If you turn left at the Pepperbox off the busy A36 from Southampton to Salisbury a rough track will take you to Privett Farm, high on Standlynch Down, with views southwards towards the little town of Downton sitting on the river Avon. It was to this isolated spot that the keen investigator into ‘ paraphysics ‘, Benson Herbert, came in 1966.
A trained physicist with a degree from Oxford University, Herbert, then in his mid fifties, was convinced that all paraphysical phenomena was caused by electricity in various forms. He had left his flat in London for a home that would allow him to pursue his research uninterrupted by unwanted electrical activity from the environment. At Privett Farm he set up the Paraphysical Laboratory, familiarly known as the ‘Paralab’, and it was here that he conducted a series of unconventional experiments, occasionally aided by leading paraphysicisal researchers from around the world. Many of these investigations were described in the Journal of Paraphysics, a photocopied publication founded by Herbert and edited by him until his death in 1991.
Paraphysics can be defined as measurable and observable physical phenomena which lie outside the realm of conventional physics. This might include telekinesis, telepathy, teleportation, ’direct voice’ phenomena, and psychotronics. Some investigators prefer not to use the term ‘paranormal’ because of its association with the discredited fields of ghost-hunting and spiritualism, but as a scientist Herbert was open-minded concerning most aspects of unexplained phenomena, including ghosts. In issue no. 4 , vol 3, of the Journal(1969), a copy of which can be found among the Haining archive, Herbert dealt with the telekinesis of objects shown on cine film, the ‘radiation’ from a finger and eye-gaze that caused floating objects to rotate on liquids, and the case of Maria Schnabel, who in 1923-4 was seemingly the cause of some extraordinary ‘poltergeist phenomena’ in Austria.
In a 1970 issue we find Herbert discussing the ‘ auras ‘ that some people detect around the frames of certain humans. He also refers to ‘our ‘ film, a documentary on the history of religious ritual entitled ‘Legend of the Witches’, that had opened at the Jacey Cinema, Charing Cross Road in March. But one of the figures who featured more frequently than most in the Journal was someone who had a twelve year association with Herbert and the Paralab. This was Susan Padfield, whose regular experiments in ‘ astral projection’ from her ancient ‘haunted’ home in Somerset included the successful drawing of a hexagonal teapot that had been placed on a window sill by Herbert in the Paralab.
In compiling the Journal Herbert was aided by Margaret Driver, who may have been the bystander who, after witnessing the arrival in 1955 of an alien space vehicle in Bexleyheath, became, as Margaret Fry, a devoted Ufologist . Herbert’s ‘research officer’ was Manfred Cassirer, who had escaped from the Nazis as a boy, later read theology at Oxford and became an Egyptologist. In 1963 he inherited the London antiquities gallery of his father Erich, a former academic philosopher.In his spare time from the gallery Manfred researched cases of the paranormal, the results of which were incorporated in the five books he went on to publish from the 1980s onwards. [R.M.Healey]