Spiritualism—Great Britain
Spiritualism was introduced from the United States to England
within a few years of its emergence in New York. The
transition from mesmerism into Spiritualism was effected in
Britain under the impetus of visiting American mediums, the
first being Maria B. Hayden, who arrived in 1852. Her way had
been prepared by the publication the previous year of William
Gregory’s book Animal Magnetism, which contains records of supernormal
occurrences, and by the accounts published from
time to time in the mesmerist journal Zoist.
Table turning soon became epidemic in Britain, and society
invitations, it is said, were extended to five o’clock tea and table
turning. An early controversy arose when prominent scientist
Michael Faraday suggested that the table movements were
caused by unconscious muscular action. Another theory suggested
they resulted from ‘‘unconscious cerebration.’’
Hayden herself was treated with derision by the press and
returned to the United States in 1853. Yet, besides acting as
forerunner for the great medium D. D. Home, she registered
important conquests Robert Owen, the veteran socialist; Robert
Chambers, the publisher; and Agustus de Morgan, the famous
mathematician. Sir Charles Isham and John Ashburner
mostly owed their conversion to a belief in survival and communication
with the dead to her limited powers. One Mrs. Roberts,
a second American medium, and later Pascal B. Randolph
and J. R. M. Squire left comparatively slight
Without Home, Spiritualism in England would probably
have made but little further headway. He was received in the
highest society and was visited by famous people of the day.
Some of them (including novelist William Thackeray, Anthony
Trollope, Robert Bell, Bulwer Lytton, and Lord Brougham)
were said to have been deeply impressed but kept quiet for fear
of public ridicule. Some figured in press sensations when they
vented their anger for having become associated with Spiritualism
before the public (e.g., Sir David Brewster and Robert
Browning). Others, including William Howitt; J. Garth Wilkinson;
Lord Adare, the earl of Dunraven; the Master of Lindsay,
Nassau Senior; Cromwell Varley; and Alfred Russel Wallace,
braved the scorn of the public.
Home first visited England in 1855 at age 23, having acted
as a medium for some four years. He made an impression before
returning to America in 1856. During Home’s tour in
1855, London solicitor John Rymer and his wife, gathered
friends at their home in the suburb of Ealing to experience the
medium’s gifts. Famed poets Elizabeth Barrett Browning, a
devotee of the spiritualism movement, and her husband, Robert
Browning, who disdained spiritualism, managed to receive
an invitation to this exclusive gathering. In 1859 medium
Thomas Lake Harris visited England. As early as 1854, the
trance utterances of a medium named ‘‘Annie’’ were recorded
by a circle of Swedenborgians presided over by Elihu Rich. The
first British professional medium, Mary Marshall, began to
offer séances, but less successfully than D. D. Home and his
American colleagues. British Spiritualists, however, did not
seek publicity, but practiced for the most part anonymously.
The phenomena at these séances resembled those in America—playing
of instruments by unknown means, materialization
of hands, table-turning, and so on, but on a less sensational
scale. It was not so much these physical manifestations that inspired
early British Spiritualists as it was automatic writing and
automatic speaking. Although at first rare, it soon became a
feature of séances.
In 1860 a new Spiritualist era commenced and the whole
subject came into greater prominence. This enhanced attention
was caused by an increase in the number of British mediums
and the emigration to Britain of many American mediums,
including the stage performers the Davenport brothers, who
did not claim to be Spiritualists but were hailed as such.
Kate Fox of the original Fox Sisters who caused the whole
movement to rise, married and settled in England as Mrs.
Jencken. It is said that her child became a writing medium.
Thomas Lake Harris, Emma Hardinge Britten, and Cora L. V.
Richmond were remembered for inspirational addresses;
Charles H. Foster for rather dubious pellet-reading and skinwriting
phenomena (see dermography); the Davenport Brothers
for noisy telekinetic demonstrations; Lottie Fowler for
trance communications and predictions; and Henry Slade for
slate-writing demonstrations.
British mediums were rather slow to arise. Mary Marshall
was, for a long time, the only professional medium. In October
1867 the journal Human Nature knew of only one more, W. Wallace.
The number of private mediums, however, was considerable.
Mrs. Thomas Everitt was considered the most powerful.
Edward Childs was also credited with strong powers.
