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Frank Podmore—the scandalous private life of a ghost hunter

In his autobiographical Everyman Remembers ( 1931), the litterateur Ernest Rhys recalls his friendship with Frank Podmore, one of the more colourful members of the late nineteenth century Spiritualist community, a co-founder of the Fabian Society and the author of a fat biography of the proto-socialist Robert Owen.

Like Anthony Trollope, the Oxford-educated Podmore, was a writer who held down a day job with the Post Office. But unlike the Victorian novelist, he was, to quote Rhys, ‘unimaginative’ and  ‘practical to a degree, but cultured and full of intellectual curiosity ‘—ideal qualities for a paranormal investigator. But although Rhys touches on his friend’s investigations, he seems more interested in the odd personal lives of Podmore and his wife Eleanor. Here, for instance is his impression of the odd couple in their Hampstead home:

They set up house in Well Walk, and furnished it with extreme taste and a touch of virtuosity.

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Arthur Wragg ‘These Thy Gods’ (1949)

Found in the Jimmy Kanga hoard These Thy Gods (Longman, Green and Co., London, 1949) by William Purcell, illustrated by Arthur Wragg. The artist and illustrator Arthur Wragg is slightly  forgotten, although there was a good art book on him by Judith Brook a former pupil Arthur Wragg: Twentieth-century Prophet and Jester (Sansom 2001). He was collected by Jimmy Kanga and also another eccentric hoarder the great Baron Corvo scholar Donald Weeks. Wragg's style is stark, apocalyptic and symbolic. The frontispiece and d/w image neatly sums up the addictive 'Gods' of the time with a sort of totem pole. It appears to depict - (from the top) -- Television, jet travel (war?) sex/ entertainment/ parties/glamour then gambling, smoking, drinking, money, work (the thumbs?) and drugs and medicine. The 'blurb' on the back panel of the jacket reads:

A struggle for survival now challenges the people of the United Kingdom, a struggle only to be won by stern qualities of personal morale. Are these qualities being produced? Is there a solution to the urgent problems of our uneasy peace? 'These Thy Gods' ruthlessly anatomises life today and points towards a firm and practical Christianity as our final chance.

Indifference, selfishness, materialism and cynicism are shown here as they actually appear in people's lives. From the man who believes in nothing, the worker who "couldn't care less" to the girl with the film-world's scale of values and the couple lost like babies in the matrimonial wood, the people in this book are all types we know - types in whom we may recognise ourselves. This book is to help us to judge, and to care while there is yet time.

Some of these short essays with their illustrations were originally published in the magazine 'John Bull', where they attracted considerable attention. The Rev. W. E. Purcell will be known to many for articles written in an easy style, free from pedantry and "pulpit terminology", and he also rites successful short stories under a pseudonym. The brilliant illustrations, designed to add to rather than repeat the text, recall Storm Jameson's remark about Arthur Wragg's earlier drawings for 'Jesus Wept', "I wish every comfortable person in the country had a copy put into their hands".

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L. P. Jacks

From the Reeves* collection, this study of the slightly  neglected writer L.P.Jacks (Lawrence Pearsall Jacks 1860-1955). His best known book was probably Mad Shepherds and Other Human Studies from which the drawing of 'Snarley Bob' comes (below.) There is an excellent article on him in Dictionary of Unitarian & Universalist Biography and Gutenberg have the entire text of Mad Shepherds.

L.P. Jacks.

A potential distinction was presented unknowingly to the citizens of Nottingham in 1860, the year when the eminent Lawrence Pearsall Jacks was born. I have a notion that he was a delicate child and frequently a trial to his parents; but I am sure that I am one among thousands to whom he has given hours of delight, either in speeches or in his fascinating literature.
  Indeed I sometimes feel that he would have been much better known to the general public had he been nothing but a professional journalist, instead of one of the leading Unitarians of his long career; for his reminiscences are so well written and so fascinating that I often pay him the compliment of a second or third reading. I browse among his memoirs as frequently as those of Harold Nicolson's letters and diaries and Frank Swinnerton's autobiographies; for there is a touch of magic and intensity in his recollections which keep many a mesmerized reader fighting against sleep on numerous occasions. His was the vivid phrase, the unmistakable meaning, the frank opinion, the distilled  wisdom of a long life among some of the most brilliant men of his era, and anyone who could claim him for a friend must have been a very privileged adult.
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Leslie Shepard on Charles Fort

Although Leslie Shepard (1917 – 2004) was a passionate devotee of early cinema, he  is probably best known today for his books on Dracula, Indian mysticism, the supernatural, paranormal  and British street literature, on which he was a world expert. He was a born collector who amassed a huge library of books and ephemera, much of which is now in academic libraries. The portion  which escaped this fate seems to have been sold at auction over a period of years and it was at auction a couple of years ago that I acquired a large box containing part of his penny ballad archive—possibly the detritus.

