Exhibits in the Haunted
Museum are based on the work of Troy Taylor from his
book, Ghosts by Gaslight!
Click on the Cover for More About the Book!
William Hope was one of the premiere spirit
photographers of the early Twentieth Century and was considered by
believers and supporters to be a true master of the art of producing
spirits on ordinary photographic plates. To others, he was a clever
trickster and while he had more than his share of detractors, he was
often accused of fraud but was never caught at it -- thanks to the
controversy that surrounded the main attempt to expose him.
Hope was born in Crewe, England in 1863 and as a young man, went to work
as a carpenter. His talent for capturing the spirits in photographs
allegedly came about around 1905 when he and a friend were taking turns
photographing one another. In a photo that was taken by Hope, there was an
"extra" -- the image of a person who was not physically present when the
photo was taken. As it turned out, the extra in question was the deceased
sister of the photograph's subject.
Not long after this incident, a group of six people organized a
Spiritualist hall in Crewe for the purpose of creating spirit photographs.
The group became renowned as the "Crewe Circle" with William Hope as its
leader. During their early efforts, the circle destroyed all of the
negatives of the photos they took for fear of being suspected of
witchcraft. However, when Archbishop Thomas Colley, a lifelong enthusiast
of both the supernatural and Spiritualism, joined the circle, they began
to make their work public.
Ironically, Hope's first brush with
exposure as a fraud came when Archbishop Colley arranged his first
sitting. According to the story, Hope doctored the photograph with the
wrong spirit extra, substituting another elderly woman for Colley's
A Crewe Circle
photograph from 1919 that shows a Mr. and Mrs. Gibson with the spirit of
their deceased son
When Hope tried to confess his
fraud to Colley, the other man dismissed his confession as "nonsense"-- he
would recognize his mother when he saw her and the extra in the photo was
certainly his mother, he stated. To prove his case, he even put a notice in
the local newspaper and asked that all of those who remembered his mother
should call at the rectory. No fewer than 18 people selected Hope's mistake
from among several others and said that it definitely showed the ghost of the
late Mrs. Colley.
In February 1922, Hope was almost exposed again but this
time, the attempt almost backfired on the accuser and there remains some
questions about the incident to this day. By this time, Hope had moved to
London and had established himself as a professional medium. The Society for
Psychical Research (SPR) decided to investigate Hope's claims and sent a new
member, Harry Price, to look into it. The young
Price had a good working knowledge of conjuring and would later make a name
for himself as one of Britain's leading ghost hunters. During the
investigation, Price claimed to detect evidence of trickery by Hope but
questions immediately arose as to whether it was Price, and not Hope, who had
tampered with the photographic plates.
Price told a different story of the incident and blamed his
problems with the Spiritualist community on the controversy. Even though he
had recently joined the SPR, Price had already exposed a number of fraudulent
mediums, earning him the dislike of much of the community. During the sitting,
which was organized with hymn singing and prayers like a standard sťance, Hope
and Price went into the adjoining dark room. Price examined the photographic
slide that Hope planned to use and he secretly impressed 12 small punctures
into it with a needle. He then was asked to open a packet of plates that he
had brought with them. These plates had come from the Imperial Dry Plate Co.
and had been imprinted (at Prices' suggestion) with their trademark in the
corner. The trademark would then appear on the negative of whatever picture
was developed. Price loaded two plates into the slide and then Hope asked for
Harry Price and the
supposed "spirit extra" that was produced during his sťance with William
Hope. Price would later swear that the plate he have Hope was replaced
with a fake that contained the "ghost".
As he took it from Price's hand, Harry watched his movements very
carefully, which was hard to do on the dull, red darkness of the room.
Very quickly, in one smooth movement, Hope placed the dark slide into the
left breast pocket of his coat and then, apparently, pulled it back out
again. Price knew that the slide had been changed but sat down for the
photograph to be taken anyway. When it was over, he refused to sign the
plates, as Hope wanted him to, and as he examined the slide, he discovered
that his 12 needle marks had "mysteriously" vanished. It was clearly not
the same slide that he had given to Hope to use! He did not accuse
Hope of a swindle on the spot, fearing that his evidence of deception
would be destroyed, but took away two photographs that had been taken of
Price, one of which contained a beautiful female "extra" --- but on
neither plate was the Imperial Dry Plate trademark! Hope had managed to
switch the plates as well. He was able to show that they were not the same
type of plates that he had given to Hope to use, as they were a different
thickness, weight and color and were "fast" plates, while the ones that
Hope gave back to him were "slow" ones.
In the May issue of the Journal of the London SPR, Price
published a report under the title "Cold Light on Spiritualistic Phenomena"
and it was later reprinted as a separate booklet. Immediately, he was attacked
from the Spiritualist camp. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle,
who was a supporter of the Crewe Circle, denounced Price and his methods. He
and the Spiritualist newspapers accused Price of trickery and of switching the
plates himself in a plan to discredit the medium. Although Sir Oliver Lodge,
who was a proponent of Spiritualism, believed that Hope was fraud and wrote to
Harry Price saying: "I don't see how your proofs of Hope's duplicity could be
More than 11 years after this incident, the widow of a man
who worked for Hope admitted in an article that after Price's sťance, her
husband went through Hope's luggage and "found in a suitcase a flash lamp with
a bulb attachment, some cut-out photographic heads and some hairs."
Unfortunately, these devastating facts were suppressed in 1922 and Price would
later comment that if not for this suppression, his entire relationship with
Conan Doyle could have been preserved. "This vital information would have
ended my controversy with Sir Arthur," he said. "Incidentally, it would have
ended Hope too!"
Although Hope certainly had his detractors, he had his
supporters too, including Conan Doyle, who wrote his book The Case for
Spirit Photography in response to the Price incident. He was also
supported by Sir William Crookes (of
Florence Cook /
Katie King fame) and Sir William Barrett. Many have suspected that
trickery was involved in Crookes' sitting though. The physicist was in his
80's in 1916, when he had his sitting, and had just recently lost his wife.
His assistant at the time, J.H. Gardiner, told Crookes' biographer that the
negative from which Hope's photograph of Lady Crookes was reproduced showed
clear signs of double exposure but that Crookes preferred to ignore this.
(Left) The Reverend and
Mrs. Tweedale with a spirit of his father-in-law, taken by Hope.
(Above) A photograph of the father-in-law in life.
(Right) A 1931 photo of Mrs. Leverson with a spirit extra, also taken by
To make matters more perplexing, not all of the sittings
ended with questionable results. Throughout his career, Hope gained support
from many quarters and figured prominently into a book about survival after
death by Reverend Charles Tweedale, who owned a haunted house in the town of
Otley in Yorkshire. In his writings, Tweedale, gives many accounts of Hope's
prowess as a spirit photographer, Stating that there was no fraud evident in
the majority of Hope's cases in which people called upon him unannounced, even
with secret identities, and obtained clearly recognizable spirit images. One
case was that of Mrs. Hortense Leverson, who came to Hope and was given and
psychic photograph of her recently deceased husband, Major Leverson, who had
been on the staff of the War Office. She was absolutely convinced that the
photograph was legitimate. She, along with dozens (perhaps hundreds) of
others, believed that Hope was absolutely genuine.
William Hope died on March 7, 1933, leaving a number of
mysteries behind. Was he real -- was he merely a fraud? No one can say for
sure and like so many of the other enigmas connected to Spiritualism, this one
also remained unsolved.
Copyright 2003-2008 by Troy Taylor. All Rights Reserved.
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