The deathplace of Aleister Crowley

Tony Puppy outside Netherwood, Hastings, 6th December 2008

On Saturday 6th December I was in Hastings, and decided to see the place where Aleister Crowley spent his last year, and indeed died. The place, Netherwood, was demolished some time ago and all that remains of the original building is this coach house and the East Wing of the main building, now a pub.

So far so touristy. Later I read up about Crowley’s time at Netherwood and found he died there on 1st December 1947, and was cremated in Brighton on the 5th December; so my chance visit was very nearly on his anniversary. That made it a bit more spooky, had forces conspired to send me to Hastings this weekend for this purpose?

Anyway hope you like the pictures. They can also be viewed in the photo album, under the album ‘Nowadays’.

Some history of the last day’s of The Beast 666 ripped from 21stcenturyradio.com below:

In 1975, while staying at Hastings, England, with my aunt, I was fortunate enough to be introduced by her to Kathleen (or ‘Johnny’) Symonds, a charming widow in her 60s, who had not only been Aleister Crowley’s last landlady but who was with him when he died in 1947.

Mrs Symonds and I soon established a pleasing rapport, which was sufficient to prompt her to reminisce about her former guest — a man made notorious by the popular press for the practice of ‘sex magick’ and other supposedly shocking occult activities — which she had refused to do with journalists. I met with her again on later visits to the South Coast resort, when she allowed me to tape-record her recollections.

Johnny had owned and run, with her husband Vernon, a large, gabled Victorian guest house named Netherwood. The property stood in its extensive 4-acre grounds, wherein were outbuildings, a lawn tennis court, a large garden, shrubbery and many trees, on The Ridge, a road running across the flank of the upland area behind Hastings, about 500 feet above sea level. Netherwood’s situation afforded extensive views of the town, its Norman castle, Beachy Head and the sea, which were doubtless part of its albeit wind-blown attraction to visitors.

Keeping Netherwood going during the Second World War, when there was food, fuel and petrol rationing, had been hard for the couple, but business started picking up in the second half of 1945, once the conflict was over.

Vernon Symonds’ disposition helped in this regard. He was a sociable ‘arty type’, keen on amateur dramatics, good conversation and on mingling with those well-known in the arts and sciences. He used his contacts to tempt down intellectual luminaries like Professor C.E.M. Joad, J.B.S. Haldane, Edith Bone, and Professor Jacob Bronowski to Netherwood, on the understanding that in return for a free stay they gave a talk about their work and ideas to the other guests. Vernon also provided the best cuisine possible in that difficult period and a relaxed atmosphere.

The intellectual and gustatory attractions of Netherwood were made clear by him in the handbook: ‘So long as I am here,’ he wrote, ‘this house will never be a guest house in the ordinary sense of the term. Those seeking a conventional establishment will be able to find better accommodation elsewhere, for my friends care more for fine food than for the ritual of dressing for dinner, and more for culture and the arts than for bridge and poker.’

Netherwood even featured significantly in the musical development of one young prodigy. ‘A couple called Caplan,’ explained Mrs Symonds, ‘frequently brought down a boy named Julian Bream who would play the guitar for the guests. After his recital we would pass the hat around and the money collected would pay for his next lesson. Everyone thoroughly enjoyed themselves.’

It was in this unusual and somewhat snobbish milieu that Aleister Crowley, the Great Beast 666, found his final haven.

At the end of the war Crowley was lodging in cold, cheerless, uncomfortable digs in Surrey, which had acerbated his chronic asthma and depressed his spirits. Finding somewhere else to live was proving difficult, for he was not only a victim of his own notoriety but he lacked a regular income. Worried about him, his old friend Louis Wilkinson, having heard about Netherwood and its eccentric proprietors from Oliver Marlow, who acted with Vernon Symonds in the Hastings Court Players, asked Marlow to enquire if the Symondses would be prepared to take on such an infamous old reprobate.’So my husband came home and asked me, “Do you mind if Aleister Crowley comes and stay with us?”‘ related his wife. ‘So I said, “Whoever is he?” And he said, “He’s the wickedest man in the world.” “Oh,” I said, “I don’t care!”‘

But if Johnny had never heard of Crowley before, his dramatic arrival soon alerted her to the fact that he was no ordinary mortal.

