Sunday, January 13, 2008

Seeing is Believing - Harry Price

On at the Photographers' Gallery in London for a couple more weeks is Seeing is Believing, which 'explores photography's strong relationship to the non-rational, the unknown and the ethereal. It brings together vintage photographs from the archive of the Harry Price Library of Magical Literature, with work by seven international artists who share a fascination for the unexplained. Known as Britain's most famous ghost investigator, Harry Price (b. 1881, London) set up the National Laboratory of Psychical Research in 1925. This exhibition includes documentation of the Borley Rectory Haunting, the Crawley Poltergeist and various spiritual mediums'.

Harry Price (1881-1948) is a controversial figure. In the course of his research into the paranormal he exposed various hoaxes, but he has also been accused of faking evidence himself. Either way he was very much a local boy - at the age of four his family moved to 6 Amersham Road and in 1894 moved to 32 St. Donatt's Road in New Cross (later he lodged at 22 Harefield Road in Brockley). He attended Waller Road (now Edmund Waller Primary School) and Haberdashers' Aske's schools in New Cross, and claimed to have carried out wireless experiments on Telegraph Hill. When he became interested in spiritualism at the turn of the 20th century, he attended seances in Wickham Road, Brockley, and the adjacent Manor Road (now Manor Avenue).

In his autobiography Search for Truth (1942) he mentions frequent childhood visitst to 'Deptford fair-ground. We then resided at Brockley (almost a rural suburb!) and the fair was convenient for me. I have spent many nights watching the illusionists, hypnotists, conjurers, thought-readers, fortune-tellers, 'monstrosities,' fire-eaters, fakirs, quacks and mountebanks who performed there. I had my 'fortune told' many scores of times and, of course, it was different each time! But I have known cases where the - alleged - gypsy seer was uncannily accurate in forecasting the future. But this has never happened so far as I am concerned. It is possible that 'mediums' or clairvoyantes, with some good powers, do gravitate to the smaller fair-grounds, and occasionally score successes.'

He also recounts in detail his encounter with a local purveyor of the elixir of life: 'On Saturday evenings I frequently visited the market at Broadway, Deptford, and often watched a vendor of quack medicines selling his 'Titan's Tonic, double-distilled,' and guaranteed to cure everything from influenza to impotency. He was known to the habitués of the market as 'Old Isaacs.' He was a short, squat, purple-faced man, with red hair, a hemp-coloured walrus moustache, and had a dusty bowler hat jammed on the back of his head' (the full account is here).

Picture of Harry Price with 'spirit' - a photograph that Price proved had been faked.


Anonymous said...

I wrote a little note of Harry Price's activities and life in SE4/SE14 in my blog. It's so fascinating living in Brockley and discovering little by little hidden stories about people who were here. Also, it's interesting knowing that one of the famous seances took place in a house somewhere in the street where I live ;-)

Culla said...

there is more on Price from the Fortean