Frederick Bligh Bond (1864–1945) was an architect, archaeologist, author and editor. He claimed to have psychic guidance from spirits of the dead in his excavations at Glastonbury Abbey, the earliest Christian church in England, connected by legend with King Arthur and the Knights of the Roundtable.
Frederick Bligh Bond was born on June 30, 1864 at Marlborough, Wiltshire, England, into the family of the Reverend Hookey Bond, Master of the Marlborough Royal Free Grammar School. The Bonds moved to Bath in 1876, where the Reverend Bond became headmaster of Bath College, a high school.
Bligh (the younger Frederick was called by his middle name) Bond’s formal schooling ended with Bath College. From reading in his father’s library, Bond developed a fascination for the Middle Ages and for church architecture. He showed a facility for drawing and apprenticed himself to an architect. In 1897, he passed the examination for certifi cation by the Royal Institute of British Architects, and he established a private practice in Bristol.
In 1894, Bond entered into a fateful marriage with Mary Louise Mills. The couple had a single child, a daughter, born 18 months later. The marriage must have been unhappy almost from the start, because in 1898 Bond left home, taking his three-year-old daughter with him. His wife sued for legal separation, on the grounds of cruelty, based mainly on Bond’s removal of their daughter. Bond granted the separation, although he denied the charge of cruelty. For a while thereafter the daughter lived alternately with each of her parents. Mary, meanwhile, began to spread malicious rumors about Frederick in conversation and in letters, apparently hoping to secure the divorce which he refused, for religious and moral reasons, to give her.
Bond joined the amateur Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society in 1903. He was already fascinated with the history of Glastonbury, which tradition held was established in 166, perhaps as early as 47. The monastery stood on an island which was said to be the Avalon of the Arthurian tales. Glastonbury had great prestige until the 16th century, when Henry VIII, determined to stamp out Catholicism in Britain, initiated moves which brought about its destruction.
When the Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society arranged for excavations at Glastonbury in 1907, Bond was quick to offer his services. Bond had been drawn to the psychic from the age of 15, when he discovered Catherine Crowe’s The Night Side of Nature in his father’s library. Why he sought psychic aid in his excavations has not been recorded.
He may have conceived of it as an experiment, the first practical attempt at psychic archaeology. In any event, sessions of Automatic Writing with a retired navy captain, John Allen Bartlett (“John Alleyne”), began in Bond’s architectural offices in Bristol in November 1907. Bartlett was the automatist, but Bond believed that his own presence was an essential part of Bartlett’s mediumistic process. At their first sitting, Bond and Bartlett received communications from a group calling themselves “the Watchers,” purporting to be the spirits of monks who once had lived at Glastonbury.
Two drawings of the abbey were produced, along with data relating to the famed Edgar Chapel, whose existence was then only indirectly known. More details about the Edgar Chapel and other structures came in later sessions. Bond was able to ask questions of the Watchers about buildings and events and receive sensible replies to them. Following leads given by the Watchers, Bond uncovered the foundations of the north wall of the Edgar Chapel in 1908, and he eventually traced the building’s perimeter.
Over the next few years, guided at least in part by the Watchers, he found several more important structures, including the entire northern part of the Abbey, and what appeared to be the clock and bell tower, refectory, monks’ kitchen, monks’ dormitory, chapter house, a glass and pottery kiln, and a secret underground passage. He discovered no fewer than four previously unknown chapels, in addition to the Edgar Chapel. That he had indeed located the latter was established by an old set of plans he was sent, after his find became public.
As a result of his success, Bond was made Diocesan architect. He was quick to capitalize on this title, but it seemed to say more than it did, because his work remained unpaid. Bond’s activities at Glastonbury were really a hobby. His income was derived from his architectural practice, the sale of his books, and the proceeds of lectures he was beginning to give. His wife’s slanders, however, were affecting his ability to earn a living. Although he won every suit she brought against him, he was forced to declare bankruptcy in 1914.
Bond kept any mention of the psychic out of his annual reports to the Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society. He hinted at the communications from the Watchers for the first time in his report for 1915, but it was not until three years later, in The Gate of Remembrance (1918), that he told the full story. Bond did not believe that his monks were discarnate spirits.
Rather, he held that there was a cosmic reservoir of human memory and experience, in which the personality was preserved and welded into a collective association extending through all time, and which could be tapped by sensitives appropriately attuned. He also believed in gematria, the idea that the measurements of buildings carry codes that reveal a secret interpretation of the Scriptures.
