Halloween

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween everyone! I wanted to get a post out on actual Halloween this year instead of waiting til Wednesday, but that means it’s going to mainly be a picture post of two spooky(ish) events I attended recently: Halloween at Chiswick House, and Mexico at Kew Gardens. Halloween at Chiswick House appeared to be aimed mainly at families, but I’m quite used to being the only person/couple without kids at these sorts of things, so I didn’t really care. And it was actually surprisingly spooky, though not actually scary (no one jumping out at you or anything), hence the child-friendliness. The light installations were done by the same people who do Christmas at Kew, so they were very high quality, and I loved the experience (and my spooky Halloween waffle), though I do wish the signage outside had been better, as it took us quite a while to find the correct entrance gate.

We also went to Mexico at Kew Gardens, which was an installation based mainly in the Temperate House that ran through October. Since Day of the Dead is this week, I thought I might as well post a few photos from that too. My favourite things were definitely the sloths, but the giant ofrenda was also pretty cool – it contained photos of famous people who had died since Covid (but not necessarily of Covid) – the juxtaposition of the Queen and Meat Loaf made me chuckle, and I loved the adorable skeleton pan de muerto. It was also nice seeing some of the autumn colour in the gardens, especially on the bonsai (so cute!), though I was very disappointed in the cakes from the café, which were dry and overpriced. Still a nice day overall though!

Hope you all have a very spooky Halloween! 🎃🎃🎃🎃

Colchester and Mistley: “Wicked Spirits” and Old Knobbley

Another week, another witchy post! I’ve been wanting to see “Wicked Spirits? Witchcraft + Magic at Colchester Castle” since it opened back in July, so we rented a car a couple of weeks ago to make it happen. Whilst there (since Essex is a pretty significant drive from SW London), we also stopped by a couple more sites relating to the incredibly evil Matthew Hopkins and some of his victims. Essex has the dubious honour of being the county with the most witchcraft trials and executions in Britain, largely due to the zealousness of Hopkins, the self-styled “Witchfinder General,” who was responsible for the deaths of at least one hundred people, and possibly as many as three hundred, all in just a short two-year period.

 

We hadn’t been to Colchester Castle before, and we were pleasantly surprised to find it in the middle of a large park with lots of beautiful flowerbeds, including a rose garden containing a memorial to the victims of the witch trials. The Castle itself costs £11.25 to enter, which includes the exhibition. The museum is mainly about the Roman history of the area (“chester” in a British place name is usually a clue to Roman origins) through to the medieval period, with a small display in the dungeons about the Castle being used as a jail in the early modern era by that awful Matthew Hopkins. There is even a shadowy video projection with accompanying audio in one of the cells showing a teenage girl who was accused of witchcraft and was forced to implicate other witches, including her own mother, to save herself. It’s a horrible story, and listening to her sobbing and pleading was actually quite distressing.

The witchcraft exhibition was fairly small, but had been done in conjunction with the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic in Boscastle, so had the quality of interpretation I would expect. It provided some background to the Essex witch trials (most of which were held during the turmoil of the English Civil War) and highlighted a few of the victims, including the very sad case of the unfortunately nicknamed “Dummy”, an elderly deaf and mute man who was accused of witchcraft in 1863(!) by the incredibly nasty-sounding Emma Smith, who decided to do her own “ordeal by water” on him by throwing him in a nearby freezing river with the help of her equally unpleasant friend Samuel Stammers, and beating him with sticks. He later died of pneumonia brought on by this trauma and Smith and Stammers were sentenced to six months of hard labour as a result, which doesn’t really feel like enough punishment.

On a less-depressing note, the exhibition also included impressive paper cuts showing different superstitions as well as cases full of items traditionally used in magical practices, like a mummified cat and some very cool witch bottles. Had to include a photo of the magpies too, since I love them so much!

But back to the depressing stuff, because that is the nature of early modern witchcraft (or at least of the witch trials), there was a list of names of everyone who died in Essex as a result of being accused of witchcraft, mainly in the 16th and 17th centuries, but as we have seen, one poor man in the 19th century as well, which filled an entire side of a display case in not terribly large writing. There were also displays of the torture implements used to extract confessions – the use of most of these was not legal by Matthew Hopkins’s time, but that didn’t stop him from using other methods, such as sleep deprivation, to get the confessions he needed.

After the rather heavy subject matter, I was almost ridiculously pleased to see the fun display of witchy merchandise in the shop, which I absolutely cannot resist. I ended up getting a moon-adorned travel cup and a postcard of Matthew Hopkins and some demons (though obviously he’s the only real demon).

 

We didn’t linger in Colchester, since we knew we had a long drive home and we definitely wanted to visit Old Knobbley before we went. There is a three mile “Walking with Witches” walk from the village of Manningtree (Hopkins’s base, so not a good place to be living in the mid-1600s) to Mistley that you can do if you’re so inclined, which includes QR codes to scan in order to view online art pieces, but we were feeling a bit too lazy for that, so we headed directly to the Village Hall carpark in Mistley to see the sites we were most excited about, namely Old Knobbley. Old Knobbley is a lovely eight hundred year old oak tree that may have sheltered some of the accused “witches” as they hid out in the woods from Hopkins and his gang. If you wander through the trails at the back of the playing field, you’ll encounter him eventually – everything we saw online said you’ll know him when you see him, and that is indeed the case, as he is the biggest and knobbliest one. There is also a pond nearby that is allegedly haunted by the ghost of Matthew Hopkins in full witch-hunting regalia, and I am glad to say we didn’t see him, as I probably would have crapped my pants, but I did get spooky vibes down there, and also tripped over and twisted my ankle a bit, which I’m totally blaming Hopkins for (I would DEFINITELY have been one of his targets). If you do the full walk, you can see the pub in Manningtree where Hopkins was meant to have plotted against his victims, as well as a bridge where the accused were thrown for their “swimming trials” (i.e. drowning, since they were tied to a chair), in addition to a few other sites.

There are plenty more witch-related sites to see in this area, because it was such a prominent and dark part of Essex’s history, but this was all we had time for on a day trip in order to get back home at a reasonable hour. The countryside bits of Essex are surprisingly lovely (I spent a month in Romford back in 2008, shortly before I officially moved to London, which is…not so much), so I’d definitely like to come back and explore more, especially with all the autumnal colour out. The exhibition at Colchester Castle runs until 6th January, so there’s still time to see it if you’re interested, and make sure you visit Old Knobbley too – he’s worth the trip!

Surrey: Mother Ludlam and the Devil

This is going to end up a very witch-orientated series of Halloween posts, which wasn’t entirely intentional (I was hoping to focus more on different aspects of the weird and creepy), but I do love witchy stuff, and this is what I’ve been up to lately, so here we are. Today’s post is about Mother Ludlam and the Devil, and our day gallivanting around Surrey to retrace their steps.

