Frederick Bligh Bond was a notable Bristol architect living between 1864 – 1945. From 1888 his many designs were in evidence all over Bristol – Barton Hill, Easton and Southville Board Schools; the University’s Medical and Engineering Schools; Clifton College Music School; Greenbank Elementary and St Georges’ Schools – were all his work. In 1900-02 he added 30-39 Davis Street, in neighbouring Avonmouth and The Wylands in Shire and at some time, 19-29 Station Road.
Bond’s grand new Hall was ceremonially opened in 1904. Built from local Penpole Quarry limestone, it was dressed with Bath stone, and finished with a Cumberland slate roof. It boasted a turret with clock tower and weather vane, and two cupolas. It was ornately decorated in Arts and Crafts style. Church architecture enthusiast that he was, Bond gave its main internal hall a barrel ceiling, giving the space an excellent acoustic. This may have been at the request of Squire Miles, who was a musician and composer. Lark Ascending was premiered in the Hall to coincide with a visit of its composer, his friend Vaughan Williams’, to Kingsweston House.
Arts and Crafts, an English revival of decorative art, began in 1875 and then became tinged with the Victorian mission to ‘Elevate the Common Man’. Arts and Crafts ornamentation was designed to bring art to the man in the street – though the Hall’s ornamentation has been described as ‘freer and friendlier’!).
The Parish Hall became the Public Hall and ‘Carnegie’ became ‘Public’ Library as Shire soon became part of Bristol.
Bristol, an Architectural History describes Bond as ‘an architect of real, though erratic talent, a colourful figure and an archaeologist of some repute’. Since childhood, Bond had been fascinated by the Life and Death Question and Universal Memory.
We next find him working in Glastonbury – a place somehow destined to attract colourful figures. Three years after the Hall’s opening, Glastonbury Abbey ruins were auctioned. Badly damaged during the Dissolution of the Monasteries, by 1907 not much was left above ground except the collapsing tower, crumbling Lady Chapel, and rubble. As often happened, the missing stone had been robbed for other new buildings.
The ruins were bought for the Church and later vested into the Bath and Wells Dioscesan Trust. The Trust immediately carried out repairs and agreed to the Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society’s proposal to excavate the site. The Society commissioned Frederick Bligh Bond as Director – an archaeologist who knew a lot about church architecture.
Bond directed several seasons of digging at the Abbey, proving its original dimensions and the existence of its lost Edgar Chapel. Apart from St Paul’s Cathedral, the Abbey was now established as the longest church in England. Everyone was happy up to this point. But some of Bond’s other off-beat interests surfaced, and he did two unwise things, (as it turned out) in respect of his archaeological status.
Firstly, he delivered a 1916 lecture suggesting that the Glastonbury mediaeval church builders had used occult ‘gematria’ – an ancient science of sacred geometry, he believed, using embedded mathematical formulae contained in the Old Testament Book of Numbers. This seriously upset the listening Dr Robinson, Dean of Wells.
Second, Bond followed his 1909 orthodox treatise on church roodscreens and roodlofts with a distinctly unorthodox 1919 publication which rocked both the Church and the Archaeological establishments – ‘The Gate of Remembrance’. This disclosed that his Glastonbury excavations had been guided by occult means – ‘automatic writing’ messages received from the Abbey’s departed mediaeval monks. Bond had long been a member of the Psychical Research Society and had experimented through a fellow member who was developing for himself this form of Spiritualism. Bond regarded this as a legitimate and successful scientific experiment – it had revealed the Abbey’s layout, its sacred geometry and details of the daily lives of its former monks.
Early archaeology was less science-based than today’s, as Time Team’s techno-malarkeys show, but Bond’s excavation had been otherwise impeccable. Dr Ralegh Radford, the archaeologist excavating at the Abbey in 1962, remarked that Bond’s archaeological methodology was ‘as advanced as any at the time’. The plan of the Abbey’s architecture may well have been extremely significantly geometric. Huge church buildings would require knowledgeable building geometry. They were built by mediaeval Masons, members of a craft guild like any other, who passed down a thing or two, (esoteric knowledge or not), about putting up top-heavy church buildings. Possibly Bond was a Mason himself.
When Bond published the news that his excavations had been guided by occult means, unsurprisingly the excavation funding dried up. In 1922 Bond was relieved of his archaeological post. His ‘establishment’ cover blown, Bond lectured in America, edited the Psychical Research Journal and developed his occult interests ‘in his own time’. Another next-world script described a ‘ganglia of spiritual forces, following the solar windings’ of the landscape. Bond linked that in with the geometry and siting of ancient buildings – and the Glastonbury area – predating the 1927 publication of Watkins’ The Old Straight Track, which theorised that prehistoric standing stones, mounds etc were markers for travellers of the time to traverse the landscape. Together these early ‘Ley-Line’ men provided theories for 1970s hippies to develop further into landscape zodiacs and centres of spiritual power, to incorporate into a kind of ‘Lost Golden Age’ thesis.
