Thursday, July 14, 2005
Philip Hoare's 'England's Lost Eden - adventures in a Victorian Utopia' is a fascinating exploration of the overlapping milieus of spiritualism, millenarian religion and utopianism in late-Victorian england. Of most interest to transpontinians is his account of the so-called Walworth Jumpers, a split from a group known as the Peculiar People who had a chapel in Gravel Lane, Kennington (they were later known as the Plumsted Peculiars- presumably they moved). There were rowdy scenes in a railway arch in Sutherland Street off the Walworth Road in 1871-2 as curious crowds gathered to watch the jumpers' ecstatic dancing, leading to them being compared to the similarly inclined Shakers in the US. After facing similar hostility at premises in Salisbury Row, Lock's fields (under the current Aylesbury Estate) and another railway arch near Waterloo, Mary Ann Girling and her followers moved to Hordle in the New Forest where they lived communally while waiting for the end of the world. The 1881 census record a number of south londoners still living with them, including the unusually named Emma and Elizabeth Knuecheles, the latter a 14 year old born in Camberwell.
In and around the New forest in this period there seem to have been various experiments in different ways of life, from the plebeian to the aristocratic, encompassing various combinations of dress reform, Bible communism, vegetarianism and celibacy.
Back in South London, we also hear of Captain Alfred Wilks Drayson, a spiritualist who claimed to have 'witnessed fresh eggs, fruit and flowers descend from the ceiling' of his quarters at the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, and who held seances with John Ruskin (then living in Camberwell) and Arthur Conan Doyle. Peculiar people, one and all.