This came about thanks to my new book, Cloven Country: the Devil and the English Landscape by Jeremy Harte, which discusses the many, many sites named after the Devil around England, and the stories behind them. Being of a spooky persuasion, I’d already seen most of the ones within an easy driving distance, including the Devil’s Punch Bowl and the Devil’s Dyke, but the Devil’s Jumps were a new one to me, as was the legend of Mother Ludlam (and don’t worry, for once we have a story that doesn’t end in tragedy for the witch).

 

The story goes that Mother Ludlam was an old woman of a witchy persuasion who lived in a cave near the ruins of Waverley Abbey (there are no dates assigned to Mother Ludlam, so this may or may not have been when the Abbey was still active, not that any of this is historically accurate) and would grant the unspoken wishes of visitors who threw a coin in the cauldron she kept outside the cave. One day, she had a visitor who left some suspicious footprints in the sand, ones that looked like goat footprints, so Mother Ludlam was able to quickly twig that it was in fact the Devil. This not being a time when witches were said to be in league with the Devil, Mother Ludlam was not best pleased, particularly when Satan picked up the cauldron and made off with it.

 

Mother Ludlam immediately gave chase, and apparently had the power of flight, so the Devil was forced to jump from the nearby Devil’s Jumps to try to get away. However, the cauldron was just too heavy, so he had to drop it in a field in order to escape. To stop him from stealing it in case he ever tried to come back, the cauldron was moved to a nearby church, as the Devil obviously wouldn’t be able to enter holy ground. Now, I can’t say how true this story is, but the fact remains that there is a cave you can visit (called Mother Ludlam’s Cave), as well as a church that contains a large cauldron said to belong to Mother Ludlam, and there are also Devil’s Jumps that you can hike up.

 

You’ve been seeing pictures of our journey throughout the post, but we began by parking in the Waverley Abbey carpark, as Mother Ludlam’s Cave is a short walk away, down a public trail. The cave is barred off to protect the bats that live inside, but you can walk up and peer through the gate to get an idea of the inside. We did also visit Waverley Abbey, where I was hit pretty hard on the ankle on the way in by their stupid gate, but it’s not Halloweeny (unless it’s haunted, but I don’t know if it is) and is just some ruins in a field, so I’m not going to talk about it now. We then headed to St Mary the Virgin, near Frensham Little Pond, where we went into the church to see the cauldron. I’m not a church person, but c’mon, any church that has a witch’s cauldron inside is pretty cool. They also had very neat handmade cushions/kneelers, many depicting beloved pets and other animals, and a nice little churchyard with a few interesting old tombstones.

We then drove to one of the Devil’s Jumps, which is right next to the Sculpture Park that we visited last year, though we somehow missed the devilish aspects at the time. It was an unpleasant slog up a bramble filled path, followed by a clamber up some rocks, though we did discover a much easier, gently sloping path not through brambles on the way down, and I enjoyed eating a pretzel at the top whilst sitting on a bench dedicated to what I think was a deceased dog (judging by the paw prints on the back). There is a sign up here that tells you more about the legend of the Devil’s Jumps, and there are two more jumps that you can hike, but after bashing my ankle on that stupid gate and stabbing myself with brambles, I wasn’t much inclined to do it, so we headed back to the car. Apart from the brambles, however, it was a good day out! I love discovering new bits of folklore, and Mother Ludlam’s story is a good one, not least because there’s actually a cauldron to visit. Will definitely be visiting more Devil-related sites when I can.

Pendle, Lancashire: Pendle Witch Trial Sites

Hi! Sorry I went MIA again for a while – no particular reason, I was simply kind of tired of blogging and of (gasp) visiting museums, mostly because it was just too damn hot for most of this summer, and there ain’t no way I’m hopping on public transport when it’s a million degrees outside. But the break has made me realise that I’m not inclined to blog as frequently as I used to going forward – for one thing, I’ve exhausted most of the museums in London, and I’m sick of paying to go to exhibitions I don’t care about just for the sake of blogging about them, and for another, I’m still getting a lot of headaches and eye strain so I’d prefer to limit the time I spend on computers when I’m not at work (but I am sorry that I haven’t been able to comment on my blogger friends’ posts as much as I used to. Miss seeing what everyone is up to, and hope to catch up with you all one of these days!). However, although blogging here will be more sporadic going forward, I don’t plan to stop entirely, and there is absolutely no way I could let the spooky season go by without my usual series of posts on creepy locations, so you’ll see a lot of me this month! 🎃

This is one I’ve been saving up for a while (which I guess is not a surprise given how long I went without blogging). At the end of July, we spent a week up in Lancashire, which included a visit to the “Best Show Caves in Britain” (their words, not mine), a surprisingly fun day at Blackpool Pleasure Beach, a stop at the Potteries on the way home, and a couple days pootling around Pendle Witch Trial related-sites, which is what I’ll be talking about today.

 

The Pendle Witch Trials are one of the most notorious witch trials in English history. In 1612, twelve people from the villages around Pendle Hill in Lancashire were accused of witchcraft. Eleven of them – nine women and two men – were taken to trial in the county town of Lancaster, and ten of them were found guilty and executed (one woman was acquitted). This was an unusually large number of people to have been executed at one time for witchcraft, which is why Pendle is one of the most famous witchcraft trials, much like Salem is in the US. I should also note, because this is one of my biggest pet peeves when people talk about witchcraft trials, is that just like at Salem (apart from Giles Corey in Salem, who was pressed to death), everyone was executed by hanging, NOT by burning at the stake. I see people talk all the time about being witches being burned at Salem, and it drives me absolutely nuts. Yes, they were often burned in Scotland and on the Continent, but not in Salem and not in England either. Plenty of women were burned at the stake for petty treason (i.e. killing their husbands) and heresy, but not for witchcraft, at least, not in the early modern era, which is when the bulk of witchcraft trials took place. So now that we’ve got that straight, let’s move on.

I don’t really have the space to go into the whole of the Pendle trials here, and there’s plenty about them elsewhere on the internet if you’re interested, but to summarise, they started when the local JP was required to produce a list of people who refused to attend church or take communion, which triggered local people to make complaints about alleged witches in their area. The spurious accusations were pursued by judges looking to further their careers and hoping that James I’s fondness for a good witch hunt would lead him into giving them a promotion. The first to be accused was Alizon Device, on the basis of her asking a peddler for some pins, which were commonly used in magic (but also have about a million other prosaic uses that we’ll just ignore, I guess), and after he refused to give them to her, he tripped and fell over, so obviously she must have been a witch. The accusations spread from there, fueled by various feuds between local families who finally saw a chance to get even, and culminated in a farce of a trial at Lancaster Castle followed by the executions of almost all the unfortunate accused.