An architect, archaeologist, and psychical researcher, Frederick Bligh Bond is most remembered for his excavations of Glastonbury Abbey in southern England, purportedly with the help of long-dead monks who had occupied the abbey.
In 1908, Bligh Bond, a Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects and a member of the Somersetshire Archaeological and Natural History Society, was appointed director of excavations at the abbey by the Church of England. This was a non-paying, seasonal job, one which Bond, who specialized in ecclesiastical architecture, took on as something of a hobby while he continued his regular architectural practice in Bristol.
Bond, a great-grand nephew of Captain William Bligh of Bounty infamy, had developed an interest in psychic matters well before taking on the Glastonbury dig. He was a member of the Society for Psychical Research, and it was through this organization that Bond befriended Capt. John Allen Bartlett and began experimenting with automatic writing. Initially, neither Bond nor Bartlett accepted the popular hypothesis that the phenomenon is the result of discarnates controlling the nervous system of the medium. They looked upon it as a tapping into some universal memory or cosmic consciousness. However, because the communicators seemed to have distinct personalities, Bond changed his mind and accepted the spirit hypothesis.
Anticipating his appointment as director of excavations, Bond wondered if he might get some clues as to where to dig by means of automatic writing. He and Bartlett made their first attempt on November 7, 1907. Bond would place two fingers on the back of Bartlett’s hand, a method often employed in automatic writing to add whatever psychic power a “sitter” might have to that of the medium’s power. “Can you tell us anything about Glastonbury,” Bond put the question to an unseen communicator, or, as he apparently then understood it, to the universe. In clear, eloquent English, the answer to Bond’s question came back: “All knowledge is eternal and is available to mental sympathy.” After a short interval, the following flowed from the pencil: “I was not in sympathy with monks – I cannot find a monk yet.”
Subsequent sittings during November resulted in a hodgepodge of communication, some in English, some in Latin, some in monk Latin, a combination of Old English and Latin. Some were signed, some were not. Johannes Bryant emerged as the chief communicator, speaking in monk Latin, but there was often a change of influence so that it was not always clear as to the identity of the communicator. As a group, the communicators referred to themselves as “The Watchers.”
The communications continued regularly over the next few months, sitting number 27 taking place on March 17, 1908. Apparently, because it took the excavators some time to catch up with the initial messages, they were less frequent after that, sitting number 61 coming on December 9, 1912, nearly five years later. Much of the information was very precise, some of it accurate to the inch, but the overlapping construction resulted in confusion at times. Exactly how much the “spirits” helped Bond in his excavations is uncertain, since progress would have been made with more orthodox excavations and there is no way to determine how much, if any, Bond’s unorthodox methods varied from the orthodox.
Glastonbury Abbey – St. Mary’s Chapel, also knows as the Lady Chapel (circa 1908)
For some 10 years, Bond had kept his mystical sources a secret from the Church of England, sharing it only with a few friends, including Dr. Ralph Adams Cram, a fellow architect who met Bond in 1912 and urged him to write out the whole story for publication, and even offered to do it for him. But Bond rejected the idea, as he believed that it would meet with disfavor by the Church of England.
Bond was eventually persuaded to write a book, and The Gate of Remembrance was published in 1918. As he anticipated, it invited contempt from the Church and scorn from fellow professionals. His reputation was further compromised after the publication of The Hill of Vision in 1919. That book rehashed some of the material in his first book, but went on to include automatic writing produced in sittings with several different mediums concerning World War I and other matters not pertaining to Glastonbury Abbey.
In early 1921, insult was added to injury when a co-director of excavations was appointed by the excavation committee. Because Bond refused to work with the new co-director, he was relieved of his duties in April 1922. As his professional clients had been abandoning him since the publication of his first book, Bond was, by this time, in dire financial straits, a situation compounded by an earlier divorce and lengthy litigation concerning custody of the couple’s daughter.
From 1921 to 1926, Bond edited, as a part-time endeavor, Psychic Science, a quarterly publication of the College of Psychic Science. During the 1920s, Bond sat with Geraldine Cummins, who produced the “Cleophas” scripts by automatic writing. As Bond felt he contributed to the scripts by his presence, he sued for a share of the book’s revenue. The court found against him.
In August of 1926, Bond left for the United Stated on a lecture tour under the auspices of the American Society for Psychical Research (ASPR). Following the lecture tour, he was persuaded to remain in the U.S. and work with Cram in his Boston architectural practice and to accept a part-time position as educational director for the ASPR as well as editor of the organization’s journal. In 1926, Bond became involved in the investigation of the Boston medium, Mina S. Crandon, known as “Margery.” Initially, Bond was convinced of the genuineness of Crandon’s mediumship and strongly defended her against attacks by some researchers. Later, after evidence indicated that the spirit thumbprint of “Walter,” Margery’s deceased brother, was fraudulent, Bond condemned Crandon. Since he did not clear his public condemnation of Crandon with the ASPR, he was dismissed by them.
