Monday, 13 January 2020

Arthur Calder Marshall and Aleister Crowley

With reference to the earlier post in which Julian Maclaren-Ross recounted meeting Arthur Calder Marshall at a party in the 1940s I discovered that Calder Marshall had written an autobiography The Magic of My Youth in which Crowley features heavily. It's a very readable, amusing and interesting account that should be read by anyone interested in Crowley and his associates; there are other moving accounts of strange characters at Oxford and Calder Marshall comes across as a decent chap.

As a youth in the West Sussex village of Steyning he befriended an eccentric local poet and publisher who he calls Vickybird who dominates much of the book - he was in fact an earlier friend and sexual partner of Crowley, Victor Neuberg (see Jean Overton Fuller The Magical Dilemma of Victor Neuberg, 1965 - I see that my old university has a Neuberg Collection).

Calder Marshall grows up familiar with the notoriety of Crowley, a fairly constant presence in the press of the period and eventually gets to meet him in 1929. This, of course, contradicts Maclaren-Ross's memories, where he writes that CM had not yet met AC in the 1940s. Two encounters with the Great Beast take place, one in the famous Eiffel Tower restaurant in Percy Street and another during a period when AC was living in the village of Knockholt (1929-30) in a cottage with his then wife Maria de Miramar.

Calder Marshall paints a suitably sinister picture of Crowley who appears to be trying to ply him with brandy and hypnotise him into possibly working for him and staying the night, when Lord knows what devilry might take place - but he manages to steel himself to leave.

'I looked across at the old man bent over the table with the brandy bottle at his elbow. He was scowling as much at me as at Eleanor [CM's girlfriend]. "What would you say we have been doing, sir?" I asked.
"I'd say I'd been wasting my time," her said, and he picked up the brandy bottle and carried it to the cupboard. "But at least, sir," I said, "I must thank you for saving a great deal of mine." 'p.193

Calder Marshall had also asked Crowley to deliver a lecture at Oxford which he agreed to do, choosing medieval child murderer Gilles de Rain as his subject. The lecture never took place as the university authorities banned it - Crowley later had it printed as The Banned Lecture (1930).

The book is also worth reading as yet another account of Fitzrovia and its pubs and characters, where he encounters other Crowley associates such as Betty May and Nina Hamnett.

Extracts from book were read by Alan Rickman on BBC radio in 1985 and thanks to the miracle of YouTube you can hear all of them - quality is not great but audible. Here's a link to episode 5 where he finally meets Crowley (whose surname Rickman pronounces correctly).

Wednesday, 18 December 2019

2020 Talks

Three talks have been confirmed this year, with more in the pipeline.

Thursday 20 February 7.30 pm: see their website for details. HERE

Kensington Central Library Lecture Theatre  6.30-7.30 pm FREE. More information and book through Eventbrite here
Part of a mini Folklore Festival in which, amongst others, Christopher Josiffe should also be giving a talk.

Thursday 26 March WHISTLER: CHELSEA'S GREATEST ARTIST Chelsea Library 6.15-7.15 pm
More information and book through Eventbrite here FREE

Sunday, 8 December 2019

New Edition of Decadent London

The new revised and expanded edition of Decadent London has arrived from the printers and it looks and feels great. It is now over 400 pages in extent and includes a walk around 1890s London at the back.

Available for purchase now from The Big Cartel here

Also from Treadwells bookshop in London here

Also Watkins in Cecil Court London here

More outlets to follow.

Review of the first edition from The Independent on Sunday here

Review of the first edition from The Open University here

Thursday 12 December 'Oscar and Friends' A free talk at Kensington Central Library with Nina Antonia and Darcy Sullivan here  Copies of Decadent London will be on sale at this talk for a substantial discount.

Very limited numbers of Secret Tunnels of England: Folklore & Fact available from Big Cartel here


As the dawn of the twentieth century loomed, London was undergoing tremendous changes, establishing itself as the heart of one of the most powerful empires the world has ever seen. However, in the same decade that witnessed the celebrations of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee a diverse group of writers, artists and poets sought to subvert the oppressive cultural and moral atmosphere of the period. This was the city explored by Oscar Wilde, Arthur Symons, Aubrey Beardsley, Frank Harris and Ernest Dowson, together with their less well-known compatriots Lionel Johnson, John Gray, John Davidson and the mysterious Count Stenbock.

Using a thematic approach, Decadent London recreates the artistic milieu of this turbulent time, described the most popular decadent destinations and provides concise biographical material on the central characters, many of whom became victims of their excessively louche lifestyles. Visit the raucous decadent pubs such as The Crown and The Cock, listen in at the Cheshire Cheese, where W B Yeats read his poems to the Rhymers' Club, enjoy the wit of Wilde and Whistler at the Cafe Royal and explore the idyllic artistic retreat of Bedford Parkin the suburbs. The book also describes the work produced by London's decadent writers and artists, particularly their contribution to the decade's most innovative periodicals The Yellow Book and The Savoy. It outlines the development of the burgeoning music hall scene beloved of many decadents, probes into the underworld of drug taking, pornography and prostitution and uncovers the occult pursuits of the Golden Dawn and the Great Beast Aleister Crowley.