One of the most appalling things about Pendle, other than the executions, obviously, is that the convictions stand to this day! Most other people accused of witchcraft have had their convictions overturned in the modern era (not that it does them any good now, but at least the government eventually did the right thing), but not the Pendle witches. Jack Straw, the then Home Secretary, was petitioned to pardon them in 1998 and refused to do so. However, that hasn’t stopped people from taking matters into their own hands and creating memorials to the accused, so there is now a statue of Alice Nutter standing alongside the road outside Roughlee, which was her home village. If you’re a fellow Good Omens fan (of the book, not so much the TV series, though I do of course totally ship Aziraphale and Crowley, because how can you not?), the name may sound familiar, as the witch whose prophecies are unveiled throughout the book is called Agnes Nutter. This was very much intentional, as was Anathema Device, another character, who was named after the Device family, three of whom were accused in the Pendle trials. Anyway, the statue of Alice is suitably solemn and austere – there wasn’t really anywhere to park nearby, so we just pulled into a layby for a minute so I could get out and snap a photo.

Another site you can see in the area is Samlesbury Hall, which as far as I can work out is only tangentially connected at best to the witchcraft trials, but as you can see it is a cool building. I was anticipating there would be quite a lot to see here, so was somewhat disappointed to come across a fairly empty building with limited signage. On the upside, admission was free, so I couldn’t be too upset. There was a sign here telling the story of the Samlesbury Witch Trials, in which three women were accused, but anti-Catholic sentiment outweighed anti-witch sentiment – the accuser was thought to have been coached by a Catholic priest in what to say, so the women were all acquitted. However, other than the women being from Samlesbury, I don’t think there is any real connection to the hall. Their trial took place in Lancaster, not here.

Speaking of Lancaster, you can visit Lancaster Castle, where the trials took place, however, entry is by guided tour only and we arrived too late in the day to catch one, so had to settle for just snapping a pic out front. It is suitably imposing though, as you can see, and may still be used as a prison today (there were signs on it implying as much, but it seems a bit weird that you can just walk right up to it if that’s the case).

 

But I saved the best Pendle witch site for last – the Pendle Sculpture Trail! The trail is located about a mile and a half walk outside of the village of Barley (and you do have to walk from Barley; there’s nowhere closer to park), but you get to pass shops with witch-themed signage (alas, none of the shops actually sell witchy paraphernalia), including a pub (expected) and a auto repair shop (much less expected). Once you get outside the village, the scenery is incredibly picturesque, but also inevitably overcast and rainy, because you are in the north of England.

 

We followed the guide found here, and I was particularly excited to see the boggart, which was meant to be the first sculpture on the trail, so I was quite disappointed to find there was no boggart to be seen. We even backtracked and walked a fair way back to the start of the trail, but nope, still no boggart. We eventually found an empty concrete base where he presumably once stood, and the plaque telling his story, but no boggart. Clearly quite a few things have weathered and even straight-up disappeared since the trail opened in 2012. We also found a hell hound with a poor bashed-in nose, and quite a lot of plaques with entire words worn off, which elevated one of the trail’s challenges, where you were meant to find the missing words in each poem and put them together to find the solution, from challenging to nigh on impossible.

 

But never mind. Apart from when one of my feet slipped off the branch it was precariously balanced on and right into the middle of a giant mud puddle (wet wipes could only do so much, so I had to walk around with an extremely muddy foot until we got to the hotel, and my shoe hasn’t been the same since), this was a very enjoyable walk. We were the only people on it (possibly on account of all the rain earlier that day and the, you know, mud puddles), and it was fun walking through the slightly creepy forest to discover the sculptures. Although the boggart was missing, there was still the aforementioned hellhound, a unicorn, a dryad/fairy, and a very creepy Witchfinder, in addition to some more abstract shapes and a cool monstery chair carved out of a stump. And of course the tribute to the Pendle “witches” themselves, which was a sculpture showing the silhouettes of a group of women in chains. I know those silhouettery metal sculptures seem to be all the rage lately (like all the WWI ones they made for the centenery), but I’m not crazy about them. If they’re in front of a varied landscape, as these were, it’s quite hard to see what you’re looking at.

 

In addition to the poems containing clues, the trail was also lined with stones, each with a different symbol on them. It was clear these had a meaning, but due to the non-existent 4G in the countryside, I wasn’t able to look it up until we got to our hotel. Turns out that each stone represented one of the accused, and you were supposed to work out which belonged to who based on the symbols, which were related to their alleged familiars or specific witchy interests. I would have enjoyed doing this if I’d be able to access the internet, but I’m afraid I simply didn’t know enough about the trials off the top of my head to have worked it out then and there. Maybe there could be a pamphlet of some sort in the nearest carpark? Just a thought. However, I can’t really hate on a free trail, and to that effect, I’d suggest maybe having a donation box somewhere so they could afford to replace the boggart and repair the other damaged sculptures. I have subsequently learned that there is an addition to the trail, in the form of another smaller sculpture park located in a nearby village, but I didn’t find out about it until I was researching this post, so I guess that’s one for another trip.

Although I can’t say I learned a huge amount about the trials themselves at the sites we visited, I did very much enjoy visiting them just the same, particularly the trail (and if I’ve managed to go this whole post without typing trial when I meant trail and vice versa, I think I’ve done quite well!). Since it’s the North, everything is appropriately cold and gloomy even at the height of summer, so you can get an idea of how difficult the lives of the people who lived here must have been, and why they were so eager to pin the blame for any misfortunes on anyone they could, but it is still a very beautiful part of England, and well-worth seeing!

London: Pollock’s Toy Museum Redux

I originally blogged about Pollock’s Toy Museum way back in 2013 when Diverting Journeys was new, and I have to say, I don’t think anything has changed in the museum since then. However, because there are few things more unsettling than a room full of antique dolls, I thought Halloween would be a great time to revisit and do a new post (also, I wanted to freak out Marcus, who hadn’t come with me on my initial visit, as payback for when he’d stuck Tapping Trump (this scary Trump head thing that taps his finger when the motion sensor gets triggered. We normally put it in our front window for Halloween) in the shower the night before, and I almost had a heart attack when I unsuspectingly sat on the toilet and he tapped on the glass right next to my head). Because very few people read my blog in the early days, I thought I might as well save myself some effort and reuse my original text since it’s unlikely you will have seen it before, but because my original photos were taken on a really crappy phone camera (I think I had finally moved on from my flip phone by then, but I was just using one of Marcus’s old phones at that point, so it was still well out of date even in 2013), you get brand new photos to really appreciate the horror of those creepy doll faces (though some admittedly still have bad glare because everything here was behind glass). Everything in italics is part of my original post, updates are not italicised.

 

Given how often I head to Goodge Street for an extremely cheap and studenty yet strangely delicious pizza from ICCO, it’s odd that Pollock’s Toy Museum has escaped my attention until now. Oh sure, I knew it existed, but I think I’ve sometimes confused it with the Museum of Childhood, which I think is more child-centric. It wasn’t until I saw Professor Hutton visit it on Professor Hutton’s Curiosities (which was disappointingly London-centric (and this is coming from someone who lives in London), and I’m sorry, but Professor Hutton kind of freaks me out. Something about his long, unkempt witch-like hair – he looks like the type of man who would have long, yellow, dirty nails) that I realised both where it was, and that it looked a bit creepy, and therefore awesome.

