Hope, William (1863–1933)
A carpenter of Crewe, England, and famous spirit photographer,
whose abilities were discovered accidentally about 1905.
Hope and a friend photographed each other on a Saturday afternoon.
The plate that Hope exposed showed an extra figure,
a transparent woman, behind whom a brick wall was visible. It
was the sister of Hope’s comrade, dead for many years. With
the help of a Mr. Buxton, the organist at the Spiritualist Hall
at Crewe, a circle of six friends was formed to sit for spirit photography.
Fearful of being accused by devout Catholics of being in
league with the devil, the circle destroyed all the original negatives
until Archdeacon Thomas Colley came on the scene. He
tested Hope’s powers, endorsed them, and gave him his first
stand camera, which Hope refused to give up long after it had
become old-fashioned, its box battered and its leg broken.
The first controversy about Hope and his psychic photographs
arose in 1908 in connection with Colley’s first sitting.
He recognized his mother in the psychic ‘‘extra.’’ Hope
thought it was more like a picture he had copied two years earlier.
A Mrs. Spencer, of Nantwich, recognized her grandmother
in the image. Hope informed Colley of his mistake. Colley said
it was madness to think that a man did not know his own mother
and advertised in the Leamington paper asking all who remembered
his mother to meet him at the rectory. Eighteen
persons selected the photograph from a group of several others
and testified in writing that the picture was a portrait of the late
Mrs. Colley, who had never been photographed.
The second case of public controversy arose in 1922 and
was, on the surface, damning for Hope. In a report published
in the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research (vol. 20, pp.
271–283), Hope was accused of imposture by Harry Price. The
accusations were later published in a sixpenny pamphlet. The
basis of the revelation was that Price, in a sitting at the British
College of Psychic Science, caught Hope in the act of replacing
the dark slide holding the exposed plates with another.
Price also said that Hope handed him two negatives (one of
which contained a psychic extra) that did not bear the secret
mark of the Imperial Dry Plate Company (impressed on the
packet of film by X-rays) and that were different in color and
thickness from the original plates.
Subsequent investigation proved that the counteraccusation
by Spiritualists claiming an organized conspiracy against Hope
deserved examination. The wrapper of the packet was found,
and it bore marks of tampering. Moreover, one of the original
marked plates was returned anonymously and undeveloped to
the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) a week after the experiment
and three weeks before the revelation. On being developed,
it showed an image. Since the packet of marked plates
had been lying about for four weeks in the office of SPR it was
open to tampering and substitution. It was also likely, in the
view of the Hope apologists, that the missing plate was sent
back out of pure mischief.
Honorton, Charles Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed.
Immediately after the accusation of fraud Hope offered new
sittings and declared his willingness to submit to stringent tests.
The offer was refused. Harry Price, however, signed a statement
to the effect that the test of February 24, 1922, ‘‘does not
rule out the possibility that Hope has other than normal
Many prominent people supported Hope. For example, Sir
William Crookes gave an authorized interview published in
the Christian Commonwealth on December 4, 1918. On his own
marked plates, under his own conditions, Crookes obtained a
likeness of his wife different from any he possessed. Sir William
Barrett claims to have received with Hope ‘‘indubitable
evidence of supernormal photography’’ in the Proceedings of
the Society for Psychical Research (vol. 34, 1924). After the exposure
by Harry Price, Allerton F. Cushman of Washington
also claimed to have obtained psychic extras on his own plates,
similarly marked by the Imperial Dry Plate Company, and also
on plates purchased before the sitting by Hereward Carrington.
Sir Oliver Lodge, however, was emphatic concerning a test
of his own with a sealed packet sent to Hope ‘‘I have not the
slightest doubt that the envelope including the plates had been
opened.’’ The most signifcant charges of fraud were advanced
by Fred Barlow and Major W. Rampling Rose in an article in
the Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research (vol. 41,
1933). Previously, on January 21, 1921, in Budget No. 58 of the
Society for the Study of Supernormal Pictures, Barlow had asserted
that he ‘‘got results with Mr. Hope here in my own home
under conditions where fraud was absolutely impossible. I have
loaded my dark slides in Birmingham and taken them to Crewe
with my own camera and apparatus, have carried out the whole
of the operation myself (even to the taking of the photograph)
and have secured supernormal results.’’
Then, in 1923, Barlow had associated with Sir Arthur
Conan Doyle in the publication of The Case for Spirit Photography
(1923), a book written in answer to the Hope exposure. At
that time, he says, he could not ‘‘get away from the fact that
many of these photographic effects are produced by discarnate
But in 1933 Barlow asserted that ‘‘a further ten years of careful
continuous experimenting has enabled me to say quite definitely
that I was mistaken. During the whole of this period no
single instance has occurred, in my experience, that would in
any way suggest that Hope has genuine gifts’’ (Light, April 14,
Hope never commercialized his gift. He charged about 50
cents for a dozen prints. This was calculated on the basis of his
hourly earnings as a carpenter. He was very devout—almost fanatical—and
relied blindly on the advice of his spirit guides.
‘‘During all his career as a medium,’’ writes David Gow in Light,
March 17, 1933, ‘‘he had become so accustomed to accusation
and abuse that he had grown case-hardened. His attitude
seemed to be that, knowing himself to be honest, it did not matter
how many people thought otherwise. I found, too, that in
his almost cynical indifference, he was given to playing tricks
on skeptical inquirers by pretending to cheat and then boasting
that he had scored over his enemies in that way. . . . Mr. Hope,
in my view, was a genuine medium, but of a type of mentality
which might easily lead to the opposite conclusion on the part
of an unsympathetic observer.’’
During his lifetime Hope obtained more than 2,500 claimed
spirit photographs. He died March 7, 1933.