William Howitt, William Wilkinson, and Mrs. Newton Crossland
developed as automatists (see automatism). Agnes Nichols
(later Agnes Guppy-Volckman) presented mysterious apport
phenomena and the first materializations in England. The
partners Frank Herne and Charles Williams produced impressive
if suspect phenomena.
Frederick A. Hudson introduced spirit photography to
London, and others followed in his footsteps. Marvelous things
were reported to occur in the séances of Florence Cook, W.
Stainton Moses, William Eglinton, Annie Eva Fay, F. W.
Monck, Mary Showers, Arthur Colman, Elizabeth
d’Esperance, C. E. Wood, Annie Fairlamb, Cecil Husk, and
David Duguid.
Organizational Efforts
Because British mediums were slow to arise, Spiritualism as
a movement was delayed until comparatively late. The Charing
Cross Spirit Circle was the first experimental organization. In
July 1857 it was superseded by the London Spiritualistic
Union, a year later renamed the London Spiritualist Union,
and in 1865 the Association of Progressive Spiritualists in Great
Britain was formed. The Spiritual Athenaeum of 1866 was a
temporary institution, established mainly to offer D. D. Home
a paid position. The first really representative body, the British
National Association of Spiritualists, was not born until 1873.
In 1882 it was renamed the Central Association of Spiritualists
and in 1884 the London Spiritualist Alliance.
The tardiness in organization was also manifested in the
field of Spiritualist periodicals. The Spirit World, published by
W. R. Hayden during his wife’s visit in May 1853, was issued
only once. Robert Owen’s The New Existence of Man Upon the
Earth, published in 1854, was spiritual but not Spiritualist. In
April 1855 the Yorkshire Spiritual Telegraph was established by
D. W. Weatherhead in Keighley, the chief provincial center of
British Spiritualism. In 1857 it was renamed the British Spiritual
Telegraph but was discontinued the next year.
Toward the end of 1860 The Spiritual Magazine was founded
by William Wilkinson and became the leading organ. It ran
until 1875. Thomas Shorter and William Wilkinson were the
editors for the greater part of its existence, and William Howitt
was the chief contributor.
The Spiritual Times ran from 1864 to 1866. In 1867 James
Burns founded Human Nature, a monthly that ran until 1877,
and in 1869 he brought out a weekly, The Medium, which absorbed
the provincial Daybreak, founded in 1867, and was continued
under the title The Medium and Daybreak until 1895.
Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed. Spiritualism—Great Britain
In 1869 W. H. Harrison’s paper The Spiritualist Newspaper
entered the field. Under the later abbreviated title The Spiritualist,
held its own until 1881. The Christian Spiritualist began its
month-long run in 1871. The Pioneer of Progress lasted for ten
months, appearing weekly from January 1874. In 1878 Spiritual
Notes was founded and ran until 1881, the year in which Light
Light is the oldest British Spiritualist journal. It was founded
by Dawson Rogers and W. Stainton Moses. Later editors included
E. W. Wallis and David Gow. It was the official organ of the
London Spiritualist Alliance but is now published quarterly by
the College of Psychic Studies, London.
The Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research and the
society’s Journal had their inception in 1882. The Two Worlds
began publication in 1888 at Manchester. It is now the secondoldest
Spiritualist journal in Britain. (Address Headquarters
Publishing Co., 5 Alexandria Rd., West Ealing, London W13
Emma Hardinge Britten’s Unseen Universe ran from 1892 to
1893; W. T. Stead’s Borderland ran from 1893 to 1897; and, J.
J. Morse’s The Spiritual Review was published from 1900 to
1902. The Spiritual Quarterly Magazine was started by the Two
Worlds Publishing Company in October 1902. An English edition
of the Annales des Sciences Psychiques was published between
1905 and 1910 under the title Annals of Psychic Science.
In addition to Light and Two Worlds, the most important of
surviving Spiritualist journals is Psychic News, founded by Maurice
Barbanell in 1932 and now published at 2 Tavistock Chambers,
Bloomsbury Way, London, WCIA ILY.
The Rise of Psychical Research
Although Spiritualism arose in the United States, the effort
to investigate it started in England. There was plenty to investigate.
