Book: "Why I Believe in Personal Immortality"

Author: Sir Oliver Lodge FRS

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- Chapter 4b -

Class II: Prevision. An Instance of Prediction

Episode in the House


Few men have pondered long on these problems of Past and Future without wondering whether Past or Future be in very truth more than a name — whether we may not be apprehending as a stream of sequence that which is an ocean of co-existence, and slicing our subjective years and centuries from timeless and absolute things.

F. W. H. Myers, "Human Personality," II, 273.


          IT so happened that Lady Lodge was having tea with her friend Miss Clarissa Miles in her London flat at Egerton Gardens on 6th May, 1913; and by way of entertainment Miss Miles had also invited a professional clairvoyante, who went by the name of Madame Vera, to give what might be called a "reading" or intuitional discourse, without going into any kind of trance. Nothing of importance, or indeed of any particular interest, was said, but my wife had been trained to take notes — such notes as she could without shorthand — of any such occurrence, in case subsequently it might be of interest. Her notes were quite tough, but were afterwards seen by our son Raymond, who was mildly interested in them because of something said about Italy, where he had been earlier that same year on a visit to friend. From these notes I extract the record of what Madame Vera said at the end of her discourse. I do not suppose that the original notes were verbatim, for the record is rather jerky and disjointed: I expect that only the salient points were jotted down. Anyhow, this is exactly what was written at that date, and copied out by Raymond during 1913, before the war:-

A house in the country, a happiness, a stream or river that runs at the bottom of the garden. The house seems long and low-built, straggling; a piece that leads down to water. A happy condition; a happy period. On a height; the garden goes down to water, a feeling of good luck. Old fashioned; a church door. The rooms are old fashioned; no two rooms alike. Low steps, very funny, up a step and down a step. Some rooms long and narrow — all shapes. Something that will be associated with your life. Hall not large, house low, old oak. This house is where you are going to be. Large pictures hanging, old pictures. Wall opposite more like stone. It is in the country and hilly. Long way from the station. A summer house large that goes across, inside there is a table and chairs; the front is glass.

The family were rather interested in this rather full description of an imaginary home, and tried to fit it on to any house in the neighbourhood, without success. A church door seemed an impossible feature, if it were taken literally, but indeed none of the features seemed applicable to any house that we were ever likely to inhabit. Since my youth in the neighbourhood of Mr. Arnold Bennett’s "Five Towns," I had always lived in London or Liverpool or Birmingham, i.e. in places containing modern Universities, where I could earn a living and take part in education. It was quite improbable that I should ever bury myself in the country; and it seemed to be a house deep in the country that was being described.

I must now skip some years in order to give some biographical details essential to an understanding of the episode. In 1914 we went with the British Association to Australia. The War broke out. Raymond was killed in the year 1915.

Long after this, in the year 1919, I was retiring from the Principalship of the University of Birmingham, and accordingly we were looking out for a small house or cottage to which we could retire when we had left the comparatively large family house, Mariemont, at Edgbaston. Through certain mediums, such as Mrs. Leonard, with whom Raymond’s mother had occasional sittings, Raymond (now on the other side), expressed interest in what he called "our house-hunting," and showed a knowledge of several houses which she had seen. For instance, he described a service-hatch or hole in the wall between dining-room and kitchen in a house near Crowborough which she had been told of by a house-agent and had been to see. In May, 1919, he discussed one at Datchet, but thought we could do better, and hinted that we should not be moving from Mariemont for a year. Ultimately we fixed upon a small Lutyens house in the Hampstead Garden Suburb, and negotiated for its lease. Raymond, however, was not altogether satisfied with it. He said the walls were too thin for peace and quiet, and that there would not be room for my books — which was certainly true. Nevertheless we arranged to take the house. Early that autumn (3rd July, 1919) my wife went to Vichy in France for a few weeks. While she was away, a reiterated message came through usual channels:— "Tell Mother to stop house-hunting: I have found one, arid am only waiting to push it to you. Raymond."