She explained: ‘Eventually we received a telegram which said, “Expect consignment of frozen meat on such-and-such a day and at such-and-such a time,” when meat was still on ration — so the Post Office handed (a copy of) this telegram to the Food Ministry.

‘We were somewhat perplexed by this because we hadn’t ordered any meat and we were even more surprised when the day arrived and two food inspectors turned up in anticipation of the delivery. While we were talking to them an ambulance suddenly came down the drive, the door opened, and out jumped Aleister Crowley with about 40 or 50 paper parcels (containing) all his books. My husband said, “Well, there you are: that’s the frozen meat!” ‘

That day, she recalled, Crowley looked rather pale and wan, and his hair was cut very short. He was wearing ‘rather wide knickerbockers’ with stockings, and shoes with big silver buckles. Augustus John’s portrait of him, which was drawn earlier in the year, shows him with the same gaunt, somewhat startled appearance possessed by many elderly people. Johnny could not remember the exact date of his arrival, and when we looked in the Netherwood guest book of the period, we found that its first page had been torn out, presumably by someone intent on stealing Crowley’s signature. However, as the next date in the book was 8 September 1945, it suggested that he had come to stay at Netherwood either in late August or very early September, about six weeks before his 70th birthday.

There was a choice of rooms and Crowley opted for number 13, which was at the front of the house. ‘He wanted to go into that one,’ she remembered. ‘It was furnished in the same way as most of the other rooms. There was a large wardrobe, a writing table, a bookshelf and a single bed, as well as a bathroom and toilet. He put up quite a lot of pictures, including several he had painted in the Himalayas.’

Crowley brought with him some special gold coins, which he claimed had magic powers and was anxious about keeping safe, and a ‘box of (I Ching) sticks’. He made frequent use of the latter. ‘When he had an appointment for the dentist, for instance, he threw the sticks in the air. And once he called me and said, “Phone the dentist immediately! The sticks have told me not to go.” The dentist was very amazed.’

The Great Beast soon settled into a regular daily routine. At nine each morning the housekeeper Miss Clarke took him his breakfast, and at ten, if the weather was fine, he would take a stroll in the garden, where Johnny kept some beautiful plump white rabbits, which he nicknamed ‘The Chrysanthemums’ and would love to watch. When the sun shone he would often sit with his hands held heavenwards.

Crowley then spent most of the rest of the day sleeping in his room, where he also took his other meals. His favourite snack was sardines sprinkled with curry powder. He roused himself as darkness fell, and sat up all night either writing letters, reading or indulging in his heroin drug habit.

‘He had a ration of heroin which was allowed him,’ Mrs Symonds said. ‘It used to come down from a chemist called Heppel’s in London. But the police knew about it. I’ve often watched him stick a needle in his arm. He didn’t mind.’

The housekeeper Miss Clarke was not very fond of Crowley, whom he teased by calling her a witch and by claiming he had seen her flying past his window at night on a broomstick. Crowley’s raillery may have resulted from her clumsiness in nearly losing one of his precious gold coins, which she shook out of the window along with the crumbs from his tablecloth. It fell into the bushes below, where it lay for several hours, much to its owner’s consternation, before finally being found.

An amusing incident involving Miss Clarke occurred when Johnny asked Crowley to do her horoscope, but could only tell him that she had been born in the night.

‘When he got round to starting the horoscope, he wrote me a little note which he placed on his breakfast tray. The housekeeper peeped at it, and when she saw that it said “Before or after midnight?” she showed it to my husband, thinking that I was planning a nocturnal escapade with Mr Crowley. We all had a good laugh about that.’

Despite his unenviable reputation and the fact that he insisted on greeting everyone with injunction ‘Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law’, the Great Beast proved a popular addition to the Netherwood household. He had considerable charm, a pleasing personality and was very erudite, which helped make him a good companion and a stimulating talker. He had many long conversations about all manner of subjects with Vernon Symonds.