It goes without saying that Shepard was a fan of Charles Fort, that indefatigable collector of facts concerning the paranormal, and probably in the 1960s, as he reports in this typed article of 1974, which may have appeared in INFO, a successor to Doubt, the house journal of the American-based Fortean Society, that Shepard was recruited into the latter. Shepard had relished the early issues of Doubt, but in the article he complained that in the later numbers natural skepticism towards scientific dogma was transformed into something:

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A call to the ‘Revolution of the Spirit’ by The Grand Duke of Russia

Found in Hartman's  International Directory of Psychic Science and Spiritualism  for 1931 this proclamation from Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich of Russia - then a refugee from the Russian revolution and staying at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in New York. He appears to have been giving lectures on spirituality and spiritualism in America.

The book itself comes from a time when 'psychic science' was at its height and many famous names were involved. Among others the directory lists Oliver Lodge, C.K. Ogden, Count Louis Hamon ("Cheiro), Swami Yogananda, G.R.S Mead, Hannan Swaffer, Anna Wickham, Henri Bergson, Lady Jean Conan Doyle (with an address in Queen's Gardens W2 - her husband Arthur, very much a believer had died in 1930) Eric Dingwall, Earl Balfour etc.,

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Homosexuality and Its Cure (1936)

Sexology : The Magazine of Sex Science was a magazine founded by Hugo Gernsbach ('the father of Science Fiction') and seems to have flourished in the 1930s. It had many anatomical diagrams and articles about 'female inverts', pregnancy, infibulation, venereal disease etc. It probably sold well. This letter is in the 'Questions and Answers' column and has to be assumed to be typical of its time, regarding homosexuality as a sickness to be cured by determination and the love of a good woman. Autre temps, autre moeurs. What is slightly strange is that the 'doctor' providing the answer suggests physical violence if the other man persists in his attentions - 'beat him up.' Odd advice from a doctor. The reference to drink - 'you got drunk and became intimate' may refer to other matter in an abridged letter or simply be an assumption…again, curious.

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Saturday Book 10th Anniversary – a blurb & Gurdjieff

The Saturday Book (1950) 10th Anniversary edition has this quite modern sounding interview/ blurb printed on the inside flaps of its jacket. It was edited by Leonard Russell who probably wrote it. There is a 1000 to one chance it was written by George Orwell a one-time contributor and no stranger to advertising techniques..

Inside flap reads:

Saturday book
Q. and A.

Q.Ten years is a long time, isn't it for a publication of this kind?
A.There is no other publication of this kind.

Q.No imitations, then?
A.They have all perished - crushed to death by the weight of our reputation.


Q.Ah! And is this tenth anniversary number the best ever?
A. Certainly. It is axiomatic.

Q.How would you describe it in a nutshell?
A.Conservatively, as a master piece.

Q.H'm, any particular favourites among this year's contribution.
A.Let's see - there's Osbert Sitwell, Bertrand Russell, Kenneth Walker, Fred Bason, Olive Cookand Edwin Smith, John Hadfield, Walter de la Mare, F. Spencer Chapman.

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Camp Out This Year!

A great camping book from about 1911, positively evangelical in its emphasis on the joys of life under canvas. The author is not to be confused with the US writer Henry William Gibson whose Camping for Boys came out in the same year. That Gibson is said to be responsible for the American Summer Camp movement which did not take off in Britain. J.Gibson's cookery books for scouts are highly prized..


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A flyer from the Platonist Press

Found - a publisher's flyer loosely inserted in a copy of Kenneth Sylvan Guthrie's  Mithraic Mysteries (Platonist Press, Alpine, N.J 1925.) The Platonist Press seems to have flourished between 1900 and 1930 publishing books on philosophy, occult speculation, mysticism and the occasional work of fantasy fiction (including Guthrie's Bleiler listed A Romance Of Two Centuries. A Tale of the Year 2025 which appeared in 1919.) This flyer is eccentric, oddly surreal and now politically slightly  dubious. It was probably the work of Guthrie. There is little on the Platonist Press and some of these works may be 'ghosts' (i.e they were never published.) They appear to have moved from Alpine, New Jersey to North Yonkers, NY -which puts this advert some time in the 1920s...