 

Scala Street is sandwiched roughly between Charlotte Street and Tottenham Court Road, quite near to Goodge Street Station. The museum space spans two narrow buildings; one Victorian, the other Georgian, which already made it cool in my book. Walking into the gift shop/admissions, I found myself in a room that had the aura of an old-fashioned magic shop – full of shelves crammed with overhanging toys/ephemera and curio cabinets bulging with miniatures, which were lent atmosphere by the dimly lit interior. The place was completely deserted, and I was kind of afraid someone would emerge from a back room and offer to sell me a gremlin/evil Krusty doll/frogurt with toppings containing potassium benzoate, but after waiting around for a couple minutes, and nervously calling, “Hello?” a man casually strolled through the front door with the glass of coke he’d been getting from the pub next door. At last, I was able to pay my £6 admission fee (now £9), and enter through the heavy door. On this visit, two people were sitting behind the counter, and we were promptly greeted and given an introduction to the museum, but that’s much less spooky. And in case you were wondering, yes, I’m pretty sure that is a Hitler puppet holding a string of sausages in the image above left. No explanation was provided.

  

I was greeted by a winding staircase and a case full of American toys, including a bank shaped like Boss Tweed. You should know that the staircases are quite narrow and steep, and they all have toys exhibited along them, so you’ll often find yourself twisting into awkward positions to get a good look at things, whilst trying to not fall down the stairs. This was further complicated by the fact that I was holding a large shopping bag in addition to my purse, and trying to take pictures with my crappy phone, which requires two hands; honestly I was probably lucky I didn’t break a leg or something. I would imagine this would be a nightmare if the place was crowded; fortunately, I was the only visitor at the time. We were the only visitors on this occasion too, so I can see why they had to raise the admission fee.

 

After successfully getting a peek at the board games on the stairs of death (I did a year-long research project on board games when I was in third grade, and I still love playing them, on the rare occasions I can find enough people to play with), I emerged onto the first floor, which was devoted to boys’ toys (that just sounds stupid and/or pervy, sorry), although some of them were unisex, like the rocking horses and zoetropes (when I was little, my grandpa bought me a rocking horse that I named Buckles, and spent hours riding whilst singing “Home, Home, on the Range” over and over again. I must have driven my grandparents mad). I was actually quite tomboyish when I was a kid, and I loved the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but my mother would never buy me any of the action figures because they were for boys, apparently. I had to resort to hand-me-downs from one of my friends, which mainly consisted of the crappier characters (I probably had five Raphaels). This stuff was far more “vintage” though; I think the newest things there were some robot and space toys from the ’60s, and a few GI Joes. I must have not clocked this on my first visit, but there is a really creepy mannequin sitting in one of the display cases down here. I’m not at all one to be freaked out by mannequins normally, but this one 100% looked like he was about to turn his head and wink at me. I didn’t want to look, and yet I couldn’t bring myself to tear my eyes away until I left the room. He’s in the photo above left. Also, I hate Punch. Oh yeah, and one of the rocking horses kept creaking back and forth the whole time we were in here, so that was fun.

 

On the second floor, I checked out the collection of toy theatres, and then progressed into the Georgian part of the museum, which was unashamedly girly (I probably wouldn’t use quite that language if I was writing this today, as “girly” sticks in my feminist craw a bit, but I’ll leave it). There were some rather creepy wax dolls (particularly so if you’ve seen that episode of Doctor Who where Amy and Rory are trapped in that dollhouse with the faceless peg dolls), and I was the only person in there, completely surrounded by their dead staring eyes, in a room with creaky 18th century floorboards and the distant tortured cry of a pigeon from the ledge outside. Before fleeing (I’m being melodramatic here, I wasn’t really that freaked out), I did note the English doll who was owned by an American pioneer girl, but eventually made it back to England to rest in the museum.

  

The next room was full of dollhouses, which I definitely have a fondness for. I played with Barbies and stuff when I was little, and I had some American Girl dolls (Samantha and Felicity), but I never had a dollhouse, which is a shame, because I loved making up stories for them, and I also love miniature things. These examples weren’t quite as ornate as some I’ve seen, but I still would have loved to own them when I was a kid, and I spent some time poring over the decorations and wee furniture. Around the corner were some teddies arranged in trees, and naturally, in a teddy bear picnic tableux, though my favourite was a poor WWI soldier bear who had been injured, and was resting his bandaged leg. Just thinking about it makes me go “awwwww” inside my head. (See, I do have a soft side!) No matter how battered the teddies were, I still found them sweet rather than creepy, unlike the dolls, which are nothing but creepy, I guess because humans are predisposed to be frightened of things that look human, but aren’t human.

  

The next room though, well, that was another doll room, mainly of the china sort. I was never into baby dolls; I guess I’ve never had any kind of maternal instinct, so these didn’t do much for me, though the homemade Pearly King and Queen dolls were kind of cool. The collections finished on the staircase back down with some war related games, and foreign toys. That room full of dolls had a padlock on the door, which is really kind of worrisome. Is that to keep me out or them in? I particularly hate the one with the pageboy haircut sitting on the bed, though I wouldn’t say that within its hearing.

 

Even though this is a toy museum, I don’t think children would actually like it, as you can’t touch anything. There were two young boys behind me as I left, as they had rushed through the entire museum in the time it took me to look at one room, and they seemed pretty uninterested. However, nostalgic adults would love it, as you can probably tell from the way I’ve bored you with personal reminiscences throughout. I mean, I was born well after any of the eras most of these toys were from, but I still found them delightful. Dusty cases full of Victorian toys arranged in strange tableaux in a dark, quiet museum of warren-like rooms is EXACTLY the kind of thing I love. That said, I do think £6 is kind of steep (haha. 2021 Jessica doesn’t even blink at spending £9, but 2021 Jessica has a job, unlike 2013 Jessica), but it is in central London, and doesn’t seem to be terribly popular, so I’m sure they need the help paying the rent. If you like Victoriana and/or old-fashioned museums, then I think it’s definitely worth checking out. 4/5. I stand by this. It’s still just as creepy and old-fashioned – like a breath of stale air. Love it. Happy Halloween everyone!

 

London: Chiswick Old Cemetery and Barnes Old Cemetery

Barnes Old Cemetery

Cemeteries have become a bit of a standby on Diverting Journeys around Halloween, so I’d be remiss if I didn’t include a post this year too. Not that I think cemeteries should intrinsically be viewed as creepy (death shouldn’t be taboo), but I have to admit that I enjoy them all the more if they are a bit overgrown and atmospheric. I recently visited two cemeteries in West London that I hadn’t been to before (both of which were much harder to get to than they should have been considering their proximity to where I live, but that’s really a beef with TfL) that I think are worth sharing here.

