SELFS TALK: 11th May: Bedlam (Speaker Catharine Arnold)

We are very lucky to have the author Catharine Arnold speaking at SELFS this month on the subject of Bedlam.

‘Bedlam!’ The very name conjures up graphic images of naked patients chained among filthy straw, or parading untended wards deluded that they are Napoleon or Jesus Christ. We owe this image of madness to William Hogarth, who, in plate eight of his 1735 Rake’s Progress series, depicts the anti-hero in Bedlam, the latest addition to a freak show providing entertainment for Londoners between trips to the Tower Zoo, puppet shows and public executions.

That this is still the most powerful image of Bedlam, over two centuries later, says much about our attitude to mental illness, although the Bedlam of the popular imagination is long gone. The hospital was relocated to the suburbs of Kent in 1930, and Sydney Smirke’s impressive Victorian building in Southwark took on a new role as the Imperial War Museum.

To find out more come to the upstairs room of The Old King’s Head (47-49 Borough High Street, nearest tube London Bridge) for an educational talk from an authority on the subject. Catharine Arnold has written an excellent book on the subject which will be available for purchase on the evening.

Entrance is £3/1.50concs & you can pay on the door.
You can book in advance by emailing
or roll up on the night & take your chances



The classic 1968 folk-horror film “The Witchfinder General,” starring Vincent Price, brought the name Matthew Hopkins to a popular audience. But what about the real Witchfinder General? Join us on a journey through an early modern England ravaged by civil war, a spiritual battleground where it was not safe to be cunning folk.

The talk is in the upstairs room of the Old King’s Head 47-49 Borough High Street, SE1 1NA London, United Kingdom

& starts at 8pm

Entrance is £3/1.50 concs

Walk ups are very welcome, however to guarantee a place you can email



The Pendle Witch Trials of 1612 are some of the best recorded & famous witch trials of the 17th century. Join us for an in depth examination of this notorious affair.

The talk is held in the upstairs room of The Old King’s Head & costs £3/1.50concs. It will commence at 8pm. Walk-ups are welcome but you may prefer to book in advance by emailing


leland2_fmtCharles Godfrey Leland was an immensely influential folklorist and lecturer. The author of Aradia, or The Gospel of Witches and the Breitmann Ballads, Leland was a bonafide bohemian and globe-trotter who also delighted in his reputation as a wizard. An admirer of Paracelsus, Giordano Bruno, and Justinus Kerner, Leland believed his success was due in part to a kind of inner sorcery. His system, which involved striking up an intimate relationship with an oracular entity, was developed to enable anyone to induce a self-haunting. This talk will take deep look at Leland’s method of self-possession and discuss his views on ceremonial magic.

Jonah Locksley is a cultural historian and writer. He curates The Thinker’s Garden and Godfrey’s Almanack, two digital projects which explore the sublime and outré aspects of art, history, and literature.

The talk is held in the upstairs room of The Old King’s Head & costs £3/1.50concs. It will commence at 8pm. Walk-ups are welcome but you may prefer to book in advance by emailing

DEC8 SELFS DECEMBER TALK: Ritual Land Uncommon Ground


This December’s South East London Folklore Society presentation is about the ritual landscape.
Britain has been settled for millenia. From time to time we leave evidence of our part in this island story. Folk performer George Hoyle A.K.A Cunning Folk will talk & sing about our relationship with the land, how our identity is shaped by geography & the magic which springs up in forgotten corners as a result

The event is in the upstairs room of The Old King’s Head, off Borough High Street at 8pm on December 8th

Entrance is £3/1.50 concs

you can stroll up on the night or email to guarantee a place

















Robin Hood Ballads: The ‘Real Robin Hood’?
Bob Askew 10th November 2016
The Robin Hood Ballads are the source for the core stories of the Robin Hood figure that we know today. They have been sung, recited and read for centuries; long before people wrote novels, or made films and TV programmes. Do the ballads depict the ‘real Robin Hood’, a different person to the English hero that we know so well today? Bob will trace the development of the Robin Hood story, and look at the many ballads about him.
Bob Askew is a lifelong lover of folk songs. He is particularly interested in the folk songs of his native Hampshire, and has researched the singers of these songs. He has also explored the life of George Gardiner, the Edwardian folk song collector, who noted over 1000 songs there. He writes articles, and gives talks on Hampshire Folk Songs. His interest in Robin Hood Ballads was provoked by the fact that seven different Robin Hood ballads were noted in a small area of Hampshire in 1907.

