his expertise learned in treating shell-shock victims in WW1. 

Work and Philosophy 

Winifred believed strongly in the creative potential of the Unconscious and the importance of art as a social contact. (She used to say in her dream groups ‘You either believe in the unconscious or you are unconscious’!) 

She encouraged her patients to paint and used art and craft therapies to allow people to discover previously unrecognised gifts. 

In 1939 she founded the Davidson Clinic, encouraged by Baillie, later Sir John Falconer, who recognised the potential of psychoanalysis to intervene for good in the lives of young people. 

The Davidson Clinic was to bring analysis within the reach of everyone, irrespective of social circumstances. From small beginnings, it grew, developed a children’s department, organised public lectures and ran residential Summer Schools. 

It attracted both patients and analysts from far and wide. Eventually, in 1973 it was closed. 

In her final speech, Winifred said

Analytical work is dynamic and, linked as it is with unconscious forces, cannot but survive and spread……..we cannot see the horizons to which the ripple of our activity will spread but we can say with real hopefulness, in our end is our beginning


Marcus Lefebure writing How Should We Remember Her?  remarks on the sorrows that permeated Winifred’s personal and professional life. He said:

However just as in her personal life she experienced great sorrows, like the estrangement of her elder daughter and the death of her husband when she was not yet sixty, so the Davidson Clinic went through many trials, financial and otherwise, and not least from the coming of the health service after the war. Both these gigantic events seemed to spell the end of such small-scale and one-to-one work as Winifred’s. Yet her faith in intense work with individuals never wavered. 

At the same time, she was alive enough to realise the need for change as well. So, one after the other, in the seventies – her own eighties and nineties – she inspired and founded the Salisbury Centre, at first a Sufi meditation centre which subsequently proved its vitality by opening up to become a meeting place for spiritual seekers of all kinds; Sempervivum, a movement and network of people concerned with creativity and all-around well-being, individual and social; and finally Wellspring, a psycho-therapeutic and counselling centre for individuals and groups and open to the Spirit

Winifred continued to see people in her home and ran dream groups to the end of her long life. 

She was awarded the OBE in 1973. In 1981 at the age of 96, she published her first book. Something is Happening. This was followed by an autobiography, Ten Decades of Happenings, completed just a few months before she died. These books,  together with a BBC TV programme in the series “Friends” and two interviews on Scottish Television, brought her many new friends. She was greatly honoured by a visit from Prince Charles and Princess Diana in March 1983. 

For over half a century she pursued with dedicated single-mindedness what she called the work, convinced that the source of trouble in our lives, as well as the source of healing, lies in the Unconscious. 

Long before the words psychosomatic or holistic came into use she was putting into practice an understanding between mind and body and recognising the psyche as the creative centre of our lives, the heart of the indwelling spirit. Increasingly she equated the Unconscious with the Spirit and the subtitle of her book is “Spiritual Awareness and Depth Psychology in the New Age”  (available to purchase from the Wellspring Library) 

She always read widely and was eager for new ideas. Over the years she developed a very personal approach to therapy. Her training at the Tavistock had been Freudian. To this, she added something of Adler and a great deal of Jung. Latterly she recognised the practice of meditation as another path to the Unconscious. 

Her life was an affirmation and exemplified one of her favourite sayings: “Take hold and give again. This is the law of love”. 

 She was a spiritual radical, never a violent revolutionary. I hope her stance and her style will continue to hearten, inspire and instruct us”

(Dr R. D. Laing, A Spiritual Radical)