Quite independently of all this, while she was away in July, I went to pay one of my periodical visits for a few days to our friends Lord and Lady Glenconner. They were not then at Glen in the border country of Scotland, where we had often been, but at their smaller house, Wilsford Manor, eight or nine miles north of Salisbury in the Avon Valley on Salisbury Plain. The plain is not fiat, as strangers might expect, it is a group of low ranges of chalk hills extending over the southern part of Wiltshire, and is drained by five rivers which converge from wide open valleys like the fingers of a stretched out band, and are united at the wrist near Salisbury on the South. Of these rivers (the Ebble, the Bourne, the Avon, the Wylie, and the Nadder) the Avon is the one which continues them to the sea at Christchurch, Hants. Near the water-meadows irrigated by it, and on the dry chalk, Wilsford Manor and a few other houses are situated.

One afternoon Lord Glenconner invited me to go for a walk, and in the course of that walk he looked in at an old farmhouse in the Avon Valley, on land which he had recently purchased from the Antrobus Amesbury Estate, adjoining his own on the North. He casually remarked that he was doing some alterations and had just built a porch. He had bought this land and house during the war, and had lent it to one or other of the officers on military duty at Salisbury Plain, and for that purpose had furnished it. He had up a few old pictures, family portraits, sporting prints and the like, and was now engaged in making a few improvements: among others adding a porch to a comparatively recently changed front door, so as to protect it from the weather on the north side of the house. The workmen had about finished; it was in the hands of a caretaker. There were barns ‘and kitchen-garden, but hardly any lawn, only what had been a straw-yard for cattle. This he was filling up and generally improving the surroundings, as he was now thinking of letting it. But, he said, he was rather particular about prospective tenants, as they would be such near neighbours (only half a mile away with fields adjoining); and, besides, most people who might want to live there would also want the fishing arid shooting rights over the 700 acres of associated farm land, which he did not wish to let. In a casual way we went over the house together, and I was considerably taken with its simplicity, especially with its "down " -like surroundings, and with the view of the beautiful Avon Valley from higher parts of Salisbury Plain. I remember saying to him as we continued our walk: "Why not let it to us? I should not want either to fish or shoot." To which he replied: "I should like nothing better, but it would not do for you, it is too far from a station, and probably too far from London." I rather agreed, as I had no idea of burying myself in the country.

One of my daughters, however, also came on a visit to Wilsford Manor before I left, and I took her to see the house and neighbouring Downs. We were both much taken with it. She was sure that her mother would like it, as she had always been enamoured of the Sussex scenery near Brighton; so, after a few telegrams to Vichy, I decided to take it, if a library could be put on the top of it by raising the roof. This was agreed to; and in due time the work was put in hand. Meanwhile I got rid of the pleasant house in the Hampstead Garden Suburb — a matter of no difficulty — and I took measurements of the rooms in Normanton House preparatory to moving in, say, six months hence, after Mariemont had been given up. We did not actually enter upon occupation till the autumn of 1920, after my long lecturing tour in America at the beginning of that year.


After we were settled in we were looking through a box of Raymond’s papers, and we came across his old document, the copied-out record of his mother’s private sitting with Madame Vera, rather more than seven years previously. We had been struck at once with the description of a house at the end of that sitting; and though it would not have fitted any other house that had been looked at, we now perceived that this one it fitted almost exactly. It is a long way from the station (about 9 miles); for though Amesbury station — on a branch line to Bulford Camp — is only 3 miles off, the only station on the main line which we really use is Salisbury. The river Avon runs close by, and a portion or branch of it lies at the bottom of the orchard, its occasional flow being regulated by hatches, There is a small amount of oak panelling in the entrance hall, which is also used as a dining-room. Into this room the front-door opens direct, with a descent of three steps, so that the floor of the room is below ground level — an unusual feature, probably arranged some little time ago to give it extra height, when the space ceased to be a storehouse of agricultural implements (as old inhabitants remember) and became a living-room. It is long, low, and narrow (40 feet by 13 feet by 9 feet high) and its ceiling has old oak beams almost worn through, which must have been there for centuries. There are oak panels between the windows, and oak shutters. A notable oak staircase, most of it old, leads from this hall to an upper floor, and continues up into what has recently been made into a library by removing the old rafters and raising the roof.

