Frank Podmore

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Frank Podmore
Born5 February 1856
Died14 August 1910 (1910-08-15) (aged 54)
Occupation(s)Parapsychologist, writer

Frank Podmore (5 February 1856 – 14 August 1910) was an English author and founding member of the Fabian Society. He is best known as an influential member of the Society for Psychical Research and for his sceptical writings on spiritualism.[1]


Born at Elstree, Borehamwood, Hertfordshire, Podmore was the son of Thompson Podmore, headmaster of Eastbourne College. He was educated at Haileybury and Pembroke College, Oxford (where he first became interested in Spiritualism and joined the Society for Psychical Research – this interest remained with him throughout his life).[2][3]

In October 1883, Podmore and Edward R. Pease joined a socialist debating group established by Edith Nesbit and Hubert Bland. Podmore suggested that the group should be named after the Roman General, Quintus Fabius Maximus Verrucosus, who advocated weakening the opposition by harassing operations rather than becoming involved in pitched battles. In January 1884 the group became known as the Fabian Society, and Podmore's home at 14 Dean's Yard, Westminster, became the organisation's first official headquarters.

He was a member of the Oxford Phasmatological Society which dissolved in 1885. In 1886 Podmore and Sidney Webb conducted a study into unemployment, eventually published as a Fabian Society pamphlet, The Government Organisation of Unemployed Labour. Podmore married Eleanore Bramwell in 1891, however, the marriage was a failure and they separated. They had no children.[4]

His major work was a detailed study of the life and ideas of Robert Owen (1906). Podmore resigned from a senior post in the Post Office in 1907. Psychical researcher Alan Gauld wrote that "In 1907 Podmore was compelled to resign without pension from the Post Office because of alleged homosexual involvements. He separated from his wife, and went to live with his brother Claude, rector of Broughton, near Kettering."[5]

Podmore died by drowning at Malvern, Worcestershire, in August 1910.

Researcher Ronald Pearsall wrote that it was generally believed that Podmore was a homosexual and that it was "very strange" that his brother Claude, his wife or any member of the Society for Psychical Research did not attend his funeral.[6]

Psychical research[edit]

Podmore's books, giving non-paranormal explanations from much of the psychical research that he studied, received positive reviews in science journals.[7][8][9] His book Studies in Psychical Research received a positive review in the British Medical Journal which described his debunking of fraudulent mediums as scientific and came to the conclusion the "book is well worth reading, and it is agreeable reading, for the style is generally vigorous and not infrequently brilliant."[10]

Podmore who considered most mediums fraudulent, was open minded about the telepathic hypothesis for Leonora Piper's séances. However, Ivor Lloyd Tuckett had "completely undermined" this hypothesis for Mrs. Piper.[11] Podmore was critical of Helena Blavatsky and her claims of Theosophy.[9] He evaluated poltergeist cases and concluded they are best explained by deception and trickery.[12]

Rationalist author Joseph McCabe stated that despite Podmore's "highly critical faculty" he was misled in the Piper case by Richard Hodgson. This was based on a letter he saw in the 2nd edition Spiritualism and Oliver Lodge by Dr. Charles Arthur Mercier, from a cousin of George Pellew to Edward Clodd, alleging that Hodgson claimed that Professor Fiske from his séance with Piper was "absolutely convinced" Piper's control was the real George Pellew, but that when Pellew's brother contacted Fiske about it, he replied it was "a lie" as Piper had been "silent or entirely wrong" on all his questions.[13] However, Alan Gauld, referring to this letter as published by Clodd, stated that it was "wholly unreliable", noted that Hodgson in his original report wrote that Fiske had a negative attitude, and that Hodgson himself considered the Fiske sittings to be of no evidential value.[14]

Podmore's text Mesmerism and Christian Science: A Short History of Mental Healing received a positive review in the British Journal of Psychiatry, which referred to it as "an excellent account of this interesting and important subject."[15]

