Victorian London - Religion - Spiritualism 

REALLY, if this Spirit-moving mania be carried on much further, it will be necessary for persons who are about to marry to take steps to secure themselves from buying haunted furniture ... When we hear of wardrobes "manifesting signs of the most lively emotion" on being approached by the mistress of the house; of sofas "undergoing throes" and swaying to and fro with "tumultuous energy" when invited by a Medium to join in a seance ... when we hear of furniture behaving itself in this way, we cannot but consider that people should be careful how they run of risk of contact with it ...

Punch, September 8, 1860

Having obtained Defendant's address from Mrs. Burns, Plaintiff wrote to him, stating her wish to become a subscriber to his Spiritual Athenĉum. Not receiving any reply, she called upon him on the 2nd or 3rd of October, at his lodgings in Sloane Street, and there saw him for the first time. According to the Plaintiff's account (which materially differed from that given by the Defendant) Plaintiff, after being some little time in Defendant's company, was induced by him to believe that a manifestation of the spirit of her deceased husband was taking place through his instrumentality. The modus operandi was thus described: "They sat down at the table in the sitting room, and raps came to the table almost immediately. The Defendant said, 'That is a call for the alphabet;' and then repeated the letters of the alphabet from time to time, a rap being given as he arrived each time at the letter intended to be indicated, and so on, until a complete word or sentence was spelled out. In this way the supposed spirit on that occasion spelt out 'My own beloved Jane, I am Charles, your own beloved husband; I live to bless you, my own precious darling. I am with you always. I love, love, love you as I always did.'" The Plaintiff being much gratified with what she then believed to be a real manifestation of the spirit of her late husband, asked Defendant to call upon her at her lodgings, 18, Westbourne Place,and told him she would give him £10 as her subscription to the Athenĉum. On the following day (October 4), Defendant called upon the Plaintiff, and almost immediately raps came, indicative, as she was induced by him to believe, of the presence of her husband's spirit. Plaintiff, in return for this manifestation, gave Defendant a cheque for £30, instead of the £10 originally intended, and from this time became much impressed with what she believed to be the power of the Defendant to evoke the spirit of her husband. On the 7th of October, Defendant again called upon Plaintiff. Almost immediately afterwards raps came, indicating the presence of her husband's spirit, and the following message was spelt out: "My own darling Jane, I love Daniel (meaning, the Defendant Home); he is to be our son, he is my son, therefore yours. Do you remember, before I passed I said a change would take place in seven years. That change has taken place; I am happy, happy, happy." It was also spelt out that the departed Mr. Lyon wished Daniel, as he was to be their son, to be independent, the manner to be indicated another time. Plaintiff then gave Defendant a cheque for £50. At an interview next day it was represented to Plaintiff by the rapping process, that the spirit required her to adopt Defendant, and place him in a position of independence suitable to his rank and position in life as her adopted son, and also that Mr. S. C. Hall (the author, and an intimate friend of Defendant) should be sent for. The evidence upon this part of the case, and indeed as to all the early interviews, was in direct conflict, but it appeared that Mr. Hall called upon Plaintiff on the 9th of October, and saw her for a short time before Home came in. According to Plaintiff's case, at this meeting a message came from the spirit, that Defendant was to be their adopted son; that stock sufficient to produce £700 a year was to be transferred to Defendant as a provision for him; and that she was to hand over her stock receipts to Mr. Hall, who would arrange them for that purpose. This was accordingly done, and on the following day, the 10th of October, Plaintiff and Defendant drove in a cab from Bayswater to the City (constant raps being heard in and about the cab all the way, in testification of the spirit's approval); and on getting to the Bank of England Plaintiff ("in the full conviction and belief that she was fulfilling the wishes of her deceased husband, communicated to her through the medium of Home") executed a transfer to the Defendant of stock representing in value £24,000.
. . .  In his answer, the Defendant Home stated that he was born in 1833. From his childhood he had been subject to occasional phenomena in his presence, not produced by himself or under his control, but occurring irregularly, and even during sleep. His will had nothing to do with them, and he could not account for them further than by supposing them to be effected by intelligent beings or spirits. These phenomena had been witnessed by many royal and distinguished personages, who had sought his acquaintance on account of them, and received him as a guest and friend. He never took money in respect of these phenomena; was not in the habit of receiving strangers, and never forced the subject of spiritualism on any one's attention. The Defendant swore that he did not produce these phenomena, or in any way whatever aid in producing them; and that he did not profess, and never did profess, to have the power of evoking the spirits of deceased persons, or of putting other persons in communication with them. Some of his friends, who were desirous of investigating these phenomena, established the Spiritual Athenĉum, at 22, Sloane Street, and he became resident secretary, with a salary. On Monday, the 1st of October, 1866, he received a letter signed Jane Lyon, of whom he had never heard before, requesting to be furnished with the terms of admission to the Spiritual Athenĉum. He laid this letter before the executive committee, and on the next day Plaintiff called and entered into conversation with him about his book, "Incidents in my Life," and said that she had been a believer from her childhood in such phenomena, and that she was a much more wonderful medium than himself. She appeared, however, to dwell much more on his aristocratic friends "them high folks," than on spiritualism, and said that it was a pity he should be poor, and asked him to call on her the following day to talk over her subscription to the Athenĉum.