SPICY SITUATIONS, and Dr Kenneth Guthrie's REMEDIES
The Board of Education's Examiner had Just turned down the blushing Miss Teacher Candidate. Weeping, she wailed, Is there no hope at all for me? Oh yes; purred he. Try again next year! What could I study in the meanwhile? Dr Guthrie's TEACHERS' PROBLEMS & HOW TO SOLVE THEM, $1.25; 'Value and Limits of the History of Education,' and 'The Mother-Tongue Method of Teaching Modern Languages,' each 30 cents. Will that pass me? Really, Miss, you are too pretty to teach school. Get his Progressive Complete Eduction, or Marriage as the Supreme School of Life, $1.25. And if I pass examination on it? Then I will marry you, Thanks, kind sir!
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Radiesthesia—–the swing of the pendulum

Radiesthesia---or dowsing, as it is more familiarly known-- has become trendy again. With devotees such as The Duchess of York, Jerry Hall, Cherie Blair and ahem… Dr Radovan Karodicz, who could fail to be curious about this ancient art of self-exploration? Indeed, the well know poet, psychiatrist, alleged war criminal and Santa Claus lookalike, was actually making a living out of radiesthesia, among other 'alternative therapies' , when he was captured in 2008.

This 1950 first edition of Elementary Radiesthesia, a 48 page pamphlet by devoted dowser, naval officer and veteran of two World Wars, F.A.Archdale, was discovered in a pile of similar oddities that once belonged to the fantasy and penny ballad collector Leslie Shepherd. Printed in Christchurch, Hants, it was published by the author from his home, just down the road in Bournemouth, and sold, according to the sticker inside its front cover, by The Psychic News Book Shop at  140 High Holborn.

The foreword was provided by another local Hampshire bigwig , this time from Barton-on-Sea, one C. L .Cooper-Hunt, M.A.,M.S.F., PsD.,MsD.,D.D., who called himself  ‘Radiesthetic Consultant and Late President of the Radionic Asssociation of Great Britain’. Just what the middle seven of these letters meant in 1950 is beyond me-- I suspect they are made up, like his Doctorate in Divinity. Cooper-Hunt was a very active lecturer in the Bournemouth area, where, in giving talks, he added Major to his name. One thing is certain --- he had been an Army Chaplain (third class) in the Great War.

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The Potato Man and the MP —a First World War Story

Discovered in the library of descendants of geneticist Dr. Redcliffe Salaman, author of The History and Social Influence of the Potato (1949 ) is the final volume of an Elzevier Press  edition of Lucan’s Pharsalia,  dated 1671.

It’s fitting that the poem treats of the civil war between Julius Caesar and the forces of the Senate headed by Pompey the Great, because it was found among the rubble of Arras, blitzed by the Germans in 1916, by a soldier, Major Daniel Hopkin, MC, who on returning home to England presented it to Salaman’s son Raphael (then aged about 10 ), who just happened to be one of his  private pupils. On further investigation, the friendship between Salaman senior (b 1874) and Hopkin, his junior by 12 years, becomes even more intriguing.

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The year 1975 in prophecy

If you ignore the boils, this could be a scene from any number of war zones around the world today. But it isn’t. It’s the vision of destruction that Mad Magazine cartoonist Max Wolverton has conjured up after having read the blistering anti-technology rant of American Radio evangelist Herbert W Armstrong entitled 1975 in Prophecy. 

This pamphlet of some 32 pages contains other examples of Wolverton’s artwork, including a rather chilling reminder of 9/11 in which bodies are shown falling from a cliff to their deaths. There are also photographs of the technological miracle that was post-war West Germany—all to show how the 'fantastic push button world' brought to us by scientists and technologists was likely to turn us into a 'western world of soft degenerates, irresponsible, immoral, sick of mind and diseased of body’  prey to a take-over by Communism, and even, more absurdly, Neonazism.

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Canon John Vaughan, forgotten botanist

Found - an illuminating pencilled note by one Christopher Bell in the front of  The Wild-Flowers of Selborne: and other Papers, by John Vaughan (London, John Lane, 1906.) It has more information than has been currently available on Canon Vaughan (1855 - 1922) - a distinguished botanist and writer on natural history, unknown to the DNB and Wikipedia. COPAC record 10 books by him including: A short memoir of Mary Sumner: founder of the Mothers' Union / A short history of Portchester Castle (his first work from 1894) Lighter studies of a country rector / The music of wild flowers (his last work from 1920) A mirror of the soul, short studies in the Psalter /Winchester Cathedral close: its historical and literary associations.  Bell writes:

I knew John Vaughan and worked with him as my fellow curate (and senior) in the Parish of Alton. He was then (1884) considered the best botanist in all Hampshire and had a fine herbarium (pp 62, 85). He generally had bog bean and other plants in his room and was a very interesting preacher. I got hints from him and started collecting plants for a herbarium after his example. I went to Selborne and found Monotropa on the Hanger. In 1909 - after 25 years - I met him at Walberswick Church at H. C. AV 8. AM. He said he knew me at once. He always had a charm of language - a literary style with a touch of magniloquence (as on page 115 may be seen) that contrasted with his modest and somewhat reserved sort of manner. He married the vicar's daughter - Miss Whyley. [1911]

The magniloquent ('high flown, fancy, flowery') passage referred to on page 115 reads thus:

When prehistoric man reared his barrows to tumuli over the remains of his distinguished dead, there is no reason to doubt that then, as now, the frog-orchis blossomed on Old Winchester Hill, and the autumnal gentian was abundant on Crawley Down. When the Druid priest, clothed in white raiment and bearing a golden sickle, went forth to cut the mistletoe, the Selago flourished on the heath, and the Samolus by the running stream. When the Romans made their straight road from Portchester to Winchester, through the dense forest of Anderida, the dogwood and the spindle tree fell before their axes, and the wild daffodil was trampled under their feet. When the black boats of the Northmen made their way up the Hamble River, the marsh sapphire covered the muddy banks, and the sea holly blossomed on the shore. Unnoticed and uncared for, the wild flowers, then as now, each in their own season throughout the changing year, "wasted their sweetness on the desert air".

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Early Days of T.M. in London

Found, a leaflet from the early 1960s issued by the London HQ of Transcendental Meditation or 'The Spiritual Regeneration Movement Foundation of Great Britain' as it was known then. The alphabetical phone number HYD 6296 puts it before 1966, before the movement, under Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, became a major force with the involvement of The Beatles and other celebs in 1967...

THE ROLE OF THE INDIVIDUAL IN TODAY'S WORLD SITUATION

The question of what can be done to reduce international tension and avoid the disaster of war is one that weighs upon the hearts and minds of us all. But few of us ask "What can I do?" Because it seems impossible for an individual to do anything; we are coming to regard ourselves as no more than helpless passengers on a vast liner that is about to sink.

Are we?

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Angels at Mons

Found - a small thin 4 page pamphlet Angels at Mons printed in Felixstowe, England about 1920. Its price was ninepence for a 100 and it was almost certainly for distribution in churches. Ours was found in a missal.

There is much elsewhere about the angels that are said to have appeared on the WW1 battlefield at Mons. Arthur Machen's 1915 book The Bowmen and Other Legends of War really started the legend.

Historian A.J.P. Taylor was so impressed by the evidence then available that he felt confident referring to Mons, in his 1963 History of the First World War, as the only battle where “supernatural intervention was observed, more or less reliably, on the British side.”

The Penguin Encyclopedia of Horror and the Supernatural says of Machen's book: "During Machen's lifetime 'The Bowmen' was easily his most influential work of fiction, in ways he never predicted. First published in a 1914 Evening News after the Battle of Mons, it told how British troops, their retreat cut off by the Germans, were miraculously rescued by a ghostly St. George and his bowmen of Agincourt. Widely accepted as true or as a genuine legend, the incident is regularly referred to even today, in books of occult lore and oral histories of the Great War." Fortean Times has this great story of hoaxes and mayhem around the legend with a report on a Hollywood movie that was going to be made on the angels with Marlon Brando.

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W. T. Stead – a message from the Titanic & the after-life

Found - a rare booklet published in Melbourne, Australia circa 1913 -What Life in the Spirit World Really is. Being messages received from beyond the veil by Annie Bright. It is purportedly by the great newspaperman W.T. Stead (1849 - 1912) who had drowned in the 1912 Titanic disaster. It was  in fact 'channelled' from Stead by one Annie Bright. Stead numbered spiritualism among his many interests and as well as editing The Pall Mall Gazette (which became the Evening Standard) he also edited the occult quarterly Borderland. He is said to be the first 'investigative journalist' and campaigned against child prostitution and the London slums. He befriended the feminist Josephine Butler and joined a campaign with her to successfully repeal the Contagious Diseases Act. He was an early Esperantist and he is also the father of modern paperback publishing and even 'digest' publishing, issuing severely abridged versions of the classics. Wikipedia has this to say of his last moments on the Titanic:

After the ship struck the iceberg, Stead helped several women and children into the lifeboats, in an act "typical of his generosity, courage, and humanity", and gave his life jacket to another passenger.
A later sighting of Stead, by survivor Philip Mock, has him clinging to a raft with John Jacob Astor IV. "Their feet became frozen," reported Mock, "and they were compelled to release their hold. Both were drowned." William Stead's body was not recovered. Further tragedy was added by the widely held belief that he was due to be awarded the Nobel Peace that same year.

