Tag Archives: Cyanography

Halloween story – the photocopier

I have a friend called Dave who works in a library in west London, and is sometimes involved with archives. He’s about my age so naturally some people get us confused. He knows a woman named Blanka who works at the something or other institute somewhere in London.She seemed to think we were the same person. We’re not. For one thing he doesn’t write a blog. But he does like my blog and he was very taken with the posts about the Gloucester Road / Cromwell Road area I did a while back. He remembered walking down Ashburn Mews once or twice. I told him that someone else I know had walked down the same road just after the buildings were demolished, leaving just the paving along the route of the street. I also had some pictures of the cleared site. When he saw them he made me take him on a pilgrimage to the place where Ashburn Mews used to be. It’s just an apartment block now, not really evocative in itself so we soon ran out of things to say about this “ghost street” as he called it.

 

 

 

This took us onto ghost stories. I knew that he attended the gatherings at Trankel’s bookshop near the Barbican and that once a year they dressed up in period costume and told ghost stories. This year a guy called Andy told a story about his grandmother who saw fairies. (Andy saw them too apparently) Blanka had a curious and fantastic tale about a portal under an office block in Holborn which took a party of people to a cold desert full of decaying ships. That sounds good I said. The trouble is, I think she believes it. In fact, I think she was one of the people in it. We agreed that Blanka was a pretty strange woman and debated the chances of her telling the truth. (Low, but not impossible). I asked him what story he told and he said it was more of an anecdote really and didn’t rise to the level of a supernatural tale. We had reached a pub in one of the streets off Gloucester Road and found a quiet corner so he told me the story, apologetically.

 

[ The entrance as it was]

[The exit, some years later]

He began by saying that this all happened in the 90s when we had the internet but weren’t quite sure what it was for. People who worked in offices had email and scanners, and phones were getting smaller every year as if poised in preparation for the great leap forward to smartphones when they could start getting bigger again. He remembered going to a meeting about what was thought at the time to be a controversial topic, moving a collection from the branch where it had always been to somewhere not far away. The minutes of the meeting were printed out on red paper to make photocopies harder. Yes, he said that was weird but it was not the weirdest photocopier story he had.

 

 

It seemed they had this big colour photocopier in the reference section, quite an expensive model which produced very good copies. Dave had used it to make copies of some pastel sketches which he then put on display without anyone noticing they were copies. Someone went so far as to steal a couple of them. Imagine the art dealer’s face when the person tried to sell them. Old Man Trankler himself came in on one occasion with his daughter Nicola. They copied an entire book, including some intriguing illustrations which Dave thought was pretty barbarous behaviour for an antiquarian book dealer. Later he wondered if this had anything to do with what happened subsequently.

 

 

Hardly anyone remembers Amy K these days. She was an actress/singer who was in the single season supernatural drama Heaven is Wide. I can’t even remember what channel it was on. Amy also had a moderately successful single singing with Dr Hoffmann, another group nobody remembers. Weapons of Love? Velocity Girl? The video featured, I don’t know, something supernatural. Killers, angels, refugees. One of those probably.

 

 

And there was a scandal. Amy was believed to have slept with some chat show host, a married man, whose wife kicked off big time in the tabloids out for Amy’s blood. Metaphorically speaking.So at the height of this minor furore, Amy K was sitting in Dave’s reference library, listlessly flicking through old bound copies of Vogue and Harper’s and L’Officiel, and occasionally wrestling the volume onto the photocopier to take a copy of some 70s fashion item. That’s a tricky business with tight binding and heavy volumes. So it wasn’t untoward for Dave to help her, and engage in some light chat.

 

 

We got side tracked here by a discussion of whether Amy K was more famous than Alex Cox, who Dave had also spoken to in the library. I naturally stood up for the pre-eminence of the director of Death and the Compass. Dave acquiesced, and said that, in addition, Mr Cox was a very pleasant man to talk to, while it had to be admitted that Amy was sometimes a bit vague, as if she was recovering from a hard night creating scandal.

The odd thing about all this was that this was the zenith of the scandal and Amy K was being chased all over London. One day, a pair of photographers came into the library to look for her. They apparently failed to spot her in her usual seat near the photocopier, opposite where Dave sat. He looked over at her and she smiled back. He kept a straight face and They went away. On another occasion another guy had caught her in the street and followed her inside. Once again, he failed to spot her, even when she picked up a book and photocopied a couple of pages from it.

 

 

The same guy came back the next day and asked Dave straight out had he ever seen Amy K. This presented Dave with a mild professional dilemma. Should he give a customer a piece of information he knew, or should he protect another customer’s privacy? Well, Data Protection was paramount in this case, Dave said, and the fact that Amy was attractive and friendly had nothing to do with it.

Then the guy asked another question. Is there something here which might interfere with a camera? I took some pictures just outside and none of them worked. He had one of those new-fangled digital cameras so it was not as though there could be anything wrong with the film.

 

 

The next day when Amy arrived a whole throng of photographers had gathered outside but the porters, who also knew Amy it seemed, wouldn’t let them in. Amy fixed Dave with another smile. Was there a back way out of the building? There was of course, a particularly obscure route through the basement which came out in a street behind the building. When the two of them emerged, Amy asked if there was a quiet pub nearby where they could hide out. There was, a couple of streets away, and they spent an hour or so there with Amy chatting about Vixen and the general unreliability of people in the music industry.

Dave was very pleased with himself, but thought that the library was too well known now for Amy to hole up there again, and he was right. He did receive a DVD of Vixen in the post, with some extras that never made it to the version that was eventually released, but apart from that he never heard from Amy again.

 

 

 

The punch line, if there is one, is that one morning a week or so later he came in early and found that the photocopier had spewed out dozens of copies apparently of its own volition. There was paper scattered all over the floor. Among all the second and third copies that had never appeared were pictures that couldn’t have come from the copier, including several of Amy, sitting in the library, or running down the street. And one of her sitting in the pub with Dave.

 

The fault on the photocopier never re-occurred But a few months later, a highly strung member of staff punched the touch screen, which had to be replaced at considerable cost. The photocopier was never the same afterwards and was replaced with a model which was newer, but never gave such high quality copies

So was that a ghost story? Call it a Fortean anecdote I said. I took out the pictures of Ashburn Mews and its mutation into a temporary car park out of my bag and we turned back to the subject of vanished streets, forgotten places and buildings that never were.

.

 

Postscript

I was once told I had a doppelganger, who sold newspapers and magazines at Baron’s Court Station. I never went to look for myself. I didn’t want to tempt fate. Neither of the Daves in this week’s post are me, but in some alternate world maybe..

I usually say at Halloween that normal service will be resumed next week. But this week I’ll just apologise to those who don’t like having the real and the imaginary mixed up. Anyone who recognizes themselves or someone they know in this post must surely be mistaken as of course a resemblance to any real person would be entirely coincidental.

 

 

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Halloween story – the shop

This year’s Halloween post has been sent to us by Blanka Azdajic, Acting Head of Visitations at the Institute of Hermetic Research. It originated with one of the researchers who used to visit the Supplications Room at the Institute.

