Thursday, 6 November 2014

Netherwood and Borley

Still in a Halloween mood I've been looking through a few ghost books in my collection and came across photographs of the notorious Borley Rectory, subject of some highly imaginative 'psychic investigations' by ghost hunter Harry Price.  I couldn't help noticing a certain architectural similarity with Netherwood - both houses were built in the 1860s.  There's also a link to Price through C.E.M. Joad who was a regular visitor to Netherwood and who collaborated with Price on a number of projects.  Photos above: top Borley Rectory; two of Joad and Price in the Brocken, complete with goat; bottom Netherwood.  Some relevant text by me below:

Cyril Edwin Mitchinson Joad (1891–1953) was an English philosopher and prolific writer, a socialist and a member of the Fabian Society.[1]  Educated at Balliol College, Oxford, he later produced a steady stream of philosophical texts while working as a senior civil servant, until in 1930 he was appointed Head of Philosophy at Birkbeck College, University of London.  He left his wife in 1921 and lived thereafter with a succession of lovers, introducing them all as ‘Mrs Joad’.  In his opinion sexual desire was like a buzzing bluebottle that had to be swatted before it distracted a man of intellect; he had been expelled from the Fabian Society in 1925 for sexual misbehaviour at a summer school (he did not rejoin until 1943).  Learned, opinionated, witty and a gifted explainer, through books such as his Guide to Modern Thought (Faber & Faber, 1933) and Guide to Philosophy (Victor Gollancz, 1936) Joad became this country’s foremost popularizer of that thorny subject.  He was interested in Eastern philosophy and regularly contributed to the Anglo–Indian Theosophical journal Aryan Path.  In 1932 he founded, with H. G. Wells (1866–1946) and others, the Federation of Progressive Societies and Individuals. 

Joad also became involved in psychical research and from June 1934 was Chairman of the University of London Council for Psychical Investigation (not an official body of the University and not based there), whose Honorary Secretary was the controversial psychic investigator and ghost hunter Harry Price (1881–1948).[2]  In June 1932, as part of the centenary celebrations of the poet Johan Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832), Price and Joad had travelled to the Brocken in the Harz Mountains (where the Devil had tempted Faust) to conduct a black magic experiment, the so–called ‘Bloksberg Tryst’, in which a goat, through the incantations at full moon of ‘a maiden pure in heart’, was to be transformed into a ‘youth of surpassing beauty’; unsurprisingly, the demonstration, which in any case was intended to show the inefficacy of ritual magic, failed.[3]  On 5th October 1932 Harry Price invited Aleister Crowley to speak at his National Laboratory of Psychical Research at No.13 Roland Gardens, SW7.  The Great Beast delivered an erudite talk on ‘Amrita’, the ‘Elixir of Life’ while avoiding the subject of sex magick.[4]

A garrulous and gregarious figure like Joad could always be sure of receiving dinner and speaking invitations.  In his autobiography he described visiting an establishment very similar to Netherwood, although the book was published in the same year (1935) that Vernon and Johnnie took over the guesthouse:

‘I have been in the habit for many years of spending occasional weekends in the country with a couple who cultivate weekend entertainment as an art.  Very carefully they select their guests.  The chief qualification in a guest is that he or she should be a prominent person, with the reservation the kind of prominence should vary as much as possible from guest to guest and from weekend to weekend.  For example, if there are prominent politicians one week, there will be prominent painters the next.  If famous people cannot be had, they will stage a weekend consisting entirely of the relations of famous people.[5]

[1]  Geoffrey Thomas Cyril Joad (Birkbeck College, 1992); Kingsley Martin ‘Cyril Joad’ New Statesman and Nation 45.1154 18th April 1953 pp.446–447; ODNB article by Jason Tomes
[2]  Paul Tabori Harry Price, the Biography of a Ghost–Hunter (Athenaeum Press, 1950), Trevor H. Hall Search for Harry Price (Duckworth, 1978), Richard Morris Harry Price, The Psychic Detective (Sutton Publishing, 2006)
[3]  Harry Price Confessions of a Ghost Hunter (Putnam & Co. 1936) pp.334–343; Morris Harry Price, The Psychic Detective op. cit. pp.155–160.  This absurd publicity stunt was witnessed by, amongst many others, Dr Heinrich Brüning (1885–1970), Chancellor of Germany, author Boris Pastenak (1890–1960) and artist Paul Klee (1879–1940)
[4]  Aleister Crowley ed. and intro. by Martin P. Starr Amrita, Essays in Magical Rejuvenation (Thelema Publications, Kings Beach CA, 1990) p.xv
[5]  C.E.M. Joad The Book of Joad, A Belligerent Autobiography [first pub. as Under the Fifth Rib 1932] (Faber & Faber, 1935) p.57 

Sunday, 2 November 2014

The Corvo Cult, The Yellow Peril and Netherwood

The launch party at Maggs for The Corvo Cult by Robert Scoble was very enjoyable.  Some reports with pictures here and here.  Fortunately, I resisted the temptation of buttonholing Barry Humphries and probably making a fool of myself talking about the 1890s.  I've always wondered if he's read Decadent London - I asked my publisher to send him a copy on publication, but I doubt that happened.  The book itself is very entertaining and would probably be of interest to non-Corvines: AJA Symons, author of the classic Quest for Corvo appears in an unflattering light as an untrustworthy individual and avid collector Donald Weeks as a belligerent obsessive - see earlier posts on Corvo.  One strange mistake - twice we are told that the Corvines celebrated the centenary of his death in 1960 - he was born in 1860 and died in 1913 aged 53.

Christopher Frayling's new book on Fu Manchu and the Yellow Peril was reviewed in yesterday's Guardian.  It's a pity that Lord of Strange Deaths was not out last year as was intended as it's unlikely to be reviewed, given the fact that this book with a major publisher is already on the market.  I have to say this is not a new experience for me in the dog-eat-dog world of publishing.  The book is still being worked on and is unlikely to appear for the talk in December I would imagine.

Frayling's book is an admirable attempt to cut through the more fantastic aspects of Rohmer's biography - rather than revealing any new information about him, he trawls through the types of newspapers and journals that Rohmer wrote for in the period just prior to the First World War, uncovering the roots of the spread of Yellow Peril coverage in England and the appearance of proto-Fu Manchu figures in their pages.  I found this the most interesting part of the book - it clearly showed the influences, not just on Rohmer, but on an entire population, of this type of journalism.  The historical side of things was less sure I felt, but the final chapter on the long lingering death of Rohmer's fiendish villain in popular culture is characteristically encyclopedic.  There was stuff in there that I knew nothing about, but then Frayling had access to archives in the US that I had no chance of seeing and presumably had some funding for his efforts.  The illustrations are imaginative and excellent.

However, from this week I plan to work solely on my next Accumulator Press book, which is about 25% done, with the aim of publishing it myself as soon as possible.  It will revisit a couple of subjects I've covered in the past, but in more detail and will hopefully be attractively designed, by me and the street artist Stewy and his partner, like Netherwood.

Talking of Netherwood, I recently subscribed to the British Newspaper Archive which includes a long run of the Hastings and St Leonards Observer and have gone through every reference therein to Netherwood.  Fortunately it doesn't appear that I missed much in plodding for weeks through the microfilm version, but one area that I couldn't face scanning every week was the ad section in which for example the date of the sale of Netherwood by Vernon and Johnnie Symonds was recorded.  On 21st December 1949 it was sold to Harry J Kaye and his wife.  In February 1951 a case was recorded in the County Court, with Vernon Symonds claiming a £99 balance on the sale; the plaintiffs eventually withdrew their action and the defendants agreed to pay £75.