Monday, 2 December 2019

More Ghostly Activity at Museum Station

This month's Fortean Times (December 2019) features an interesting article on Egyptology, mummies and curses (the Birth of the Egyptian Gothic by Maria J Perez Cuervo). Inevitably the 'Unlucky Mummy' at the British Museum has to be included - also mentioned is the alleged secret tunnel from that institution to the closed Museum station (see previous posts on this blog).

However, another strand is added to the story: the author notes about the 'priestess of Amen-Ra' haunting the tube station: 'Its malignant influence was supposed to have caused the stations's closure: the authorities were merely trying to protect Londoners from it.' I think this is the first time that the closure of the station has been attributed to the presence of the ghost, rather than the fact that it was superfluous, given the recently-opened interchange with the Central at nearby Holborn.

By another coincidence, my recent bedtime reading has been The Platform Edge, Uncanny Tales of the Railways (British Library, 2019), bought on a visit to the excellent National Railway Museum in York. Amongst the usual mixed bag of quality such a collection offers, one finds The Last Train by Michael Vincent, an obscure author - this may be his only published short story, in The London Mystery Selection 1964.

A mere handful of pages long, it tells the tale of a tube train driver on the Central line. As it explains: 'between Holborn and Tottenham Court Road, there's a ghost station. It used to be the old Museum stop, but they closed it and blocked it up. If you watch carefully out of the window you can still see the walls and the exits and bits of the platform. All deserted and no lights.'

The shaking driver tells a workmate: 'Tonight I was on the up. Came through Holborn about half ten. I stopped normal like, and while I was waiting for the bell, I thought I saw lights ahead, A sort of glow. Well, I knew it couldn't be Tottenham Court Road, because it doesn't show from Holborn. I got the bell and started off, very slowly, even though I had the clear. Then I saw it was Museum, just like it was before the war. All lit up, and people ... lots of people on the platform waiting. Gave me a terrible shock. I just accelerated straight through with my eyes closed and pulled into Tottenham Court. I got through to the guard on the handset ... and asked him, careful like, if he'd seen anything unusual back down the line. And he said he hadn't. And that's it ...'

One night his colleague agrees to come with him on the last train and also sees the brightly lit platform with passengers in 'funny looking old fashioned clothes', but they don't tell anyone as the driver is due to retire shortly. On the next occasion the driver tells his workmate that he intends to stop at Museum to see what happens ... and he is never heard of again.

Sunday, 1 December 2019

Crowley and Maclaren-Ross

I can't seem to avoid the Great Beast at the moment. After watching The Third Man last weekend and a documentary on Graham Greene that formed part of the extras, I decided to reread 'Excursions in Greeneland' Julian Maclaren-Ross' account of meeting Graham Greene to discuss the adaptation of one of his books, when the great writer lived on Clapham Common (I used to drink in The Windmill pub which sounds like the one they visit to get a takeout of beer). Having enjoyed that, I decided to reread the rest of  Memoirs of the Forties, a classic eyewitness record of the characters of Soho and Fitozrovia including Tambimuttu, Dylan Thomas, Cyril Connolly, Nina Hammett, Anthony Carson (Peter Brooke), the Two Roberts, John Minton etc - many of whom are the subjects of posts on this blog.

One reminiscence I'd forgotten was his brief meeting with Picasso at a party at Feliks Topolski's studio, in which he amusingly portrays the excruciating dilemma of what do you say to the world's greatest living painter? Maclaren-Ross decides on an attempt at flattery by describing the hideous 'cubist' -style advertising on display on the London Underground at that period, poorly imitating the Master's work, but it doesn't seem to come across as he had wished.

It is during this party that he also runs into novelist, biographer and man of letters Arthur Calder-Marshall. (My comments in square brackets). 'Ara his wife was not with him that night, and he'd been hot on the track of Aleister Crowley, then still alive, whom he'd never met but wanted to write a book about. I didn't know Crowley either, but I told Calder-Marshall of what Joan Graham-Murray had recently recounted of his final semi-respectable phase.

'Joan, a friend of Louis Wilkinson alias Marlow, Crowley's literary executor who afterward scattered his ashes on the wind [Wilkinson read at the funeral in Brighton, but did not scatter the ashes, the fate of which has been subject to conflicting accounts], had gone to stay with Wilkinson in the country, taking with her a copy of my short story collection The Nine Men of Soho. Crowley, also there as a guest [this has to be Netherwood], had idly glanced through this, and saying he'd like to see what the young men were up to nowadays, asked Joan's permission to borrow it. When he returned the book she saw that the margins had been scribbled over with rather petulant old-world comments, such as: 'Yes, yes, all very well, but why doesn't he tell us what the girl's background is?! Who are her people?!! and so on [this seems characteristic].

