Dan Baines

Fairy Rings and Monstrous Things

crookes' residual ectometron iI

Dual Chamber



noun: ectoplasm

  1. a supernatural viscous substance that supposedly exudes from the body of a medium during a spiritualistic trance and forms the material for the manifestation of spirits.

During the late 19th century scientists attempted to collect this elusive substance but to no avail. Samples would mysteriously vanish from sealed containers or snap back into the medium before it could even be collected. It was also reported that removing ectoplasm from a medium in trance could have a fatal

Unknown to the mainstream scientific community the Spiritualist church in conjunction with scientists connected with the movement had made advances in the study of ectoplasm. Not only had samples been successfully taken but research into the properties of this unearthly substance had opened doors to the spirit world that maybe should have remained closed.

Sir William Crookes (1832 – 1919) a chemist and physicist and pioneer of the vacuum tube was also a passionate Spiritualist. He conducted many scientific investigations into the phenomena associated with séance and studied various mediums including Kate Fox, Florence Cook and Daniel Dunglas Home (Doyle 1926: volume 1, 230-251). Among the phenomena he witnessed were movement of bodies at a distance, rappings, changes in the weights of bodies, levitation, appearance of luminous objects, appearance of phantom figures and circumstances which "point to the agency of an outside intelligence" (Crookes 1874).

Crookes would necessitate a test environment for all mediums with specific criteria, "It must be at my own house, and my own selection of friends and spectators, under my own conditions, and I may do whatever I like as regards apparatus" (Doyle 1926: volume 1, 177). The apparatus which Crookes mentions has been an area of debate for over a century and little had been documented with regards to its purpose and design. Crookes Radiometer was one piece of apparatus that was seen regularly at his séance investigations and is still available today. This device consists of a glass bulb containing four paddles that rotate inside a vacuum. Originally designed as a device to test for psychokinetic ability it was thought the electromagnetic field of spirits would also cause the paddles to rotate.

In 1883 Daniel Dunglas Home (pronounced Hume) documented in his diary -

“Once Sir William had thoroughly scrutinized my abilities and completed his deliberations those who had been invited as witness to the proceeding where kindly asked to leave. For the rest of the evening Sir William and I drank brandy by the fire and shared our experiences associated with the spirit world. Had he not been slightly under the influence of the fine brandy I doubt he would have shown me the item of which I now write. I was shown to an attic room which resembled more a chemist’s laboratory, a room in which I can only have assumed Sir William conducted his experiments. My attention was drawn to a device, I immediately recognised the glass bulb apparatus that accompanied most research sessions but the rest of the strange machine was like nothing I had seen before. Sir William then divulged to me the strangest of concepts…”

Home was shown a device that according to Crookes could not only establish contact with the spirit world through mechanical means but communicate with specific spirits. Previously, séances had proven to be a lottery in terms of who would ‘come through’. A grieving wife for example was not guaranteed communication with her deceased husband’s spirit. The medium would sometimes be presented with a queue of lonely spirits all wishing to convey a message regardless of the recipient. Crookes claimed his device, the Residual Ectometron, could channel a spirit directly using a material item once owned by the deceased; this could be jewellery such as a ring or even a photograph. He regarded these as ‘keys’ as they opened specific doors to predetermined entities in the spirit world

Home also commented on the use of ectoplasm in tubes which Crookes regarded as ‘Ectoplasmic Batteries’. Usually a medium would sometimes need to produce ectoplasm in order for a spirit to manifest itself. However, these batteries retained the residual spirit energy from previous séances. It was this residual energy coupled with electromagnetic radiation gathered by the familiar Radiometer and the use of a ‘key’ that fuelled this bizarre machine. This array of batteries was connected to a vacuum glass cylinder called the ‘Ectometronic Chamber’, this chamber was the spirit container, a means of retaining the spirit for as long as the operator wished. The spirit could then communicate by means of an external bell or by manipulating items within the Ectometronic Chamber such as writing on miniature slates or making items move in response to questions or vanish and materialise in different locations.