Mrs. De Morgan, Lord Adare, and Alfred Russel Wallace
published the first important books. In 1869 the London Dialectical
Society delegated a committee to investigate. After its
favorable report, which brought the testimonies of many important
people before the public, Sir William Crookes stepped
to the fore and announced an investigation. His findings, which
were published in 1871, and later in 1874, simply stupefied the
contemporary savants.
E. W. Cox founded the Psychological Society of Great Britain
in 1875; the British National Association of Spiritualists appointed
a research committee in 1878; and the year 1882 witnessed
a historic event, the foundation of the Society for
Psychical Research (SPR).
The development of Spiritualism in Britain has been closely
associated with the work of the SPR; but it has often been an
uneasy relationship. Indeed, many early Spiritualists claimed
that the society’s initials really meant ‘‘Suppression of Psychical
Research.’’ From time to time the skepticism of some members
of the SPR has seemed hostile. Still, the society has had a wide
range of membership and is not tied to a sponsor’s opinion on
the genuineness of claimed phenomena.
The SPR was formed in 1882 to investigate psychic phenomena
in a scientific and impartial spirit, free from the bias of preconceived
ideas. The first president was Henry Sidgwick, and
the council numbered among its members Edmund Gurney,
Frank Podmore, F. W. H. Myers, William F. Barrett, Stainton
Moses, Morell Theobald, George Wild, and Dawson Rogers,
the latter four individuals being Spiritualists. However,
avowedly Spiritualist membership in the society gradually declined
over time.
Other notable presidents of the society were Balfour Stewart,
A. J. Balfour, William James, Sir William Crookes, Sir Oliver
Lodge, several of these being among original members of
the society.
The initial scope of the SPR was defined by the areas of investigation
mandated to six committees (1) thought transference;
(2) hypnotism; (3) Reichenbach phenomena; (4) apparitions;
(5) physical (Spiritualist) phenomena; and (6) the history
and existing literature on the subject. The scope of the society
was further enlarged in later years when a committee headed
by Richard Hodgson conducted an inquiry into the claimed
phenomena of Theosophy.
To find alternative explanations for Spiritualist phenomena,
members explored psychological theories and studied automatism,
hallucinations, and thought transference. Some
members were also instrumental in detecting a great deal of
fraud in connection with mediumistic performances, particularly
in the field of slate writing.
Many individuals had declared slate writing to be such a
simple and straightforward phenomenon that fraud was impossible.
But S. T. Davey, a member of the SPR, attended séances
by the well-known medium William Eglinton and considered
them fraudulent. He began to study the rationale for slate writing
and emulated Eglinton’s phenomena by conjuring methods.
He then gave a number of pseudo séances, which Richard
Hodgson carefully recorded.
Davey’s techniques were so successful that none of the sitters
could detect the fraud, even though they had been assured in
advance that it was simply a conjuring trick—indeed some Spiritualist
sitters refused to believe that the performances were
fraudulent. After that, slate writing declined in Spiritualist circles
and, like the phenomenon of spirit photography, was
largely discredited.
Excellent work was done by the society in collecting evidence
relating to apparitions of the dead and the living, reported
in the monumental Human Personality and Its Survival of Bodily
Death, by F. W. H. Myers (2 vols., 1903) and Phantasms of the
Living, by Myers, Frank Podmore, and Edmund Gurney (2
vols., 1886).
A statistical inquiry on a large scale was undertaken by a
committee of the SPR in 1889, and some seventeen thousand
cases of apparitions were collected. The main objective in taking
such a census was to obtain evidence for the workings of telepathy
in apparitions; to make such evidence of scientific
value, the utmost care was taken to ensure the impartiality and
responsible character of all who took part in the inquiry. From
the results it was concluded that the number of apparitions coinciding
with a death or other crisis greatly exceeded the number
that could be ascribed to chance alone.
There was much to encourage belief in some ‘‘supernormal’’
agency, especially in the last decade of the nineteenth century.
The two mediums whose manifestations led many in Britain,
the United States, and Europe to conclude that the spirits of
the dead were involved in their phenomena were the Italian
medium Eusapia Palladino and the American Leonora Piper.