'He also asked Joan if she knew me, she said yes, and Crowley then said testily: 'Well next time you see him, tell him to be more precise about his characters' origins. He seems to ignore all the traditional social values that make up the fabric of our civilisation,' which, since I'd always understood Crowley's mission as Worst Man in the World was to tear this fabric down, amused me quite a lot. But then maybe all diabolists are conservative at heart, or where would be the fun?

'Calder-Marshall, amused as well but slightly frowning since this didn't equate with his idea of Crowley either, asked me if I thought the story true. I answered that I'd seen the annotated copy myself [it would be interesting to know what happened to that copy, seems to have disappeared] and had offered to give Joan another in exchange, to which she had replied with the best-known line of Shaw's Eliza ['Not bloody likely']. Memoirs of the Forties (Alan Ross, 1965, 212-214)
Later, back at Maclaren-Ross' flat Calder-Marshall storms out after MR shouts at his girlfriend, calling him: 'A bad man, worse than Crowley!'

Tuesday, 19 November 2019

More Beastly Folklore (The Beast and the Lamb) and Book News

This is my 400th post since starting the blog!

I'd like to use it to announce the publication of a new substantially revised and updated version of Decadent London which should be out by the end of this month, published by Accumulator Press.

The book has been thoroughly revised, new material has been added and musician and writer Max Decharne kindly agreed to write a foreword.

Decadent London will be available on The Big Cartel and from the following bookshops in London:




Two free talks have been arranged so far to promote this new edition, both can be booked through Eventbrite:

6 December Westminster Reference Library to coincide with the excellent Yellow Book Exhibition (which has been extended to 9 December). Talk begins at 6.30pm. Details here.

12 December Kensington Central Library - with Nina Antonia and Darcy Sullivan - see here

Today is the 45th(!) anniversary of the date of the original release in 1974 of my favourite lp The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. There's a good article about it here.

As a bonus we learn therein that Headley Grange, where it was recorded, was a 'former poorhouse [that] had been owned by Aleister Crowley, which had drawn devotee Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin to record there.' [Most of Led Zep IV and parts of Physical Graffiti] In Hugh Fielder's Book of Genesis Peter Gabriel says in an interview: 'We were working at Headley Grange which I felt was partly haunted by Jimmy Page's black magic experiments ...' Steve Hackett has often remarked: 'If anything was a haunted house that place was. You'd hear extraordinary noises at night - it was almost impossible to sleep.'

As far as I'm aware there is no connection between Crowley and Headley Grange - there could be confusion with Page's ownership of the Great Beast's former home Boleskine on Loch Ness during the 1970s.

Thursday, 14 November 2019

The Great Beast in Cornwall

In his autobiography Musical Chairs (pp119-122) Cecil Gray described Cornwall: 'It is a magical place, but the magic is black ... the north Atlantic coast ... with its desolate moors strewn with Druidic monuments and fallen cromlechs and ancient abandoned tin mines going back to the times of the Phoenicians, seems to belong to an entirely different world. In fact, I am sure that it does, and that it represents a corner of the lost continent of Atlantis ...

'Altogether it is like entering the kind of country described by Algernon Blackwood or Arthur Machen - a land in which the boundary between the subjective and the objective becomes vague and indecisive. You begin to distrust the evidence of your senses, and to realise uneasily that things are not always what they seem to be, and this feeling becomes steadily intensified as you leave St Ives and  - passing Tregerthen Farm and the cottage in which DH Lawrence lived during the years I knew him - approach the village of Zennor, where the innermost periphery of this spiritual Black Country begins. From there to Gurnard's Head and Bosigran Castle (where I lived) the crescendo continues, and reaches its climax beyond the village of Morvah: a name of which the dark, sinister sound still strikes a chill into my very marrow.'

One evening alone in his house he heard a loud crash, like a 'thunderbolt' but could find no cause for it and eventually put it down to the Knockers or elemental spirits who are believed locally to dwell in the derelict tin mines.

It's now a few days since I read The Tregerthen Horror and it's very difficult to summarise - it jumps from one incident to another with very little causal connection, although the thread running through is that many of the people involved knew, or 'knew of', Crowley. I get the feeling that the author himself didn't really believe that the entertaining conception he had brewed up would stand up to any scholarly rigour. The author Paul Newman died in 2013. The book can, however, be recommended, as it is a page-turning read, which does contain some useful information on Crowley and in particular material on the mother of his son Aleister Ataturk, Pat Doherty/MacAlpine, and on Ataturk - that I don't think appears in other books on AC - and introduces a cast of characters, many of which were new to me and are worth researching: Meredith Starr, Charles Paget Wade and Wyn Henderson for example.