Bond was gradually pushed out of his work at Glastonbury, his great successes in locating unknown and little known structures notwithstanding. It would be easy to read this as a response to his psychic work and occult ideas, but according to his biographer, William Kenawell, these provided more an excuse than a cause for his dismissal. A major contributing factor was his wife’s slanders, but Bond himself was not an easy man to get along with. He was arrogant and vain, and tended to exaggerate the significance of whatever position he held.
He was an amateur in archeology at a time when the field was becoming professionalized, and although his work was competent for its time, his refusal to follow the systematic plan of excavations laid down by the professionals were bound to create friction with them. By 1921, Bond was reduced to cleaning the artifacts he had found during earlier digs, and in 1922 he was relieved of all responsibility at Glastonbury.
For four years, beginning in 1922, Bond edited Psychic Science, the new monthly publication of the British College of Psychic Science. This position accorded with his increasing public visibility, but once more it was unpaid. Meanwhile, his interest in Glastonbury continued. In 1925, he tried unsuccessfully to get the Society for Psychical Research (SPR), the Society of Antiquarians and the Royal Archaeological Institute to form a joint committee for the purpose of overseeing additional excavations.
In about 1926, Bond became engaged in another major battle, this with the automatist Geraldine Cummins, over her claim of sole responsibility for the scripts later published by her as the Chronicles of Cleophas. Bond was present with Cummins at the early sittings in this series, and he argued that his presence was partly responsible for stimulating the communications, whereas Cummins believed that she alone was involved in their transmission. Their contention reached the courts, which found in Cummins’ favour.
When a wealthy American offered to pay for his passage to the United States late in 1926, Bond seized the opportunity to get away. He found work with an architectural firm in New York, and in 1927 he had a successful lecture tour, arranged through the American Society for Psychical Research (ASPR). Later that year, he was appointed “honorary” director of education at the ASPR, and in 1930 he succeeded J. Malcolm Bird as editor of the ASPR’s Journal. He held this position for five years, until he quit over the ASPR’s handling of the “Margery” affair (see Mina Stinson Crandon). When the president of the Board of Trustees refused to publish an explosive report on the identification of “Walter’s” thumbprints, Bond published it anyway, submitting his resignation at the same time.
Bond was 72 when he left the ASPR, but he shortly became involved in yet another venture. This was the Survival Foundation, Inc., which was dedicated to the return of spirituality in America. Bond was to be editor of the foundation’s monthly magazine, Survival. He succeeded in getting out three consecutive issues, but then the enterprise folded, and Bond found himself once more out of a job.
At the end of 1935, again at his patron’s expense, Bond returned to England for the last time. He was broke and homeless. His daughter was unable to take him in, and she warned that if he returned to England, his wife might once more make trouble for him (she did not die until 1938). There were also the Cummins lawsuits, aspects of which had been left unresolved when Bond left the country. He found a home at Cottage Hospital in Dolgelly, Wales, where he spent the last 10 years of his life.
Bond died in Dolgelly on March 8, 1945, at the age of 82. His other books are
- The Hill of Vision (1919)
- The Company of Avalon (1924)
- The Rose Miraculous (1924)
- The Gospel of Philip the Deacon (1926)
- The Wisdom of the Watchers (1933)
- The Secret of Immortality (1934)
- The Mystery of Glaston (1938)
Most of these writings purported to come from the Watchers; as the titles indicate, Bond never lost his love for Glastonbury.
At his death, Bond left an unpublished manuscript of a book written in 1935, comprising communications from Captain Bligh of the Bounty (Bond’s great grand-uncle), received through an American sensitive. The early communications from the Watchers contain many suggestions that have never been followed up. Bond’s markings on the ground, outlining key parts of the abbey, were altered in 1939, obfuscating many of his gematria claims. His books are banned from the Glastonbury bookstore to this day. See also : Ghost Club.
- Bond, F. Bligh. The Gate of Remembrance. Oxford: B. H. Blackwell, 1918.
- Kenawell, William W. The Quest at Glastonbury: A Biographical Study of Frederick Bligh Bond. New York: Helix Press, 1965.
- Schwartz, Stephan A. The Secret Vaults of Time: Psychic Archaeology and the Quest for Man’s Beginnings. New York: Grosset and Dunlap, 1978.