In 1885 William James of Harvard began a study of Piper,
and he was joined a few years later by Richard Hodgson, who
had moved to the United States to be the secretary of the American
branch of the SPR. Of all the trance mediums, Piper offered
the best evidence for spirit agency. The skeptical Hodgson
himself declared his belief that the spirits of the dead spoke
through the lips of the medium, and among others who held
that fraud would not account for the revelations given by Piper
in the trance state were James, Sir Oliver Lodge, F. W. H.
Myers, and James H. Hyslop.
Frank Podmore, while not admitting any supernormal
agency, suggested that telepathy, probably aided by skillful observations
and carefully conducted inquiries concerning the affairs
of prospective sitters, might help to explain the matter. Eleanor
Sidgwick also suggested that Piper probably received
telepathic communications from the spirits of the dead and reproduced
them in her automatic speaking and writing.
The other medium, Eusapia Palladino, after attracting considerable
attention from Cesare Lombroso, Charles Richet,
Camille Flammarion, and others on the Continent, went to
Britain in 1895. Several British scientists, including Lodge and
Myers, had already witnessed her powers on the Continent, at
Richet’s invitation. Lodge, at least, said he was satisfied that no
known agency was responsible for the remarkable manifestaSpiritualism—Great
Britain Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed.
tions of Palladino. The British sittings were held at Cambridge,
and because it was proved conclusively that the medium made
use of fraud, the majority of the investigators ascribed her
‘‘manifestations’’ entirely to that. Later, in 1898, more séances
were held at Paris, and they were so successful that Richet,
Myers, and Lodge once more declared themselves satisfied of
the genuineness of the phenomena.
Perhaps the most convincing evidence for the working of
some paranormal agency, however, was to be found in the famous
cross correspondence experiments conducted in the
early twentieth century. F. W. H. Myers had suggested before
he died that if a spirit control were to give the same message
to two or more mediums, it would go far to establish the independent
existence of such control.
On the deaths of Sidgwick (in August 1900) and F. W. H.
Myers (in January 1901) it was thought that if mediums were
controlled by their spirits some agreement might be looked for
in the scripts. The first correspondences were found in scripts
of Rosina Thompson and a Miss Rawson, the former in London,
the latter in the south of France. The Sidgwick control allegedly
appeared for the first time to these ladies on the same
day, January 11, 1901.
On May 8, 1901, the Myers control appeared in the scripts
of both Thompson and Margaret Verrall, and later in those of
Piper and others. So remarkable were the correspondences obtained
in some cases where seemingly there could not possibly
have been collusion between the mediums, that it is difficult to
believe that some discarnate intelligence was not responsible
for at least some of the scripts.
Toward the end of 1916 a great sensation was caused with
the publication by Sir Oliver Lodge of a memoir about his son,
Lieutenant Raymond Lodge, who was killed near Ypres in September,
1915, during World War I. The book, titled Raymond,
or Life and Death, is divided into three parts, the first of which
contains a history of the brief life of the subject. The second
part details numerous records of sittings, both in the company
of mediums and at the table, by Sir Oliver Lodge and members
of his family. It was claimed that considerable evidence of the
personal survival of his son were obtained in these sittings. The
third part of the book deals with the scientific material relating
to life after death, which is reviewed and summarized in a spirit
of great fairness, although a natural bias toward belief in immortality
is obvious.
Notwithstanding much useful work by the SPR on the phenomena
of Spiritualism, there was frequent antagonism from
Spiritualists during the first half-century or so of the society’s
existence. The pioneer Spiritualist W. T. Stead fulminated
against it, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, after several disputes,
resigned his membership as a public protest shortly before his
death in 1930. Controversies over the phenomena of ‘‘Margery’’
(American medium Mina Crandon) also reached across
the Atlantic to involve the society in London.
Meanwhile, many independent research organizations had
been formed. In 1920 the British College of Psychic Science
was founded by prominent Spiritualists Hewat McKenzie and
his wife Barbara. It was a source for information, advice, and
guidance for consultation of reputable mediums and the investigation
of psychical phenomena. The McKenzies assisted in
the development of the psychic faculties of the medium Eileen
J. Garrett, who was to become world-famous. Garrett was invited
to the United States by the American Society for Psychical
Research in 1931 and took part in parapsychological investigations
with William McDougall and J. B. Rhine. In 1951 she
founded the Parapsychology Foundation in New York.
