Donate Now

The Haunted Landscape: British Folklore and Ghosts

19th November 2016 · 10:00am - 5:30pm

In person | Virtual event

 The Haunted Landscape: British Folklore and Ghosts

As the days darken the London Fortean Society explores the folklore, ghosts and curses of the British Isles with the one-day symposium The Haunted Landscape. Authors, experts and researchers discuss ghosts, strange beasts and magic. From a talking mongoose to soul birds, moving megaliths in the landscape to witch marks in old buildings; fairy lore and ghosts. Join us at Conway Hall to learn that the green and pleasant land we abide in has dark, strange and chilling other side.

Goaty McGoatFace

In 1960, when Cecil Williamson first opened the museum in Boscastle, he arranged this life-size goat-headed figure on a throne, with a mannequin of a young witch at his feet offering up a baby. A postcard of the tableau sold at the time reads: ‘“To give is to receive” A young witch offers the Horned God the foetus, proof of her conception with the Spirit Force from the World Beyond the Grave. In return, the Horned God will assign to the witch a familiar Spirit Guardian Angel to serve her and to be the catalyst for her magical power.’
Graham King, museum owner and curator from 1996-2013, removed the tableaux and changed the Horned God figure to represent Baphomet, the alleged deity of the Knights Templar. The best-known image of Baphomet comes from an illustration created by the French occult author and ceremonial magician Eliphas Levi in 1856 and shows a cross-legged, Sabbatic Goat with both male and female attributes, representing the ‘sum total of the universe’.

The Blackley Boggart and its distant cousins 10am – 10.30am

This talk will explore the folklore of the Boggart, defined by Katharine Briggs as a ‘mischievous Brownie’, most common in Lancashire and Yorkshire. It will focus primarily on the playful – and, at times, malicious – namesake of Boggart Hole Clough, an inner-city park in Manchester, tracing the folktales surrounding it from the 1820s to the present day, and setting them within the context of countrywide Boggart traditions.

Dr. Ceri Houlbrook is a folklore archaeologist, whose primary interests include the materiality of post-medieval magic and ritual, contemporary folkloric practices, and the heritage of deposits and assemblages.

Fairy Gold 10.30am – 11.10am

Who wouldn’t be tempted by fairy treasure? The bold thief succeeds, sometimes, while the schemer is outwitted; the miser is punished, and the industrious rewarded. In hollow hills and beneath old trees the gold awaits, only to become dry leaves in the wrong hands. Unvalued by its owners, it exists only as the instrument of their power over mortals. How different from our own currency…

Jeremy Harte is a researcher into folklore and archaeology, with a particular interest in sacred space and tales of encounters with the supernatural. He is the author of English Holy Wells: A sourcebook and Explore Fairy Traditions.

11.10am – 11.25am: Break

Druids, Dancers and Devils: The Folklore of Britain’s Megaliths 11.25am – 12.10pm

Archdruid’s palaces, ancient British racecourses, and country-girls who danced for too long: this paper will trace the origins of the fascinating folklore that relates to Britain’s megalithic monuments. Joanne Parker is a Senior Lecturer in Victorian Literature in the Department of English at the University of Exeter. Her publications include Britannia Obscura: Mapping Hidden Britain and Written on Stone: The Cultural History of British Prehistoric Monuments.

The Museum of Witchcraft and Magic 12.10 – 1pm

The Museum of Witchcraft was founded in Boscastle, Cornwall in 1960. It explores British magical practice, making comparisons with other systems of belief, from ancient times to the present day. Photographer Sara Hannant and museum director Simon Costin reveal highlights from their forthcoming book ‘Of Shadows: One Hundred Objects from the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic’.

1-2pm Lunch

The Haunted Shores of England 2.10 – 2.50pm

Sophia Kingshill, author of The Fabled Coast, take a coastal survey of marine spectres, phantom ships, soul birds, and controversial creatures. The coastline of the British Isles plays host to an astonishingly rich variety of local legends, customs, and superstitions.

A Mongoose in the Landscape 2.50 – 3.30pm

In 1931 the inhabitants of an isolated Isle of Man farm began to report extraordinary phenomena. The Irving family claimed that a small animal had appeared to them, manifesting speech, clairvoyance, invisibility and other extraordinary powers. What became known as the Gef the Talking Mongoose case swiftly became a media sensation – the subject of psychic investigations, court cases, and books – yet is now largely forgotten.

Christopher Josiffe is the author of a forthcoming book on Gef the Talking Mongoose from Strange Attractor Press.

3.30-3.40 Break

Cultural anxieties and ritual protection in high status early modern houses 3.40 – 4.25

Recent archaeological work at the Tower of London and Knole, Kent has shown that the fear of evil, instilled in ordinary people during the early modern period, was expressed through the creation of ritual protection marks and spiritual middens intended to defend buildings from malignant forces.

James Wright is a doctoral student at the University of Nottingham. He specialises in record-ing and analysing historic standing buildings.

Whatever Happened to the Headless Ghost?  4.25 – 5.20pm
Once the headless or Acephalous Ghost was a staple of stately home haunts, and now is never seen. Where might the idea have originated in British folklore? And why do we no longer need to see them?

Roger Clarke grew up in a haunted house and was educated at Oxford University before becoming a film journalist for The Independent. His book ‘A Natural History of Ghosts’ was published to wide acclaim in 2012 and has this year been translated into Spanish and Japanese, as well as being published in three formats in the USA.

Books by the authors will be available to buy from Newham Bookshop and Strange Attractor Press.

Afterwards we’ll be at the Enterprise pub on Red Lion Street.

Registration for the day symposium: £20 standard, £16 concessions (students, unwaged, retired).

Read more about how we use Cookies in our Privacy Policy.


We need your help!

We host talks, concerts, performances, community and social events. However, we are an independent charity and receive no funding from the government. Everything we do is dependent upon our commercial activity and the generosity of supporters like you.

Donate Now