Panacea Society

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"The Ark" in Bedford.

The Panacea Society was a millenarian religious group in Bedford, England. Founded in 1919, it followed the teachings of the Devonshire prophetess Joanna Southcott, who died in 1814, and campaigned for Southcott's sealed box of prophecies to be opened according to her instructions. The society believed Bedford to be the original site of the Garden of Eden.


The notice placed in The Daily Telegraph by the society on the outbreak of the Second World War on 4 September 1939.

The Society's inspiration was the teachings of the Devonshire prophetess Joanna Southcott (1750–1814). It was founded by Mabel Barltrop (1866-1934) in 1919 at 12 Albany Road, Bedford. A clergyman's widow, Barltrop declared herself the 'daughter of God',[1] took the name Octavia and believed herself to be the Shiloh of Southcott's prophecies. Bartrop had originally heard of Soutcott via a leaflet written by Alice Seymour.[2] She and 12 apostles founded the Society, originally called the Community of the Holy Ghost.[3]

A central purpose of the Society was to persuade 24 Anglican bishops to open Southcott's sealed box of prophecies, and to this end, advertisements were placed in newspapers, both national and local. In the late 1920s and early 1930s the Society generated over 100,000 petitions for the box to be opened.[4] The Society claimed that the box was secreted in England. Some have claimed that it was opened in 1927 and found to contain a broken horse pistol and a lottery ticket.[5]

During the 1930s the membership began to dwindle as did Alice Seymour's smaller rival group.[6]

Despite this, the group continued placing adverts in newspapers calling for action from the Church of England. In the 1970s the Society rented billboards which proclaimed "War, disease, crime and banditry, distress of nations and perplexity will increase until the Bishops open Joanna Southcott's box."[7]

The Society's allotments. The members claimed Bedford to be the original site of the Garden of Eden.


The Society had its headquarters on Albany Road, close to the remains of Bedford Castle. Another property, an end-of-terrace house on Albany Road named The Ark, was maintained as a residence for the Messiah after the Second Coming.

Although small in size, the Society was relatively wealthy, owning several properties in the Castle Road area of Bedford.[8] By 2001, when the Society started to sell off some of its property in order to retain its status as a charity, it was reported to have assets valued at £14m.[9]


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.[10] The last member of the Society, Ruth Klein, died in 2012,[11] when the Society ceased to exist as a religious community.

Charitable trust[edit]

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.[12] The charity officially changed its name to The Panacea Charitable Trust in 2012.[13]

Panacea Museum[edit]

The Founder's House at the Panacea Museum viewed from the garden.

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.[14] The Panacea Museum is in ‘Castleside’, a Victorian house that was part of the community's headquarters. It tells the story of the Panacea Society and other similar religious groups.

The museum also incorporates several other buildings, set within the gardens, that formed the original community's ‘campus’. The museum is open every Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday between February half term and the end of October.


  1. ^
  2. ^ Shaw, Jane; Lockley, Philip (2017-05-30). The History of a Modern Millennial Movement: The Southcottians. I.B.Tauris. ISBN 9781786721907.
  3. ^ "Octavia, the founder of the Panacea Society". Panacea Charitable Trust and Museum. Archived from the original on 30 January 2017. Retrieved 24 January 2017. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  4. ^ "Panacea Society". Panacea Charitable Trust and Museum. Archived from the original on 30 January 2017. Retrieved 24 January 2017. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  5. ^ Coates, Stephen. "Delving into the mystery of Joanna Southcott's box". Londonist. Londonist Ltd. Retrieved 24 January 2017.
  6. ^ "Seymour, Alice (1857–1947), schoolteacher and expositor and publisher of the writings of Joanna Southcott | Oxford Dictionary of National Biography". doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-93403. Retrieved 2019-07-09.
  7. ^ "Panacea Museum". Atlas Obscura. Atlas Obscura. Retrieved 24 January 2017.
  8. ^ Bedfordshire on Sunday: Prepared for Jesus to make his return in a Bedford house
  9. ^ The Guardian: Mystic society charitably sells off the followers' silver
  10. ^ Bedfordshire Times report, October 1967 Archived 2008-12-01 at the Wayback Machine
  11. ^ Bedforshire on Sunday: Religious society's last member has died at 80
  12. ^ Panacea Society Homepage Archived 2013-05-22 at the Wayback Machine
  13. ^ "The Panacea Charitable Trust". The Panacea Charitable Trust. Retrieved 4 September 2013.
  14. ^ Bedford Times and Citizen: A house of God in the heart of town

Further reading[edit]

  • Shaw, Jane (2011). Octavia, Daughter of God. Random House. ISBN 978-0-224-07500-8.
  • Brown, Frances (2003). Joanna Southcott's Box of Sealed Prophecies. Lutterworth Press. ISBN 0718830415.
  • Lockley, Philip (2012). Panacea Museum, Bedford : a souvenir guide. Panacea Charitable Trust.
  • Bean, Adrian (2018). Imagining Eden. Brown Dog Books. ISBN 978-1-78545-316-8.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 52°08′07″N 0°27′41″W / 52.1354°N 0.4614°W / 52.1354; -0.4614