Tag Archives: Marianne Collins

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 Proof of this lay in a 19th century account of a walk through the tunnel by Henrietta Cole-Elliott, unpublished of course, but thought to be among the papers deposited in our collection.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

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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


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.


Halloween story – the Librarian

The following narrative was found in a manuscript box sent to the Library by an unknown donor.

1.

The closed garden at Thurston Square in South Kensington is gone now. The houses on one whole side collapsed during some rather unwise internal re-modelling in the 1980s. The garden was exposed and found to be an unkempt patch of scorched grass with some stubs of stone which might have been statues. Before the war according to a pamphlet I found in the J—— Street Library the garden was tightly wrapped in six storey housing blocks and tall gates. The few aerial views of the time showed thick vegetation which apparently filled the garden all year round.

The real oddity according to the pamphlet, a work on the garden squares of west London was that every property around the square was owned by a single body the Cyanography Institute. Cyanography (the name is quite meaningless) was a form of psychic research or occult philosophy dating back to the 1880s. The Institute had been endowed by a number of wealthy patrons and had been briefly fashionable but Cyanography itself had declined into obscurity after the war

In the 30s the Institute had a study hall and lecture room which took up the southern side of the square, some grand offices on the west side and although the other properties appeared to be separate households the pamphleteer, an unknown researcher named Keith Phelps had become convinced that the names in the electoral register were fictional. It was his belief based on a viewing of some 19th century photographs that all the houses were interconnected. All the properties were owned by the Institute and that no-one unconnected with it had ever lived on the Square. Furthermore, the Square which was laid out in the 1850s was built on the exact site formerly occupied by the house and gardens of Sir Richard Fletcher. Inevitably I thought Fletcher turned out to be a mysterious figure who had travelled extensively in the near east and north Africa. His son had been one of the founders of the Institute. Phelps believed both of them were buried in the closed garden.

The Cyanographers had left the Square in the 50s leaving their offices empty and derelict. The residential part of the Square remained lightly populated. People just didn’t want to live there so there was not much objection when a developer bought the whole thing. After the building collapse a series of owners failed to redevelop the site until it was finally cleared and boarded up.

I made a photocopy of the pamphlet. The largest part of it was taken up with the section on Thurston Square and its garden. It was partly rational local history, partly fevered ramblings. I got the impression that Phelps had included some dull stuff on a few other garden squares just for the sake of form. His researches about Thurston Gardens had taken him down a strange side road.

The librarian, a pale attractive woman about thirty had pulled out a hand written catalogue card which indicated that there was a photo of the garden in Henrietta Cole-Elliott’s West London Walks (1895) but even better that a collection of interiors and garden images could be seen in the archives of the Institute of Cyanography. I pointed out that the Institute was closed but this didn’t faze her. She consulted a few heavy directories and checked some of the details online, before writing down an address on a post-it. She wrote down the address without looking at the screen or the book. The Cyanography Institute archives were now it seemed at Morechester House, the final resting place for the papers and archives of a number of defunct institutions.

We examined the Elliott book together. It seemed that Henrietta Elliott was an indefatigable walker, an early psycho-geographer who had talked her way into many of the private places of Victorian London. The closed garden was the subject of great interest at the time as it was unusual for a garden to be so completely isolated. The single photograph was taken through a tall gate. It showed a large number of thickly congregated trees with a building just visible at the centre. There was another photograph at the back of the book with no caption, a much bigger garden, or a park.

As we spoke I looked closer at the librarian. Although she was conventionally dressed in a calf length skirt, boots, and long-sleeved top, all black, there was an accumulation of details in her outfit – the four straps on the boots, the double layered skirt, the almost flamboyantly baggy sleeves of the top, added to the four piercings on each ear and purple nails which made me realise I was dealing with a goth in her work clothes.

I like Goths. I made a documentary about the last gig played by Misery Town at the Missile Factory, the Belgian industrial venue. I’m on screen sitting between Honey Kuzlik and Aiofe Campbell trying to conduct an interview as they finally realise how much they hate each other. A few people recognize me because of this moment in front of the camera. I thought my helpful new friend, Marianne according to her name badge, must be one of them. She told me there might be one problem – some of the collection could only be viewed by clergymen. I said that technically I was still an ordained minister in the Rebirth Temple.  If that doesn’t work she said I can get you in there.

This is going the extra mile for customer service I said. She smiled at me as if she’d heard somewhere that I might be a bit flippant and said that as it was near closing time she would close the department and we could go for a drink. She went into the room behind the enquiry desk to get her coat. As the heavy door swung slowly shut..

..I saw another woman standing pressed against the wall just inside the room. I only saw her for a few seconds. Marianne came back quite quickly wearing a dark green trench coat. I looked again but the woman had gone.

It was only as we walked downstairs that I fully processed what I thought I had seen. The woman was only wearing her underwear. Had she caught my eye with an expression that said she was terrified but that I should say nothing, or was I reading that in to a fleeting impression? Marianne was talking, telling me to put on a suit and look serious the next day.

2.

Morechester House was a grimy anonymous building somewhere near Marylebone Station. I had put on a black suit. Marianne had almost dressed for an Edwardian funeral, in a long black skirt and jacket. Her head was bare though and her hair down. There was some very subtle make up work which made her skin even paler than the evening before. The only colour on her was dark red lipstick. It’s a full time job being a goth, I thought without considering any other explanation.

It wasn’t necessary to prove my religious credentials. It seemed Marianne had called ahead. We just had to sign in and follow a receptionist to a search room where a man with a long grey beard greeted us effusively shaking my hand as if he had lived for this moment. He took us to a back room where a leather bound box sat on a table. A label said Thurston Square Celebrations 1875 He opened the ties to reveal the photographs all wrapped in tissue.