Crowley joined Hastings Chess Club, where ‘nobody ever beat him’, and he also took the time to tutor the Symonds’s nephew Roland, who later became a priest, in Latin. He sometimes went for walks along The Ridge, where on sunny days he would often stop and lean against a lamp post and hold his hands palms upwards to the sun, and he patronised a health hydro there named Riposo.

‘He had many visitors,’ Mrs Symonds disclosed. ‘He had some people over from Germany who used to bring him lovely wine. And he had somebody who was in the army in Germany, who went afterwards to America.’

Crowley’s English visitors included Kenneth Grant, author of Aleister Crowley and the Hidden God, Michael Houghton, the owner of the Atlantis Bookshop, John Symonds, who wrote The Magic of Aleister Crowley, and of course Louis Wilkinson.

‘He had many parcels from America with boxes of chocolates (in them) when they were rationed here, and at one time he had boxes of chocolates stacked from floor to ceiling. And he had this very strong (peluke) tobacco made with molasses; and the smell of that tobacco stayed in the room for a long time after Crowley was gone. He also made friends with a local grocer named Mr Watson, who took him out for drives and would come and look after him.’

As far as Johnny was aware, Crowley did not practise any magic, let alone ‘sex-magick’, at Netherwood, although this was probably because he was by then sexually impotent and physically ailing.

Yet she poignantly recalled that ‘there was a film in Hastings called The Wizard of Oz, and he told me he would very much like to see it. But I said, “It wouldn’t interest you at all, it’s a children’s thing.” So he didn’t go!’

Aleister Crowley’s health began seriously to deteriorate towards the end of 1947 — ‘He had a very bad chest, a sort of bronchitis’ — and despite the administrations of Dr Charnock-Smith and the efforts of Mrs Symonds ‘he got worse and worse and I think he died of pneumonia’, an event which happened on Monday, 1 December. He was cremated at Brighton on the following Friday.

‘Mrs Thorne-Drury and myself followed the coffin from Hastings to Brighton. At the crematorium we found only a few mourners, perhaps two or three. I remember that a German lady placed some red roses on his coffin. There was no service. Louis Wilkinson, who had a beautiful voice, read his poem Pan and something else that Mr Crowley had written. When we got back to Netherwood in the taxi there was a tremendous thunderstorm with lightning, which continued for the whole of the night. Louis Wilkinson, who travelled back with us, said: “That’s just what Crowley would have liked”!’

According to Johnny, Aleister Crowley was an easy-going, trouble-free resident, who not only spent much of his time in his room, but who rubbed along well with the other visitors and with her and her husband. Indeed, her feelings about him were entirely positive: ‘I liked him,’ she said. ‘He was great fun.’

51 comments on “The deathplace of Aleister Crowley

  1. Al…and…you what? 🙁

  2. Oh dear… how about my spoof International Times? It was (is?) a bit of a situationist hoax. See if you can spot any of the sources I ripped-off. Although I did try to do it so you couldn’t see the join. [Old Eric and Ernie joke]
    http://www.scribd.com/doc/18648058/international-times-june-2005

  3. http://www.bopsecrets.org/SI/debord/4.htm Para. 76

    For Hegel the point was no longer to interpret the world, but to interpret the transformation of the world. But because he limited himself to merely interpreting that transformation, Hegel only represents the philosophical culmination of philosophy. He seeks to understand a world that develops by itself.

    This historical thought is still a consciousness that always arrives too late, a consciousness that can only formulate retrospective justifications of what has already happened. It has thus gone beyond separation only in thought. Hegel’s paradoxical stance — his subordination of the meaning of all reality to its historical culmination while at the same time proclaiming that his own system represents that culmination — flows from the simple fact that this thinker of the bourgeois revolutions of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries sought in his philosophy only a reconciliation with the results of those revolutions.