 

The first is Chiswick Old Cemetery/St Nicholas’ Churchyard (they’re in the same location, but they’re divided by a fence), which is in (you guessed it) Chiswick. We visited on the day of Chiswick’s monthly cheese market (also known as Cheesewick, which is apparently what Chiswick was originally called), which is about a mile away from the cemetery, and I was envisioning this lovely crisp autumn stroll through the graveyard followed by some leisurely cheese sampling, which was completely hampered by the absolute pissing rain we encountered as soon as we got off the train. I was completely soaked through after two minutes of walking and very cranky as a result, so it was a shame we had miles more to get through that day. However, after spending all that time getting there, I still wanted to see the burial ground, which is the final resting place of not only William Hogarth (and you know I love a Hogarth print) but also James Whistler, of Whistler’s Mother fame. Whistler, having died about a century and a half after Hogarth, is buried in the Old Cemetery, which is actually newer than the churchyard (but I guess still older than Chiswick’s current cemetery). He shares a tomb (above right) with his wife, who was also an artist, though much overlooked compared to her husband.

 

Most of the other graves in the Old Cemetery are fairly nondescript, so we quickly headed over to St Nicholas’ Churchyard, where the rain finally showed signs of stopping. There are actually two wonderful tombs here (and a number of so-so ones), and I would personally say Richard Wright’s (above) is actually better than Hogarth’s, given my love of skulls. He was a bricklayer, but he must have been a pretty fancy bricklayer, judging by his impressive tomb. And then of course there is Hogarth’s tomb (below), which was restored in 2009. I assume they mean just the carving rather than the inscription, as that was impossible to read – fortunately, they had a transcription written on a nearby sign, so at least I could figure it out that way. It didn’t take a lot of time to look around, but I think it was worth coming for the three tombs I’ve mentioned above, plus we got some delicious cheese at the market and of course bakery from Outsider Tart, a must when I’m in Chiswick.

 

We visited Barnes Old Cemetery about a week later, which is in, yep, Barnes! You’re good at this guessing game. Barnes Old Cemetery opened in 1854 and closed a century later, as it was already full and too expensive to maintain without the revenue from new burials. Rather than even attempt to maintain it, Barnes Council apparently just thought, “screw this, let’s turn it into a park. Then it can be super overgrown and no one can complain!” And that’s what they did.

 

In reality, it wasn’t much worse than many still technically active cemeteries I’ve been to in London, as there were trails to walk on and you could still read a lot of the tombstones. The only even sort of famous person buried here (by modern standards) is Julia Martha Thomas, and she’s only famous on account of her being a murder victim. She was killed by her maid Kate Webster in 1879, and it was apparently an incredibly notorious and well-publicised murder (I guess because a lot of rich and middle class people secretly lived in fear of being killed by their servants and this confirmed their worst fears, and also because there were rumours of Webster trying to sell the corpse fat to a pub (she boiled all the flesh off the body and hid the bones), and people love a lurid cannibalism story). Her skull was only discovered about ten years ago during building works at a property owned by David Attenborough. However, when time came to bury the skull, they couldn’t find her body anywhere in the cemetery, so they had to bury the skull in a different cemetery. If the professionals couldn’t track down her plot, that doesn’t bode well for the chances of a member of the general public finding her grave either, as indeed we didn’t.

 

Still, this occasion was a proper dry, crisp autumn day like I’d been hoping for in Chiswick, and it was a great time to walk around picking up horse chestnuts to take home to scare off spiders (I’ve no idea if it works, but it can’t hurt) and exploring the cemetery. The many headless angels added extra ambience and I had to laugh at the obnoxiously large tomb of William Hedgman (above left) off in its own little clearing, which was so much bigger than anything else in this modest cemetery that you know he was just trying to show everyone his superiority over the rest of the plebs here (a sentiment I would like to communicate with my own tomb). It probably won’t take more than half an hour to look around Barnes Old Cemetery, but it’s worth a visit if you’re in the area, especially in autumn!

 

Nottingham: The Haunted Museum

As promised, I’ve got something full spooky for you today: The Haunted Museum! This is what sold me on visiting Nottingham – even though it sounded like kind of a tourist trap, I still very much wanted to go. I suspect The Haunted Museum is a relatively new museum, and it is meant to be a home for various “haunted” objects, as well as some horror film props. I don’t really believe in ghosts, but I love the idea of them, so I was completely on board.

 

Admission to the museum is £7, and there is no prebooking required, probably because it’s not that busy; we were the only visitors the whole time we were inside. Despite this, there were about five members of staff hanging around the entrance area (which is a lot for a museum this size, especially on a Sunday!), most of them not wearing face coverings, which was frankly one of the scariest parts, though we were careful to avoid coming too close. I think at one point the museum was doing guided tours only, on which you could not take photos, but it is now self-guided and you are welcome to take all the photos you wish, and I wished to take a lot, because it was creepy in there!

 

If you are afraid of clowns, you will not like this museum. Ditto if you are afraid of dolls, because there are a lot of both, including clown dolls, which I guess is the worst of both worlds. I’m not overly keen on clowns, but they’re pleasingly creepy, a level of creep I can handle, rather than downright terrifying, so I was enjoying myself. The museum was basically a random collection of crap, some of it grouped into tableaux, with a laminated (and often poorly spelled) fact sheet accompanying each object/scene to tell you where it was from and why and/or how it was haunted. So there were some dolls from a Haunted Doll Island in Mexico, a bunch of “crying child” paintings allegedly taken from houses that had burned down whilst the paintings themselves remained untouched, and some other painting of creepy children that was meant to suck the viewer into the painting somehow.

 

One of the freakiest areas was “Hattie’s Room”, which you can see at the start of the post. This was filled with clown dolls that moved and played music, and the story of the ghost they belonged to, which was roughly that she was happy as long as she could play with her toys, but if she couldn’t, bad shit happened (which basically serves as a synopsis of every ghost story here). I honestly could have sworn that there was nothing written on that “Play with Me” wall when I was standing in front of it, but I could have just missed it in the poor lighting…

 

The smaller upstairs rooms were definitely my favourite part, since they felt a bit like walking through a haunted house (though we had been assured beforehand that nothing jumps out at you, maybe because Marcus looked a bit nervous – he HATES haunted houses), but most of the objects were concentrated in the auditorium area, which had little exhibition spaces coming off either side of the staircase leading into it. I liked the collection of Ouija boards along with the descriptions of the “spirits” that had been contacted with them – my favourite was the story about how a bunch of kids were playing around with a board and getting a kick out of spelling words like “poop” and “fart” (totally something I would have done) until things took a more sinister turn.

 

There were also a lot of film props in here, and I could have done without those, to be honest. Not that any of it was real, but something about them seemed to detract from the alleged realness of the “haunted” objects, which were much eerier, mainly because so bloody many of them were dolls! I guess the real message of the museum is don’t have dolls in your house if you don’t want paranormal activity to happen.