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Robert Byron and Tripadvisor review Balkh

Balkh is in northern Afghanistan and  is one of the oldest cities in the world, possibly the oldest. Tripadvisor make this claim, as does Robert Byron writing in 1937 in the supreme travel book The Road to Oxiana. Balkh is still known locally as 'the Mother of Cities.' It was the centre of Zoroastrianism and under the Greeks it was renamed Bactra, giving its name to the surrounding  Bactria territory. Balkh is now, for the most part, a mass of ruins but has an extremely long history, going back to the 26th century BC and further - when the plains were fertile…

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The Blind Boy Medium

 The second of a couple of pamphlets from the world of mediums, psychics and seances - part of a large collection bought from a major collector who was trying to disprove it all. He was particularly incensed by the spoon-bending Uri Geller and worked back from there. There were books on the occult, the paranormal, spirit messages from famous dead authors like Doyle and Wilde, the inevitable Madame Blavatsky, afterlife experiences, many books with titles like 'There is no Death' and messages from the ether, heaven and hell. 

This is the well told and touching story of a boy who lost his sight, the operations he went endured, the dismal reactions of his school friends and so called experts and his fortunate awakening to his mediumistic skills and partial regaining of his sight. He appears to have been an accomplished performer and he ends the piece with this caveat 'to all my friends' - 'I wish to state that I do not give private readings or psychometry neither by post or at my home. My work is exclusively confined to the platform.' The work was published in Britain in 1919 but is unknown to the internet and all world libraries - but no longer!

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How to run a Psychic Circle

We are publishing a couple of pamphlets from the Spirit World - part of a large collection bought from a major collector who was trying to disprove it all. He was particularly incensed by the spoon-bending Uri Geller and worked back from there. There were books on psychics, seances, the paranormal, spirit messages from famous dead authors like Doyle and Wilde, the inevitable Madame Blavatsky, afterlife experiences, many books with titles like 'There is no Death' and messages from the ether, heaven and hell. This book is a guide to running a psychic event or meeting. There is much practical advice- e.g. ' Do not have a heavy meal immediately prior to a séance.' The author has the same name as the famous post-romantic writer but is known to librarians as Leigh Hunt, 'writer on Spiritualism.' It was published in London in 1937.

THE CONDUCT
OF
PSYCHIC CIRCLES

A Few Hints
by
LEIGH HUNT

PRICE THREEPENCE

L.S.A. PUBLICATIONS LTD.,
16 QUEENSBERRY PLACE.
LONDON, S.W. 7
1937

FOREWORD.

  No attempt is made in this little brochure to cover the whole ground of mediumistic activity, either in connection with development or with the various phases of phenomena. I have merely indicated by the hints given what I consider to be the best methods for investigators to adopt when holding a circle for psychic unfoldment. It cannot be too strongly emphasised that the whole subject calls for careful and serious consideration and investigation, and, therefore, at least a fair acquaintance with the literature of Spiritualism and Psychic Research is necessary if the inquirer is to pursue his quest with the hope of achieving any full measure of success.

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A letter from Baron Corvo

An undated  Baron Corvo letter (1889-1890) about the artworks in the church of St Cuthbert with Matthias in Earl's Court, London. Rather short but with classic Corvine nuances.

Written to the vicar Father Westall shortly after the first 2 or 3 pictures of the Stations of the Cross were hung in the London church, from the Collegio Suizzera, Rome (Scots College). There is much online about this splendid church (and Fr. Westall) but no mention of the Guido Reni (sold/ stolen?) The letter was published in the Autumn 1966 Philbeach Quarterly, a magazine somewhat in advance of the usual parish newsletter - it had a poem by Betjeman ('Anglo Catholic Congresses') a good piece on the Arts and Crafts figure William Bainbridge Reynolds + John Heath-Stubbs and Michael De-La-Noy were on the editorial board.The enigmatic self-styled Baron Corvo, Frederick Rolfe (rhymes with loaf*) writes:

Dear Sir,
May I be allowed to ask the name of the painter of the Stations of the Cross in your church, and history of the very fine copy of Guido Reni's San Sebastian, which also hangs there?
Though I do not suppose any weight attaches to my opinion, I feel bound to say that your Stations are far more beautiful than any I have seen, even here, and the Guido, too, is the best representation of the original I know, though perhaps a little "skied."
Your obedient servant,
Frederick William Rolfe,
Clerk.

*The late Donald Weeks' pronunciation, presumably researched and authenticated by him.