When I was a teenager, 15 or 16, I would go into town on Saturday mornings, buy a couple of meat pies from Blake’s and mooch around the few places that sold books and records. Or I might go to one of the tiny newsagents and ask to see the latest batch of American comics, usually Marvel which some of them kept in the back as there was very little room on the racks. Or I might go into the old Gothic market hall, a huge open space with a glass roof where, along with the clothes and food stalls, there was a place you could buy monster magazines.

 

On this particular day I had to stay at home in the morning for a visit by my Uncle James so I didn’t get into town until mid-afternoon. Blake’s had sold all the pies. I spent some time in a new record shop in Watergate Street in the Rows so when I got to the market it was already starting to close.

 

 

I rushed to the stall and quickly bought two issues of Famous Monsters of Filmland and one of Castle of Frankenstein, more than I could afford really after buying two LPs, but if there wasn’t enough change in my pocket for the bus I could always walk.

 

 

There was an exit at the rear of the market which I had never used but I could guess where it came out. I found myself in a yard behind what I assumed was a pub, rather run down. But there was an open gate so I carried on into a narrow cobbled street. There were a few of these near the cathedral so I was not too surprised. But although it was a bit overcast and there was a slight drizzle it didn’t seem like late afternoon, more like midday.

 

 

The street wound round a corner as I expected past a couple of shops. The first sold elaborate antique dolls and tin toys. One of the dolls was almost life size, slumped back like a person who had just passed out. It wore a shiny dress too big for it. A cat, also pretty substantial, dozed on the ends of the skirt. There were a number of small grotesque figurines on a shelf. They were strange enough for me to want to move on, especially as the next shop was a bookshop.

It was clearly full of antiquarian books, but visible through the window were two browser boxes full of colourful hardbacks and paperbacks which looked like my kind of thing and might not be too expensive. I went in, causing a bell to ring. No-one came immediately so I started looking and regretted it at once as there were several books I wanted, some quite reasonably priced.

 

A Panther edition of HP Lovecraft’s Dagon and other macabre tales with a marvelous cover in black and white showing a number of squirming demons. William Hope Hodgson’s Carnacki the ghost finder (I loved the House on the Borderland and would buy anything by him).

 

 

William Burroughs’s Naked Lunch and Soft Machine with their mirrored covers which I knew would be beyond me but I wanted anyway. A small hardback by a woman called Hope-Elliott which I had heard of in an introduction by Lin Carter to a Lord Dunsany book.

I put the pile on top of the box and looked around. Near me was a shelf of illustrated books, featuring artists I had heard of – Aubrey Beardsley, Sidney Sime, Arthur Rackham – and a book called Sweet Gwendoline which I found riveting but knew straight away I could never contemplate taking home. As I hastily returned it to the shelf I heard a rustling sound and realised that someone had been sitting at the back of the room all the time I was there. The person wore a long old-fashioned dress like something in a costume drama. As I looked closer I realised she (or he?) was wearing a mask like a doll’s face.

 

I froze up as my eyes seemed to meet the living eyes visible through the eye holes. I was sure I was ready to bolt out of the door if the person spoke to me.

But it was someone else who spoke, a woman of about 30 I thought. She also wore a long dress but this was more like a modern maxi skirt, gauzy and brightly coloured.

“Have you found something? I normally put the boxes outside but the weather looks a bit treacherous.”

I showed her what I had selected.

“Oh yes, all good stuff here. This is my kind of thing too.”

She glanced across at the masked woman.

“Don’t let her bother you, she only does it for effect. Laura, take that thing off, you’re bothering the customers.”

Laura did as she was asked, revealing a pretty girl only a little older than me. She also removed her wig and showed her own hair, straight and black cut in a bob. She wore black make-up round her eyes, presumably to make them stand out through the eye holes of the mask. She still looked pretty, very pretty in fact. The two of them were beautiful but left me apprehensive as confident young women sometimes do when you’re a teenager.

Laura smiled at me in a friendly way but didn’t say anything.

“No one I know better for mysterious and enigmatic if that’s what you like” said the woman. “I’m Alice. Now I see you’ve picked out Travels to Faery. That’s a good one. That shows a degree of discernment on your part if you don’t mind me sounding a bit patronising.”

I told her where I’d heard about it.

“Oh Lin Carter! Always letting the cat out of the bag. Now if you fancy that, I think you would love this.”

She produced a small green hardback, obviously old, with an ornate design on the cover. I had seen a few books like that at Uncle James’s London flat.

“Helena Endicott. Impressions of the Hidden World. 1936. I don’t suppose you’ve ever heard of her brother? No, probably a good thing. This is quite rare but I believe that books should find their owners.”

She named a price that was not outrageous for my pocket and I was so under her spell that I would have bought it at twice the price…if only I had the money.

I mentioned my lack of cash. She asked to see the LPs I’d bought and the magazines. I got them out and she looked at them closely. Laura picked up the Castle of Frankenstein and started reading it. I asked if she would keep the books till I could come back, maybe even the next day. She frowned a little at this and then seemed to come to a decision, smiling at me.

 

 

“What you should do is open an account with us and then you can take the books away today. Sit down, let’s just fill out a form.”

There was no form. She just wrote down my name and address and date of birth on a sheet of cream paper, with an expensive looking fountain pen. She got me to sign my name at the bottom, then wrote hers, Fletcher. She took a small lancet out of the desk drawer.

“There! Now just a drop of blood. Oh, don’t worry, nothing to be afraid of.”

Before I could object she was holding one of my finger in one hand and pricking it with the lancet, squeezing a tiny drop of blood into a small wine glass filled with water, or what I assumed was water.

“No problem, was it?”

She was applying pressure to the finger. The whole business was incredibly strange but I tried not to show any alarm. Alice produced a plastic bag with a complicated design on it, but no name or logo, and put both the books and the magazines into it.

Laura held up one of the LPs. It was the Black Widow album, Sacrifice, the one with Come to the Sabbat.

“I’d quite like to hear this. Can I borrow it?”

“Never refuse a pretty young woman” said Alice. I had no intention of arguing.

She looked up at a framed print on the wall. I recognized the street as local.

 

 

She put on a raincoat and walked me to the door, saying she would show me the best way back to the Town Hall square. As we went out, Laura waved to me and said bye. The last thing I saw was her drinking the water in the glass in one go and starting to replace her mask.

It seemed like early evening again outside the shop. Alice took my arm and walked me down the street. It seemed like a long way to me but as we emerged into familiar territory she waved to a taxi and ushered me into it. She handed the driver some money and off I went.

I let myself in and was immediately surrounded by my parents, my sister and Uncle James. There was a lot of fuss about where I had been and how long I’d been gone. It was about 10 in the evening which seemed unlikely to me but apparently true. It wasn’t until the next day that I learned the reason for the panic. Two teenage boys and a girl had been injured by falling masonry leaving the market the day before, one of them quite seriously.

I went back to the shop early the following Saturday. I couldn’t find it. I couldn’t even find the street or even the rear entrance from the market. I went back on several occasions at different times and tried to approach the rear of the market from every possible angle but it was never there again. I have no explanation. I never told anyone about it.

I had the books of course. I consulted books at the library and later at other libraries in London and elsewhere. The paperbacks were mass market editions and could be bought elsewhere and I found the book by Hope-Elliott in several libraries and archives. But I never found the Endicott book in any list or bibliography, or any biographical details about the author. There was an American artist called Endicott but I could never confirm if he had a sister.

