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FLORENCE COOK – VICTORIAN SEANCES IN HACKNEY

Posted on: October 30, 2013

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Florence Cook and Katie King were the Spiritualism double-act of late 19th century England, a sort of Victorian precursor to Derek Acorah and the legendary Sam. Florence’s seances fed the Victorians’ lust for the After-Life. It was all about ethereal shapes in gloomy gaslit sitting-rooms, and ectoplasm oozing out all over the place.

Florence was born in 1856. She claimed to have developed her mediumistic skills as a teenager. Soon after her 14th birthday she took to falling into trance states. At the age of 15 she lost her job as a teacher due to poltergeist activity breaking out at the school where she worked.

As her careeer as a medium took off, she went on she became most famous for producing a spirit called Katie King. Katie said she was really called Annie Morgan, daughter of pirate Sir Henry Morgan, and had lived during the English Civil War. She said that she was appearing now to tell the world the truth about spiritualism. Her long association with Florence was to be rife with controversy.

Katie was a huge presence in Florence’s life. So much so that it is said that she liked to get into bed with Florence at night, and Florence’s husband, Captain Comer, complained that it was like being married to two women. Florence would sit concealed behind a thin curtain whilst Katie, dressed all in white, would appear and go for a general mooch around the dimly-lit room. The dim lighting was very important, as Katie said she couldn’t appear under the glow of more than one gas-lamp. One witness said Katie had sat on her lap and said “and now dear, we’ll have a good confab like women do on Earth”. Florence was said to be in a “deep trance” throughout all this.

On 9 December 1873 Katie was allegedly materialised at a seance in Hackney, where Florence lived, and was said to have held the hands of the participants. Unfortunately a lawyer present, called William Volckman, seized the entity’s hands, which sent Katie scampering back to her cabinet.

Supporters of Florence were outraged by this, and said that Volckman had broken the strict etiquette of the spirit room. They said he had also done it to smear Florence, as he was involved with a rival medium called Mrs Guppy. When it was pointed out that Katie bore a remarkable resemblance to Florence herself, they said well of course she did, she was using Florence’s energy to manifest.

This wasn’t the end of Katie though. She appeared at seances the following Spring. This time she manifested whilst Florence lay on her bed with her face covered. In 1880 another skeptical sitter, George Sitwell, seized Katie, and revealed that Florence wasn’t sitting in her chair. It has also been said that George grabbed Katie, only to find that it was really an embarrassed Florence stripped down to her stays!

Katie was to fall by the wayside, and Florence developed other entities, including a French girl called Marie. But it is Katie King for whom she is most famous for in the psychic world. Florence carried on working as a medium up to her own death in 1904. Ectoplasm, a staple feature of the seance room during Florence’s era, is rarely to be found now. It is said that the fashion for it died out with the advent of electric lighting in general use. Funny that.

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