We are proud to bring you a constant stream of the best and brightest entertainment news each day… but we are also proud of our reports on London past. In this series, we join up our talents and take a look at London entertainments that no longer exist, and the closest equivalent available today.
Séances were creepily chic. Spiritualism was considered a religion by some, and endorsed by literary giant Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the movement tapped into (pun intended) a Victorian fascination with both rationalism and the unworldly. There was a hit song (“Spirit Rappings” of 1853) and even celebrities, like the ever-possessed Florrie Cook of Hackney. Florrie came over all Derek Acorah with such frequency there were numerous attempts to debunk her, most famously by respected scientist William Crookes in his home. The results were inconclusive (spooky). Some decades later researcher and amateur magician Harry Price offered to set up a Department of Psychical Research at the University of London … and they accepted. From 1923 to 1939 Price debunked the occasional medium (an analysis of ectoplasm that turned out to be egg whites, for instance), but on other occasions met spirits under “scientific conditions” (like the ghost of the six-year-old Rosalie in 1937).
Where are they now?
At Senate House Library at the University of London you can still access the Harry Price Library of Magical Literature, bequeathed by the former conjurer in 1937. (Books include the 18th century tome Hocus Pocus in Perfection). Crookes’ home still stands (7 Kensington Park Gardens, W11) and you can always hold your own séance (new and used ouija boards are available online at www.ebay.com). The London Paranormal Society meet regularly to investigate bumps in the night with their team of “accredited guest psychics”, offering “overnight paranormal investigations at some of the capital’s and the south-east’s most and least known haunted locations”. Living TV is about to broadcast its eleventh season of Most Haunted and psychics remain popular, but the innocent charm of Agatha Christie-style table turnings are dead and gone.
Words by Tim Benzie. Picture by Matt from London.