All text copyright Stephen Coates 2006 - 2015


For the collector of London arcana, esoterica or ephemera there can surely be no greater prize than the box of Joanna Southcott. I've been on several wild goose chases following a lead or alerted by an informant as to its potential whereabouts.  It was last definitively seen sometime early last century and although several boxes have subsequently been claimed to be it, most of us who take an interest in such things believe it has long vanished. 

Most lately, the strange object shown in the photo oposite was suggested as a possible contendor.  It was uncovered recently in Bermondsey - one of Ms Southcott's places of residence during her time in London - and it is indeed a strange thing.  But by the time I got down there to check,  the contents, if there had ever been any, had been plundered.  I recognised a couple of other treasure hunters lurking suspiciously in the vicinity so obviously I wasn't the only one to take an interest in this particular suspect.  They are curious bunch these treasure hunters: secretive; competitive; suspicious; devious; pretending to be helpful whilst covertly putting others off the trail and guarding their clues with the paranoia  of cold war spies .  The only one I can respect, never mind stand to be with, is the unofficial City of London archivist Leonard Wise.

Dr Wise doubts the Bermondsey box was Joanna Southcott's and disputes the claims of The Panacea Society who say that they are in possession of the genuine article.  He thinks it either remains hidden or was possibly opened by Churchill shortly before the Battle of Britain in the second world war. He remains reluctant to be drawn on whether it might have influenced the outcome of that particularly decisive incident.  

Joanna Southcott, 'the Bride of Christ', was either an outrageous fraud or the holiest of women depending on who you believe.  She proclaimed herself the cekestial woman spoken of in Revelations chapter 12 and amassed a huge band of followers including many men of letters and influence such as Byron who believed fervently in her prophecies and powers.  Dying shortly after a phantom pregnancy of which she was supposed to give birth to 'Shiloh' the new Messiah, her legacy lived on in the continued faith of her followers and in the box she sealed and left to posterity.  She was undoubtedly a very strange, charismatic person and like many such,  I believe both a genuine seer and an inveterate imposter:

"While all through thy wondrous days,
Heaven and Earth enraptur'd gaz'd..."

So what is the treasure her box was reputed to contain?  Well no one actually knows but it is claimed that amongst the contents were prophecies sufficient to save England in a time of grave peril. From the early twentieth century through to the 1970s, various campaigns have been mounted by Joanna Southcott's followers including The Panacea Society to have it opened, and understandably so, England has probably been in its gravest peril to date during that period.   But the box is only supposed to be opened in the presence of 24 bishops: not an easy thing to arrange and the reason often cited by The Panacea Society as to why they have not opened the box in their possession.

Whether you believe in such stuff or not, the genuine box would be a very interesting ad valuable curiosity.  I have gathered some fairly reliable descriptive details of it over the last few years and have occasionally felt myself to be fairly close on its trail.  I will of course keep you informed should it turn up.  And I would request that you would let me know if you ever come across any clues to its whereabouts yourself.


In the meantime, here apropos of nothing in particular is The Real Tuesday Weld's cover version of Malvina Reynold's  Little Boxes


spillyjane said...

I will keep an eye out next month - you never know.

Always in the last place one looks, etc.

spillyjane said...

And I do love your version of Little Boxes - gets stuck in my head for days!

Anonymous said...

I really, really love this song. It's one of my favorites for summer nights, when the light turns blue and the fireflies come out as the dew falls. We turn it on and twirl.

Anyway, I always enjoy reading what you post. You always inspire me to seek out the beautiful and the interesting. I think the world needs people like you, to keep us a little *less* grounded. Being cynical is so much easier than being whimsical, easier than letting yourself be fascinated.

Thank you. Keep it up, I love it.

clerkenwell kid said...

Thanks so much - that song is one of my favourites too

And I always believe fascination will trump cynicism every time. Who remembers the cynical after all?!

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