Lyon v Home, Law Reports [Equity] April, 1868


PEOPLE who profess to put their faith in Spirits, should pay a visit just now to the Crystal Palace. MESSIEURS MASKELYNE and COOKE there hold a séance daily, and do wonders in the way of rapping, ringing, rope-tying, table-raising, and the rest of it. Without the help of tricksy spirits, they do all the clever tricks attributed by Spiritists to the agency of Spirits ; and do them not in total darkness, but in blazing gaslight. With his hands fast tied behind him, Ma. Cooke takes off his tail-coat in six seconds, and in six more puts it on again; and MR. MASKELYNE, who measures about five feet eight in length, crams himself into a box which is only three feet long, and twenty inches wide, and then covers it with canvass, and knots a cord inside.
    Unbelievers as we are in the tales of table-turning, we rejoice to see the tables turned upon the turners, and we return our hearty thanks to MESSIEURS MASKELYNE and COOKE for showing us conclusively that many so-called spirit movings are merely feats of muscle, and that simpletons who put their trust in the Spirits of the Spiritists, are not above proof of being simply humbugged.

Punch, March 22, 1873

1. At a petty sessions for the borough of Huddersfield, in the county of York, on the 11th of November, 1876, Francis Ward Monck, the appellant, was charged by the respondent, under s. 4 of 5 Geo. 4, c. 83, with having, on the 23rd of October, 1876, at Huddersfield, unlawfully used certain subtle craft, means, and devices, by palmistry and otherwise, to deceive and impose on certain of Her Majesty's subjects, to wit, Hepplestone, Bedford, Lodge, and others, contrary to the statute. The charge was heard, and the appellant was convicted of the said offence and adjudged, as a rogue and vagabond, to be committed to the House of Correction at Wakefield to hard labour for three calendar months. 2. Upon the hearing it was proved, on the part of the respondent, and found as a fact that the appellant had agreed with one Hepplestone, at the request of the latter, to give two spiritualistic séances at Hepplestone's residence, in Huddersfield, for two pounds each; that, in pursuance of this agreement, the appellant held two séances at Hepplestone's residence on the 22nd and 23rd of October, 1876. At the latter of such séances, in respect of which no money was paid, Hepplestone, Lodge, and others were present, and were directed by the appellant to place their hands upon the table around which they were seated, and their feet under their chairs, after which he said, "We spiritualists have to be very guarded in consequence of the Slade case. Some call it psychic force, some animal magnetism, some legerdemain, some conjuring, some one thing, and some another. I call it spiritualism; but you must judge for yourselves." There was no light in the room except that given by a single gas jet, and, during what were termed the "manifestations" the gas was turned almost out. The alleged "manifestations" were the following:- (a.) Raps were heard under the table, whereupon the appellant said, "They are soon here to-night, the conditions are very favourable." (b.) The appellant placed a small tambourine upon a musical instrument called "Fairy Belle," and then put it on the table at a little distance from himself. The instrument was then observed to move towards the appellant, who inquired whether the company had seen it move, whereupon one of them asked him to request the spirit to move it in the opposite direction, to which the appellant replied, "We had better take the manifestations exactly as they come," and that it could not be done. He was asked "Why?" and he answered, "I don't know how it is done." (c.) A small musical box was handed round to the company, who examined it. It was then placed by the appellant about half a yard in front of himself on the table. He said the spirits were able to play it. He then placed a wooden box over it, and invited the company to ask it questions, and said that one sound would signify "No," and three sounds "Yes." Some questions were asked and certain sounds were heard, but these sounds occasionally were as many as five or six at a time. One of the company directed the appellant's attention to the fact that the musical box, which had been placed under the wooden box, was not wound up, whereupon the appellant said that the spirits could not only play, but wind it up. (d.) A hand appeared above the table immediately on the left side of the appellant, who put the tambourine to it, and the fingers of the hand tapped it. The fingers did not move separately. The hand was not like a human hand, but like a was hand which had been rubbed with oil and phosphorus. After a short time the hand disappeared before the table. One of the witnesses was of opinion that the hand was like one of the kid-glove hands found in the appellant's possession. (e.) Two or three slates were placed by the appellant upon the table. He said they would receive messages from departed spirits. A small piece of pencil was placed by him upon one of the slates. He took hold of one corner of the slate, and a lady took hold of another corner of it. It was then held under the table, and whilst it was there the lady remarked that she felt a great pressure upon it. One of the company asked for a message from some departed one. After the slate had been held under the table about a couple of minutes, it was brought forth and was found to contain, in very crabbed, singular writing, the words, "Oh! for a Lodge in some vast wilderness." Another message was then asked for, and the appellant and the same lady again held the slate under the table. The lady remarked that she felt a warm hand, whereupon the appellant said, "Well, you're sure it's not my hand?" She replied, "No, I am not." When the slate was again produced there was a button upon it, and the following message, "Good night, Philemon. Saml.," the appellant having previously stated that his spirit-guide was Samuel Wheeler. It was proved that a scratching on the slate was heard at the same time that the lady felt a warm hand against her own. The button above mentioned was taken off the lady's dress; she stated that it was pulled from her dress rather violently. (f.) One of the notes of the piano which was in the room sounded. A lady was then asked by the appellant to sit on the lid of the piano. She did so, and the same note sounded. It was proved that the appellant was close to the piano at the time. Lodge then asked the appellant if the spirit would play some other note. The appellant stamped; whereupon Lodge asked, "That's you, doctor, isn't it?" And he said, "Yes." Lodge then asked, "Will you kindly play a note lower?" Then came another stamp with the appellant's foot, which signified "No." 3. Whilst these manifestations were being produced there were two boxes in the room belonging to the appellant. When the manifestations were concluded Lodge asked to be allowed to search the appellant, who declined, and eventually ran away and escaped out of the house. He left certain boxes, which were subsequently examined, and in them were found, amongst other things, kid-glove hands, stuffed and having elastic attached to them, linen with faces faintly sketched upon it, white gauze, thread, thin wire, a number of slates and pencils, a musical box, a musical album, and a long rod divisible into small lengths. 4. It was proved, on behalf of the appellant, that he had had rooms at a certain house in Bristol for the last four years; that articles similar to some of those found in his possession had been openly used by him in his public lectures, shewing how conjurers produced manifestations similar to those of spiritualism. It was contended on the part of the appellant that the Vagrant Act was intended to apply to gipsies and other wandering and homeless vagabonds, and that this was no offence within the meaning of s. 4 of 5 Geo. 4, c. 83, and the case of Johnson v. Fenner (1) was cited in support of this view. The justices, however, being of opinion that the evidence brought the case within the operation of s. 4, gave their determination against the appellant.

