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New Life for Old Magic

We would very much like to share some momentous news. As of midnight on the 31st October 2013, the entire collection of the Museum of Witchcraft will be gifted to the Museum of British Folklore by the previous director, Graham King, upon his retirement.
Simon Costin, the Director of MoBF, has taken on the role of Director of the Museum of Witchcraft , which will be managed under the umbrella organisation of the Museum of British Folklore.

The Museum of Witchcraft has the largest and most remarkable collection of folklore and witchcraft-related objects and books in the world, focusing on an important aspect of British folk culture which has often been overlooked and misunderstood. This new development in the Museum of Witchcraft’s history represents an exciting challenge for MoBF.

We would very much like to thank Graham for this remarkable donation and for the huge amount of work Graham and his team have done to maintain and expand the MoW's collection over the past seventeen years. More details of the donation will be announced shortly.


Here we reprint a piece from 2011 on the history of the MoW.

This year one of Boscastle's longest running institutions celebrates its 60th year of existence. The Museum of Witchcraft 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. (should I include more details) 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 London.

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.

In 2000 the museum acquired one of the most unique collections of magical artefacts ever seen outside of the secret groups who produce them. The Richel Collection was the legacy of a Dutch collector, Bob Richel, who had inherited much of the collection from his father-in-law, Mr Eldermans. Very little is known about how this phenomenal collection of objects and drawings was used, as Eldermans sadly passed away before more information could be gleaned. It is believed that Richel and Eldermans were both members of an occult group known as the M∴M∴ based in The Hague and Leiden. An intriguing legacy for future occult scholars.

To date the Museum of Witchcraft receives over fifty thousand visitors a year and brings much benefit to the local economy. Many overseas visitors combine their visit with an extended stay in the area, thus helping local B&Bs, restaurants and pubs. The library remains one of the most important resources there is for both students and academics and has also played its part as a starting point for novels and TV programmes.