 

Being from Cleveland, the most interesting item to me was the “dybbuk box” from Franklin Castle, otherwise known as the most haunted building in Ohio (they refer to it as Franklin House in the museum, but everyone in Cleveland calls it Franklin Castle). Dybbuk box was a term that popped up a lot here, and it apparently originally comes from a box auctioned on eBay in 2009 by a writer who had cleverly crafted a story about the ghost that haunted it to go along with it (which is a brilliant idea – I’d love to do something similar!), but The Haunted Museum appeared to use it as a general term for any box meant to contain some sort of evil spirit. I talked a little bit about Franklin Castle in an October post last year, along with a photo, so I’ll link you to that if you want to see it, but long story short, it was a house built by a German immigrant who had various family members die young in unpleasant ways, and it was said to be haunted by subsequent owners. There are rumours that the guy who built it was involved in more sinister goings-on, like murders, which is why the house is supposedly haunted, but I don’t think there’s any actual proof of that. Anyway, it was neat to see something from Cleveland in a random museum in Nottingham!

 

The museum has been used to film several of those lame ghost hunter type reality shows (in fact, I think the owners appear in one of those shows) that I hate watching because they’re so phony and badly acted, and these were playing on a screen in the back of the auditorium. The museum also hosts ghost hunting evenings of its own, although I assume any ghosts are attached to the objects themselves rather than the actual building (again, I don’t think ghosts are real (though I would describe myself as more of an agnostic where ghosts are concerned, but an atheist where religion is concerned), I’m just going along with the vibe of the museum here with my ghosty musings), since it was what would otherwise have been a rather nondescript building in a random shopping parade just outside of Nottingham if it hadn’t been tarted up to look a bit gothy on the exterior (I read it was originally a cinema, but I don’t think it was a haunted cinema).

 

After experiencing everything the museum had to offer, I genuinely have to say that the scariest aspect of the visit for me was actually these creepy-ass bollards around the corner from the museum, on a random residential street, pictured above right. Seriously, this is what nightmares are made of. They were so unsettling, especially because they weren’t supposed to be. I think the museum could take a lesson from that – the scariest things are often organic, and not trying too hard, like this museum was. I do love a bit of cheese, and I did genuinely enjoy the upstairs rooms with their haunted house-esque atmosphere, since they were just good fun. But the auditorium part seemed to be taking itself a bit too seriously, and I did have a bit of an issue with the death mask of Joseph Merrick exhibited here – I’m super interested in Joseph Merrick, but I think displaying something relating to him in this context, with a bunch of “haunted” or otherwise creepy items, seemed to imply that he was something to fear, instead of just being a man suffering from an awful genetic condition outside his control. I also definitely wasn’t impressed by the lack of face coverings amongst staff; at least make an effort when visitors are in the building! Although I did enjoy my experience overall, and was really happy I got to do something at least a little bit spooky this year, since most Halloween events were cancelled, I think I have to downgrade it because of some of the issues, so I’ll give it 3/5. Happy Halloween – hope you can all still find a way to enjoy the best holiday of the year! I’ll be spending it inside watching Hocus Pocus surrounded by the warm glow of multiple jack o’lanterns, undoubtedly with some kind of Halloween themed cake, which isn’t any different from what I do every year!

Object Focus: Crafty Creations

Although I do enjoy visiting museums, I honestly just like staying home best (which is why, unlike many people, I am in no hurry for things to open back up), and one of my dreams has always been to acquire enough weird stuff to have my own museum (though I would have to severely restrict access, since I do not like visitors!). My very talented partner Marcus has assisted in this ambition by creating many marvellous things for me over the years (he’s very good at crafts, and I’m definitely not), and this week, I thought I’d do a mini tour of my own “home museum” (such as it is) and show you some of them (I also wanted to give myself a little break with something a bit lighter after finishing that EuroTrip series. I found writing about some of that surprisingly emotionally draining). If you follow me on Instagram, you might have seen some of these things already, but I hope you don’t mind seeing them again!

I’m starting with Martha the magpie, who you can see at the start of the post. I love all birds in the crow family, but I’m especially partial to magpies. Those iridescent blue-green feathers are just so pretty! Although I’m certainly not averse to buying antique or ethically sourced taxidermy (in fact, I have a taxidermy jackdaw), and I’m not normally superstitious, something about buying a dead magpie just felt wrong and probably unlucky, so Marcus got around the problem by making me one out of paper and card, and I love her.

These are our clown eggs, which I feel require a bit of explanation. There is a thing called the Clown Egg Register at a church in Dalston, where professional clowns are represented by ceramic eggs showcasing their unique clown makeup designs, thereby trademarking their clown persona in the clown community. Even though they are undeniably creepy (as is the very idea of a clown community, if I’m honest), I’m fascinated by them, and I’ve always wanted to go see them but haven’t quite managed it yet, in part because their collection was temporarily on loan to a circus exhibition in Newcastle that Marcus visited without me when I was in the US visiting my family a few years back, which I’m still mildly salty about. To make amends, he bought me the Clown Egg Register book, which inspired us to sketch out clown personas for each other. Marcus’s is named Lembo (a play on his surname) and is a sad clown, hence the droopy flower in his hat, and my clown persona is named Waffles, because everybody likes waffles (which Waffles often says menacingly whilst performing), and I LOVE waffles (the food). I actually put on Waffles clown makeup one day to freak out Marcus, but I won’t show you here because I genuinely looked shit scary. Anyway, this whole thing led to Marcus creating clown eggs for us out of real eggshells, which is what you see above. Mine has my actual hair on it, which makes it even more creepy/amazing. When we moved house last year, I held the box on my lap the whole time in the moving van because I was so worried about breaking them, but they survived intact.

 

I also love Indiana Jones, as regular readers will know, so for our anniversary a few years ago, Marcus made me a replica of the Indiana Jones voodoo doll from Temple of Doom, as well as (most excitingly), doll versions of the two of us, with hand-carved wooden heads. He made the doll bodies and clothing as well – I’m wearing a chicken dress, and holding a book of ghost stories. He was secretly working on them for ages whilst I was at work, and I kept coming home to find him with all these cuts on his hands and couldn’t figure out what he was up to. He’s had to update mine every time I get a new tattoo, unless they’ve just been appearing on their own… I don’t think they actually work (I had to jab a pin through the hand of the Marcus doll to hold his phone on until I could sew it, since the thread had come loose, and he didn’t show any reaction (the actual Marcus, that is)), but that’s probably a good thing.

We discovered Bernard Moss pottery whilst watching Antiques Roadshow one night a while back, and I thought it was super charming, but also incredibly expensive. Marcus managed to find the bathtub from Good Clean Fun on eBay for a reasonable price because it was missing the little man and woman figures that are supposed to sit inside the tub. So he bought it, and made his own figures that look like us, which is better than the originals would have been anyway!