    “Even as a philosophy of the bourgeois revolution, it does not express the entire process of this revolution, but only its concluding phase. In this sense it is a philosophy not of the revolution, but of the restoration” (Karl Korsch, “Theses on Hegel and Revolution”). Hegel performed the task of the philosopher — “the glorification of what exists” — for the last time; but already what existed for him could be nothing less than the entire movement of history. Since he nevertheless maintained the external position of thought, this externality could be masked only by identifying that thought with a preexisting project of the Spirit — of that absolute heroic force which has done what it willed and willed what it has done, and whose ultimate goal coincides with the present.

    Philosophy, in the process of being superseded by historical thought, has thus arrived at the point where it can glorify its world only by denying it, since in order to speak it must presuppose that the total history to which it has relegated everything has already come to an end, and that the only tribunal where truth could be judged is closed.

  4. The house in the photo is not the house AC died in…sorry

  5. You mean…he is still alive?

  6. Tony Puppy on said:

    He died in what is now the pub.

  7. no its a house that about 1mins walk from there i live next to it

  8. Tony Puppy on said:

    Everything I’ve read says he dies in the boarding house – which is now the pub. Where is this other place then and do you have a story or context as to why he would have been moved out of his room at Netherwood before dying?

  9. HastingsLass on said:

    Hi there. Thats not where Crowley died. The house, Netherwood was demolished a long time ago.

    Heres a link to a site with pictures of Netherwood.

    Believe me, it has long since gone.

    http://www.midpop.com/netherwood.htm

  10. Tony Puppy on said:

    The postcard in your link looks a lot like that pub from the back – I was in the back garden and could’ve taken that exact same picture but my camera battery gave out. Unbelievable.

    And the little wooden house to the left of Netherwood in the postcard looks a lot like the coach house I’m standing outside in the other photo.

    Here’s a bit about the pub from hastings pub history website stating it is Netherwood (but a later comment about it changing it’s name from the Ripon Lodge Hotel is a bit suspect as Ripon Lodge is shown on a map in your link as being beside Netherwood.) All interesting stuff and thanks for contributing:

    http://www.hastingspubhistory.com/?page_id=565

    “Robert de Mortain, 373 The Ridge

    This pub was originally the lodge of Netherwood House a building occupied in the 1930s by a socialist commune. During the war it was partly occupied by the Army Records Office.

    Aliester Crowley the occultist, lived there from 1944 until his death in December 1947. He allegedly practised ‘sex-magic’ and black magic here. He was known as ‘the most wickedest man in the world’.

    In September 1946 Leney’s Brewery of Wateringbury, Kent purchased the freehold of the lodge house by then known as Ripon Lodge Hotel. Following refurbishment this modern and substantial building was converted to the Robert De Mortain public house which opened in December 1946 exactly a year before Crowley’s death.

    Its licence was transferred from the Bedford Hotel in the town centre which was bombed in the Battle of Britain 1940. The Bedford licence was held ‘in suspension’ by Walter Daish of Leney’s Brewery, Wateringbury, Kent from 1941 until 1947. The first landlord was Geoffrey Taylor and an application was made to change the name from Ripon Lodge Hotel to the Robert de Mortain in April 1948.

    The first pub sign, a double sided sign, was included in Whitbreads miniature inn sign series in about 1950. It was designed by Violet Rutter who also designed the signs for the Warriors Gate, Princes, G.I., Marina Inn and the Nags Head. The current sign is a bland Green King multiple.

    The pub was badly damaged in the 1986 hurricane to the extent that it required a new roof.

    A ghost resides on the pavement opposite the pub and is said to be inspired by some former mischievous activity of Aliester Crowley. The house itself is not haunted but an energy line allegedly runs through the grounds.

    Robert De Mortain was the half brother of William the Conqueror and is credited with building Hastings castle.”

    @P – could you take a snap of the house you mention?

  11. HastingsLass on said:

    Hi there. First of all, im really pleased to see you replied.

    I’m not a big follower of Crowley, but, I am very intersted in the history of the Town of Hastings and anyone who knows anything about the area. knows about Crowley.

    After I had posted last night I look again at your modernpic of Ripon Lodge, and I too thought that perhaps it was in fact a mutilated Netherwood. But, I know it cannot be.