The book itself was fascinating and quite unlike anything I’d ever read. In my opinion it should have been famous. I half expected to find it in Lovecraft’s Supernatural Horror in Fiction essay which is in Dagon but it seemed to have escaped his notice. You could perhaps have described it as a book of short stories but most of the “impressions” were just brief anecdotes or vignettes, some of them overtly supernatural, some not. There were mirrors and dolls and disappearances, which was all quite appropriate. The one that stuck in my mind concerned a narrator who watches a cat trying to stalk a squirrel. He imagines himself intervening to save the squirrel if the cat got lucky and then tells a story of a young woman “of the 1860s walking in an ornamental garden at dusk wearing a crinoline dress, proceeding in a stately fashion, when a lady vampire happens by”. Just at the point where the vampire has seized the young woman another watching presence “masked as if for a carnival” suddenly appears and pulls the vampire away, gripping her by the neck like grasping a cat. The young woman pulls up her dress and sprints away. The narrator wonders how often God, or some other spiritual entity intervenes in small events.

There is also a story involving premature burial. By coincidence it was in Castle of Frankenstein that I first saw the Harry Clarke illustrations for Poe.

 

You would think a series of half-realised narratives like that would not amount to much but I found the book highly absorbing and it became one of my most treasured possessions, as if the author was a close friend. Perhaps because of that I never made a big thing about it to anyone else, although I carried on trying to find out more about it and its author.

More than 40 years have passed since that incident. I came to London, made a career and have lived for a long time in a flat inherited from Uncle James. My parents are dead and my sister lives in Australia. Today I went to see a consultant at the Chelsea Westminster Hospital and got some bad news about a set of test results. Not the end of the world, said the doctor. Let’s line up a few tests, an MRI, a colonoscopy, some more blood work. But I hadn’t been expecting anything good that day and didn’t feel optimistic. I walked out of the hospital in a bit of a daze and found myself going through one of the revolving doors thinking of Tom Cruise, who goes into the same building (masquerading as a New York hospital) late at night in “Eyes wide shut”. A nurse wearing the distinctive blue uniform with a mandarin collar under a padded coat walked with me.

“You never did come back and pay Alice for those books, did you?” she said. I looked at her properly and realised it was Laura, the girl who wore a mask all those years ago. She laughed at my shock. Naturally she barely looked a day older.

“Oh don’t worry about it. She’s used to waiting. Shall we get a coffee?”

A few minutes later we sat in Starbucks looking out of the window. She pointed up Hollywood Road where I could see a pair of shop fronts which looked familiar. I couldn’t remember if they’d always been there.

“It’s mainly that Endicott book we’re interested in. You don’t happen to have it with you, do you?”

I did. I had taken over the years to carrying it around with me whenever I was expecting something significant to happen.

“That’s good. We could go over and see her now. You know, she’s looking for some help in the shop? It might mean starting again at the bottom, but really, who wouldn’t mind being 16 again?”

She smiled at me in that same way, friendly but a little bit scary.

“Take your time.”

Just like in one of those supernatural stories which end with the opening of a door or something as the narrator keeps up the story to the bitter end leaving only a series of dots…

I opened my IPad where most of this narrative was already stored and added a few lines.

Laura takes a mask from her bag and puts it on. She zips up the coat and pulls up the hood. The expressionless face looks at me and her gloved hand reaches out to take mine. I save the document and attach it to an email. I’m ready to press send as soon as she says, shall we go?

 

Normal service will resume next week. DW

Venice Carnival photographs by Peter Hhuck. Book and magazine covers copyright by their publishers.


Halloween story – the invitation

This week’s guest blogger from the European Institute of Applied Cyanography is the recently appointed Chief Investigator Kristina Jones who is following up on a previous post.

1.

The customer, whose name was Phelps, was a man with an obsession, He was convinced of the existence of a subterranean passage which ran from a basement somewhere in Chelsea House towards the river. It had once been possible to exit the tunnel in the octagonal summer house built by Lady Cathryn Beck in the grounds of Beck House, according to Mr Phelps. Proof of this lay in a 19th century account of a walk through the tunnel by Henrietta Cole-Elliott, unpublished of course, but thought to be among the papers deposited in our collection.

He had seen the watercolours by Mrs Fletcher showing the summer house and a tunnel, possibly unconnected but I knew she couldn’t always be trusted on the details. I said as much but he wanted to believe differently, as people sometimes do.

.summer-house

 

subterranean-passage-on-the-west-side-which-1098-leads-to-discovered-by-collapse-of-wall-by-ladder-1099-g47

I promised to look through the boxes and Mr Phelps reluctantly left. I admit to being in a less than perfect mood that morning. I had finally been appointed to the post formerly held by my colleague and friend Marianne Collins only to be told by the Deputy Director that the new dress code applied to anyone who sat on the enquiry desk or went to meetings outside the building. I had nothing against the black dress and tights but the outfit definitely enflamed the desires of some of the customers. I imagined Marianne would have been quite amused.

Feeling a little guilty about not taking Mr Phelps seriously, I sat down with the Elliott boxes, wearing a warehouse coat and the white archive gloves and looked at every item, checking them against the deposit list. There was no sign of the tunnel account but to be thorough I also went through all our copies of Mrs Elliott’s books. I frittered away some time reading passages from her faery novel but finally got back to business and the last thing I looked at was a large format edition of Esoteric Churches of London (1905) with many photographs. Stuck to the rear endpapers by some desiccated Sellotape was a pamphlet entitled “Traveller’s notes for Lady Beck’s House”. It came away from the book in my hand. The title was so intriguing that despite the air conditioned coldness of the room I settled down in the most comfortable chair with my overcoat draped over my shoulders to read the whole thing.

“For the amateur Traveller Lady Beck’s house presents a particular challenge. At the present time the house is quite empty and lacking in furnishings, particularly the many carpets and wall hangings which were sold at auction when the Lady became a widow. There is no atmosphere to speak of, aside from the feeling of abandonment. I saw no sign of the celebrated tunnel. I found no portals”

There, then – no tunnel. Surely that settled it? I decided to ignore the reference to portals. I have heard quite enough about doors which lead to unexpected places. Marianne has been gone for more than a year and her flatmate Blanka hasn’t been seen for some time. I miss Marianne but not her friend.

Mrs Elliott goes on to say. “Adepts of the Trick will imagine Beck House and wish fervently that it had survived into the age of photography. Or that the strange combination of light and chemicals had occurred to some savant in the previous century. Miss Collins has hinted that the higher adepts had employed other methods, a workaround she called it, an example of her idiosyncratic phraseology.”

She moved on to a discussion of another matter. Nevertheless, I felt the already cold room turn chillier at the thought that this Miss Collins was the same as the one I knew. I put the book aside and let my mind wander off, thinking about her and her sudden departure. I wished I had Blanka there to ask questions.

I picked out a copy of the standard edition of the book and went through both side by side. Closing time rolled round and the motion sensitive lights went out one by one until I sat in a single cone of light, the rest of the basement room in darkness. I put my arms into the sleeves of the coat and buttoned it up before continuing. I did this as surreptitiously as possible out of a superstitious desire not to trigger the lights. By the end of each copy I was exhausted, and I could easily have missed it. But when I forget myself and stretched out my arms several lights went on and I could see the rear end-papers of the de luxe edition more clearly, and the bulge where something had been pasted over. I used a craft knife to cut a slit around the bulge and carefully removed a small envelope. On the front, in neat copperplate handwriting was written my name

Inside was a single piece of card, with fancy edges.

