Wednesday, 30 November 2016

49 George Street, Hastings

The more I find out about Hastings the stranger the town becomes.  Lord Tiverton who, like his friend Screaming Lord Sutch, seems to have invented his title - in fact he was Derek Howell, health food millionaire - lived in the Old Town and died in October 1999.  According to the Evening Argus:

'The short route from Tiver's home above a shop in the historic Old Town of Hastings to the nearby St Clement's Church was packed with those eager to pay their last respects.  A jazz band led the hearse, followed by a lively procession of mourners including members of the Monster Raving Loony Party of which Tivers was appointed chairman shortly before his death.  Sadly he never heard the good news.'

He lived at 49 George Street, which, according to an article I found online, was decorated in an eccentric style.  Unfortunately, I've been unable to find any images online of the interior, so the imagination will have to serve.  Above, a general picture of the north side of George Street where the house is located.  

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Borley Rectory Resource

A website set up by the adopted son of Marianne Foyster about Borley Rectory which I thought had been taken down seems to have recently reappeared.  See here.  It has some very useful resources, especially the scans of Sidney Glanville's Locked Book containing material from the period when Harry Price rented the rectory and installed a changing team of observers - notably he himself only visited on rare occasions.  I notice from a quick perusal of the contents that the Rev Guy Eric Smith and his wife Mabel returned to Borley to stay a night in the company of Glanville in January 1938.  Nothing happened.  This incident is recorded in the chronology section of The Borley Rectory Companion, but I am not aware of it being mentioned in the rest of the Borley literature.  Smith's letter to Glanville a few days later implies that strange things did occur during their time residing at the rectory 1928/9, but it's revealing that he puts 'spooks' in inverted commas, as many writers maintain that he and his wife never believed in ghosts.  See here.

There is a very good and detailed review of Borley Rectory: the Final Analysis by Andrew Clarke writer of the excellent Bones of Borley website - a book I reviewed with similar conclusions in an earlier post.  The response of the author and publisher to Clarke's review is most revealing.

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Another 'Lost Underground Street'

Yet another 'lost' street has been in the news recently.  This time it's in Stockton-on-Tees, County Durham, beneath a Georgian town house in the centre of Stockton known as Gloucester House, currently being refurbished. See here and here.  The 'street' appears to be a series of storerooms and possibly accommodation for servants (although I think they are probably more storage areas), linked by passages.  Talk in the articles of the 'secret tunnels' linking to other parts of Stockton is characteristic of all such discoveries and reports, but is extremely unlikely.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

'Mad' Jack Fuller's Follies

To Brightling in East Sussex on Sunday to visit some follies associated with John Fuller (1757-1834), member of an ancient family of local iron-founders, known because of his eccentricities as 'Mad' Jack Fuller.  An MP and firm supporter of slavery, he also donated large sums to the Royal Institute of Great Britain, purchased Bodiam Castle when it was threatened with demolition, was a friend of the artist Turner, and had a number of unusual structures constructed in the locality which still survive and some of which can be visited.  There is a nicely-produced pamphlet written by Geoff Hutchinson available to buy in the church that tells you most of what you need to know about the man and his follies.

Twenty four years before his death he had his mausoleum built in the form of a pyramid, probably modelled on the tomb of Cestius in Rome.  It can be found in the churchyard of St Thomas a Becket in Brightling, an imposing 25 feet high and built of sandstone blocks.  Folklore says that he was eventually interred within sitting at an iron table, a full meal before him, a bottle of claret at arm's length, dressed for dinner and wearing a top hat (also of iron in some accounts).  Sadly, this was disproved some years ago: prior to removing the rotted wooden door and bricking the entrance up it was found that Fuller was buried in a recumbent position below the floor (there is now an iron grille, that enables a view of the interior).  Another story is that Fuller offered to make a gentleman for life of any man who volunteered to live in the mausoleum for one year without washing, shaving, cutting his hair or having any human contact - there were no takers.

An impressive observatory (completed 1818, now a private house) can be seen further down the road and an obelisk 65 feet high and 646 feet above sea level.  Two follies we did manage to get to were the Tower, an atmospheric structure, especially on a darkening winter's afternoon - in the middle of a small copse in dung-strewn fields close to the church.  35 feet high it can be climbed - it was damaged in the hurricane of 1987 but the previous night's hurricane (which smashed one of our windows) had no affect.  From there we went to the Sugar Loaf, a conical building 35 feet high with a base 15 feet in diameter with a door and window, which was used as a house for many years.  The story attached to it is that this strange structure was hastily thrown up to enable Fuller to win a bet made in London that he could see the tower of Dallington church from his estate.  When he realised that he was wrong he ordered the tower to be built in one night.  Photographed above in the fading light.  The afternoon was rounded off by a first visit to the lovely pub close to the Sugar Loaf at Wood's Corner The Swan Inn for a meal in the back dining room with a welcoming log fire.