The blurb tells us: 'Prior to World War Two, West Cornwall generated a number of stories of a bizarre occult nature. Foremost among them was that the Great Beast, Aleister Crowley, stayed at Zennor and founded a mainly female cult who danced naked around stone circles, took powerful narcotics and held orgies up on the moor. ... Some hinted this decadent coven was directly or indirectly responsible for the death of Katherine Arnold Forster, former sweetheart of the poet Rupert Brooke, who died in mysterious circumstances at a 'haunted' cottage near Zennor Carn in 1938.'

As he advances the theory that some kind of West Country-based roving band of occultists heavily influenced by AC was going around the country committing various 'Black Magic' rituals and murders, the author even manages to include the still-mysterious cases of the discovery of a decomposing corpse  'Bella in the Wych Elm' during WW2 and the murder of farm labourer Charles Walton at Lower Quinton on 14 February 1945, the latter investigated by the then-famous Fabian of the Yard. (This week I've been reading Fabian's autobiography, a highly entertaining account of his pursuit and capture of a variety of criminals, mostly facilitated by discovering fragments of clothing that can be traced from their material and stitching to a particular place in England - impossible now I'm sure - or by the simpler expedient of shaking down the limited number of fences of stolen goods in London.)

The core of The Tregerthen Horror is the 'mysterious' and sensationalised death of Katherine Arnold Forster in 1938:

p37: 'Gerald Priestland tells of a house in the Land's End region in which the magician stayed, adding that it was later occupied by two women, one of whom was found dead (years later) and the other babbling that the devil had appeared to her.'

p38: from a newspaper? No source given:
'In the still of the night, a young woman knocked on the door of the Eagle's Nest - a house above Zennor - in a state of distress. Something had happened to Mrs Ka Arnold-Forster, something involving the notorious wizard Aleister Crowley, then living at Tregerthen and conducting pagan rites at churches and ancient sites in the neighbourhood. Hours earlier at the young woman's request, Ka had made her way up to the cottage to confront the Satanist, provoking an appalling confrontation, after which she was taken with a seizure. The Chief Constable of Cornwall was called in to investigate. A man was found on the premises in a terrible state, gibbering mad!"

Fortunately a researcher has since done some extra work on the story and it's important if you read the book to look at this short online essay The So-Called Tregerthen Horror by Antoni Diller (with sources), which rapidly clears up any 'mystery' of that unfortunate death. You can find it and download it here. As the author notes, Crowley was only ever in Cornwall for 2 weeks in August 1938 and in poor health, which makes the number of 'black masses' and rituals he is rumoured to have performed all the more unlikely - much of the time was spent reacquainting himself with his son.

See link here for modern pictures of the cottage where the death took place. It was later used by the artist Bryan Winter, whose work looks interesting.

Here's a selection from The Tregerthen Horror of what I think will have to be referred to as 'The Cornish folklore of Aleister Crowley':

p35: 'A holidaymaker, Steve Martin, recalled hitchhiking in Cornwall in the summer of 1981 and being given a lift by a local vicar in a Morris Minor. As they drove over the moor, the man of the cloth pointed out "a small hill, easily seen from the road" saying that Aleister Crowley had lived in the vicinity and held black masses on that hill, and that since then nothing had grown on the spot. No birds visited it or plants grew there. "I recall it was a pretty bare looking hill," commented Steve, who had started to wonder whether the man was really a vicar or a sinister impersonator.'

p37: Roughtor, Bodmin Moor. This louring outcrop of granite was the backdrop to the murder of Charlotte Dymond in 1844. Aleister Crowley is reported to have climbed it and performed a rite on the summit, a salutation to Ra or the spirits of the air.'

p36: John Heath Stubbs lived at Zennor in the late 1940s, he wrote (in his autobiography? - as usual no sources):
'It is said that Aleister Crowley had lived in the parish of Zennor at one period with a party of his female disciples. Crowley and they were said to have been run out of the country by local magistrates. It is told that Crowley had a conflict with the vicar of Zennor who threw holy water over him in the churchyard in the presence of the congregation. Crowley's retort was: "He's not a real priest and it's not real holy water. If he were, and it were, I would sizzle."'

'In A View From Land's End, Denys Val Baker stated Crowley undoubtedly performed "dozens of black masses inside the old church at St Buryan."'To his credit, Newman is sceptical about this.