    OK, im going to get really boring now, but compare your modern day pic to the old one off midpop that i posted last night. The Chimney stack is the wrong side of the little window. Even if the roof damage was so great in the hurricane that the whole stack fell off, surely they would have to put it back in a similar place?

    Anyway, I am 99.9% sure that this isn’t one single brick left standing of the real Netherwood. I am not sure what building P is referring to, but I would love to know.

    What I will say is that until the local council started their wrecking ball antics on all the beautiful, even listed buildings of the town, there was a bit of a gothic gabled theme running through the buildings of the Ridge. So, they could easily get confused. What is fact, and what is wishful thinking?

    On that note, I don’t know how interested you are in Crowley, I guess quite a bit from this site, but if you want some local fables, then I will happily provide some funny little Crowley based local doctrine.

    I dont know how much of it is true, but let me tell you, it has lasted the generations from his death in the forties right up til present day.

    Let me know. You might find it amusing. 🙂

    Firstly, as you say, the map puts Netherwood to the slight south west of Ripon Lodge.

    Then theres local word of mouth. I used to work for the bus company, and some of the older drivers remebered routes which took them across the Ridge (the road on which Ripon Lodge stands) they said they remember the demolition of what they unanimously described as a hude grey spooky gothic building. One source said that often they would have to send maintenance up to Netherwood to cut down the prolific branches which hung over the road outside Netherwood, obstructing the buses.

  12. HastingsLass on said:

    Sorry, my message seems to have come out upside down in context. The last two paragraphs explain two more reasons why I am convinced not a brick is left of Netherwood.

  13. Tony De Befuddled on said:

    From HastingsLass:

    “On that note, I don’t know how interested you are in Crowley, I guess quite a bit from this site, but if you want some local fables, then I will happily provide some funny little Crowley based local doctrine.

    I dont know how much of it is true, but let me tell you, it has lasted the generations from his death in the forties right up til present day.

    Let me know. You might find it amusing.”

    I’m all ears.

  14. Kenneth Grant died on 15th January 2011 after a period of illness. Our condolences go first and foremost to his family, whose privacy is something which we all wish to respect at this difficult time.

    Kenneth Grant had an extraordinary life, and his work has a remarkable depth and breadth of magical and mystical insight. In particular, his monumental series of Typhonian Trilogies is creative, innovatory and inspiring, extending across thirty years from the publication of the opening volume The Magical Revival in 1972, to the appearance of the final volume The Ninth Arch in 2002. This is a substantial body of work, constituting a solid foundation for further development, widening and deepening in the years to come; his work will continue.

    Michael Staley,

    1st February 2011. http://www.starfirepublishing.co.uk/main_frames_page.htm

  15. Thank you so much for this post, it was so interesting to read, gave positive picture of Mr. Crowley. I am totally obsessed with him and love him and his work. Does anybody know is there any Crowley’s belongings/memorabilia for sale?

  16. thanks for the post, i’ve recently made a visit to the pub, the landlord is convinced that the pub is the building crowley used and that the room is ground floor at the front, he thinks this because many people have visited over the years and some of them were or seemed at least very knowledgeable on the subject, the pubs address number is 373. i’d love it to be the building. i think hastings lass could be correct, i’ve compared the map on her link with google maps, i think that the room at the top would be the best room to have but would he of been able to do the stairs.

  17. hi
    I am going down to hasting next week and going to the pub and road ect can you give me some more info anything that I may find or not

  18. Hi,

    you’ll be able to find the pub and road easily enough using the internet; the info above and especially from Hastings Lass casts doubt on whether the pub is the remians of Netherwood or a similar building built at the same time. It’s a long way from the coastal part of Hastings, which surprised me as before I went I always imagined Crowley walking along the sea front communing with the strong currents of the sea and wind. Bear that in mind if you don’t have your own transport and were thinkig of nipping off to see it.

    However if you go to the pub you’ll get a feel for the type of building,, the style and area in which Crowley spent his last days.

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