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Mrs Miller's Gift

A celebration of 75 years of the
Edinburgh College of Parapsychology
formerly Edinburgh Psychic college & library

Life After Death

Mrs Miller's Gift

By Gerald O'Hara & Ann Harrison

PRICE: £7.50

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For 75 years the Edinburgh College of Parapsychology has given its services to the people of Edinburgh. A registered charity, constitutionally dedicated to its independence, the College is the only foundation of its type in Scotland. Once over 20 such psychical societies flourished in the UK. but only a few have survived to the present.

Founded by Mrs Ethel Miller, in 1932, as a memorial to her husband, Robert, every major speaker and medium in the field of Spiritualism and Psychical Research was invited to serve the College in those early years. Despite the move from Heriot Row to Melville Street, a rich legacy has come down to the present in the form of long forgotten accounts and photographs, including some of medium Helen Duncan who gave séances there for 18 years.

With stories of other mediums, college workers and supporters, woven together in an easy to read account, of the College’s past and present, the authors, Gerald O’Hara and Ann Harrison have created a snapshot of what would have been experienced there, over the years. But this is not just a local tale, for it represents what other Psychic Research facilities were providing across the UK in the 20th century.

Product Details
  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Saturday Night Press Publications (5 Sep 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-13: 978-0951453490
  • Product Dimensions: 23.2 x 15.6 cm  (6.14” x 9.2”)

Mrs MillerEthel Miller a wealthy woman, though always frail in health, was possessed of an indomitable spirit. Catherine Mowat speaks of her as being the "most generous and unselfish of people". That she was "unstinting" in support of the College and in her efforts to pass on the College free of debts after her death, is well known. By all accounts and there are now none alive who knew her, Mrs Ethel Maud Miller was "shy and retiring", "a gracious lady" and "unused to business". Mrs Miller sought out the solace to be found in the spirit contact provided to her by mediums. It was this solace that brought Mrs Miller to the realisation that everything that now mattered was in front of her eyes and, being familiar with the literature of Spiritualism, in buying and dedicating Heriot Row to Psychical Research many extraordinary things might be possible; like a trip to heaven, the possibilities of encountering her beloved Robert at a séance must have swum before her eyes? Ethel determined that the College would be dedicated to her husband, in memoriam of their love, besides which, she and her beloved Robert had no child of their own.

Heriot Row Edinburgh The front elevation of Heriot Row looks over the south of Queen Street Gardens and if the authors of the built environment respected the balance and cultivation of the senses afforded by the new town, those that were the heirs to that estate have always honoured that vision. Melville Street, the second home of the newly renamed Edinburgh College of Parapsychology (1974), was designed by James Gillespie Graham and built between 1822-30. Whether in Heriot Row, or later, in the College’s new home in Melville Street the elegance of proportion and height of the rooms lent a grace to those who inhabited its halls.

Melville Street LondonAs the Bible says, "In my Father's house there are many mansions". The widow decided that her fortune would be used to create such a mansion and that her new house would be dedicated to that Great Father's purpose. In short, 30 Heriot Row was a big house. There would be rooms enough to house the many spaces of the mind and to explore the psychic lives, the brotherhood and dimensions of Man. Catherine Mowat tells us that the spirits urged the shy Ethel to found a College modelled on the British College of Psychic Science in London, which ran from 1920 to 1939 but such was the "diffidence" of the lady that she was slow to act. There were Spiritualist churches in Edinburgh but there was none where an enquirer could go without commitment.

'Public meetings'

‘Public meetings’ were given by many groups in society and were opportunities to see national figures in various fields speaking in public. One public meeting given in Edinburgh's Music Hall, in March 1934 under the sponsorship of the College had Maurice Barbanell and Hannen Swaffer speaking at what was called a ‘Propaganda Meeting’.

Helen Hughes was a frequent contributor to the lecture platform of the College speaking for the first time in March 1934 on the topic of ‘Psychic Experiences’. In May of the same year at the Central Hall, Tollcross, an unknown speaker spoke in trance on the subject of ‘Power’ to an audience of one thousand people. In September of 1935, the editor of Two Worlds gave an address at the College on ‘Personal Experience of the Trance State’. This was followed by demonstration of Transfiguration but the medium's name is not given.

There is no reason to suppose that the meetings ceased after 1937 given the popularity of such meetings and the evidence of the ticket shown below. These occasions would also be held at some profit to the Psychic College and Library. However, the records are patchy and there are no further records until after the outbreak of the Second World War.

Catherine Allan in her speeches for the early part of the War often mentioned that they had to work in reduced and difficult circumstances (presumably of blackout and travel restrictions). However, the random notes left by our unknown chronicler, lists several such successful public war-time meetings at the Usher Hall and elsewhere. The first was on the 24th September 1943 when Maurice Barbanell was speaking and Helen Hughes giving the demonstration with Mrs Miller and Catherine Allan in attendance.

It is not clear for whom our scribe was writing but it appears that they may have been compiling notes for a history and that the notes were written years later than the event is evident from the fact that the notes were in ballpoint, which was not invented until after 1945, (by the Hungarian, Mr Biro) and the pages also contain occasional literary comments. The following is the comment on the Usher Hall meeting of ’43, speaking of Hughes and Barbanell.

‘These outstanding figures in the fraternal work of the Spiritualist movement, have shared their gifts … have brought enlightenment, comfort, and inspiration to many people restoring courage and hope to bereaved people.’

The College held these large public meetings as anniversary commemorations. At one such meeting, in 1944, Helen Hughes was said to have delivered thirty to forty messages to the audience. The Duchess of Hamilton was also noted as the speaker at the meeting. (A generation before, the Duchess of Caithness had been a prominent aristocratic supporter of Spiritualism).

The record is a useful insight into many aspects of the life of the College but that they are not a complete record of activities is obvious from the omission of the mention of a meeting which was addressed by Hannen Swafffer.

Visitors book of the Edinburgh Psychic College 1933
First page from the Visitors’ Book of the Edinburgh Psychic College, 1933.
Note the signatures of Ernest Oaten, Dr. Nandor Fodor,  Hannen Swaffer and the author Richard Boddington.

Psychic Painter in Edinburgh

Psychic painter in EdinburghAnother unusual feature owned by the College is a large symbolist painting. On 16th June 1938, the College staged an exhibition of symbolic and decorative paintings by the french ex-miner, Augustine Lesage. Each work was completed while Lesage was in trance, under the control of his guides, and knew nothing of what had occurred. He was apparently uneducated and quite without artistic training. Some 450 large-scale canvases were produced in this manner. Much of the work was delicate and required precision of application. Yet the former miner felt no fatigue and worked for hours under spirit control.

Mrs Miller was ‘taken by the "designs" and bought several’, one of which is still to be seen in the College. 


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