Apropos holed stones in Hastings, Amado Crowley (who claimed to be AC's son) reported that the Beast conducted a ritual at the Cornish stone circle Men-An-Tol (on 12 August 1943, the same day as The Philadelphia Experiment - itself debunked effectively in the current issue of Fortean Times Nov 2019) in which the boy was passed through the hole in the stone known locally as the 'Devil's Eye. See here

For now, let's leave the last word to occultist, artist and writer Ithell Colquhoun (writing in the 1950s), whose own star seems to be rising these days:

The Living Stones of Cornwall Introduction by Stewart Lee (Peter Owen, 2017) first ed Peter Owen 1957:
'Shortly before the war, the man whom the sensational press is still calling 'The wickedest man in the world' paid a visit to Mousehole. This was a gift to gossip, which flourishes like an exotic plant in the soft moist air; from rumours still current in the neighbourhood and even beyond, one would suppose that 'the Beast', as Aleister Crowley indiscreetly styled himself, had made on several occasions a protracted stay. The accusations range widely in seriousness; some merely assert he was a bad influence in the district, others that he and his followers danced naked round the stone circle at Tregaseal; yet others that he performed rites on the rocks above Trevelloe; that he revived Druidic cults involving human sacrifice and that his disciples in the locality still resort to this practice, kidnapping women for the purpose. (One or two mysteries of disappearances which the police failed to solve are 'explained' in this way). Not a word of factual evidence is brought forward in substantiation ...'

Thursday, 7 November 2019

Warlock and Friends

Coincidental with ordering The Tregerthen Horror I was reading the biography of The Lamberts by Andrew Motion (am I the only reader who gave up on his biography of Philip Larkin as I found it too dull?). I didn't realise that some of the characters appear in both books, including Cecil Gray, Michael Ayrton and old AC of course, albeit tangentially. The lives of Constant and Kit Lambert were mostly a sad story of talented and successful people self-destructing through alcohol and drugs, Constant in the world of classical music as a composer and critic and Kit, together with Chris Stamp, as manager of The Who in the early days - he also helped oversee the writing of Tommy. I've listened to some of Constant's music, but it isn't really my cup of tea.

Motion writes that Constant (bottom picture) became increasingly immersed in the occult and I was interested to see that one of his good friends was composer and critic Cecil Gray, (encountered in an earlier blog post here), who is also said to have dabbled. Constant met Gray through Philip Heseltine (1894-1930), who wrote music and criticism under the name Peter Warlock, the most famous of many pseudonyms and is a fascinating character in his own right. There are also links between Warlock and Crowley, although it seems they never met.

Heseltine/Warlock (top picture) was much more serious in his occult studies. From early 1925 he lived with the composer EJ Moeran opposite the village pub in Eynsford, a time when the Warlock legend evolved of a hedonistic, sexually voracious toper and larger-than-life-character who appeared in various guises in several novels including those by Lawrence (Women in Love) and Huxley (Antic Hay). Visitors to Enynsford included Constant Lambert and Nina Hamnett (see earlier posts). His drinking anthology Merry-Go-Down was published by Mandrake  Press, who also published works by AC; Warlock was a friend of poet and publisher Victor Neuberg, a former lover of Crowley. Another of his friends was artist Adrian Allinson, whose louche portrait of Alan Odle adorns the cover of Decadent London (soon to be republished).

Warlock died on 17 December 1930 at 12a Tite Street, Chelsea, a street once home to Wilde and Whistler amongst others, by coal-gas poisoning, generally believed to have been suicide. Seven months later a baby was born who grew up to be the plummy-voiced provocateur Brian Sewell, famous for his Evening Standard art criticism and racy autobiographies. At some point after the composer's death Crowley acquired his copy of Levi's History of Magic (See Aleister Crowley and Western Esotericism ed. Henrik Bogdan & Martin Starr OUP 2012 p.253 n.9).

Crowley also wrote in Magic Without Tears (ch.XX): 'You must on no account attempt to use the squares given in the Book of the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage until you have succeeded in the Operation. More, unless you mean to perform it, and are prepared to go to any length to do so, you are a fool to have the book in your possession at all. Those squares are liable to to get loose and do things on their own initiative; and you won't like it. The late Philip Heseltine, young composer of genius, used on of these squares to get his wife to return to him. He engraved it neatly on his arm. I don't know how he proceeded to set to work; but his wife came back all right, and a very short time afterwards he killed himself.'

According to Motion, Cecil Gray hero-worshipped Warlock - he wrote his biography in 1931 and co-edited the controversial music journal Sackbut (1918-21) - his 'submission' typified by 'his willingness to share Heseltine's interest in sinister aspects of the occult. He was prepared, as Constant never was, to set aside the constraints of practical good sense. Gray's daughter Pauline remembers - without being able to provide details - that her father practised black magic, and that he was sympathetic to Heseltine's view that "if one were to make use of a certain magical formula believing in it implicitly, in order to obtain something which one knew to be otherwise unobtainable, that one's powers of attaining it would be increased and one could almost inevitably attain it." Gray and Heseltine usually created those formulae to inflict distress on an enemy,  or to help further an amorous adventure, but Constant could never quite share the spirit in which they worked. The (to him) ridiculous figure of Aleister Crowley loomed too large in his mind's eye, and any efforts he made to invoke supernatural aid were usually devoted to hilarious ends.'