“Beck House, Putney Heath.

Miss Kristina Jones is invited to a fancy dress ball for Halloween, on Thursday 31st October 1906.7.30pm”

On the back was a printed notice: “Lady Beck recommends Mrs Matilda Stuart’s Photographic Studio and Costume Hire, Brompton Road.

I put the card and the envelope together in a larger envelope which I put in the inner pocket of the overcoat. I didn’t dare put it in my bag, out of an irrational fear that it would vanish or get stolen. I keep a change of clothes in my locker but I didn’t want to linger in the building. I looked up at the picture we call “The Cross Dressing Count”.

the-countess-c-fletcher

I let myself out the back way, my coat belted up and my hat pulled down low as if I was trying to disguise myself.

2.

I had no desk duties or meetings the next day so I dressed in my usual clothes. I subjected the card and the Cole-Elliott collection to some routine enquires looking in street directories and the ephemera collection and particularly looking for photographs. I actually found what looked like the Stuart studio, and several images of Brompton Road from that period. I also tracked down a picture of Henrietta Cole-Elliott in one of the Fletcher family albums.

 

2-women

I didn’t show the picture to any of the others at the Institute. I didn’t want any of them to tell me that the woman next to Henrietta wasn’t Marianne. I knew it was.

Then there was the question of getting to the ball. I knew about Marianne’s ex, Daniel and had even met him once. And I’d spent a few evenings at Marianne’s flat. At the end of an evening, when the creepy flatmate had gone off she had told me about the Trick. And that was how I could get to the ball

If you can believe it, I can explain the Trick quite easily. Some people can use photographs as gateways to other times and places. Marianne’s ex was one of them. And according to her, so was I. She told me this when we were both tired and slightly drunk. The memory had a fuzzy frame around it as if I could easily choose to believe it was a mistake or a misunderstanding. Or it could suddenly sharpen and I could see that my view of reality had been fundamentally altered. She had told me about the first time Daniel had used the Trick. And now it was my turn

I looked through some photos of Brompton Road which looked like they came from the right period. I settled on a couple from a collection by Ernest Milner who took pictures of streets for the new railway companies who were building deep level tube lines beneath them. . I wondered if I could use one of them

 

brompton-road-footway

There was no problem with a costume. I used to work at the Sekmet Gallery in Holborn. The photographer Aiofe Campbell had an exhibition of her Goth pictures there. The staff all wore elaborate Euro-Goth costumes for the opening, paid for by a Dutch TV company. We kept them. So on Saturday morning I put on a vaguely 18th century outfit, some appropriately gloomy make-up and sat down at the table with the picture in front of me.

 

photo

The main problem was taking the idea seriously. But after a few minutes I calmed down and allowed the picture to take over all my attention. I ignored the white letters showing the date at first but then changed them in my mind. I imagined the view in 3D. I heard distant sounds clattering. At the last moment there was an unfamiliar smell, quite pungent. I felt myself leaning forward.

bell-and-horns-2-fulham-road-oct-18-1902-woman-in-black

The clattering was the wheels of a wooden trolley being pushed along the street. A man in dark clothes wearing a peaked cap was pushing the trolley walking beside another man in an overcoat. A woman in black with a pale face across the road stared at me but showed no sign of seeing me appear out of nowhere. The two men looked at me and shared some joke, but they didn’t seem hostile. I grabbed the skirts of my dress on both sides and walked onto the main road. It was early in the morning. There were a few people about, mostly men, but a few women in dark, heavy dresses, or skirts with white blouses. Everyone looked at me, but no one spoke. One young woman in an elaborate wide brimmed hat smiled at me and nodded. I nodded back. I looked at the shop fronts, noticing the numbers. It wasn’t long before I reached Stuart’s studio.

brompton-road-45-49-july-20-1902-lte83

I had to wait for it to open. A young woman in an ankle length artist’s smock let me in and called for Mrs Stuart a middle aged woman in the white blouse and skirt combination. I couldn’t imagine how they dressed like that every day. My costume was bulky and a little tricky to move around in but it had been made in the 21st century. Compared to the women around me I was lightly dressed.

Mrs Stuart looked me up and down as if gauging how I would look in one of her photographs. I showed her the invitation, now a hundred years older than any other example.

“You’re rather early Miss Jones. But I suppose you had no way arriving at a more convenient time. Please, come into the studio. Many of the guests are coming here today in costume to have their portraits made. You can wait here. Some of us are travelling by automobile, and I know Mrs Hope-Elliott would want me to extend every courtesy to a special guest.”

She was formal, but friendly. If she knew where I was from I must have been an object of great curiosity. Perhaps she was even a little worried. I spent the morning sitting in a hall. Once I’d seen one picture done I didn’t need to stay in the studio and drawer attention to myself. For a while a morose teenager sat with me waiting for her mother.

girl-dressed-like-a-joker-1880a

I carefully took a few pictures on my phone. I was particularly taken with a group of witches.

witches

The day passed. Mrs Stuart put on her own costume.

witch-or-night

Four of us got into the rear of a substantial vehicle shut into a cab with curtained windows while a chauffeur and a uniformed attendant sat in front. Mrs Stuart drew the blinds but I knew where we were going, and took a peek as we crossed Putney Bridge. Something was happening in the distance

rejoicings

masque

The new Beck House must have been a step down for the widowed Lady Beck, but it was still a large property. It was only late afternoon

[Picture withdrawn – B. Azdajic]

Inside I started shaking at the thought of actually seeing Marianne who had traveled so far from home and was now presumably stuck in the wrong time. Inside my dress was a packet of photographs I had taken only yesterday and printed on high quality paper. That should be all we would need I assumed. I jumped when I saw her.

witch2

But when she hugged me I realised that she had simply made a bit of an effort for the costume party. I asked her what I considered to be the obvious question.

“Couldn’t you just have sent me a letter? Wasn’t it all a bit tenuous? I could easily have missed that invitation.”

“Well, when you send a message across a hundred years you have to be sure it only gets to the recipient.”

“Haven’t you heard of solicitors? Don’t you remember that bit in Dr Who? The guy in Blink who comes to the door?”

“You have to make sure that no-one else gets the message. I’ve been on quite a journey. When I wanted to come home I thought of you. But I had to hide my intentions from anyone else who might be interested. Blanka thought any of the living in the Third City could do the Trick, but she was wrong”

Now that I’d found her I was much more impressed by the Trick and wanted to show off.

“I’ve got a bunch of photos with me. And my phone. Does anyone use those to Travel? I’m ready when you are. Back in time for a tuna melt at that place you like.”

She kept her arm round my shoulder.

“There are a couple of things to do here first. We can’t go from this house anyway. . And like I said, there are other interests involved, and a few obstacles. We’ll have to get past some of the guards.”

She looked out of the window at the Heath. I did the same.

pointy

As she said, still a few obstacles

 

Postscript

The picture of Ms Jones is a detail from a photograph by the German photographer Luna Feles.

Normal service will be resumed next week.