Some old pictures were also in the house when we entered on the tenancy, having been kindly allowed to remain, with some other furniture, until we had fully settled in. There is also a step out of the sitting-room, and one along an upper corridor in an unexpected place, over which visitors occasionally stumble, so that one of them said to me spontaneously, "This house seems all up steps and down steps " — which, though an exaggeration, was like the phrase used by the seer. The kitchen-garden, which faces the front door, is half surrounded by a chalk wall, thatched after the Wiltshire fashion; and this wall, of chalk marl, has a stone-like aspect.

The most remarkable of the agreements, however, is that the porch recently built to protect the entrance has a real church door to it, obviously an old one, of considerable thickness (uniform 2 3/4 inches), studded with bolts or rivets all over it, and with long hinges, two massive bolts, and an appropriate latch.

I inquired from my landlord about this feature, and found that after the new stone porch had been built round the front door opening to the drive on the north side of the house, it was felt that this porch was rather too open in front to the weather; so Lady Glenconner, on one of her visits to the house during the alterations, had said to the builder that the entrance would be improved by a second or outer door to the porch, and added that she knew of an old door that could be used for the purpose. This was in an out-house at Wilsford Manor, and had probably been laid aside when the church had been restored by the former owner of Wilsford. Accordingly this fine old door was moved and put into position in the porch of the house at Normanton. It is still stained in patches, apparently from some use made of it by house-painters during the years of its seclusion. But note that it was only resuscitated as a door after the war; that is to say, long after the vision or prediction in 1913. At that time even the porch did not exist, and the house did not belong to the Glenconners. He had bought the Normanton property in September 1915.

It ought, perhaps, to be added, that when alterations to Normanton House were being made in 1919, the Glenconners had no knowledge whatever of any prediction; neither did it recur to our minds till long afterwards. The porch and minor alterations were over and done before we ever saw the house or knew anything whatever about it. The roof was taken off and an attic library added early in 1920.

That practically all the other features mentioned in the prediction could apply so correctly to this house by chance, seems incredible; it seems still more incredible that the existence of a church door in the entrance porch to a specified dwelling-house could have been foreseen before it was there! I prefer not to make any lame attempt to explain the incident.

As to the other minor details :— A glazed summerhouse with tables and chairs in it against the south front of the house, can hardly be counted, since I put it there myself, together with a small greenhouse; though this I truly did without the least thought or memory of any statement in that direction. The prediction says "no two rooms alike." Well, the only two rooms which might strike people as similar are the small sitting - or morning-room and the drawing-room, both on the ground floor facing south. They are roughly the same size, but there are differences. One room has two doors, the other only one. One has a raised floor, with a step up, so that it is warmer than the other. The chimney-jamb of one is unusually large. They are quite differently furnished. The long, low-built appearance of the house was mote apparent before the roof was raised and an upper storey added.

There are two fine long detached barns, the other side the lawn, which from some points of view might be taken as part of the house, and are a striking feature. The house is not on a height, it is true, it is only raised well above the flats of the water meadows. The county of Wiltshire is mildly hilly or undulatins, but only in the sense that all Downiand is hilly. It is easy to go up half a mile of slope, say 230 feet up, and look down on this house in the Avon Valley, on one side, and towards Stonehenge (a miles off) at a more level part of the plain, on the other. These last are the only features that might by a stringent critic be stigmatized as wrong. Yet it may be worth mentioning that recently an American poetess, after a short visit, sent a friendly greeting to "the grey house beneath the Wiltshire hills."

