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A Month Long Residency at the Museum of Witchcraft, Boscastle, Cornwall

From the 11th of May until the 12th June, Simon Costin has been working at the Museum of Witchcraft. This year the museum celebrates its 60th year of existence. The museum first opened its doors on the Isle of Man in 1951. Its founder, Cecil Williamson, had originally tried to open the museum in Stratford-upon-Avon but met with much local opposition, something that was to later plague him when he moved the collection to the mainland. Williamson bought the building, known locally as the Witches' Mill, in 1948 and by 1951 it was ready to open to the public under the name of the Folklore Centre of Superstition and Witchcraft. Williamson's friend, Gerald Gardner, who was later to become known as one of the founding fathers of the Neopagan Witchcraft movement, was employed to work at the museum as its director and 'resident witch'. Both strong characters, they differed over content and the way things should be displayed, with Gardner feeling some of the museum tableaux were too lurid and sensationalist.

After four years they had a falling out and Williamson sold the Mill to Gardner, who opened his own museum whilst Williamson tried a number of places in England, often encountering violent reactions before settling in Boscastle in 1960. For the next 36 years, Williamson ran the museum quietly in Boscastle where it became a well known local attraction. Then in 1996 another figure stepped forward who was to greatly influence the development of the museum and its collection. In London one evening, Graham King was having a drink with friends when someone produced a copy of Prediction magazine that mentioned that Williamson was about to sell his collection and retire. Word was that there could be a possibility of the collection going to America. At the time Graham was the head of a company who had developed a remarkable photographic system to archive rare and fragile books. Graham decided to sell up and have a complete change of lifestyle. Something about the museum and its collection was calling him. Contact was made with Williamson, and sometime later, just before midnight on October 31st 1996, Graham arrived to sign the ownership contract, having walked all the way from Hampshire.

Since 1996 Graham has instigated many changes and seen it through the dramatic floods of 2004. The somewhat sensationalist displays have given way to a more learned approach, and the museum and library now represent the most unique collection of artefacts relating to the history of Witchcraft and its development in the world.

The current layout takes visitors through various topics that aim to give a broad overview of many subjects relating to Witchcraft and its practice. Areas such as Persecution, The Wheel of the Year, Curses and Cursing, The Goddess and the Horned God, Spells and Charms and Sea Witchcraft are all covered. The displays are added to and augmented regularly so there are always new things to see. Due to the museum being privately owned and run, the curatorial style is wonderfully singular and a refreshing change from most mainstream larger institutions. The style of display is delightfully individual and reminiscent of the busy display cases at the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford.

Amongst the museum's many rare and interesting items are the working tools and paraphernalia of many of the key figures from the modern Witchcraft movement, including those of Gerald Gardner, Alex Sanders, Janet Farrar and Doreen Valiente. Several paintings by the artist Robert Lenkiewicz can be seen. Lenkiewicz was the artist responsible for the extraordinary Round Room at Port Eliot, in St. Germans, Cornwall. The works deal with various magical subjects and were acquired in the 1960s by Williamson.

Simon has been able to learn a great deal about the running of a small museum during his stay and even got to help install a new display in the Modern Witchcraft section. The MoBF would very much like to thank Graham King and everyone at the museum for this unique and hugely beneficial experience.

Simon Costin and Graham King