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 

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