William Hope: Paranormal Investigator!

(Although not strictly connected with William Hope Hodgson, I felt that this was just too interesting to pass up!)

A ‘spirit photograph’ by William Hope.

It’s amazing what one can find on the internet!

Case in point: William Hope, Paranormal Investigator!

This very interesting fellow was born in Crewe, England, in 1863.  Although employed as a carpenter in his youth, Hope soon took to photography and, around 1905, became involved in ‘spirit photography’.  On a Saturday afternoon, he and a colleague photographed each other.  But when Hope exposed his negative, he was astonished to find that there was an extra figure in the picture: a transparent woman.  Hope’s colleague swore that it was the figure of his sister, dead for many years.

The organist at the Spiritualist Hall at Crewe, Mr. Buxton, helped to form a circle of friends who all sat for their own ‘spirit’ photographs.  Because they feared being exposed by devout Catholics being in league with the devil, the circle destroyed all the original negatives.

This was resolved when Archdeacon Colley discovered the circle and became interested in the photographs.  The Archdeacon tested Hope and endorsed both him and his results as well as giving the amateur photographer his first stand camera which Hope would use throughout his career.  They became known as the “Crewe Circle”.

After WWI, spiritualism saw a rampant increase in interest, disciples and practitioners. William Hope quickly rose to the forefront of these new spiritualists and became quite famous as a ‘medium’ and one of the innovators of ‘spirit photography’.  However, Hope was not without his detractors and, in 1922, he faced his greatest challenge yet.

The Society for Psychical Research was determined to test Hope’s claims for themselves.  To this end, a member of the group (Mr. Harry Price), agreed to a supervised ‘sitting’.  The test took place at the British College of Psychic Science on February 4, 1922.

Unbeknownst to Hope, Price had secretly marked Hope’s photographic plates as well as providing Hope with a packet of additional plates that had been covertly etched with the brand image of the Imperial Dry Plate Co. Ltd, in the knowledge that the logo would appear on any images created by the plates.

Hope was unaware of Price’s ‘tricks’ and proceeded as planned, producing several images of spirits.  However, none of the images contained the Imperial Dry Plate Co. Ltd logo or even the marks that Price had covertly placed on Hope’s plates.  Price’s conclusion was that Hope had switched the plates and performed what we now know as a ‘double-exposure’.

Price’s findings were published in the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research and were very damning for Hope who maintained that both he and his process were genuine.  Hope offered new sittings and declared his willingness to submit to stringent tests but these offers were refused.

Despite Price’s claims, which were upheld in 1932 by Fred Barlow who was a former friend and supporter of Hope’s works and also the former Secretary of the Society for the Study of Supernormal Pictures (who also concluded that the images were frauds), Hope continued to have his ardent supporters.

One of the most important was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle who refused to accept any evidence against Hope.  Indeed, Doyle went to great lengths to clear Hope’s name even writing a book in support of spirit photography called The Case for Spirit Photography.  It was Doyle’s support of mediums like Hope that eventually led to his split with Harry Houdini who made a career in his later life of exposing spiritualists as frauds.

Hope died in Salford Hospital on March 8, 1933.

Spirit photography remains an active aspect of paranormal investigation today.

I submit this post because I find it curious that William Hope and William Hope Hodgson shared not only a close name but also a keen interest in photography.  Also, given that we are currently examining the Carnacki stories (a ‘paranormal investigator’ also famous for using a camera), it seemed fitting.  Although contemporaries, it is not known what, if anything WHH thought of William Hope or ‘spirit photography’ but it is likely that, given his writings, he would have remained open to the possibilities it represented.

Further examples of William Hope’s ‘spirit’ photography can be found here from which I have ‘borrowed’ the photograph at the top of this article.



Filed under Carnacki, William Hope Hodgson

3 responses to “William Hope: Paranormal Investigator!

  1. Fascinating! I’ve done some research on spiritualism and spirit photography during the American Civil War, which Black Gate magazine was kind enough to publish:
    I heard the fallout between Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Houdini came when Doyle took the escape artist to a seance and summoned the spirit of Houdini’s beloved dead mother. Houdini was appalled and deeply insulted. This led to Houdini starting his quest to expose spiritualist trickery.

    • I was not aware of this anecdote but, given Houdini’s attitudes, I would not be surprised if he reacted in this way. It is odd, though, how Doyle kept his faith in spiritualism in the face of often overwhelming evidence against it.

  2. Reblogged this on An Author's Blog and commented:
    This is where I am just like William Hope Hodgeson because he knows how to use the camera to capture horror too as well as he does with the written word. I am reblogging this one because it looks so damn cool.

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