Pauline Gray's book about her father is Cecil Gray - His Life and Notebooks (Thames, 1989). On p.29 she describes a letter from Brigit Patmore to HD (American poet Hilda Doolittle who had lived with Gray on Cornwall and had a child with him, which he refused to support) about Cecil and his circle: 'He and Philip were involved with a particularly unpleasant group of people which included the infamous Aleister Crowley and were smoking hashish.' She also notes (p62): Cecil once told me of an incident which occurred in 1918 or 1919 when he and Philip and some friends pretended to 'offer' up a naked young woman as a sacrifice on the altar of a quiet country church. In the middle of the 'ceremony' a sudden bolt of lightning hit the church tower, sending the participants fleeing in terror. Cecil and Philip's preoccupations in the occult world waned somewhat after that!'

Michael Ayrton, in a broadcast quoted by Pauline Gary said: 'I remember once coming out of a pub in Albany Street with Constant, who said, "I will now produce a Scottish midget on a tricycle' and believe it or not, a midget in full Scottish costume on a tricycle came riding down Albany Street. It made him laugh uproariously. Cecil, I think, had a somewhat deeper feeling for magic than Constant did, or certainly a less hilarious one ... They were non-believers in the strict sense of occultists today, but they had a sense of the occult which is, I think, one of the ways in which derives some kind of inspiration for whatever art one produces, especially if flavoured with humour and not taken too seriously, and both Cecil and Constant were masters at that.'

The Lamberts is another book with no footnotes or references (from Faber), making tracking down quotes very difficult. I get the impression that Kit was the Lambert that Motion was least interested in and he's not that keen on rock music: apparently punk happened in 1979 and Pete Townshend's guitar smashing antics were influenced by an artist called Gustav Metzke [sic].

Gray was later criticised by the composer's friends for propagating the idea that Heseltine/Warlock was a Jekyll and Hyde character, destroyed by his 'dark side'. Reading a biography by Barry Smith (OUP 1994) it's clear that Warlock was a profoundly troubled manic depressive, who could be incredibly sociable, generous spirited and funny (although he hounded certain music critics he disliked with a disturbing fervour). With a school boy's humour he was skilled at writing limericks and once compiled a list of classical composers with 'amusing' names - something I once did with a musician friend of mine ('and now on Radio 3, an evening of Schytte') - including Johannes Bacfart, Johann Fux, Andreas Crappius, Samuel Scheidt, Nicolas Ponce and Antoine Piis. He was a major figure in the revival of Early Music and his works, especially the Capriol Suite are still performed today; he's mainly known for his songs. The Warlock Society can be found here.

Gary wrote an autobiography Musical Chairs (1948) - a quick skim read revealed nothing of his 'occult' interests - Crowley is mentioned once when Gray visits Sicily and notes that the 'famous mage' later achieved notoriety at Cefalu (p.155, also see earlier post here). The biography of mutual friend of Gray and Lambert, Michael Ayrton (mentioned in another post) claims that Gray knew Crowley and introduced him to Ayrton, but this does not merit a reference in his autobiography (AC died in 1947), which you thought it might have done.

I've said before that Crowley is a Zelig-like figure who pops up in the most unlikely places and is name checked in a large number of biographies and autobiographies of the early-to-mid-twentieth century, often spuriously, to add lustre and a whiff of the arcane or risqué to an author's recollections (just one example is Henry Miller's claim to have met Crowley in Paris in the mid-1930s and lent him money, and there are many more).

Hilary Spurling in her biography of Anthony Powell (2017) has this to say about Gray: 'Taciturn, morose, occasionally manic, Gray was another heavy drinker, a Calvinist Scot and practitioner of black magic with a colossal ego and a cocaine habit. Like many misogynists of his destructive sort he devoted disproportionate amounts of time to the pursuit of women, or in his own words, "painted and powdered whores, and perfumed bitches." He was married three times and said before the death of his third wife, "While I do not defend the practice of wife-killing, I can understand better than most the state of mind that leads to it."

In his defence, he did once describe the Second World War as being 'fought between two second-rate watercolour painters - Hitler and Churchill.'  In 1941 Gray wrote a play about Gilles de Rais with 'decorations' by Michael Ayrton (see title page above). Crowley was invited to speak, on 3 February 1930, at the Oxford University Poetry Society and chose as his subject Gilles de Rais; on hearing of the engagement the chaplain of Oxford cancelled the event; ever the self-publicist, AC later had the text of his talk published as The Banned Lecture (1930).

Constant Lambert died at the age of 45 in 1951 from broncho-pneumonia and undiagnosed diabetes - his ashes are buried in Brompton Cemetery. There is a curious incident recorded by his friend Anthony Powell, who recalled that they regularly enjoyed long telephone conversations between 11.30 and 12 at night and that the day after Constant's death the phone rang at the usual time, but when Powell answered it there was a click and the line went dead, as if the person at the other end had hung up. Lambert appears as the composer Hugh Morland in Powell's A Dance to the Music of Time, which also incidentally features a fictionalised Crowley as Dr Trelawney. Powell's memoirs (including his meetings with Crowley) are essential reading for anyone fascinated by the Soho and Fitzrovia of the Twenties, Thirties and Forties.