In one experiment Crookes used a brooch once owned by the Baroque composer Henry Purcell to contact his spirit. Crookes recalled conversing with the spirit of Purcell for over 2 hours. Previously spirits could leave the séance of their own accord however; Crookes had full control over the spirit and compared it to ‘capturing bees in a jar’.

Home was impressed but became aware that the device could be dangerous in the wrong hands and warned Crookes. The machine allowed anyone to not only gain direct contact with the dead but potentially contain the spirit in our dimension indefinitely. Home was aware that a spirit ‘captured like a bee in a jar’ would almost certainly be angry upon its release. It also allowed users with somewhat darker motives to contact some of the most unsavoury characters from history and imprison their spirit for some unholy endeavour. Crookes did not take kindly to Home’s criticism and as a result their friendship ended on bitter terms.

It may be that Crookes did listen to Home as no other evidence of Crookes’ Residual Ectometron other than Home’s diary entry has ever been documented. It was also soon after this that Crookes was seen increasingly less on the Spiritualist circuit. It was thought that the secret of Crookes’ Residual Ectometron died with him in 1919 but then in the early 1990’s a tantalising discovery came to light.

On July 17th 1993 renovation works began on a Victorian property in Kensington, west London. The grand 5 story house was being converted into apartments and the building’s interior was gutted. During the final stages of development an attic room was discovered which contained more than just dust and dead pigeons. A locked chest was recovered which the property developers handed over to the Kensington and Chelsea Borough Council. Here it was opened and using archive records it was ascertained that the house had once been the home of Sir William Crookes and the chest must therefore belong to him. Members of Crookes’ family were traced but all those contacted declined the offer of their great grandfather’s chest. After the mysterious contents had been merely described over the telephone a family member even suggested burning it. As the chest was once owned by a pioneer scientist the Council finally donated it to the London Science Museum. Disappointingly for the museum the contents did not reflect any of Crookes’ groundbreaking scientific work such as the cathode ray or spectral analysis so the chest was auctioned to fund the museum trust.

As a keen scholar of the spiritualist movement I was naturally interested when I read of an auction for a chest containing the personal effects of Sir William Crookes. The Times article covered the mysterious find in the Kensington attic room and how the Council and Science Museum could not find any use for the items the chest contained. Yet at no point did the article discuss the contents, even at the auction the listing was simply detailed as ‘Lot 155 – a chest containing assorted personal effects allegedly owned by the late Sir William Crookes’.

For a princely sum I do not wish to discuss through fear my wife may find out, the chest was now my property. In hindsight the price was more than fair as the chest contained what might be classed as the holy grail of spiritualist paraphernalia. It was previously assumed that Home’s diary entry may have just been the result of too much brandy and Crookes’ tale may have been just to scare Home and baffle him with science.

On opening the chest it was apparent that Crookes had collected all of his Spiritualist research papers, apparatus and books and locked them away. The fact they had been placed in a remote attic space in his home suggested that he did not have the heart to destroy the collection but on the other hand did not want easy access to it. It was now also clear why the chest had been dismissed by the Science Museum as spiritualism had no direct link with mainstream science regardless of the importance of its owner to the scientific world.

As I look back over the circumstances that lead me to the chest I feel that some external force is partly responsible for the rediscovery of Crookes’ Residual Ectometron. Not only was I now privy to undisclosed knowledge but I was able to witness first hand the uncanny power of Crookes’ strange machine and why he chose to hide it.

The following is an extract from Crookes’ notes on the operation of the Residual Ectometron –

“First is must be noted that the guidance of a spiritualist medium is not required when the Residual Ectometron is used for séance. The machine acts as an artificial medium providing direct contact, established communication, materialisation and even the containment of spirits. The operation is composed of four main stages which are detection, induction, containment and communication…