DW


Halloween story: the door

This year we have another post from regular guest blogger Marianne Collins, Head of Investigations at the European Institute of Archives. This piece was forwarded to us by her deputy Ms B. Azdajic

To: centrallocalenquiries@rbkc.gov.uk
From: Blanka33@gmx.com
Date: 31 Oct 15

1.

It was a cold Monday morning in February.

The dead girl wore black clothes – a big padded black parka, shiny in the winter light. She had black jeans, fur lined boots laced up the front and a wool hat with an incongruously large pom-pom. Being dead she didn’t need the warmth, but she said she admired our dedication to keeping warm and comfortable. She wished she’d had that parka when she was alive.

But she’d been dead a long time, and would never tell me when she last walked around as a living person. Her first sponsor, my ex, told me that the longer the dead survive in their new bodies the less human they are. They stop thinking like us from the moment of their death and every dead day that passes the more alien they become.

So Blanka, the dead girl, who last walked around London alive sometime in the 19th century, must have been making a considerable effort to pass for human since she returned from wherever it is they return from. Don’t worry, Daniel said, they’re not dangerous. They don’t eat brains and blood. They don’t need to eat at all, although some do. They watch and listen, sometimes they lie dormant, and some of them speak. Blanka had even taught herself to breathe, or imitate breathing. So she came across as a slightly weird Goth. With her pale skin and calm manner she was attractive to a certain kind of man, or woman. I had no worries about taking her to the building site where yet another subterranean development had unearthed a basement room no one had known was there. I had a feeling she might be able to help me with the contents.

The site manager spoke to me to tell me about how his men had found the basement room when they were digging out the roots of a tree. He kept glancing at Blanka. I wanted to shout at him: hey, I’m wearing a parka and a wool hat and I’m also interestingly pale. I’m also blonde, which should count for something. So why are you staring at the dead girl? I refrained from saying anything of the kind and listened as he explained that there were ladders which we could get down through the hole they had enlarged but nobody else wanted to go down with us. His men were afraid of the room he said, and he had a meeting at another site. I would have exchanged a knowing glance with Blanka but as I’ve said they don’t think like us so I just said we would go down.

The Institute is on a retainer paid by a professional organisation the big building firms use so we get the occasional call to have a look when something unexpected connected with books and records turns up.

At the bottom of the ladder there was a room with bookshelves covering two walls. There was a big table against one of the other walls, neat and clear of mess. The other wall had a door. The site manager hadn’t said anything about that.

The books on the shelves were interesting, no doubt about that, and I would have them packed up and shipped back to the Institute. Some of them were familiar, some not. There were a large number of guide books, none later than 1900 I thought, some for cities I couldn’t quite place.

There were a number of interesting items. Vincent’s New Map of Faery (1924), Dr Zachary Smith’s Experiments with Spiritism (1913), the 1903 illustrated version of Ariel Fletcher’s picaresque 18th century novel Miranda. Collected editions of de Sade and de Selby.
There was also a quarto volume – a copy of Hiram Endicott’s Skeleton Etchings, of 1910.

I looked at the cover with its complex gold embossed pattern of shapes which looked abstract but at the same time gave the impression of surgical instruments. That alone made it worth coming. I had to look at it with Blanka leaning over my shoulder, her head against mine, her whole body pressed against me in the impersonal way of a marine iguana basking on a rock.
The Asylum Edition, she said in a flat voice, her accent barely discernible.

Yes. There are people who would pay the price of whatever building they’re making here to get it. We’ll take it back ourselves.

Let’s look.

I held the book closed. It’s very unpleasant I hear.

She gave me a look I knew which said something like: such dark sights I have seen, mortal woman, which you could not imagine. I gave her a look back which said: stop pissing about, dead woman.

There are some images which are literally unforgettable I’ve been told which neither time nor death can erase. So let’s leave this one to the end user.

She shrugged. Another of her “living” gestures. I got on the phone to the office and arranged for a van to come straight away.

I was about to say let’s go back up when Blanka detached herself from me and went to the door. I was going to say there wouldn’t be anything behind it when she opened it, and afternoon sunlight fell into the room.

Through the doorway I could see a ruined building like a temple surrounded by undergrowth.

garden

Blanka had a distinct expression on her face somewhere between surprise and resentment. She stayed to one side of the door with air of not wanting to step through accidentally. I moved closer but I also had no intention of passing that threshold.

Blanka closed the door and spoke.

The Choronzon Sanctuary. It used to be in my country.

What happened to it?

The communists destroyed it I heard.

This time the door opened on a quite different view, a noisy room full of women working in cubicles. A telephone exchange  I thought. Nothing sinister there, although it was odd to be staring at the living past, if that’s what it was. One of the standing women glanced at me.

room

The third time there was a gloomy room with stone walls and and a window. As the interior door swung open you could see something like a wooden operating table in the foreground. There were heavy steps coming closer. Katya didn’t need telling to shut the door quickly.

door
The fourth time there was a desert landscape. There were the remains of a wooden building in the foreground. A distinctly cold breeze blew through at us. I still had no inclination to step through.

Leng, Blanka said.

Desert

 

Once she’d shut the door Blanka said this: The fifth time opens a gate to the Third City.

The van won’t be long. Let’s go up. I wasn’t at all sure about the Third City.

The site was now deserted, with no hint of any building work. Perhaps they all had meetings. It was quiet behind the wooden fencing. There were still some patches of muddy grass and irregular depressions in the ground. Blanka spoke again. Pretty garrulous for her.

There are any number of entrances to the Third City but for each person only a limited number of exits.

She might have been quoting from something, or it could just  have been one of her enigmatic comments.

2

After the excitement of the find I had to work hard in the office listing the books. In the evenings we did normal stuff. We watched DVDs. I tried to explain to Katya why I thought Nicky and Bourne had been lovers. When I couldn’t convince her I put an episode of Hannibal on to illustrate my point that there are plenty of images you wish you hadn’t seen.

That night I dreamed about two women in hooded costumes walking through an empty film studio. Although I was watching in the dream I knew the two women were Blanka and I.

Women in Hooded Dresses - Copy

Something had been going on in my subconscious which burst out late one night.

I want to go back and go through the door.

I couldn’t say why I’d changed my mind but somehow the idea had taken hold of me. Blanka pointed out that everyone goes there eventually but that didn’t deter me.

We returned to the site the next day. It had been cleared to a depth of thirty feet or more, and flattened out. They were spreading concrete at the bottom. The old site manager had moved on but the foreman told me the site would be a car park, notwithstanding the loss the developers would incur. The building that had been demolished was a three-storey block of flats slotted into the site in the sixties. Its predecessor, we had discovered in the local achive, presumably the home of the basement room, had been an odd building with a normal sort of Victorian town house exterior surrounding a mock Tudor courtyard. The house was left empty after the war following the death of the owner, a book dealer named Trankler who was murdered in his shop in the City in 1944 in the course of a burglary. I’d found a reference to an incident at the house in the war diaries of Jane Fletcher, a local ARP warden: “Called to _____ Street. Incendiaries in some of the gardens. We entered one house where a ceiling had collapsed inside. I saw part of a body, the foot, sticking out of the rubble. A woman’s leg. I turned away to call Mr Carter and when I looked back the leg was gone, as if the woman had slithered away under the wreckage. I was in a funk. Mr Carter told me not to be a b____y fool and we left the house.”

sundial

The foreman also told me there had been plans to construct an extensive new basement utilising the footprint of the building and the garden, but the developers had changed their minds for some vague reason to do with the Fletcher Estate who owned property nearby. That was all very interesting but I had one question.

