Gerald Brousseau Gardner was the founder, and remains the central figure of the Gardnerian Tradition. Most of his activities in the neo-pagan movement were actually conducted later in life, after his retirement from service as a customs official in Malaysia, Borneo, and Ceylon (modern Sri Lanka).
After his retirement Gardner moved to Christchurch near the New Forest on the south coast of England, where he was introduced to the Rosicrucian Order Crotona Fellowship, and subsequently a sub-group of people claiming to be hereditary witches whom he dubbed the 'New Forest Coven.' He claims in his writings to have been initiated into this group by "Old Dorothy" Clutterbuck, a claim disputed by several modern authors. This was the group that would influence his future work, and the core of Wicca.
Though he claimed to stay faithful to much of the coven's practices, his development and later publications on structure of Wicca clearly drew from other sources, most notably Aleister Crowley, a personal friend of Gerald's; Charles G. Leland's Aradia; the Key of Solomon as published by S.L. MacGregor Mathers; the research of anthropologist Margaret Murray; Masonic ritual; and Rudyard Kipling, Queen Victoria's Poet Laureate who was also influenced by Malay tradition. Later inclusions into his Book of Shadows featured Gardner's High Priestess, Doreen Valiente, who wrote much of the most well-known poetry, including the much-quoted Charge of the Goddess.
In 1949 he published his first book on the subject, a novel titled High Magic's Aid, which detailed the rituals he had developed from the original New Forest rituals. Later, he also published the non-fiction works, Witchcraft Today and The Meaning of Witchcraft, which remain staples of Wiccan literature.
The First Gardnerian Coven
In 1950, Gardner split with the New Forest Coven to form his own. The core group grew slowly and in utter secrecy as Witchcraft was illegal in Britain at the time
When the Witchcraft Laws were replaced, in 1951, by the Fraudulent Mediums Act, Gerald Gardner went public, initially somewhat cautiously, but during the late 1950's and early 1960's (up until his death in 1964) even courting the attentions of the tabloid press, to the consternation of some of the other members of the tradition.
Nevertheless, the increased publicity seems to have allowed Gardnerian Wicca to grow much more rapidly.
Gardnerian Wicca Today
The oldest Gardnerian coven, the North London coven, has been in operation for over fifty years. It met in the Witch's Cottage, near London, in an area known as Bricket's Wood, during its early years. The coven included such notable leaders of the tradition as Gerald Gardner, Doreen Valiente, Lois Bourne and Jack Bracelin.
While considered a "fundamentalist" path by some American neopagans, Gardnerian Wicca, as practiced in America requires the original principles developed by Gardner be strictly adhered to. The tough requirements for initiation are also closely followed. However, in England, the tradition is seen as one of the primary one and as such is considered less formal than Alexandrian Wicca.
Including some Alexandrian off-shoots, the most well known Garnerian covens are New Forest, Bricket Wood, Rainbow wood, Isle of Man, Oak Tree, Sparrow, Isis Urania and Druid Oak.