Sometime around 1932, Bond was ordained a priest of the Old Catholic Church of America, an offshoot of the Episcopal Church. Exactly what his priestly duties entailed is not clear, but it apparently did not satisfy Bond, as he returned to England in January 1936. He died in 1945, living his final years in rooming houses in North Wales, most of his time devoted to doing oil sketches of various churches.
Bond died alone, apparently still believing in the imaginative function. “Give it truth to feed upon and it will evolve truth,” he ended his first book. “And through the door of truth may enter that which will guide us to a wider knowledge.”
Visitors to the Glastonbury Abbey museum and gift shop today will find only scant references to Bond, none of it mentioning his mystical sources.
Frederick Bligh Bond
(30 June 1864 – 8 March 1945)
was an English architect, illustrator, archaeologist, and psychical researcher.
Bligh Bond was the son of the Rev. Frederick Hookey Bond, born in the Wiltshire town of Marlborough. His family was related to William Bligh, through his nephew Francis Godolphin Bond, Bligh Bond’s grandfather. He was also a cousin of Sabine Baring-Gould. He was educated at home by his father, who was headmaster of Marlborough Royal Free Grammar School.
He practised as an architect in Bristol from 1888. His work includes schools, such as the Board Schools in Barton Hill, Easton, and Southville, Greenbank Elementary School and St George’s School. He designed the schools of medicine and engineering at Bristol University and the Music School of Clifton College. He also undertook a number of domestic commissions, and a public hall in Shirehampton. Cossham Memorial Hospital is also an example of his work. In addition he oversaw the restoration of a number of churches, became an acknowledged authority on the history of church architecture, and in 1909 published, with Dom Bede Camm, a two volume treatise entitled Roodscreens and Roodlofts.
In 1908 the Church of England appointed him as director of excavations at Glastonbury Abbey. Before he was dismissed by Bishop Armitage Robinson in 1921, his excavations rediscovered the nature and dimensions of a number of buildings that had occupied the site. His work at Glastonbury Abbey is considered one of the earliest successes in psychic archaeology.
Bligh joined the Freemasons in 1889, the Theosophical Society in 1895, the Society for Psychical Research in 1902, the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia in 1909 and the Ghost Club in 1925. As early as 1899 Bligh Bond had expressed his belief that the dimensions of the buildings at Glastonbury Abbey were based on gematria, and in 1917 he published, with Thomas Simcox Lea, Gematria, A Preliminary Investigation of The Cabala contained in the Coptic Gnostic Books and of a similar Gematria in the Greek text of the New Testament, which incorporated his own previously published paper, The Geometric Cubit as a Basis of Proportion in the Plans of Mediaeval Buildings.
In 1919 he published The Gates of Remembrance, which revealed that he had employed psychical methods to guide his excavation of the Glastonbury ruins, using first Captain John Allan Bartlett (‘John Alleyne’) as a medium, and later others. As a consequence of these revelations his relations with his employers, who strongly disapproved of spiritualism, deteriorated, and he was sacked in 1921.
From 1921 to 1926 he was editor of Psychic Science.
In 1926 Bligh Bond emigrated to the USA, where he was employed as education secretary of the American Society for Psychical Research and worked as editor on their magazine, Survival. Bligh Bond broke with the ASPR and returned to England in 1936, also rejoining the Ghost Club in the process, after supporting accusations against the medium Mina Crandon that she had fraudulently produced thumbprints on wax that she presented as being produced by the spirit of her dead brother, Walter.
During his time in the USA Bond was ordained, and in 1933 consecrated as a bishop, in the Old Catholic Church of America.
He returned to the United Kingdom in 1935, spending his time in London and Dolgellau, where he died of a heart attack
WITH A HISTORICAL CHRONICLE OF THE BUILDING
BY FREDERICK BLIGH BOND
FROM THE PREFACE…
IN offering to the public this Handbook of Glastonbury Abbey the author has designed to present a concise form a body of material of value to the architectural student, and at the same time to deal with this in a manner most likely to be serviceable and attractive to the general reader, or to the visitor who may not be versed in the technicalities of building.
Owing to the very advanced stage of dilapidation in which the fabric has come down to us, there is a difficulty, very serious in the minds of some, in apprehending the true form and extent of the original buildings, and the mutual relation of the fragments now so widely sundered. That difficulty, this handbook is designed to meet as far as may be possible. It is hoped, therefore, that the descriptions it contains may, with the aid of the specially designed illustrations, enable the reader to obtain a good grasp of the general form, and provide a framework in which his memories of the detail of the Ruins may be set.
The diagrams of reconstruction are based upon a careful study of existing remains, and a comparison of many fragments; the light given by a study of contemporary buildings having a certain influence on this work, and that shed by documentary evidence. These, taken together, have furnished data for inductions which it is hoped may prove of value, since they have a logical sanction.
The text has undergone careful revision, and the pictorial projection of the Ruins on the plan is now supplemented by an outline reconstruction of the whole exterior, which whilst largely conjectural may assist the reader in realising something of the ancient proportions of the Abbey Church, and the various periods of the fabric.
FRED. BLIGH BOND.
Bristol, June, 1920.
Book available here
See also Bond’s, The Secret Of Immortality