I asked Blanka: What about the door?

Gone. Moved probably. That can happen.They open for people like me. Her calm was irritating.

I can look for another, if that’s what you want.

We didn’t discuss it again. I prepared a go-bag with a camera,binoculars, a tablet, a solar battery provided by the buyer of the Endicott book and a few other necessities. I kept it in the car. Some months later I was called to a building awaiting demolition after a partial collapse. The damage had uncovered a hidden room on the top floor.

Although it was a warm day I carried my black parka in with me. I made sure I was the first person inside the newly revealed room and looked carefully around. The door between the bookshelves wasn’t apparent until Blanka came up behind me. We stood there in our hard hats looking faintly comic.

The first scene was a river in summer, a house visible on the other side. The water was disturbed as if someone had just vanished beneath the surface.

026

The second showed an eccentric house with a tower. American I thought. There were figures in the porch.

house

Without leaning through the door I looked closer through the binoculars.

costumes
Halloween costumes I supposed. Or not. None of my business anyway.

The third time we saw an empty gallery, picture frames laid out on the floor. Either they were moving out, or some pretty throrough thieves had paid them a visit.

A door opened in the distance and a small group of people started coming towards us. We held our nerve for a good thirty seconds before closing the door.

gallery

The fourth was an old fashioned photographer’s studio. I didn’t care for the woman having her portrait done.

veiled woman

The fifth was close to a decayed classical structure. High above it there was a vertiginous stone staircase. I could see the spindly towers of an enormous impossibly ornate Gothic railway station.

Blanka spoke into my ear in a low voice. She had never said so much at one time.

Go up the stairs. Don’t talk to the caryatids. There’s a plaza in front of the Grand Terminus. Look for a nun. Ask her to show you the way to the Doll Makers’ Cafe. Amelia is one of the waitresses. She can get you work at Lord Gregory’s house – it’s got a library. You may need to stay for a while.

She had given up pretending to breathe in my presence. All I felt was a slight impression of cold at my back as if I was standing next to an open fridge.

I’m standing here keying in a few more words on my phone. Blanka has her hand on my shoulder as if about to propel me through the door into an autumn afternoon in the Third City.

villa - Copy

[Message sent 21/06/15]

BA- Marianne Collins is on sabbatical leave from her post for an indefinite period. I told her she would have to learn the Trick before she could come back. I found a print inside that copy of the Endicott book.

drawing

There was also a note written by Bernard Trankler:

“Copy of the Skeleton Etchings by Hiram Endicott. A set of etchings he did in the 1880s, images of inmates at the notorious Crypt Penitentiary in New York State. The Crypt was a vicious place. Doctors, guards and some of the inmates got up to all sorts of mischief there and committed many atrocities. No one there got out alive, it was said. How Endicott got access is a mystery. How he got the book published is another. But he did, in a limited edition of twenty-five nearly all of which are in the hands of private collectors. Five of the twenty five were bound with a supplement of a further dozen plates. Those were called the asylum edition. This copy is one of them. Formerly the property of the library at the Society of Holy Angels in Brooklyn. We know this is their copy because of the extensive handwritten annotations assumed to be by Endicott himself. One note refers to the peculiar nature of some copies which have the capacity to open doors. The book is of considerable value to some collectors although I must assume this copy was stolen”

Postscript

As I always say, normal service will be resumed next week. DW


Halloween story: the stranger

This week’s guest blogger is Marianne Collins, former Librarian at the J____ Street Library, now Head Archivist at the European Institute of Esoteric Studies, She presents an episode of library history with a few local connections.

The Victorian psycho-geographer Henrietta Cole-Elliott is best known for her two London tours “West London walks”(1895), and “Burial grounds of the secret city” (1900) but before she wrote either of those she published a study of folklore, “Follies and fancies of old London” (1885). There was a copy in the Reference store but I had never looked inside. The folklore collection wasn’t usually of much use to my customers. It was my assistant K who brought it up for a visitor. The next day she drew my attention to a page the customer had photocopied. This was the relevant paragraph:

“At the Lion Tavern, Old Brompton, in the days before May Day, a dress and bonnet were hung before the inn sign. A girl no more than twenty years of age was chosen for the honour of wearing the garments on the appointed day. She was carried around the garden at the rear of the inn amid much celebration and then she would enter the stand of trees at the rear of the property where she would spend the night alone. In the morning she would return to the inn and deposit the dress and bonnet in a chest prepared for the purpose. It was commonly believed that on some occasions the girl who returned was not the one who left.”

K said to me, what does that remind you of?

Red Lion Tea Gardens Brompton 1782 2537

It was one of the watercolours in the Fletcher collection, “pictures by an unknown lady”. There were 20 pictures, mostly of locations in west London in the 1830s or 1840s. (The unknown lady remains unidentified but my predecessor had suggested it was Lavinia Fletcher, the traveller who was the first European to visit the city of Khotan. ) The artist sometimes left copious notes on the backs of her pictures and in this case there were a few  lines of handwriting.

“One Tarlington, a disgraced man and a scholar forced a girl  to be carried from his premises tied like a captured animal into his woods where she was exchanged for a woman from Faery who served him in all his designs.”

K had a second question. “Did you know this?” She produced a card from the manuscripts index: Elliott-Cole, Henrietta: papers relating to publications. 765301. “She wanted to see that too.”

“Did you show her the painting?”

“No, I only thought of it this morning. There was something odd about her, really.”

There often is, I thought. We went down to the archives room to look at the manuscript box, and the accessions register. While I unpacked the box K told me about the woman.

” I thought she was wearing some sort of costume. It was a bit like those steampunks we met at Olympia. No goggles or anything, but she was wearing this old looking dress, brown, and a hat, sort of shading her eyes. Then she noticed me looking at the hat and she took it off. She was gorgeous actually, like a model or something. And she had a nice smile…”

“But?”

“There was something strange there0. She was just too charming, I suppose, as if she was making me like her.”

“Did you like her? You made every effort to help her.”

“That was the annoying thing. I did like her. But afterwards I couldn’t think why.”

The accessions register told me that Mrs Cole-Elliott had deposited  a varied bunch of material: papers, drawings, photographs, a travel diary and some odd objects. The date of the deposit was 1936, so she had evidently lived to a good age. I resolved to look for more about her – maybe there had been a biography. As I sorted through the material a kind of story emerged. The ceremony at the Lion Inn had evidently preoccupied Mrs Cole-Elliott long after she had first written about it. She came to believe the event was far from the harmless folk ritual she had first imagined it to be. She found a longer narrative in a letter from a Miss Fletcher in which it was clear that the girl selected for the May Day ceremony was usually unwilling and that she was bound to the pole on which the dress was hung when she was paraded around the garden to the delight of “a jeering mob”.