Dancing in Caves

Dancing in Caves is a very interesting project created by choreographer Katie Green.  As part of her research she has been inspired by Bradley Garrett's essay in Secret Tunnels of England: Folklore & Fact.  Her dance piece will incorporate elements of Discovery/Disorientation and Disappearing/Reappearing associated with underground spaces.  More information here.  Work in progress can be seen at Kents Cavern in Torquay on 13th January 2017 at 2.30.

Other artists who have contacted me about the influence of my books include Stephen Walter and Karen Russo.  There may well be others out there.

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Gary Lachman on Colin Wilson

Gary Lachman will be talking about Colin Wilson at Westminster Reference Library on Friday 9th December 6.00 to 7.30 FREE.  Book here in advance.

Copies of Secret Tunnels of England: Folklore & Fact - in which Gary wrote an essay about the occult underground - will be on sale at a special reduced price.

Thursday, 10 November 2016

Elliott O'Donnell and Aleister Crowley

As is common in memoirs of the early twentieth century Elliott O'Donnell claimed to have encountered Aleister Crowley (in this instance I am inclined to believe it).  Although O'Donnell says that the meeting took place in Chelsea, it was most likely 33 Avenue Studios, 76 Fulham Road.

'I will now refer to a mystery performance that I once witnessed in a Chelsea studio, by the kind invitation of Mr Aleister Crowley.'  O'Donnell was accompanied by two friends - on entering they passed through an ante room into a dimly lit apartment with a semi-circle of chairs arranged for the audience.  Behind the chairs, against the walls, busts were placed at regular intervals which he was informed 'were those of Pan, Lucifer and other mystic beings of questionable reputation.'  In the centre of the room was an altar.  Behind this, against the wall 'stood three tall wooden structures, that one might have mistaken for bathing machines, minus their wheels, or some rather antiquated kind of sentry-box.

When the audience was seated: 'Mr Aleister Crowley, arrayed in quasi-sacerdotal vestments, read extracts to us from a book which he told us was the "Book of Death".  This was followed by music described by O'Donnell as doleful and depressing; when this ceased a lady appeared from the left one of the 'sentry-boxes' wearing a flimsy green robe and carrying a a harp which she played for a short while before retiring to her box.  Another lady then emerged from the middle box, played on a harp and then retired.  The lights dimmed and Crowley 'strode out from behind a curtain and advanced in approved theatrical fashion to the altar', where he 'invoked certain gods of a none too respectable order.'  He then 'raised his voice to a shrill scream' proclaiming 'Now I will cut my chest'.  Then 'something bright flashed through the air and a short, sharp, crinkly sound was heard, a sound which was followed immediately by horrified murmurs from most of the ladies present, and from a whisper from one of my friends, consisting if I heard aright, of some vague allusion to isinglass, parchment and potato chips.'

O'Donnell then tells us that 'after a dramatic pause, sufficient to enable the ladies to recover from the fright,' Mr Crowley said, "I will now dip a burning wafer in my blood."'  He then passed something which O'donnell admitted he could not see, through the flame of a candle, and 'then held it close to his bare chest, thereby electing more cries of horror from the ladies.'  After this he paid his respects to the busts around the room, beginning each time 'O mighty and illustrious one' and ending 'we, thy servants assembled here to do the honour do now bid thee farewell.'  Then 'after making a few passes in the air with a dagger - or rather, as my friends remarked, after making a few vicious jabs in the air with a bread-knife, jabs or passes, the effect was sufficiently alarming to call forth a chorus of 'Ohs' - he announced that the ceremonies for the time being were at an end.'