 

The piece de resistance is definitely my witch cabinet. I always wanted an arsenic green room (without the actual arsenic), so when we bought a house and could decorate any way we wanted to (after years of living in rented accommodation), Marcus painted one of the rooms arsenic green for me, and I sort of turned it into the goth room/library (well, all the rooms have gothy touches, but this is where it’s the most concentrated), and I definitely wanted a witch cabinet for it to display some of my weird stuff. He managed to find a used china hutch online that was already delightfully black and gothy looking (I think it might be haunted, or else just our house generally is), and I filled it up with some of my best stuff, including the skeleton rag doll he made me (named Roger), the glass pumpkin I made at the Corning Glass Museum, and some specimens in jars. We already had preserved pig hearts that we made at a workshop at St. Bart’s many years ago, and we also had our fake specimens from a Halloween late at the Hunterian Museum (you can see Marcus’s fetus above). Marcus also made me a jar full of moles, which you can also (murkily) see above.

 

As if this wasn’t enough, for Valentine’s Day this year, he surprised me by transforming the inside of the cabinet (the door at the front opens up, and I never bothered to look inside because I hadn’t put anything in there, so he was able to work on it when I wasn’t home without my noticing) into a truly witchy delight. He stenciled on a Ouija board, and filled the shelves with all kinds of good stuff like charms, protection kits against werewolves and vampires (all homemade), and my personal favourite, cryptozoological specimens that reference some of my favourite films, like a werewolf paw print from the Yorkshire Moors (American Werewolf in London) and a Sumatran rat monkey ear (Braindead). It obviously couldn’t be more perfect, and I know I’m super lucky to have someone that lovingly creates all these things that cater to my strange interests.

I have many more unusual things in my house, but I thought it would be nice to specifically draw attention to all the lovely things Marcus has created this week (and probably inadvertently embarrass him a little), and maybe talk about some more of my non-homemade possessions in a future post, if you didn’t find this one too boring (since I don’t think I’ll be museuming in person for a while, at least I can show you some of my own artefacts!). Marcus’s next project is recreating Book from Hocus Pocus (which we’re meant to be working on together), so I’ll let you know how that goes when we finish. Hope you enjoyed a peek at some of my decor!

London: Abney Park Cemetery Tour

Happy almost Halloween everyone! I have more posts from the US coming up, but since I’ve managed to keep the spooky theme going for the whole of October, I couldn’t resist posting about a cemetery tour I went on recently first. Over the years, I have managed to visit almost all of London’s Magnificent Seven cemeteries (garden cemeteries built during the Victorian era in what were at the time suburban locations as a way to accommodate the growing number of London’s dead that could no longer fit in central London’s churchyards). The only ones I had yet to see were Abney Park and Kensal Green, so when I saw that Abney Park was offering a special Halloween tour, I jumped at the chance. Even though it meant going all the way out to Stoke Newington, which is quite a trek from Southwest London.

 

Our tour was due to start at 3, but we got to Stokey (as the cool people call it) a bit early so I could grab some cake from a local bakery and get a few photos of the cemetery before the tour started. The cemetery is quite near to Stoke Newington Overground station, so is easier to access than some of the Magnificent Seven (looking at you, Tower Hamlets). The tour cost around £13, which ended up being more like £15 once Eventbrite fees were added in, but the description did say we would have mulled apple juice, soul cakes, and bones of the dead to end the tour, which was honestly one of the main reasons I booked on. It also meant I had to miss a London Month of the Dead event that I had accidentally booked for the same day, but I’ve been to a few of those and they’re always slightly disappointing, so it wasn’t a major loss, though I wasn’t pleased that they refused to refund our money even though we contacted them more than two weeks ahead of time to say we couldn’t make it. It was a sold out event, and I’m sure they could have resold our tickets to someone on the waiting list rather than have them go to waste (but that’s a complaint for another time, I’ve got plenty of others for today!).

 

Initial impressions of the cemetery were good. Although obviously overgrown and in a state of disrepair, like all of the Magnificent Seven, it wasn’t as bad as Tower Hamlets (can you tell that is my least favourite of the seven?) – in fact, in terms of atmosphere, I’d rank it up there with Brompton and Highgate, though the condition was a bit worse than either of those. However, the tour itself seemed a little disorganised when we arrived. It wasn’t clear who would be leading it, and there were various staff members standing about, but only one had the guest list and she kept disappearing inside, so you had to catch her to get your name checked off. They also abruptly decided we would all walk to the chapel to begin the tour right after Marcus had gone in to find a toilet, so I had to awkwardly wait around for him to come back (fortunately, the group didn’t move very fast, so they were easy to find). Instead of having treats at the end, apparently we would start the tour with them, which was fine with me as I was starving (I got the aforementioned cake to take home, so I hadn’t eaten since breakfast).

 

The chapel itself was quite a neat design, although there were no modern conveniences like heat or light. In fact, there was nothing in the interior except a set of folding chairs and a whole lot of ladybugs flying around, which kept landing on people (I started thinking of them as death beetles, and was glad none landed on me). However, it is the only one of the Magnificent Seven to only have a non-denominational chapel (most of the others started with an Anglican one, and then added one for dissenters (anyone who wasn’t Anglican)), and it was cool in every sense of the word, so the mulled apple juice was much appreciated! I liked that the default drink was nonalcoholic, because they serve this revolting hot gin punch at London Month of the Dead events. There were no soul cakes, but there were cookie-esque things that were meant to be ossi dei morti, but according to the woman who baked them, they had all run together, so were just broken into chunks. No matter, as they tasted delicious, like the crunchy brown edges of sugar cookies.

Once we were all settled in, the woman giving the tour appeared, and this is where things started to get disappointing. Not because she was bad at public speaking or anything like that, but because my expectations for these events are clearly unrealistically high. Because I’m really fascinated by certain subjects (Halloween, crime and punishment, medical history, the macabre), I tend to know a lot about them, so if I attend a talk by someone who doesn’t really know their stuff, I end up disappointed, and that’s exactly what happened here. She had clearly done some research, but she was working towards a MA in Victorian history rather than anything directly related to Halloween, so these subjects were not necessarily her forte. Really it’s my own fault for booking on, because I know this will happen every time. She started off by drily reading some notes she had written on the history of Halloween, which was all pretty basic information. I suppose this may have been interesting for people who don’t know much about Halloween, but for me it had all the appeal of sitting in a particularly dreary lecture hall. I would so much have rather heard about the history of the cemetery, which seemed to have been much more the tour guide’s speciality, but she touched on it only briefly.

Once she’d finished with Halloween history, we headed out into the cemetery to visit the graves of five Victorians buried there who she thought fitted into the Halloween theme. This sounded much more promising, but unfortunately also turned out to be not what I was hoping for. For one thing, almost all the actual graves of the people were located in the overgrown inaccessible parts of the cemetery, so we didn’t even get to look at them! For another thing, some of the facts she was giving us contained glaring omissions, or were just plain wrong. She mentioned the Bloody Code, and described it as coming about because “people cared about property more than people”. Fair enough, but that’s painting an incomplete picture. It was also tied in to the lack of a police force and the need for punishments to be severe enough to act as a deterrent (not defending the Bloody Code, because it was a horrible thing, just saying it was more complex than she made it sound). The primary reason it was gradually revoked in the 19th century was because Britain had established an effective police force and alternative means of punishment, such as transportation, by that point, not because property had become any less important!