I’ll leave you to it, he said please take a seat. Marianne began unwrapping the pictures and laying them out on the table. At first I thought these couldn’t be what we had come to see. The exteriors looked more like a park than a garden square. No garden could contain the number of trees and statues depicted in these pictures.  I was about to say something when Marianne showed me a picture of a young woman running into some trees. Something in the picture captured a sense of panic. I picked it up and stared at it. While I stared Marianne went to the door of the room and chained it shut with a chain and padlock she produced from her bag.

I watched her remove an envelope from her bag and slip it into her pocket. She gently pulled the picture out of my hand and gave me another, of a small pond with an obelisk in the centre and a temple folly behind it.

Not much time here Daniel, so you’ll just have to believe me.

She was very firm like a manager setting a deadline for a target.

I’ve looked for someone like you, someone with the right talent. I know you have what I need. Just look into that picture for me and concentrate. Forget everything else.

I did as I was told, concentrating until the scene was all that mattered. I could hear rattling at the door and raised voices but I kept on looking. Marianne took my hand and the sounds outside faded as if the volume was being dialled down. We leaned forward together.

3.

We took a couple of involuntary steps and checked ourselves at the edge of the water. I took a deep breath and looked around. We were in a kind of park but at each distant edge was a tall terrace of houses. The garden was too big, far too big but it was in a square. I exhaled and my breath steamed in the freezing cold air. I looked at Marianne. She was very calm, smiling at me in a friendly way but there was no air steaming from her mouth. She wasn’t breathing at all. This was a detail I could easily have noticed at any point in the time we had spent together but hadn’t.

You have to be alive to have the right talent she said. Come on, I’m not expected here.

We walked around the pond and made our way through the trees. But we weren’t in the garden anymore. We were on the edge of a landscaped park. I could see a domed building.

Beyond the temple a bonfire was burning at the feet of a statue. It was a very tall statue. Two vast wings spread out horizontally from its back. I looked up through the smoke trying to make out the details of the figure but it was so tall the head was lost in the heat haze and the darkening sky. It was a woman wearing armour holding a sword. The point of the sword was touching the ground in front of the feet. If we had still been in Thurston Square it would have been visible above the houses for miles. The wings should have been wider than the square itself. About fifty people were gathered around the fire, all quite silent. Some of them were fully dressed in Victorian street clothes as if they were observing a firework display at a pleasure garden. Others wore robes, and a few figures taller and thinner than the others circulated through the group. There was music, just what you’d expect for dancing. Maybe there was a maypole, or something like one in the background. Marianne pulled me away from the well kept lawn towards another building.

It was a glasshouse, its windows opaque with grime. Inside a few lights were burning. The stone path was narrow. We had to brush past thick foliage to get to an area which had been cleared in front of another statue. Marianne retrieved a long sword and scabbard from behind it and slung it over her shoulder. I stayed close behind her and as she crouched I slipped the envelope out of her pocket.

I want to thank you she said. I really couldn’t have got here without your help. But you don’t need to be with me now.

Outside the glasshouse she pointed me back through the trees towards the nearest edge of the square.

Go quickly, get upstairs if you can. I’ll find you.

There didn’t seem any point in arguing and whatever she was about to do I didn’t think I wanted to be there to see it. There was an open door ahead of me when I came out of the trees, with a staircase visible. I paused at the door to look back for the giant statue. I could see the face clearly now. I climbed up the stairs.

At the final landing there was a window looking out on the garden. The flames were higher. Marianne’s giant face was looking down at the ground. The music was no longer audible. There was some agitation in the trees. I would have waited to see what would happen next except for a rustling sound below me.

Looking down I saw an indistinct person ascending, his or her hand on the banister. The fingers of the hand were very long. I tore open the envelope. It was a photograph, of a London street. J— Street in fact. The rustling grew louder accompanied by muttering. I concentrated on the picture, tried to be as calm as I was the first time. The rustling was louder still and there were footsteps. I fancied there was cold breath on my neck as the volume died away and I leaned forward.

4.

Morning light made me squint and flinch back from the kerb. I was in front of J— Street Library again but I didn’t go in then. I found a coffee shop a few streets away and sat there with a morning paper for an hour. If I was right, the picture had been taken the day I visited the library. Somewhere in another part of London another version of me was doing what I had been doing hours before. I wasn’t tempted to meet him. I whiled away the day till I was sure that he and Marianne had left the Library. I waited around outside until I saw a woman in a baggy coat probably not her own emerge and flag down a taxi.

I waited a couple of days before going back. The woman was at the enquiry desk, wearing the same kind of plainclothes goth outfit. The name on her badge was Marianne. I was a little ashamed when she recognized me, because I should have helped her. But as it turned out she was grateful that I had taken the other Marianne away.

When we got to know each other we started our own research into Thurston Square, and Sir Richard Fletcher. We found an account of the beginnings of Cyanography in a book about Crowley’s disciple Kenneth Grant which alluded to an occult working in Thurston Square.

We couldn’t convince the custodians at Morechester House to let us in to see those photographs again. But we continued our search. We found a number of photographs in a variety of sources which seemed to feature the other Marianne. She changed her look but I always knew her.

In the absence of someone with my talent, or the right picture she had been forced to come back the long way. But as the real Marianne observed given the amount of time she had to make the journey she was probably already here.

Editor’s note: you won’t find Thurston Square on any map of south Kensington. Morechester House exists but not of course under that name.

Photographs:

London Perceived – V S Pritchett and Evelyn Hofer 1962

Glasshouses and winter gardens of the 19th Century – Stefan Koppelkamm 1981

Other London – Paul Barkshire 1989

London after dark – Alan Delaney and Robert Cowan 1993

Two photographs from the Library’s collection.


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