He claims that he heard that later that evening 'rites of an even more enthralling nature were performed in private for those desirous of being initiated into the various stages of the Eleusinian mysteries, but as we could not count ourselves amongst the persons so desirous, my friends and I took our departure.'  He concludes by saying: 'I have heard many accounts of the weird things that are alleged to occur at the ceremonies and services presided over by Mr Aleister Crowley in Sicily, but if they are no more mystical and harrowing than those I and my friends witnessed in Chelsea, they are meat only for the most elementary type of thrill-hunter, the very rawest tyro in magic and occultism.  We were looking for something more subtle and magical than the magic we had frequently seen at Chinese and Indian entertainments, but we certainly looked for it in vain in the much-talked-of mystery room of Mr Aleister Crowley.'  [Elliott O'Donnell Rooms of Mystery, ch.XIX The Room of the Crab and Other Mystery Chambers  London' Philip Allan & Co. 1931 pp.255-258.  NB This is taken from an online transcription]

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Master Ghost Hunter

Reading Master Ghost Hunter, a Life of Elliott O'Donnell by Richard Whittington-Egan.  It is one of the very few biographies I've read where I find it almost impossible to trust the accuracy of any of its contents (the biography of Sax Rohmer Master of Villainy is another, although not to the same extent.  It's possible that the two writers may have met, as they were both members of the Ham Bone club in Soho).  O'Donnell would appear to have been the Arthur Shuttlewood (see The Golden Ram of Satan post) of ghost hunting, having been witness to literally hundreds of apparitions, some terrifying enough to scare one to death - if his accounts are to be believed.  He also seems to have met a vast number of unlucky individuals who had their death foretold by a ghost and to have experienced a statistically remarkable series of coincidences and uncanny encounters.  I even wonder whether he actually did spend some time in the United States, travelling around and working on a ranch, or whether this was yet another product of his over-fertile imagination.  The book itself is well produced, with some nice glossy illustrations, some placed at the beginning of each chapter.  A huge amount of the text consists of long quotations from O'Donnell's books and unpublished autobiography and footnotes do not identify where passages have been taken from.  There is almost no authorial comment on what is being presented.

Only one tale includes a secret tunnel.  In 1952 O'Donnell assisted a group of Bristol University students in a seance and treasure hunt.  The alleged haunted house on St Michael's Hill, Bristol, was: 'built on the ruins of the convent of St Mary Magdalene, founded in 1174 and destroyed by Henry VIII.  For the past seven years the woman who owns it has been troubled by strange happenings.  Silent vibrations shake the walls at night.  Doors slam suddenly.  The daughter of the house frequently finds her nylon stockings mysteriously knotted next morning or the buttons of a coat or blouse done up, apparently by no human agency.'

O'Donnell was present at a seance in which the following information was received about the site: 'Sister Mary, a nun, killed Sister Angela at the corner of a secret passage beneath the convent.  She buried jewellery under the floor there.  Later, in remorse, she threw herself down another well.  She has haunted the area since, can find no rest until her bones are recovered and buried and the treasure is dug up and sent to a church in Italy.'   Some parallels with the nun of Borley here.

A group of students went down to the cellars and attacked the floor, excavating some of the well.

'There, in a dark cobwebbed corner of what must have been the crypt of the convent. the students, stripped to the waist, dug down into the clay and rubble that filled the old shaft.  At the depth of five feet [they] struck brick. [Fellow students] laid bare what appeared to be a brick-and-stone wall.  It had a hollow ring, and is believed to conceal the entrance to a secret passage ...

 'After probing the brick surface, which seemed slightly curved, as if it were the top of an arch, the treasure-seekers decided to suspend operations until an expert could examine the brickwork.' (pp261-262).  We are not told if the expert was consulted.

It is rather a mystery how O'Donnell earned money in his early years to pay for all his travels.  It seems to me that he took up writing purely to make money and had to thereafter keep coming up with the sensational goods.   He wrote of his activities:

'Let me state plainly that I lay no claim to being what is termed a scientific psychical researcher.  I am not a member of any august society that conducts its investigations of the other world, or worlds, with test tube and weighing apparatus; neither do I pretend to be a medium or consistent clairvoyant - I have never undertaken to "raise" ghosts at will for the sensation-seeker or the tourist.  I am merely a ghost hunter.  One who lays stake by his own eyes and senses; one who honestly believes that he inherits in some degree the faculty of psychic perceptiveness from a long line of Celtic ancestry; and who is, and always has been, deeply and genuinely interested in all questions relative to phantasms and a continuance of individual life after physical dissolution.' (pp.3-4)

I've just discovered that Richard Whittington Egan died in September at the age of 91.  He was an acknowledged expert on Jack the Ripper, whom he refers to here as 'Saucy Jacky' (?!)  When I was writing Decadent London I tried to read his biography of Richard Le Gallienne, but was defeated by the orotund style.  Master Ghost Hunter was published earlier this year.  Obituary here.

