William Hope

          the best-known modern spirit photographer, a carpenter of Crewe, whose psychic power was discovered accidentally about 1905. He and a comrade photographed each other on a Saturday afternoon. The plate which Hope exposed showed an extra figure, a transparent woman, behind whom the brick wall was visible. It was the sister of Hope's comrade, dead for many years. With the help of Mr. Buxton, the organist at the Spiritualist Hall at Crewe, a circle of six friends was formed to sit for spirit photography. For fear of being accused by devout Catholics to be in league with the devil, the circle destroyed all the original negatives until Archdeacon Colley came on the scene. He tested Hope's powers, endorsed them and gave him his first stand camera which Hope refused to give up long after it had become old fashioned, its box battered and its leg broken.

The first hubbub about Hope and his psychic photographs arose in 1908 in connection with Archdeacon Colley's first sitting. He recognised his mother in the psychic extra. Hope thought it was more like a picture he had copied two years earlier. Mrs. Spencer, of Nantwich, indeed, recognised her grandmother in it, after Hope took it to her. Hope informed Archdeacon Colley of his mistake. He said it was madness to think that a man did not know his own mother and advertised in the Leamington paper asking all who remembered his mother to meet him at the rectory. Eighteen persons selected the photograph from several others and testified in writing that the picture was a portrait of the late Mrs. Colley who had never been photographed.

The second case of public controversy arose in 1922 and was, on the surface, damning for Hope. In a report published in the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research he was accused of imposture by  Harry Price. The accusations were later published in a sixpenny pamphlet. The basis of the revelation was that Mr. Price, in a sitting at the British College of Psychic Science, caught Hope in the act of substituting the dark slide, holding the exposed plates, by another; further, that he (Hope) handed him two negatives (one of which contained a psychic extra) that did not bear the secret mark which the Imperial Dry Plate Company specially impressed on the packet of films by X-rays and which were different in colour and thickness from the original plates.

Subsequent investigation proved that the counter-accusation raised by spiritualists of an organised conspiracy against Hope deserved examination. The wrapper of the packet was found, and it bore marks of tampering. Moreover, one of the original marked plates was returned anonymously and undeveloped to the SPR a week after the experiment and three weeks before the revelation. On being developed it showed an image. As the packet of marked plates was lying about for four weeks in the office of the SPR it was open to tampering and substitution, it being also likely, in the view of the Hope-apologists, that the abstractor sent back the missing plate out of pure mischief. Immediately after the revelation Hope offered new sittings and declared his willingness to submit himself to stringent tests. The offer was refused. Harry Price, however, signed a statement to the effect that the test of February 24, 1922, "does not rule out the possibility that Hope has other than normal means."

Indeed, no less authority than Sir William Crookes bears out the true mediumship of William Hope in an authorised interview published in the Christian Commonwealth on December 4, 1918. On his own marked plates, under his own conditions, he obtained a likeness of his wife different from any he possessed. On the other hand Sir Oliver Lodge was emphatic in stating concerning a test of his own with a sealed packet sent to Hope;

"I have not the slightest doubt that the envelope including the plates had been opened."

Again Sir William Barrett claimed to have received with Hope "indubitable evidence of supernormal photography" (Proc. XXXIV, 1924). After the Harry Price exposure Allerton F. Cushman, of Washington, also bore witness to having obtained psychic extras on his own plates, similarly marked by the Imperial Dry Plate Company, and also on plates purchased previous to the sitting by Dr. Hereward Carrington.

The great number of signed testimonies, with a detailed account of the precautions taken, speaks in an impressive manner for the genuine powers of Hope. The charges of fraud advanced by Mr. Fred Barlow and Major W. Rampling Rose (Proceedings, Vol. XLI, 1933) are largely built on surmise and suspicion, and not on facts. Barlow, in 1923, associated himself with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in the publication of The Case for Spirit Photography, a book written in answer to the Hope exposure. At that time he could not:

"get away from the fact that many of these photographic effects are produced by discarnate intelligences."

Two years previously in Budget No. 58 of the Society for the Study of Supernormal Pictures, dated January 20th, 1921, he said: 

"I have got results with Mr. Hope here in my own home under conditions where fraud was absolutely impossible. I have loaded my dark slides in Birmingham and taken them to Crewe with my own camera and apparatus, have carried out the whole of the operation myself (even to the taking of the photograph) and have secured supernormal results."

In answer to these quotations by Hope apologists Mr. Barlow replied:

"A further ten years of careful continuous experimenting has enabled me to say quite definitely that I was mistaken. During the whole of this period no single instance has occurred, in my experience, that would in any way suggest that Hope has genuine gifts." (Light, April 14, 1933).

Hope never commercialised his gift. He charged 4/6 for a dozen prints. This was calculated on the basis of his hourly earnings as a carpenter. He was very devout, almost fanatic and relied blindly on the advice of his spirit guides.

"During all his career as a medium," writes David Gow in Light, March 17, 1933, "he had become so accustomed to accusation and abuse that he had grown case-hardened. His attitude seemed to be that, knowing himself to be honest, it did not matter how many people thought otherwise. I found, too, that in his almost cynical indifference, he was given to play tricks on sceptical inquirers by pretending to cheat and then boasting that he had scored over his enemies in that way. Mr. Hope, in my view, was a genuine medium, but of a type of mentality which might easily lead to the opposite conclusion on the part of an unsympathetic observer."

Source (with minor modifications): An Encyclopaedia of Psychic Science by Nandor Fodor (1934).



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