The Ghosts of Senate House is one part of a creative research project led by Sarah Sparkes. It serves as an archive for uncanny, apocryphal stories emanating from Senate House. These stories formed part of "a Magical library for the 21st Century" an archive of writings, recordings, artwork, artefacts, and other contributions, which was first shown at the University of London as part of The Bloomsbury Festival October 2011.

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Herbal magic in Torrington Square

The area directly north of Senate House was once known as the Long Fields. During the late 17th and 18th centuries, they were noted for "robbery, murder, and every species of depravity and wickedness of which the heart can think." [Dr. Edward F. Rimbault, Notes and Queries, no.14, February 2nd 185o].

The noted antiquarian John Aubrey was witness to a somewhat gentler pastime in the Long Fields when, at around noon on the eve of St. John (the Baptist's) Day, [i.e. Midsummer's Day, June 24th] he observed "about two or three and twenty young women, most of whom well habited on their knees very busy, as if they had been weeding [...] a young man told me they were looking for a coal under the root of a plantain to put under their head that night, and they should dream who would be their husbands. It was to be sought foir that day and hour." [Aubrey, Miscellanies, 1696]

Edward Walford, in volume 4 of his Old and New London (1878), remarked that the above custom was "a very ancient one, and not confined to London or even to England, and is probably connected with the fire and serpent worship, which came into Europe from the East."

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