Panacea Society

The Panacea Society was a millenarian religious group in Bedford, England. Founded in 1919, it followed the teachings of the Devonshire prophetess Joanna Southcott, who died in 1814, and campaigned for Southcott's sealed box of prophecies to be opened according to her instructions. The society believed Bedford to be the original site of the Garden of Eden.

"The Ark" in Bedford.

HistoryEdit

 
The notice placed in The Daily Telegraph by the society on the outbreak of the Second World War on 4 September 1939.

The Society's inspiration was the teachings of the Devonshire prophetess Joanna Southcott (1750–1814).[1] It was founded by Mabel Barltrop in 1919 at 12 Albany Road, Bedford. A clergyman's widow, Barltrop declared herself the 'daughter of God',[2] took the name Octavia and believed herself to be the Shiloh of Southcott's prophecies. Barltrop had originally heard of Southcott via a leaflet written by Alice Seymour.[3] She and 12 apostles founded the Society, originally called the Community of the Holy Ghost.[4]

A central purpose of the Society was to persuade 24 Anglican bishops to open Southcott's sealed box of prophecies, and to this end, advertisements were placed in newspapers, both national and local. In the late 1920s and early 1930s the Society generated over 100,000 petitions for the box to be opened.[5] The Society claimed to be in possession of the original box. The Panaceans also believed that the one that was opened in 1927 and found to contain a broken horse pistol and a lottery ticket, was not the genuine box.[6][7]

During the 1930s the membership began to dwindle as did Alice Seymour's smaller rival group.[8]

Despite this, the group continued placing adverts in newspapers calling for action from the Church of England. In the 1970s the Society rented billboards which proclaimed "War, disease, crime and banditry, distress of nations and perplexity will increase until the Bishops open Joanna Southcott's box."[9]

Another main activity of the Panacea Society was to offer healing of all diseases, including cancer, to those who would write to its headquarters in Bedford and receive a piece of linen blessed by Octavia. They were instructed to put the linen in a jug of water, pray, and drink this "Water A" four times a day. Water A could then be diluted with additional water, producing "Water B," which should be applied to the body as bath water or through sponges. From 1924 to 2012, some 130,000 applicants received the pieces of linen for free, and were only asked to write back and report on the results of the cure. The correspondence, coming from all over the world, is still conserved in the Bedford Panacea Museum, and has been studied in 2019 in a book by British scholar Alastair Lockhart.[7]

 
The Society's allotments. The members claimed Bedford to be the original site of the Garden of Eden.

PremisesEdit

The Society had its headquarters on Albany Road, close to the remains of Bedford Castle. Another property, an end-of-terrace house on Albany Road named The Ark, was maintained as a residence for the Messiah after the Second Coming.

Although small in size, the Society was relatively wealthy, owning several properties in the Castle Road area of Bedford.[10] By 2001, when the Society started to sell off some of its property in order to retain its status as a charity, it was reported to have assets valued at £14m.[11]

MembershipEdit

In the 1930s, about 70 members were said to be living in the Bedford community. In 1967, the Bedfordshire Times reported about 30 members living there.[12] When the last member, Ruth Klein (b. 1932), died in 2012,[10] the Society ceased to exist as a religious community.

Charitable trustEdit

Whilst the religious society is no longer functioning, there still exists a charity whose main remit is to sponsor academic research into the history and development of prophetic and millenarian movements, as well as provide financial assistance to support the work of registered charities and recognised groups concerned with poverty and health in the Bedford area.[13] The charity officially changed its name to The Panacea Charitable Trust in 2012.[14]

Panacea MuseumEdit

 
The Founder's House at the Panacea Museum viewed from the garden.

In late 2012, it was announced that the charitable trust would be opening a museum detailing the history of the society, at 9 Newnham Road, Bedford.[15] The Panacea Museum is in ‘Castleside’, a Victorian house that was part of the community's headquarters. It tells the story of the Panacea Society and other similar religious groups.

The museum also incorporates several other buildings, set within the gardens, that formed the original community's ‘campus’. The museum is open every Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday between February half term and the end of October.

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ Pope, Alex (17 November 2019). "The woman who said Jesus would return - to Bedford" – via www.bbc.co.uk.
  2. ^ "Private lives made public". www.churchtimes.co.uk.
  3. ^ Shaw, Jane; Lockley, Philip (30 May 2017). The History of a Modern Millennial Movement: The Southcottians. I.B.Tauris. ISBN 9781786721907.
  4. ^ "Octavia, the founder of the Panacea Society". Panacea Charitable Trust and Museum. Archived from the original on 30 January 2017. Retrieved 24 January 2017.
  5. ^ "Panacea Society". Panacea Charitable Trust and Museum. Archived from the original on 30 January 2017. Retrieved 24 January 2017.
  6. ^ Coates, Stephen. "Delving into the mystery of Joanna Southcott's box". Londonist. Londonist Ltd. Retrieved 24 January 2017.
  7. ^ a b Lockhart, Alastair (2019). Personal Religion and Spiritual Healing: The Panacea Society in the Twentieth Century. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press. ISBN 978-1-4384-7286-7.
  8. ^ "Seymour, Alice (1857–1947), schoolteacher and expositor and publisher of the writings of Joanna Southcott". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. 2004. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/93403. ISBN 9780198614111. Retrieved 9 July 2019. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  9. ^ "Panacea Museum". Atlas Obscura. Atlas Obscura. Retrieved 24 January 2017.
  10. ^ a b "Bedfordshire onsunday has closed". www.bedfordshire-news.co.uk.
  11. ^ Bates, Stephen (13 July 2001). "Mystic society charitably sells off the followers' silver" – via www.theguardian.com.
  12. ^ Bedfordshire Times report, October 1967 Archived 1 December 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  13. ^ "Panacea Society Homepage". Archived from the original on 22 May 2013.
  14. ^ "The Panacea Charitable Trust". The Panacea Charitable Trust. Retrieved 4 September 2013.
  15. ^ "Bedford Times and Citizen: A house of God in the heart of town".

Further readingEdit

  • Shaw, Jane (2011). Octavia, Daughter of God. Random House. ISBN 978-0-224-07500-8.
  • Brown, Frances (2003). Joanna Southcott's Box of Sealed Prophecies. Lutterworth Press. ISBN 0718830415.
  • Lockley, Philip (2012). Panacea Museum, Bedford : a souvenir guide. Panacea Charitable Trust.
  • Bean, Adrian (2018). Imagining Eden. Brown Dog Books. ISBN 978-1-78545-316-8.
  • Lockhart, Alastair (2019). Personal Religion and Spiritual Healing: The Panacea Society in the Twentieth Century. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press. ISBN 978-1-4384-7286-7.

External linksEdit

Coordinates: 52°08′07″N 0°27′41″W / 52.1354°N 0.4614°W / 52.1354; -0.4614