Meanwhile the British College of Psychic Science performed
useful work for a number of years, finally closing in 1947. Similar
work was carried on by the College of Psychic Science,
London (not to be confused with the former organization),
founded in 1955, which grew from the London Spiritualist Alliance,
which in turn was an outgrowth of the British National
Association of Spiritualists, founded in 1896.
In 1970 the College of Psychic Science was renamed the
College of Psychic Studies. It publishes the long-established
journal Light and maintains an excellent library, organizes lectures,
and conducts other activities associated with Spiritualism
and psychical research.
The National Laboratory of Psychical Research was
founded by Harry Price in 1925 as an independent research
body and conducted investigations with such mediums as Rudi
Schneider, Eleonore Zügun, Stella C., and Helen Duncan. In
1936 the laboratory, with its library collected by Price, passed
to the University of London Council for Psychical Investigation.
Although laboratory work ceased, the library remains at
the University of London.
Ever since the famous experiments of Sir William Crookes
with the mediums Daniel Dunglas Home and Florence Cook
beginning in 1871, Spiritualists had hoped that science would
validate the phenomena of Spiritualism. The overall trend of
psychical research tended to be skeptical and sometimes hostile,
however, particularly as careful investigation disclosed mediumistic
frauds. The different viewpoints of researchers and
Spiritualists were largely irreconcilable, because Spiritualists
operated within a framework of religious belief and researchers
from a largely agnostic stance.
Some interesting Spiritualist organizations did not survive
the passage of time. Julia’s Bureau, associated with W. T.
Stead, was absorbed by the W. T. Stead Borderland Library in
1914 but closed in 1936. Other ephemeral groups included the
Jewish Society for Psychical Research; the Society for the Study
of Supernormal Pictures; the Link Association of Home Circles;
and, the Survival League.
Spiritualism Today
The British Spiritualist movement as a whole continues to
flourish. The exposure of famous mediums in the past as fraudulent
or partially fraudulent proved largely irrelevant to the
less-publicized activities of nonprofessional mediums in home
circles and churches. The larger Spiritualist organizations are
now careful to apply the strictest scrutiny to mediums and to
regulate their activities through professional organizations.
Any unsatisfactory conduct is firmly controlled, frauds exposed,
and only the highest standards of integrity permitted.
As a result, British Spiritualist mediums and public demonstrators
of evidence for survival are the most famous in the
world. Such personalities as Doris Stokes became international
figures on television and radio programs as well as in public
demonstrations but remained dedicated to the Spiritualist
cause and did not become rich. There are now more than four
hundred Spiritualist churches in Britain.
Many of the Spiritualist organizations founded in the nineteenth
century have continued into modern times, and new organizations
have also grown up. The Marylebone Spiritualist
Association, founded in 1872, became the Spiritualist Association
of Great Britain, and is claimed to be the largest of its
kind in the world. It is located at 33 Belgrave Sq., London,
The British Spiritualist Lyceum Union, founded in 1890,
was amalgamated with the Spiritualists’ National Union
(SNU) in 1948. The SNU had been founded in 1891. It is now
located at Britten House, Stanstead Hall, Stanstead, Essex,
CM24 8UD.
White Eagle Lodge grew from the mediumship of Grace
Cooke. It was founded in 1936 and includes a publishing trust.
It has branches in Edinburgh, Bournemouth, Plymouth, Worthing,
and Reading, as well as in New Jersey. Headquarters address
New Lands, Rake, Liss, Hampshire, GU33 7HY.
The Greater World Christian Spiritualist League was
founded in 1921 around the mediumship of Winifred Moyes.
It has more than 140 local branches throughout Britain, as
well as in a dozen foreign countries. Headquarters address 3
Landsdowne Rd., Holland Park, London, W11.
Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed. Spiritualism—Great Britain
Associated with the Spiritualist movement are healers, represented
by talented individuals and organizations. One of the
most famous was Harry Edwards, who died in 1976. He
claimed the assistance of spirit helpers and established a healing
clinic, which is now carried on by Joan and Ray Branch,
whom he had designated as his successors. Edwards had published
several books on healing and the magazine The Spiritual
Healer, which continues publication. The address of the Harry
Edwards Spiritual Healing Sanctuary is Burrows Lea, Shere,
Guildford, Surrey, GU5 9QG.