Anyway, the five people she discussed were William Calcroft, one of Britain’s most prolific and brutal executioners; a member of the Mather family who was distantly related to Cotton Mather, chosen for Cotton Mather’s role in the Salem Witchcraft Trials (the connection was tenuous at best, as was her grasp of medical history. She mentioned how Cotton Mather was interested in inoculation, which he was, but then went on to imply that he and Edward Jenner were contemporaries who were influenced by each other’s ideas, which was not the case at all! Mather died years before Jenner was born, and though Jenner was influenced by inoculation, Britain and America had independently adopted inoculation at almost exactly the same time, and the practice was popularised in Britain by Lady Mary Wortley Montagu. Can you tell I can go on about this sort of thing all day?); a famous aeronaut and astrologer named George Graham; and finally a father and daughter who practised stage magic. The father was known as the “Wizard of the South,” and there was another odd moment where she seemed to say that Houdini and the Wizard knew each other, even though Houdini was born 15 years after the Wizard died. There was a lot of jumbling of timelines). Even though I obviously had some issues with some of her research (or lack thereof), I am at least polite enough to keep my mouth shut whilst someone is delivering a talk. Not so her friend, a self-described historian, who stood in front and kept interrupting to add bits in (but not make necessary corrections). It was just obnoxious after a while.

Honestly, I did enjoy the overall experience more than I’m probably making it sound like I did. The mulled cloudy apple juice and cookies were delicious (and the very nice cemetery volunteers were waiting for us at the end of the tour with more mulled juice, which was much appreciated), and the cemetery itself was great, I just wish the tour guide had bothered to do a bit more research and maybe picked graves we could actually see! I hope I’m not coming down too harsh – I just get annoyed sometimes because this is exactly the sort of thing I would like to do, but have never really been given a chance to do so, so it irks me when I see people who have had the opportunity not use it to the fullest of their abilities! I also think that if someone is talking about a subject I know about myself, and saying things I know are wrong, it makes it difficult for me to trust what they say on subjects I know nothing about, like George Graham. I enjoyed getting to see Abney Park, but I would have liked more of the focus to be on the cemetery itself, which I think would have let our guide play to her strengths – I think she would have been great under the right circumstances, this just clearly wasn’t her choice of subject. Still, not a bad thing to do pre-Halloween, and certainly better than London Month of the Dead’s horrible hot lemon gin would have been. I’ll be spending Halloween night watching all of my favourite films (Hocus Pocus, Braindead, etc) and vintage Treehouses of Horror, and maybe I’ll even get some trick or treaters this year, now that we’ve moved into an actual house! Hope your Halloween is just as spooky as you want it to be (even if that’s not very)!

London: “Art and Spirit” @ the College of Psychic Studies

And so we happily come to October, best of months, in which all I want to do is breathe, eat, read, watch, and sleep Halloween (to be honest, I do that for most of the rest of the year too, but especially in October). Because I like to try to do Halloween related posts for as much of October as I can, and because appropriately spooky things rarely come my way in London, I’ve been hanging on to this one since August. So you will no longer be able to visit “Art and Spirit: Visions of Wonder,” as it only ran for one week in August, but how about I give you my thoughts on it anyway? (Rhetorical question, you’re getting my thoughts whether you like it or not.)

  

The first thing you need to know about me, if you’ve never read my blog before (hi!), is that as much as I would love to believe in ghosts, I am at heart a cold hard skeptic, and these people had no chance on selling me on any concept of an afterlife. So I was relieved that the exhibition was free, because I really did not want to give the College of Psychic Studies money (or any sort of religious organisation money, for that matter). The place was exactly what I was expecting (maybe I’m psychic?) – a big rambling terraced house in South Kensington that the College had presumably financed back in the late 19th/early 20th century during the Spiritualism craze when they were rolling in the dough. The College is open to the public for classes and things (that you have to pay for, of course), but I think the summer exhibition is the only time the whole building is open to the public, and it was hard to tell if they had actually put together an exhibition specially, or if this is the stuff that is always in here.

  

In all fairness, the people working there were very friendly, albeit a bit earnest. The same was true of most of our fellow visitors, who seemed to really believe in this stuff (a couple were questioning why you don’t get spirits on photographs anymore, and talking about how “powerful” all the images were), and I guess good for you if you’re able to embrace your spiritual side, but I am a terrible person, and earnestness makes me uncomfortable (I don’t really have a problem with people believing what they want to believe as long as they’re not pushing it on me or hurting anyone, but I do take issue with psychics and other people who exploit people’s vulnerability for financial gain, and it seems like there’s a lot of supposed “psychics” connected to this college). The people working there also seemed a little confused on whether we could take pictures – two different people told us it was fine, but then we spotted small signs in some of the rooms telling us not to take pictures. So I do have some photos, but not in places where we noticed a sign, so hopefully there won’t be an issue with posting these.

  

So as I’ve said, basically the entire building was open, and you could wander in all of the rooms, but some of them had barely anything in them which made me think that this is the way it normally looks. But the building was huge, and there was lots to see (lots of stairs too, though I think they had a lift). I would say the best bits by far were the spirit photography (as seen above), and the spirit paintings (as seen at the start of the post), which were just naive art, but done by people who claimed to have their hands guided by spirits (I had to laugh at the captions that basically said, “This person never drew before in their lives, and then they produced these [very primitive] paintings, so that’s proof that they must have been guided by a spirit.”).

 

There was sort of a shrine room to Arthur Conan Doyle, who was one of the College’s presidents, which was a bit odd, and then various supposedly haunted furniture, which in theory I love the sound of, but oh man, did they take it seriously. I was also cracking up at how they tried to dismiss the debunking of a seance that featured spirit writing by saying that the people who did the debunking weren’t properly familiar with how seances worked, so they didn’t understand that the writing on the board could occur at any time, even before the seance had begun (and not because the psychic had put it there themselves, of course). It was just all a bit too credulous for me. Still, I was interested to learn more about all the devices used in seances, and about the history of the Rider-Waite Tarot cards, since I do dabble in tarot (just for fun, not for serious).

I’m sure I just sound like I’m taking the piss, but I do think this was an interesting experience – if it hadn’t been a serious exhibition, but had been something more in the vein of the Harry Potter exhibition at the BL or even the Witchcraft Museum (who don’t seem to take themselves quite so seriously), I would have been really into it. As it was, I was just a little too weirded out by the earnestness to fully enjoy myself (I was sort of worried someone was going to try to convert us to spiritualism, though nothing like that happened. I know I said I didn’t want to give them money, but if they’d had that “Spirit Intercourse” poster for sale, I’d have bought it in a second). It was certainly a very unique experience, and perfect for this time of year (though I had no problem getting into the spirit in August, so to speak), and worth checking out if they open again next summer, but I certainly don’t think I’ll be joining the College any time soon. 2.5/5.