Sunday, 6 November 2016


I did manage to get to the Folk Horror Revival conference at the British Museum last month.  It was totally sold out and very busy (how I dislike modern lecture theatres with long continuous cramped rows with no aisles between them).  A lot of the subject matter was already familiar to me, but one or two leads will be followed up.  A few days earlier I watched Robin Redbreast for the first time, a Play for Today with a nicely sinister performance from Bernard Hepton.   Two special guests put in an appearance towards the end - Shirley Collins and Reece Shearsmith, who both participated in the Q&A.  Shirley Collins mentioned that when she lived in Hastings and walked with her mother and sister along the Ridge, there was one point where they crossed over the road - to avoid 'the house where Aleister Crowley lived' (Netherwood - see my book).

Even though I don't make an effort to see him talk any more (as I once did) Iain Sinclair was one of the most interesting speakers, making some insightful comments on Witchfinder General and its director Michael Reeves.  A good review of the event here.  Very nifty badges given out, by the way.  I met English Heretic (who should have been asked to speak or perform - he was name checked at the conference) at the end and we went for a drink.  We discussed doing a joint event next year in Hastings similar to the one at the Electric Palace in 2012, but at a different venue.

Richard Cavendish died a couple of weeks ago.  A historian who wrote extensively on the occult before it was being seriously investigated by the Academy (very different situation these days), Cavendish was the editor of the hugely influential early 1970s journal Man Myth and Magic (I picked up a bound edition from Treadwells a few years ago) - he also wrote on Arthurian matters.  Obituary here (cannot find one that is non-subscription at the moment).

Gary Lachman will be talking about his new biography of Colin Wilson at Westminster Reference Library on Friday 9th December between 6.30 and 8.00.  This is a free event.  Booking details very soon.  Copies of the Secret Tunnels of England book will be on sale - Gary contributed an excellent essay.

The monumental Pink Floyd Early Years box set is released next week, at great expense.  I think their transition from avant grade experimentalists to multi-million selling chart act is fascinating, although I could safely never listen again to anything since Wish You Were Here.  Amongst a number of rarities are recordings made with the book-destroying artist John Latham.  See this article by David Toop.

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Harry Price at Pulborough

Last week on the same excursion to West Sussex to visit Lyminster we also went to Pulborough to see the house - Arun Bank (no blue plaque) - in which Harry Price lived from 1908 to 1948 and in which his wife spent most of her time while he was travelling around investigating spirits and poltergeists and having affairs.  He died there in his study on 29 March 1948 from a massive heart attack - he was working on a third book about Borley Rectory, which was never finished or published.

We also went to St Mary's Pulborough where Price and his wife are buried and found the grave.  On this occasion there was a small bunch of flowers by the gravestone with a message "Dear Harry, Hope you enjoy your conversations with Gef the Mongoose."  Christopher Josiffe's long-awaited study of this extremely bizarre case investigated by Price will be available next month.  I can't wait to read it.

October Reading

Roger Bristol  The Last Bohemians: The Two Roberts, Colquhoun & MacBryde

See post below.

Michael Hastings  Tom and Viv  This is Hastings' most well-known play about the disastrous marriage of T S Eliot and Vivienne Haigh-Wood.  Coincidentally, in a biography of George Devine (a founder of the English Stage Company responsible for the 'golden age' of plays at the Royal Court) I read:

"Devine went along to the New Lindsay production of Don't Destroy Me [by Hastings] and discovered not only that its author had talent but that he was in some danger of destroying himself.  Besides his eight-to-six tailoring job, he was drunk nightly in the Fitzrovian company of Colquhoun and MacBryde ... Devine thereupon 'in a most fatherly manner' warned him off the literary life and the Beaverbrook Press and advised him to get on with writing and finish his apprenticeship: telling 'me in no uncertain terms that Radiguet was a finer writer at this age than I was and young Raymond never required a Colquhoun or a MacBryde to carry him home at night.'"   Irving Wardle The Theatres of George Devine (Cape, 1976) pp.195-196

Geoffrey Household  Rogue Male  First read at secondary school and reread a few times since then.  Still a great thriller.  And due for yet another remake, this time with Benedict Cumberbatch.  Interesting article about it here.

John Russell Taylor  The Art Nouveau Book in Britain

Allan Bryce Amicus The Friendly Face of Fear  Just published, arrived appropriately on Halloween.  I've enjoyed Doctor Terror's House of Horrors and The Skull this year.  While Amicus' output was very mixed to say the least, it would appear that there are still one or two other films worth seeking out.

R K R Thornton ed.  Poetry of the Nineties

David Hare  The Secret Rapture

My play is now finished and I intend to send it to a professional (many advertise their services online,  but one wonders about their real qualifications) to read through and comment on before any further progress.