The talk starts at 8pm in the upstairs room of the Old King’s Head
Entrance is £3/1.50 concessions
email to book a place or chance your arm & roll up on the night


14433123_10153780530197073_1122825533560219093_n170 years ago a letter appeared in the Athenaeum. It was signed ‘Ambrose Merton’, a pseudonym for literary antiquarian William John Thoms, and it proposed a neologism: ‘folklore’. This provides a good origin story for the study of folklore – it’s the first time folklorists identify themselves as such – but while Thoms may have invented the word he didn’t invent the subject. This talk will be a brief introduction to how we’ve come to think about folklore. Amongst other things it’ll discuss what William Thoms meant by the word and how he arrived at that meaning, and where we’ve taken folklore since. Folklore: we’re all interested in it, we all do it, let’s think about it.

Paul Cowdell is a Committee member of the Folklore Society. He’s been described charitably as ‘interested in morbid eschatology’, after a PhD on ghost belief and articles on cannibalism at sea. He’s written on tongue twisters and lore about rats, and is interested in lots of lurid things. He likes folklore a lot.

The talk is in the upstairs room of the Old King’s Head, in King’s Head Yard off Borough High Street & costs £3/£1.50 concs. email to book a place or roll up on the night & chance your arm.


Human Cargo Book Cover - Front
Matthew Crampton explores the experiences of people who were trafficked or transported in the 18th and 19th centuries – linking their stories to those of migrants and slaves today. In tonight’s talk, Matthew will tell some of those stories, drawing on accounts from people actually on the slave boats, emigration ships or transportation vessels. He’ll also sing some folk songs from the period – for, as he explains, folk songs give anonymous but accurate voice to those who were otherwise unrecorded by history.

Matthew Crampton is a writer, storyteller and folk singer. His book, Human Cargo, was published by Muddler Books in April 2016. He has performed a show based on Human Cargo at several major festivals this summer.

You can find out more information about Human Cargo at

This talk will be held in the upstairs room of The Old King’s Head at 8pm

Entrance is £3/1.50 concessions

to guarantee a seat you may wish to email or you can chance your arm & roll up on the night



One of the features of Shakespeare’s writing which has been frequently mentioned during this 400th anniversary year is his many references to herbs. This talk will look at how herbalists and apothecaries used the plants he mentions, and also the plant-lore and folklore of these herbs. Coming into the present day, one of the lines in The Winter’s Tale is prophetic of the cutting-edge of plant medicine today.

Julie Wakefield is a museum curator and medical historian specialising in historic herbalism and folk medicine. She gives talks at the Old Operating Theatre & Herb Garret and in Southwark Cathedral’s new herb garden, the design of which reflects historical advice she provided.

The talk is in the upstairs room of The Old King’s Head & commences at 8pm.


email to book a place or chance your arm & roll up on the night

SELFS Talk: Thursday July 14th: Wicca


The past century has borne witness to a growing interest in the belief systems of ancient Europe, with an array of contemporary Pagan groups claiming to revive these old ways for the needs of the modern world. By far the largest and best known of these Paganisms has been Wicca, a new religious movement that can now count hundreds of thousands of adherents worldwide. In this talk, Ethan Doyle White will provide a historical outline of this faith, in doing so examining its beliefs, practices, and the community of practitioners that has developed around it.

Ethan Doyle White is a PhD researcher at University College London (UCL) and is the author of Wicca: History, Belief, and Community in Modern Pagan Witchcraft (Sussex Academic Press, 2016) as well as various other publications on the subjects of modern Paganism and related forms of occultism, and the religious beliefs and practices of early medieval England.

The talk is in the upstairs room of The Old King’s Head & commences at 8pm.


email to book a place or chance your arm & roll up on the night