The National Federation of Spiritual Healers is located at
Shortacres, Churchill, Loughton, Essex. There is also a World
Healing Crusade at 476 Lytham Road, Blackpool, Lancashire,
and a Churches’ Council for Health and Healing at 8–10 Denman
St., London, W1.
Spiritualism and the Established Churches
Throughout the history of Spiritualism in Britain the established
churches have been largely antagonistic. In 1881 Canon
Basil Wilberforce was the partisan of Spiritualism before the
Church Congress. The reception was hostile and denunciatory.
The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland was three
times petitioned, by the Reverend W. A. Reid, to investigate
psychic phenomena. On the first occasion, a committee was appointed,
which reported that psychic phenomena did occur.
Subsequent appeals, however, resulted in no fresh investigation.
Books have been published by Catholics insisting that Spiritualism
is the work of evil spirits. In the period of postwar permissiveness,
active opposition declined, and still today there
are occasional fulminations from dogmatic clergymen that
Spiritualism is the work of the Devil. The obsession with
themes of possession and exorcism during the occult boom of
the 1950s and 1960s confused many people.
In 1953 a group of interested clergymen led by Reginald M.
Lester founded the Churches’ Fellowship of Psychical and
Spiritual Studies, which investigates paranormal healing, psychic
phenomena, and mysticism in a sympathetic manner and
publishes the Quarterly Review. Address The Rural Workshop,
South Rd., North Somercotes, Nr. Louth, Lincs., U.K. LN11
One of the greatest obstacles to Spiritualism was the cruel,
archaic legislation under which mediums were persecuted. Mediums
found themselves accused under the witchcraft laws of
1735 for ‘‘pretending to communicate with spirits.’’ Throughout
the interwar years mediums were frequently brought into
court under provisions of both the Witchcraft Act of 1735 and
the Vagrancy Act of 1824. Disguised policewomen, posing as
bereaved parents, would approach a medium, begging for
some consolatory message. A small sum of money would be offered
as a ‘‘love offering,’’ and if this was accepted the medium
was prosecuted and often fined or imprisoned for up to three
months. This punitive legislation was finally repealed in 1951
and replaced with the new Fraudulent Mediums Act, which, although
not wholly satisfactory to the Spiritualist community,
implicitly acknowledged that there might be genuine mediumship.
The matter was by no means settled at the turn of the
twenty-first century. The Spiritualists’ National Union recently
warned its churches about the possibility of prosecutions under
the Vagrancy Act of 1824, which was only partially amended.
The act has recently halted plans for a large commercial enterprise
to combine fortune-telling with computer technology.
This has revived fears that mediums are still not adequately
protected by law.
Research organizations that continue to thrive were the Religious
Experience Research Centre, at Manchester College,
Osford; the Brain and Perception Laboratory, at the medical
school of the University of Bristol; the International Institute
for the Study of Death, UK Branch, Hampnett, Northelach;
the Parapsychical Laboratory, Downton, Wilshire; and, the Society
for Psychical Research, London.
Berger, Arthur S., and Joyce Berger. The Encyclopedia of
Parapsychology and Psychical Research. New York Paragon
House, 1991.
Edmunds, Simeon. Spiritualism A Critical Survey. Wellingborough,
England Aquarian Press, 1966.
Hall, Trevor H. The Spiritualists The Story of Florence Cook and
William Crookes. London Gerald Duckworth, 1962. Reprint,
New York GarrettHelix, 1963.
Medhurst, R. G., comp. Crookes and the Spirit World A Collection
of Writings by or Concerning the Work of Sir William Crookes.
New York Taplinger, 1972.
Roberts, Estelle. Forty Years a Medium. London Herbert Jenkins,
1959. Rev. ed. Fifty Years a Medium. London Corgi, 1969.
Stemman, Roy. One Hundred Years of Spiritualism The Story
of the Spiritualist Association of Great Britain, 1872–1912. London
SAGB, 1972.
———. Spirits and Spirit Worlds. London Aldus Books, 1975.
Stokes, Doris, and Linda Dearsley. Voices In My Ear The Autobiography
of a Medium. London Futura, 1980.
Time-Life Books. Spirit Summonings, Mysteries of the Unknown
Series. Alexandria, Va. Time-Life Books, 1996.