Podmore defended the validity of telepathy[16] and ghosts,[17] the latter of which he believed to be "telepathic hallucinations."[18]


Podmore's publications include:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hazelgrove, Jenny (2000). Spiritualism and British Society Between the Wars. Manchester University Press. p. 3. ISBN 0719055598 "He developed a deeply sceptical attitude towards spiritualist phenomena. His strict criteria for proof soon became legendary at the SPR, and he was known as the Society's 'sceptic in chief' – an epithet not always applied in good humour. The title was well earned, for in his history of mediumship, The New Spiritualism (1910), not one medium passed his exacting tests, and most were dismissed as charlatans."
  2. ^ Shepard, Leslie. (1991). Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology – Volume 2. Gale Research Company. p. 1303. "Podmore, Frank (1856–1910) "One of the ablest British opponents of Spiritualism, well-known psychical investigator, and distinguished author. He was born 5 February 1856, at Elstree, Hertfordshire, and educated at Elstree Hill School and Haileybury College, leaving in 1874 with a classical scholarship to Pembroke College, Oxford University, England. In 1879, he became a higher in the secretary's department of the Post Office."
  3. ^ Oppenheim, Janet. (1985). The Other World: Spiritualism and Psychical Research in England, 1850–1914. Cambridge University Press. p. 145. ISBN 0521265053
  4. ^ Stanley Kunitz, Howard Haycraft. (1973). Twentieth Century Authors: A Biographical Dictionary of Modern Literature. H. W. Wilson Company. p. 1112
  5. ^ Gauld, Alan. (2004). Frank Podmore (1856–1910). Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press.
  6. ^ Pearsall, Ronald. (1972). The Table-Rappers. Book Club Associates. p. 221
  7. ^ Anonymous. (1909). The Naturalization of the Supernatural by Frank Podmore. (1909). American Journal of Psychology 20 (2): 294–295.
  8. ^ Anonymous. (1903). Modern Spiritualism. A History and a Criticism by Frank Podmore. American Journal of Psychology 14 (1): 116–117.
  9. ^ a b Mackenzie, W. Leslie. (1898). Studies in Psychical Research. Nature 58: 5–6.
  10. ^ Anonymous. (1898). Studies in Psychical Research by Frank Podmore. British Medical Journal 1 (1931): 25–26.
  11. ^ Anonymous. (1912). Review: A Study Of "Psychical Research". Reviewed Work: The Evidence For The Supernatural; A Critical Study Made With "Uncommon Sense" by Ivor Lloyd Tuckett. British Medical Journal 1 (2667): 308–309.
  12. ^ Blum, Deborah. (2006). Ghost Hunters: William James and the Search for Scientific Proof of Life After Death. Penguin Press. p. 225. ISBN 978-0143038955
  13. ^ Joseph McCabe. (1920). Is Spiritualism Based on Fraud? The Evidence Given By Sir A. C. Doyle and Others Drastically Examined. London: Watts & Co. pp. 101–105
  14. ^ Gauld, Alan. (1968). Founders of Psychical Research. Schocken Books. pp. 361–363. ISBN 978-0805230765
  15. ^ "Mesmerism and Christian Science: A Short History of Mental Healing By Frank Podmore. 8vo. London: Methuen & Co., 1909. pp. 306". The British Journal of Psychiatry. 56 (235): 720–721. 1910. doi:10.1192/bjp.56.235.720. Retrieved 18 December 2016.
  16. ^ Podmore, Frank. (1895). What Psychical Research Has Accomplished. The North American Review. Vol. 160, No. 460. pp. 331–344
  17. ^ Podmore, Frank. (1892). IN DEFENCE OF PHANTASMS. The National Review. Vol. 19, No. 110. pp. 234–251
  18. ^ Podmore, Frank. (1909). Telepathic Hallucinations: The New View of Ghosts. New York : F.A. Stokes Co.

External links[edit]