'The Lovely Brightness'

Photo: Illustrative image for the ''The Lovely Brightness'' page
Psychical research
By Claudia Jessop

Lady Barrett’s husband, Sir William Barrett FRS, was one of the pioneers of psychical research, and founded the Society for Psychical Research in 1882.  Lady Barrett shared this interest – her own engagement with it was to culminate in 1937, with her publication of Personality Survives Death: Messages from Sir William Barrett, in which she recorded a series of conversations she claimed to have had with her now dead husband through a medium, Mrs Leonard.

In the course of her work at the Mothers’ in the 1920s, she recorded accounts of women having “deathbed visions” before they died following childbirth complications. These unfortunate women’s descriptions of what they were ‘seeing’ convinced her of the phenomenon of already-deceased relatives appearing to those who were approaching death, in order to reassure them and to welcome them to the next world. One such record in particular became particularly influential in the field of psychical research – it is the moving account of the near-death visions of a woman called Doris B, who died of heart failure after giving birth at the Mothers’ in January 1924.

Lady Barrett’s description of the woman seeing her dead father and – a particularly striking feature – a sister of whose recent death Mrs B had not yet been informed, made a profound impression on her husband when she recounted it to him on her return home from the hospital after the woman’s death. It led to his directing his own research towards this area; he requested and received written accounts of Mrs B’s experience from his wife, an attendant nurse, resident medical officer Dr Phillips, Matron Miriam Castle, and from Mrs B’s mother Mary Clark of Highbury, all of whom had also witnessed the event. Another witness was Rev Maurice Davis of All Saints Church, Haggerston, whose presence had been requested by the dying woman – he was so impressed by her vision that he later described it in his parish magazine. The accounts all corroborated one another, and they led to the research published by Sir William as Death-Bed Visions – The Psychical Experiences of the Dying in 1926 (he had conducted a survey of medical staff to establish the frequency and common features of such experiences – the book is a classic in the field).

This page was added by Lisa Rigg on 21/12/2009.

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