Sunday, 3 August 2014

Rollo Ahmed in Hastings

The second part of Christopher Josiffe's piece on Rollo Ahmed can be found in this month's Fortean Times.  He lived in Harpsichord House in Hastings Old Town in the mid-1950s (according to electoral registers Abdul Said Ahmed and Theodora M. Ahmed lived there in 1954 and 1955).  When I was going through parts of the huge Yorke Archive at the Warburg Institute I found a letter written in 1954 by Ahmed's wife to Lady Frieda Harris asking to be put in touch with friends and followers of Aleister Crowley.   In the same year the Daily Sketch carried a story about him, wherein he is described as a 'black magic practitioner' and 'father of five, [a] dark-skinned slim man with white hair and a carefully trimmed Vandyke beard.'

His 'temple of black magic', a locked room on the first floor, consisted of 'a vast, clean, sparsely-furnished room with tall latticed windows...A cheap lithograph of Christ on the mantelshelf is crowded by jungle idols, an incense burner and a painted sphere used in occult rites.'  The room's walls are lined with '30 hard uncomfortable chairs' with a table at one end, where Ahmed sits, dressed in a 'red silk scarf, fawn beret and duffel coat'.  This is probably the room that's used as a studio by the Royal Academician who currently lives in Harpsichord House.   I've always thought this building had a slightly sinister appearance, the room in question sits above a footpath with steps down to the Old Town in Cobourg Place and makes this part of the path quite dark, although there is a lamp - opposite the front door a metal-covered opening (frequently peeled back) is presumably a disused entrance to the St Clement's Cave complex.  As I said in the previous post, John Martyn lived two doors down from here in the 1970s.

In the article Ahmed awaits the arrival at the weekend of a woman seeking to re-ignite the affections of a former lover; the ritual he has devised will be lit by a single candle.  He will 'receive her in a purple-cowled cloak and a black cardboard mask to the throb of jungle drums - a gramophone record.  Music will play too...'  Ahmed had already sent her a talisman (he had received the man's army identity bracelet and a lock of his mother's hair) which has 'called for work on two periods of the new moon.  The aim of the power is to compel the person to do as you wish.  If they do not then misfortune will be their lot.'  The article under the headline Father Practises Black Magic in Temple at Holiday Resort includes a rather unsettling photograph of Ahmed sitting hooded and masked at his desk in his temple.

A few years ago I went on a ridiculously sensationalized ghost walk around the Old Town (apparently Sweeney Todd spent his early years at a butchers in the High Street - see my Folklore of London for the history of this fictional character).  By Harpsichord House we were told that Aleister Crowley had lived nearby (place unspecified) and would repair to the nearby castle in the small hours to sacrifice children.  Crowley's only place of residence in Hastings was Netherwood on The Ridge (see the book - now going for £50, this is getting crazy, although the prices on Amazon are even worse) and by that time he was in no fit state to slaughter the innocent. However, I wonder if some confusion with Rollo Ahmed (who had known Crowley, as is clear from Josiffe's article - he helped him find lodgings in London according to A Memoir of 666 by Alan Burnett Rae that can be found in Sandy Robertson's The Aleister Crowley Scrapbook p.23) has fed this rumour about a so-called Black Magician living in that vicinity.

Looking for a photo of Harpsichord House I found this article (unfortunately it's from the Daily Mail) about Alastair (!) Hendy's restored Tudor house in All Saint's Street, which we visited once on an open day.  He also runs a very old-fashioned (and expensive) ironmongers (and occasional restaurant) where I bought my favourite much-used feather duster.

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