Talks & Walks in London

Upcoming Talks & Walks:

If There’s Death, Let There Be Dancing: Discussing Cemetery Use
Tuesday 18 August 2020 7pm – YouTube

An online lecture and Q&A Session exploring the Victorian garden cemetery today as a place for mortality mediation and shared community space

Whilst ‘dark tourism’ and ‘thanatourism’ have sometimes been used interchangeably, thanatourism can be defined as a more specific long-standing practice motivated by a specific desire for an encounter with death. The long history of thanatourism is motivated more by thoughts of memento mori than a contemporary thrill-seeking dark tourism activity. Encounters with death themes represented in the Romantic Movement were precursors and inspiration for the development of Victorian garden cemeteries. The mortality mediation offered by these cemeteries has a long-standing association with a desire for encounters with death.

Many Victorian garden cemeteries have opened their gates as community spaces, extending the purview of cemetery community space beyond that as strictly sites of mourning. Contemporary changing attitudes towards death and dying—and our cultural desire for secular mortality mediation—means mixed use of cemeteries as community space are likely to become more commonplace. As these spaces embrace a variety of perspectives and voices within their walls, the perception of cemeteries is transforming from morbid and solemn, to celebratory and inclusive. These cemeteries endeavour to become places of community connection and joy.

In this talk, Dr Romany Reagan will offer perspectives on what cemeteries have meant to their communities throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries—and today—as spaces of mortality mediation. Building upon research from cemetery historians, mixed-use case studies, dark tourism, and her own research within Abney Park cemetery, Reagan will explore the diverse secular thanatouristic practices within cemeteries today—and the the future of navigating these practices within community contexts.

Haunted Bloomsbury Walking Tour image

Haunted Bloomsbury: An ‘Experience’ Walking Tour of Spiritualism, Ghost Stories & Gin
Tuesday 20 October 2020 7pm & Friday 23 October 2020 7pm

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. Join your tour guide Dr Romany Reagan for an evening stalk of gothic intrigues and Victorian ghosts, ending with a well-deserved gin at a local hostelry to settle your nerves.

Previous Talks & Walks:

Wednesday, 18 December 2019
An evening lecture with mulled wine exploring the origins of Christmas from Saturnalia to Santa Claus—by way of Krampus & the Christmas Cat


Everyone has an idea of the Perfect Christmas. How this looks will vary from person to person, or family to family – it could be as simple as a holiday without arguing or as grand as a ski getaway – but if I say to you now “envision the Perfect Christmas” most of you might conjure images of a fir tree decked with baubles, outdoor Christmas markets, mulled wine, shopping in the snow, children leaving treats for Santa and his reindeer, curling up in pyjamas watching Christmas films on TV – and nothing could be more Christmasy than a film about someone finding the Meaning of Christmas.

But what is the Meaning of Christmas? What is the Perfect Christmas? If I asked your grandparents, they might not share your vision. And if I asked your grandparents’ grandparents, they would probably be scandalised by your Perfect Christmas! However, a few generations further back still, they would probably wonder where your Lord of Misrule had gone and why you hadn’t planned any pranks on your neighbours. And if we go back long enough into your family tree, they wouldn’t celebrate anything you’d recognised as a Christmas celebration at all.

No Christian winter festival existed until the fourth century, at which point Christmas gradually began to take over from existing festivals like Saturnalia and January Kalends in the Roman Empire and eventual from Yule in Scandinavia. This is where my tale begins. From the medieval period, through the Reformation and Protestant adaptation, we will take a deep dive into the evolution of Christmas. By tracing the Protestant beginnings of early Father Christmas and Old Man Winter representations as a reaction against celebrating the Catholic saint St Nicholas in Protestant England, we’ll explore how these early Protestant Christmas Men – with many European winter figures of folklore in between – paved the way for a holiday based on a literary and cinematic heritage, manifesting in the fully secular and globalised Santa Claus figure we recognise today.

Witch Bottles & Worn Shoes

Wednesday, 20 November 2019

An evening lecture exploring the ancient practice of home-protection folklore with an exhibition of the hidden boot & other historical items

The secrets waiting within the walls of our domestic spaces are often not unearthed until renovation works bring these mysterious items into the light of a new day – and often a new century. During the extensive renovation works preparing the Geffrye: Museum of the Home for its grand reopening next year, one such secret was uncovered. In November 2018, builders discovered an old worn boot that was hidden in a walled up chimney void from when the museum was an almshouse. What was the boot doing there? Since a chimney void is hardly a likely place to accidentally lose a boot, who put it there? What purpose did it serve? Can we truly step into the mindset of the people who interred these objects – or will they remain a mystery?

The answers to these questions come from an ancient heritage of home-protection folklore practices throughout the British Isles reaching back through time – but also practiced far more recently than you might think.

For this evening lecture, we invite you to join Dr Romany Reagan in the restored eighteenth-century Geffrye Almshouse. The evening will begin with a chance to view the hidden boot and the almshouse, alongside an exhibition of other historical items used in home-protection folklore, and enjoy a glass of wine before heading upstairs to learn the curious history of the secrets within our walls.

Folklore, legends, myths, and lost histories from the British Isles – collected by Dr Romany Reagan

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