Monck v Hilton, Law Reports [Divisional Court] Feb. 6 1877

    The craze for "table-turning" "spirit rapping" and every conceivable trash connected with the occult sciences, was in full blast in the long-ago Sixties, and old ladies would form tea parties and sit all day and half through the night at round tables with their knotty old mittened thumbs pressed convulsively against those of their neighbours waiting for the moving of the waters. Lord Ashburton, who lived near Portman Square, was the arch-priest and arch-culprit that disseminated this fashionable twaddle, and there was not a spinster in that (then) highly-fashionable district that did not devour the leaflets that were periodically issued broadcast by the inspired old humbug. Occasionally invitations were issued for seances, when refreshments (more or less light) were provided to fortify poor human nature against possible earthly attacks after the lights had been judiciously lowered.
    It was one of these functions that I one one occasion found myself and, possessing in those days an appetite like a cormorant, was terribly disillusioned after two hours' waiting for the "spirits" to hear his lordship order the butler to "bring in the urn". (In those long-ago days tea without an urn the dimensions of a safe was an absolute impossibility.) Nor did spiritualism end here, for numerous haunted houses were in the market where apparitions and unearthly sounds could be seen and heard and which no one would rent.

'One of the Old Brigade' (Donald Shaw), London in the Sixties, 1908 

... Stead knew I did not even begin to take an interest in his mediums or in their séances.
    There came a day when I was dragged in. It had happened that I had been coughing and had been generally run down, and my doctor had said it would be well if I went to the sea and the West Country for a change. I was in the act of clearing up before departure when Stead came out of the "Sanctum" and told me that he wanted me to make up the necessary number for a séance at which the particular scoundrels - they were male and female - whom I had fallen foul of were to function. "I know you don't like it, Grantie, but we must have another, and there's no one else available."
    I went in and took my place at the table. The medium was the lady I had overheard; she looked at me with hatred, and so did her manipulator. In due course she went off into a trance in which I understand is the correct manner, and after a little by-play it was declared that she was possessed by an old white-haired man who had recently "passed over" (as had my grandfather) and that he had come back to warn me that I should soon lose my sister as the result of a particular distressing accident* (*My sister is still alive and had no accident.) ... Disquieting, very. Nevertheless I suppose I continued to show my unbelief on my countenance, for, after a while, I became again the centre of attention. Another spirit - "Dewdrop"  or "Indian Squaw" - had taken possession of the medium and, looking towards me, she declared that it had indicated to her that the truth must be told about me, that I believed myself to be a romantic invalid, that I was not ill but that I was suffering from gluttony and a disinclination to work. ... Whether it was my adverse influence, my lack of belief, my refusal to be interested, I cannot say, but nothing more important came of the séance and it broke up shortly afterwards. Stead was more than a little mortified.

Grant Richards, Memories of a Misspent Youth, 1932

see also J. Ewing Ritchie in About London - click here

see also Charles Maurice Davies in Mystic London (1) (2)