My friend, Viscountess Grey, hitherto mentioned as Lady Glenconner, permits me to give her name in connexion with the incident, and has added some additional information. She herself lost her eldest son in the war, Edward Wyndham Tennant, of whom she has written a Memoir.(1)

(1) "Edward Wyndham Tennant, 4th Grenadier Guards." (Published at the Bodley Head.) wherein he is spoken of by his affectionate family name of Bim; and it is well known that she is in occasional communication with him through reputable mediums. She allows me to say that she was the mote struck by the coincidence, when told of it after we had entered on the tenancy, because of notes taken by her at sittings with Mrs. Leonard during previous months; these appeared now to contain allusions to the matter. Her notes taken at sittings at that time contain such passages as: New people coming, he is glad about this; not building exactly, but alterations. changes in the roof… They are so glad about the neighbours. At this time another house on Lord Glenconner’s property was about to be let, and the complete renovation of the roofing of several large barns had been in process, and the reference had been understood to allude to this, though at the time carrying small conviction. Later, Lady Grey says, in the light of subsequent events, these allusions and others of a like nature became both to Bim’s father and to herself abundantly clear.

At a later sitting with Mrs. Leonard, near London, Raymond expressed joy that we had got the house he had intended, and hoped that it would suit his mother’s health and be a success: and so it has proved.


The whole episode, so far as Raymond is concerned, is only one of many instances in which he has shown knowledge of current events and been of service; and so far the episode is simple and explicable enough. But how to explain the prevision of Madame Vera, if it was a prevision, given at a time when we had no thought of moving from the neighbourhood of a modern University city, and not the slightest idea of living in the country; and especially how it was possible to foresee the details of a house which at that time was in other hands, in full use as a farmhouse, I do not understand. Especially do I not understand the foreseen existence of old pictures in what would for us naturally be an unfurnished house — as indeed this would have been, when let, had not Lord Glenconner happened during the war. to put some in to make it mote friendly for the officers to whom he lent it. Nor can I in the least understand the foreseeing of a church door, which in 1913 was practically non-existent — in nobody’s mind — in an outhouse or nag-stall, half a mile away. I can only vaguely surmise some kind of "planning," on the other side, to bring these things about. For, as I have said elsewhere, Inference from the present, and Planning for the future, are our two normal methods of prediction in the ordinary affairs of life.

Supplementary Note

One point of interest is, I think, worth amplifying. It is that to which I have already referred, namely certain anticipatory allusions, apparently to this episode, which were taken down by Lady. Glenconner during her sittings with Mrs. Leonard in May, 1919. These references were so previous to the whole transaction that they were non-interpreted at the time. We had never seen or heard of the house, nor had anyone even begun to think of us in connexion with it, until that walk with the first Lord Glenconner on a date which I find in my diary was the 12th of July, 1919. Lady Grey has allowed me to see the record of her Leonard sitting on the 1st of May, 1919, and from this she has selected and transcribed the following:-

Bim says, Do you know he has got something to do for his Father shortly? Yes, he has. Something in a few weeks dine. He gives Feda the feeling of about the middle of the summer. To do with L. — important. Someone called L, he’ll be connected with it. A surname, and a man. Bum says importantly connected with his Father to do with this.

In what direction? I (Lady G.) asked.

Quite in a material way, and yet not only business, something happy, something bigger. You will both be so pleased and glad about this; but a little waiting before it can be completed.

(And later on again:—)The building going to be partly pulled down, Bim says, only partly; he feels so pleased about it; something about the roof, he says, more like rebuilding. It will make such a difference, he says, to you, this coming. Neighbours. They are so awfully glad this has been arranged.



Contents / Foreword / Chapter 1  / Chapter 2  / Chapter 3 / Chapter 4 / Chapter 4a / Chapter 4b / Chapter 4c / Chapter 4d / Chapter 4e / Chapter 5 / Chapter 6 / Chapter 7

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