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The Panacea Society was a unique religious group that existed in Bedford, England. The Society was founded by Mabel Barltrop in 1919 at 12 Albany Road, Bedford. Its inspiration was the teachings of the Devonshire prophetess Joanna Southcott (1750 - 1814). Barltrop took the name Octavia and believed herself to be the Shiloh of her prophecies. With 12 apostles the Society (then called the Community of the Holy Ghost) began.
The Society had its headquarters in Albany Road, close to the remains of Bedford Castle. Another property, an end-of-terrace house in Albany Road (named "The Ark"), was maintained as a residence for The Messiah following upon the second coming.
A central purpose of the Society was to persuade 24 Anglican bishops to open Southcott's Box of Sealed Writings and to this end advertisements were placed in national newspapers. The Society claimed that the box is secreted in England, but others have claimed it was opened in 1927 and found to contain a broken horse pistol and a lottery ticket.
In the 1930s about 70 members were said to be living in the Bedford community. In 1967 the Bedfordshire Times reported about 30 members living there. The last member of the society, Ruth Klein, died in 2012 at which point the Society ceased to exist as a religious community.
Although small in size, the Society was relatively wealthy owning several properties in the Castle Road area of Bedford and by 2001 was reported to own £14m of assets when it started to sell off some of its property to retain the Society's status as a charity.
Whilst the religious society is no longer functioning, there still exists a charity whose main remit is to sponsor academic research into the history and development of prophetic and millenarian movements, as well as provide financial assistance to support the work of registered charities and recognised groups concerned with poverty and health in the Bedford area. The charity officially changed its name to The Panacea Charitable Trust in 2012.
In late 2012, it was announced that the charitable trust would be opening a museum detailing the history of the society at 9 Newnham Road, Bedford. The Panacea Museum complex includes the main museum with displays about Joanna Southcott, her prophecies, the founding of the Society, and several 1930s period rooms, the 1930s-period home of founder Mabel Barltrop and her family, the chapel where the Society worshiped and gardens.
- Bedfordshire Times report, October 1967
- Bedforshire on Sunday: Religious society's last member has died at 80
- Bedfordshire on Sunday: Prepared for Jesus to make his return in a Bedford house
- The Guardian: Mystic society charitably sells off the followers' silver
- Panacea Society Homepage
- "The Panacea Charitable Trust". The Panacea Charitable Trust. Retrieved 4 September 2013.
- Bedford Times and Citizen: A house of God in the heart of town