From a hand drawn map it was clear that when the Lion was pulled down in the 1850s the house built on the grounds was C—- Lodge. The Fletcher family owned the Lodge but never lived there much. In the 1880s it became a school, or women’s training college, under the auspices of yet another Fletcher. This was the time when John Ruskin started the May Day Festival at Whitelands College. That was intended as a Christian event with some influences of old England. The High Mistress at C— Lodge was so taken with the Whitelands Festival that she instituted a version of her own, the Queen of the Lillies.

Mrs Cole-Elliott believed some influence had flowed the other way, and that pupils from C____ Lodge later attended Whitelands. She notes that the costumes in this picture resemble what is know about the ceremonies at the Lion

010c Flower girls 1903

Although she admits these young women look particularly harmless and free of occult influence. She was not so sure about other images.

009a Masque 1902

This is the first of a series of pictures in which she picks out certain individuals in which she is interested.

She had done all she could to find out about the exact nature of the celebration for the Queen of the Lillies to little avail. She evidently believed that there were little or no Christian elements. But nor were there any stories about missing girls or unusual practices. She found one account from, 1887,in the diary of Amelia Jones, a girl from the north of England. Amelia’s friend Isabel was pleased to be chosen as Queen of the Lillies and even more pleased when the High Mistress presented her with a special dress for the occasion. Amelia reports that Isabel went “into the trees” at the end of the ceremony accompanied by herself and another friend , but she expresses surprise that anyone could spend the whole night in the narrow stand of trees against the rear wall, all that was left of the wood at the rear of the Lion. (Other accounts speak of a substantial copse of trees in the garden )Nothing more of any interest happens. Isabel returns in the morning, gives the dress back and life goes on. Amelia never mentions her again.

Mrs Cole-Elliott was able to verify that Isabel Morgan never took up teaching or any other profession. A woman of that name took part in the Chelsea Festival of 1908. Cole-Elliott seems have been convinced that the Festival was a cover for some kind of esoteric activity. But she presents no actual evidence.

Episode 10 group

There is a question mark on the back of this over-exposed picture.

And a series of them on this one,

episode 6 Nuns

The manuscript box also contains this photograph, evidently from one of the summer schools run by the dancer Margaret Morris.

Plate 34

Mrs Cole-Elliott’s note on the back of the photograph reads: “right,standing”.

Again, she implies that Morris’s  choreography had some ritual significance. She records meeting Morris herself on the occasion when the dancer took a party of people around the then derelict house of Dr Phene. I suppose she must have asked about Isabel Morgan.

Henrietta Cole-Elliott proved herself to be a tenacious woman. She instituted correspondence with Arthur Machen and W B Yeats. She attended the ceremonies in Redcliffe Gardens of the splinter group of the Golden Dawn formed by Dr Falk. Was she looking for more information, or was she hoping to meet someone?

One of the last pictures in the collection is a photograph of this anomorphic painting by Austin Osman Spare:

AOS - Woman with red hair 1930s - Copy

“None of the women in these pictures look alike to me”, said K.

“Well that would be the point, wouldn’t it? The Fairies or the Fair Ones or the Fae or whatever you want to call them are supposed to be able to adopt a pleasing guise if they wish. Remember that scene in True Blood?”

“I stopped watching that. I prefer Lost Girl.”

We agreed to differ on that point. There was some talk about Hemlock Grove after that, and then she asked the crucial question.

“So our woman Henrietta believed that Isabel Morgan found her way into a wood which didn’t exist any more and was exchanged with a fairy?”

“That would be about it.”

C— Lodge closed as a school in the early 20s. The house became a private residence and eventually was used occasionally for guests of the Cyanography Institute. Today, part of the Institute’s archive is kept there, below the empty apartments. I found a picture of it from the early 1900s and it looked pretty grim.

C Lodge 1902

The photographer, Jubal Freeman,  had his back to the copse of trees at the rear, but I suppose he had no idea it might be of more interest than the house.
I decided to go there and made arrangements with the archivist, a lively woman with a sense of humour bu no interest in the history of the site. As we toured the empty rooms she made a joke about the upstairs rooms being reserved for the Galactic Ambassador, something I once heard said about a building in Bloomsbury owned by the Theosophists. She was very interested in talking about security and CCTV as there had just been a break-in. Some petty cash was taken from the office, a laptop and, from the archive room a box containing the dress worn by Queen Isabel in 1887. I wondered if a human being might really want to go to another plane of existence and what a fairy, if there were such things, would do with her immortal life in our world, and whether she might eventually get bored and want to go home, and how she might achieve that. But it was no good talking to the no-nonsense archivist about that. I thought I might share my thoughts with K later.

DSC_4521
I suspected that we would never know the end of this story, but one Saturday morning I went down to the basement to look at the CCTV for the day of the woman’s visit. The new camera system was quite expensive, installed as a result of a violent incident. It was possible to zoom in quite closely. I found the woman in the brown dress and hat. I only had K’s description to go on but the woman seemed more remarkable than K had said. She wasn’t beautiful at all to my mind. She was thin and her clothes were baggy on her. Her features were sharp and narrow, her eyes too large. Her hair was very fine. She smoothed it with her hand after removing the hat. You could clearly see that her ears were pointed. So were her teeth when she smiled at K. Perhaps the glamour, if that’s what is was, didn’t work on video. Whatever her intentions had been, or were still, I was glad she hadn’t made contact again. I never told K about what I saw.

Books by Henrietta Cole-Elliott:
Follies and fancies of old London (Wilder,1889)
West London walks (Black, 1895)
Burial grounds of the secret city (Black, 1900)
Esoteric churches of London (Morchester House, 1905)
Visitors from Faery (novel) (Cyanography Press, 1922)
Techniques of astral travel (Cyanography Press 1925)
Biography: City traveller: the life of Henrietta Cole-Elliott by Maria Fletcher (Hermes Press, 1938)

Postscript

Despite Mrs Cole-Elliott’s assertions The Whitelands College May Queen Festival has never been associated with any form of occultism.

C_____ Lodge was recently the subject of an extensive conversion which included a series of basements. The building collapsed as a result of the underground development and the work has been suspended pending the outcome of a court case. 

The painting by Austin Osman Spare is from Phil Baker’s excellent biography of Spare. AOS: the life and legend of London’s lost artist (Strange Attractor,2012).  I don’t normally do promotion here but I must mention that Phil Baker will be taking  part in an event at Kensington Library: “Lord of strange deaths: the life and work of Sax Rohmer, creator of the arch-villain Fu Manchu” along with London historian Antony Clayton (Subterranean City ) and Gary Lachman, biographer of P D Ouspensky and author of many books on occult matters. It’s on Thursday December 11th. Further details here. I will certainly be there.

Finally, as I always say at this time of year normal service will be resumed next week. DW


Return to the Dark City

It was with some trepidation that I accepted the explorer’s invitation to visit him in the Dark City. We travelled from the Overworld and disembarked quietly trying to attract no  attention.

Transition

We crept uneasily up the stairs under the blind gaze of the River Guardian.

The mystic

We walked quietly through the Garden of the Lonely Companion.

Nave

We saw no-one in the garden, but across the shining lake we saw light around the  palace of the Archduchess Persephone.

Nocturne

In the appointed place we found the sign. The whisperer directed us to the Dream Gate.

Crescendo

We had to waste precious minutes waiting for the gate keeper to admit us.

The King's Gate

Now we were in the inner precinct, outside the House of Forlorn Encystment.