Friday, 1 November 2019

Crowleyan Folklore at Netherwood

There's a large amount of stuff that's accumulated this year for the blog that I just don't have time to write up properly. Anyway, as it's the day after Halloween I thought this piece from my current research was appropriate.

At the moment I'm looking into Aleister Crowley as a figure from English folklore, the most ubiquitous historic candidates are, I suppose, Dick Turpin, Nell Gwyn and Oliver Cromwell, about whom a wealth of folklore exists, much of which concerns various secret tunnels that they used/had constructed - that's all covered in my book 'Secret Tunnels of England: Folklore & Fact'.

What I want to look into at the moment are the connections that have been forged over the years between Crowley and various English or UK locations, some of which he may never have even visited. This was sparked by reading this week The Tregerthen Horror by Paul Newman, which I'll try to review in the next post. In a nutshell: this is an entertaining enough book that starts out fairly sensibly inquiring into an apparently 'mysterious' death in a remote Cornish cottage, but then attempts to trawl in so many murders with ostensibly 'occult' links and a cast of Bohemian and eccentric characters so vaguely connected (although many had met Crowley) that towards the end it becomes hard not to laugh out loud at the absurdity of it all - we even get the Occult Nazis thrown in.

To start with let us return to Hastings and Netherwood. As I say in p.5 of that book: 'One can still occasionally read in the 'Hastings & St Leonards Observer' about "Crowley's Curse' on the town, whereby if you live here you will never be able to leave and if you do leave you will always come back eventually. It is said that throwing a stone with a hole in it into the sea will lift the curse on any Hastings resident.' What seems strange is that Crowley would curse a place where he enjoyed a reasonably comfortable time, albeit increasingly subject to illness, in the intellectually stimulating environment of Netherwood and with access to the famous Hastings Chess Club to pursue his favourite pastime.

There is plenty of information on the folklore of stones with natural holes in them, called Hag Stones, used to deter witches, often hung outside the front door of a house.  See for example here and here. Interestingly there is also Crowleyan folklore attached to the quoits of Cornwall, which I will mention in another post on the Beast in the West Country.

As far as Netherwood itself is concerned The Tregerthen Horror includes some interesting material that I hadn't come across before about the house after his death. I quote from pages 114-115 - my comments in square brackets:

'Crowley may have been dead, but his spirit hovered around Hastings and its environs. A newspaper report on his deserted room being hung with mysterious, oppressive paintings like 'totem poles' [probably The Pier, 1934, known to be in his room], the purpose of which could not be understood. After the boarding house closed [c.1969/70] Netherwood acquired a spooky reputation and lapsed into dilapidation. Packs of boys would clamber over the high barrier and explore the grounds. One youthful marauder recalled entering the Victorian ruin and creeping down to the cellar where a startling sight awaited him. Strewn around the darkness were what might be termed 'cardboard sculptures', cut-outs, man-shaped and emblematic, heavily crayoned and held together by string. They were 'relics' Crowley had used for ritual purposes. It was indefinably creepy, seeing them forlornly hung up on rusty nails and over the backs of broken chairs in that static, dust-filled silence.

'The magician had long passed on, yet his eerie, slightly childish devices lingered like vestiges of an arcane purpose beyond resurrection. [Or maybe they actually were just children's cardboard cut-out figures, or some 'artwork' by an earlier resident. There are a number of quite detailed accounts written by visitors to AC at Netherwood and while they mention the paintings there is nothing about these artefacts.]

'Thus the myth was born in Hastings, the myth of the demon Crowley who, some allege, cursed the place, sapping the willpower of its occupants and making it impossible for them to leave. Hastings became Ixion's wheel, a destiny to which one was tied in the same way that one was tied to drugs, alcohol or the dole queue. In the last two decades [the book was published in 2005] the fortunes of the town started to decline. Crime, narcotics and  powerful Goth scene [more Steampunk these days] dominated the youth culture and Crowley - a heroin addict himself - naturally featured in the myth-making. Although Netherwood was no longer standing, teenagers would point to any brooding property and identify it as the place where the beast had once lived [ a number of gloomy candidates still existed along The Ridge when I first moved to Hastings over 10 years ago, but most have since been demolished, including the Robert de Mortain pub, right next to the site of Netherwood, which was demolished and rebuilt as a small 'gated community' over the last couple of years.]

'Hence Crowley, who had planned to usher in a new aeon of light and love, became associated with the darkness of addiction, dehydration and spiritual inertia. The joyous dance of Pan was reincarnated in the wavering stagger of the junkie negotiating the chip-spattered, polystyrene-carton-clogged streets desperately seeking his ultimate fix.' [ Doesn't make you want to come here on holiday, does it?]

What I alway find exasperating in books of this kind is that there are no footnotes and very few references that would enable a researcher to verify various statements and accounts - many of which are taken from novels that the author believes are actually romans a clef that can be taken as 'factual'. At least there is a bibliography, which I am currently exploring.

