HAUNTED BLOOMSBURY – Spiritualism and Ghost Stories in WC1 An Audio Guided Tour and Map Book with Dr Romany Reagan
ABOUT Take a journey through darker Bloomsbury as your tour guide Dr Romany Reagan leads you through the occult pathways and hidden histories of this birthplace of British Spiritualism.
The Victorians were fascinated by a wide range of phenomena that might loosely be termed the ‘occult’. In their search for meaning in their mortality during an increasingly secularised age, interest in Spirituality and connections ‘beyond the veil’ touched almost every aspect of Victorian life, from scientific study to literature. Tracing Spiritualism’s lines of origin, we’re driven through these occult pathways into the heart of Bloomsbury. Join your tour guide, Dr Romany Reagan, for an evening stalk of gothic intrigues and Victorian ghosts.
WHAT YOU GET – An A5 full colour map and guide book – Each book comes with a download or streaming code so that you can take your tour at any time alone or with a friend
Here is a little video I’ve made explaining a bit of what my project is about. I’m now almost two months into my research journey! I will be presenting my preliminary findings at the Bridges 2022 conference, ‘Bridges Between Disciplines: Gender in STEM and Social Sciences’, at the Universitat Politécnica de València – Campus of Gandía. I’m excited to share what I have learned so far!
Throughout history, using legend and lore, we have sought to understand this night-time adventure. Witches have been condemned as the conjurers of nightmare sleep paralysis and faeries blamed for time loss or sleep-walking; we convince ourselves that ghostly spirits visit us at night with messages of hope or portents of danger.
In this illustrated lecture, Dr Romany Reagan will explore the creatures and meanings that fill our dreamscapes, from mediaeval British horrors to 19th-century curiosities and theories—and how these nocturnal happenings can play out in our waking lives.
Dr. Romany Reagan is an Arts Council England-funded research fellow with Museum of the Home, studying the hidden histories of women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, from mediaeval cunning women and herbal witchcraft to 19th-century feminist botany. Her research has explored the layers of heritage within Abney Park cemetery and an occult literary heritage of London’s Stoke Newington area, as well as ‘earth mystery’, psychogeography and folklore, legends and lore from the British Isles.
This event is part of the Museum of the Home’s Festival of Sleep, running from June through September 2022.
Romany found Andy under a tree on Hampstead Heath at an ‘Alternative Picnic’ and a year and a half later they were engaged. Their wedding concept was inspired by rich fabrics, autumnal colours and the history of their venue, The Charterhouse in London.
North London has quite a gothic pedigree. From Bram Stoker’s Lucy Westenra stalking Hampstead Heath to Stephen King’s terrifying Crouch End ‘Towen’, an otherworldly atmosphere lingers here. The region has captured the imagination of writers through the ages, casting the area as both friend and foe.
William Blake felt uneasy in North London. Shortly before his death, in a letter to painter and friend John Linnell, Blake said: “When I was young, Hampstead, Highgate, Hornsey, Muswell Hill, and even Islington, and all places North of London, always laid me up the day after and sometimes two or three days.” It is rather strange that he kept going back, if these persistent physical ailments always followed the journey. Perhaps there was something about the otherworldliness of North London that drew Blake almost as a siren call.
Everyone knows: tattoos are for convicts, prostitutes, and drunken sailors. Any woman who dares get one is destined to live fast and die young. Harlots of the saucest degree. Her only job prospects are the circus sideshow or a biker’s Old Lady.
Or so we think…
Tattooed women have meant many things over the past several hundred years that have nothing to do these stereotypes: an emblem of the aristocracy, an unlikely international impulse towards sisterhood, and a mark of feminism.
But before I dive into what the tattoo is, let’s explore what it is not. Debunking myths is, to me, one of the most thrilling aspects of historical research. So here we go…
Whether it was considered an intellectual pursuit, a genuine religious order, a feminist flag, or just a grand excuse for a gin-soaked party, Spiritualism was a crucible where many of the conflicting and newly forming ideas of the late Victorian era brewed and clashed. At one point it was the domain of the intellectual elite, who held literary salons discussing Swedenborg and Blake. At the other extreme it was reverse colonialism gone mad, with female liberation, drunkenness—and worst of all Americanness—running rampant through England.
The Victorians had long been fascinated by a wide range of phenomena that might loosely be termed the ‘occult’; and earlier manifestations of interest in spirituality had made their mark during the first half of the 19th century. Tracing Spiritualism’s lines of origin, we’re driven through these occult pathways into the heart of Bloomsbury. Button your greatcoat and steel your nerves as your tour guide Dr Romany Reagan leads you on an audio journey through the Bloomsbury backstreets into a landscape of gothic intrigues and Victorian ghost stories.
I made this video with The Dickens Project out of University of California, Santa Cruz for their Dickens-to-Go project.
Just in time for Halloween, Dr. Romany Reagan explains how the Victorian revival of Mesmerism of the 1830s allowed Dickens to explore “ideas about the workings of the mind [that] come through in his work when you start to see his characters and their hauntings through the lens of his mesmeric philosophy.”
We humans would rather have something a bit flawed but true than gloss-plastic perfection. On the surface, that doesn’t seem to be so—with ‘reality’ TV shows illustrating a life that’s nothing like reality and Instagram influencers filtered into poreless automatonica—but there is an undercurrent backlash to this that I see all around us. Our collective psyche is seeking to balance itself: enter Victoriana.
In May 2020 Dr. Romany Reagan shared a Facebook status posing a scenario: the events experienced by a hypothetical person born in 1900. Aged 14, World War One begins. When you’re 29: The Great Depression hits. Aged 62, you have the Cuban Missile Crisis. This led Cemetery Club founder Sheldon K.Goodman to question: how sheltered are we from death nowadays? How has Coronavirus changed our attitude towards it? How are cemeteries adapting to changing ways of memorialisation and remembrance? Are they even needed any more? Join cemetery historians and guides Romany and Sheldon in a friendly death-positive conversation that we’d love you to get involved with.