All Souls

Snow had fallen in this sector. The tree was a message from the explorer.

The Little Tree

There was one more open space to cross – the Plaza of Inexplicable Desire.

Unto this las

Beyond the Plaza we stood under the statue of the Protector.

The Torchbearer

Someone had lit a fire to distract the watchers.

North of the Plaza we saw the meeting place in an upper room.

Red Lion Passage

I sat with the explorer for hours while he issued his instructions. My sister climbed to the roof to see the Temple of the Longest Night.

Night

It is said that there are any number of ways into the Dark City but for every visitor a limited number of exits. My sister had learned a route through the narrow streets.

Dark street

It ended at the docks where we boarded a tramp steamer bound for the light.

Harbour

Years later we came back to the Dark City intending to stay for good.

Signs of their times

Postscript

Photographs by Harold Burkedin from the book London Night by him and John Morrison (1934). There are some references to the work of another of my favourite authors Jack Vance. This is the first in a series of seasonal posts. My thanks to everyone who re-posted the pictures in the original Dark City post especially those Operation Fallen Reich people. But for those who prefer a more straightforward factual text I think this is the final outing for the anonymous narrator and his (or was it her, I was never sure) enigmatic sister.

Next week, a first for the blog, a Christmas post. Look in on Boxing Day if you can tear yourselves away from the festivities. If not have a happy Christmas. Thanks to everyone who’s left a comment or clicked on the like button, or retweeted or facebooked, or just read a post.

 


Halloween story: the Journal

My friend Marianne Collins, former librarian at the J____ Street Library told me this story. She had been filing some papers from a deposit collection in a manuscript box when she found a folder with no accession number. It contained a thin notebook which must have been over a hundred years old. About half of the pages had writing on them. There was a small bundle of photographs tied up with string. There was no mention of the book or the pictures in the manuscript list and no numbers missing from the sequence. Marianne, who was not the most scrupulous member of her profession, took it home. She had become suspicious of such discoveries since the events which brought her together with her husband Daniel, whose testimony I showed you last year.

The notebook is a partial account of a journey made to the city of D_____ in Belgium in 1896 by a woman named Charlotte Jones. In the first pages Miss Jones reveals she was attending a summer school run by a Madame Herzog in a building owned by the University at D______. The plan had been for her to be accompanied by her cousin but these arrangements fell down at the last possible minute. Her mother who had travelled with her to D___ was disinclined to change her own plans at such short notice. Madame Herzog, a charming and friendly individual assured the pair that Miss Jones would not be short of company of her own age and class. The mother was satisfied by this, Miss Jones herself less so, but she had no say in the matter. The school itself seemed pleasant and comfortable.

Courtyard

At first her misgivings are born out. The other young women in the rooms next to hers seem to be not so much unable as unwilling to speak much English to her, and are not particularly friendly. But then she meets an older woman who befriends her. It is hard to say how old this woman was. Charlotte, who is 18, obviously regards the woman, Mrs Spengler as much older, but other clues in the narrative indicate that she is in her twenties. They may both be in this picture:

img072

Mrs Spengler encourages Charlotte to join her exploring the old city of D______ which has “many fascinating and esoteric corners” (Charlotte quotes directly from Mrs Spengler.) They visit a number of picturesque and secluded places.

street

“The pleasant summer days lend a kind of charm to these ancient streets. Mrs Spengler and I walk them in a relaxed manner. Today we went to a building she called the Institute de Cyanographie. Mrs Spengler insisted we both wear veils over our faces for this visit. Not an inch of bare skin was to be exposed.We were admitted by a young man who appeared to be the only person in the building. Mrs Spengler called him Brother C. He seemed to me to be an arrogant fellow with an impudent stare.The two of them spent some time closeted together discussing private matters while I was dismissed, and had to wander around the building on my own.

library

I saw no-one but in the dimly lit library fancied I heard noises around every corner as if someone was always just out of my sight, which was in any case obscured by the veil. I felt hot and uncomfortable so I went out and sat down in a quiet corner of the courtyard. With the sun shining down I thought I saw shapes in the air flitting across the place but I was overcome by weariness and I am afraid I fell asleep. Miss Spengler woke me but she was not at all angry. In fact she had removed her veil and seemed quite radiant with pleasure, as if something she had been told had pleased her immensely”

Columns

Charlotte continues her account the next morning when Mrs Spengler is off on a private appointment. There is a long but vague account of a dream she had, which she thinks she had dreamt many times before, of a garden and a statue which had filled her with unaccountable dread. She is glad to join Mrs Spengler for an afternoon outing. They enter what seems to be a public park with a long avenue which stretches away into the distance.

avenue

They walk for some time. Charlotte grows tired. In her journal she says she wanted to complain about the length of the walk. “If I had known we were going on a country hike I would have worn more suitable clothes.” Their walk takes them into a small wood.

path

“The noises of the city seemed to vanish. It was another excessively warm day and there was the incessant rustling of wind in the trees, except that I could feel no cooling breeze myself. I was glad to emerge from the wood into some kind of ornamental garden.”

garden

“Here all was quiet. The water of the lake was perfectly still. As we walked on the rustling of the trees had gone. The only sound I heard was the crunch of our boots on the gravel. I told Mrs Spengler about my dream, and my feeling that I had dreamed the same dream before. She pointed out that unless I had related the dream to someone or wrote down an account of it I could not be sure that the feeling of familiarity was not just part of the dream. I found that confusing. Mrs Spengler laughed. She was in a very good mood. She told me her studies would soon be bearing fruit. She talked of the modern myths and legends which grow up in cities. She said she had been told for example that it was possible to gain some undefined power by imprisoning an innocent person in a statue. How many of the statues we see contain silent prisoners? I shuddered at the thought and was glad there were none visible here. We returned to Mrs Herzog’s by a quicker route. Why couldn’t we have come that way? We passed through the grounds of a house with a fountain.”

House

“Look at those poor fools, she said, indicating the statues. I thought that she was taking the conceit too far and told her so. She smiled at that.”

Back in her room Charlotte resolves to spend less time with Mrs Spengler. “I felt that if she could have found her wicked sorcerer’s spell she would have tried it on me.”

The next day she rises early and sets off intending to spend the morning at the Botanical Garden. She finds it rather dull and very quiet. She sits near one of the glasshouses and writes in her journal.

Glasshouse

“The whole garden seems to be in a state of dilapidation. Perhaps it is not actually open to the public. I will go soon. I can see a man and a woman walking in the distance. No, it is just a woman in a old fashioned dress wearing a long cloak. Everyone here seems to speak English. I will ask her.”

The journal ends abruptly at this point. The bundle of photographs was a mixture of pictures taken by an amateur and picture postcards of the city of D____. There was a small portrait of a young man Marianne identified almost immediately:

ac

A picture I thought I recognized:

img062

Finally Marianne turned to the back of the journal. The rear pages had been glued to the endpapers. A date was written there, several months later in the same year, in a different handwriting than that of Charlotte Jones. Marianne had slit the glued pages open. There was one final photograph inside, nearly identical to one of the others.

garden2

Postscript

The pictures are from a book on Antwerp. There is no record of a branch of the Cyanography Institute in that city. The group photograph is from a private collection. Normal service will be resumed next week.


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