While working on the revised edition of Netherwood I was told that film maker and Crowley obsessive Kenneth Anger had visited Netherwood when he was in this country toward the end of the 1960s, at a time the house was still operating as a guest house - he stayed for a period with Jimmy Page in his amazing house in Kensington (before he had Robbie Williams for a neighbour). I wrote to Anger at an address I was given in Las Vegas but I never received a reply.

Legendary folk singer Shirley Collins, who grew up in Hastings, recalls (as David Tibet notes in the foreword to Netherwood and as I heard at a folk horror conference) that as a girl she was told not to enter the grounds of Netherwood as a 'black magician' lived there and she would either cross over the road when walking along that part of The Ridge or peddle past furiously on her bike.

A local band has made a record about Crowley's Curse: here

To conclude for now: at a talk I gave a few months ago in London - not on Netherwood or Crowley - an elderly woman approached me afterwards and told me that she had lived in Hastings as a young girl and teenager in the 1960s. She had visited Netherwood many times, as her boyfriend was the son of the owners. They would make love in the house when the parents were out - their favourite room for making the beast with two backs was No.13, the room in which Crowley had stayed.

Wednesday, 10 July 2019

Tilbury Shelter

As I ponder over whether to publish a third edition of Subterranean City myself or with a major publisher (having this week spent hours searching out all my royalty statements - I'd forgotten how impressive the sales figures of the first two editions had been - at the time I thought those figures were normal, as it was my first book, I've since learnt differently) underground subjects again come to the fore.

A recent addition to the Collection has been 'Shelter Scene' by Edward Ardizzone, a 1941 lithograph published by the National Gallery, printed at the Baynard Press and commissioned by the War Artists Advisory Committee of the Ministry of Information.

It depicts the interior of the Commercial Road Goods Depot in Whitechapel commandeered as an air raid shelter during the Blitz. It was known as 'Tilbury' which has understandably caused confusion with a number of commentators assuming it was  situated in Tilbury docks some miles further down river. I recently emailed the Tate to correct that error in their caption for Henry Moore's A Tilbury Shelter Scene 1941 - they didn't respond, of course, and the error remains - see here.

There is an excellent, highly detailed history of the building by Tim Smith for the Greater London Industrial Archaeology Society here.

The hydraulic power station that supplied the warehouse still exists as a private building in Hooper Street. See here and here.

The best and most evocative description of life in Tilbury is from the Mass Observation archives see here - written up by one of the co-founders Tom Harrisson and published as Living Through the Blitz (Penguin, 1976, 1990). A Mass Observer's description from 14 September 1940:

First impression was of a dim cavernous immensity. The roof is made of metal girders, held up by rows of arches, old and solid a somewhat church-like atmosphere. The hall is oblong in shape, and covers many acres ... so huge and dim, the end seems out of sight ... Between the lines of archways are wooden platforms, raised about four feet from the ground and stretching the whole length of the shelter. Between them are wide gangways, paved with brick and earth trodden so hard that one might imagine it was stone. Round three sides of the interior runs a narrow railway track, in almost total darkness, for here there are no lights, and here the earthen floor is dark and rough. The entrance to this vast, dim, cathedral-like structure is narrow and insignificant - just a break in the street wall that could easily be missed by the passer-by. But once through this gap, one finds oneself in a large stone courtyard, sloping way in two directions down into the earth ... There are only two small doors into the shelter, one of which can be locked on occasion, the other manned by police ...

By 7.30pm every bit of floor-space is taken up ... Deckchairs, blankets, stools, seats, pillows ... people lying everywhere, on the railway track, among the margarine crates, everywhere. The floor was awash with urine ... only two lavatories for 5000 women, none for men ... overcome by the smell. People are sleeping on piles of rubbish ... the passages loaded with filth. Lights dim or non-existent ... they sit, in darkness, head of one against the feet of the next ... there is no room to move and hardly any to stretch. Some horses were still stabled there, and their mess mingles with that of the humans ...

Ardizzone's shelterers are not so jam-packed and are stoically going about their business getting ready for the night, filth and squalor is not obviously in evidence.

Gradually links were forged amongst the shelterers, marshals were elected, some basic rules for order and hygiene established and cleaning teams set to work.

There were some lighter moments recorded by MO: 'A girl played an accordion, while men danced burlesque dances round her ... a young coster was playing the accordion. He played well - with fire. A coster girl, about 20, sang a gypsy melody in a clear, high, plaintive voice ... Another archway was playing 'Knees up Mother Brown'.

Tilbury was demolished in 1975 and part of the site was redeveloped as an operations centre for National Westminster Bank.

There is an article about Tilbury in London's Industrial Archaeology vol.2 1980.

See also here

The painting illustrated above is The Foothills, Tilbury Bombed Second Time by Rose L. Henriques (watercolour on paper, c1941) For more on the artist see here.