Eric John Dingwall Papers

Scope and Content

Material comprises a series of scrapbooks and loose papers containing press cuttings, journal articles, advertisements, letters and photographs including those relating to psychical research, investigations into paranormal events and occurrences, mediums and spiritualists and the exposure of fraudulent practitioners, anthropology, medical research, sexuality, erotic literature, crime, religion and religious beliefs and conjuring. (Items in this series can be cross referenced with the index slips/cards in series three of the collection); a series of notebooks with quotes, extracts and comments by various writers and notes and comments by Dingwall on subjects such as ancient medicine, body decoration, chastity, infibulation, witchcraft, magic, telekinesis, mediumship and demonology, and appointment diaries, including some belonging to Dingwall's wife Dr Margaret Davis; index slips/cards with additional material including press cuttings, articles, letters, postcards and advertisements (the index slips/cards can be cross referenced with the scrapbooks and loose papers in series one); correspondence between Dingwall and various individuals and organisations including author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, escapologist and psychical researcher Harry Houdini, Professor Alfred Kinsey, psychical researcher and co-author of "The Haunting of Borley Rectory" Trevor Hall, mediums Willi and Rudi Schneider and Margery Crandon, the Society for Psychical Research (including the American branch), the BBC, the Parapsychology Foundation and the College of Psychic Studies as well as correspondence relating to the disposal of Dingwall's estate after his death (THIS SERIES IS CLOSED UNTIL 2025); photographs, glass plate negatives and lantern slides including the Frederick Barlow collection; printed material including copies of "The Demon Telegraph" and various catalogues for conjuring products, and Dingwall's toolkit for investigating hauntings and poltergeist activity. (A second series of scrapbooks referenced R-Z have been transferred to the Harry Price Collection).

Administrative / Biographical History

Born in Ceylon in 1890, Eric John Dingwall was a graduate of Pembroke College, Cambridge. He joined the staff of the Cambridge University Library in 1915 as a volunteer and went on to become an assistant librarian, leaving in 1918. In his youth he developed an enduring interest in magic and was eventually elected to the Magic Circle. This informed his approach to the investigation of the physical phenomena of mediumship, his major contribution to the Society for Psychical Research which he joined in 1920. In 1921 he spent a year in the United States as Director of the Department of Physical Phenomena at the American Society for Psychical Research. He was then appointed research officer to the British Society in 1922. One facet of Dingwall's complex character was his interest in sexual deviation and peculiar sexual practices, an interest which annoyed some of his colleagues at the Society and led to the termination of his appointment in 1927. His failure to be elected to the Society Council in 1928 led to his excessive criticism of the Society's administration. Released from his responsibilities at the SPR he continued to publish books including "Ghosts and Spirits in the Ancient World" (1930), "The Girdle of Chastity" (1931) and "How to Use a Large Library" (1933). In 1932 he was awarded his DSc from University College London. During the Second World War he worked for the Ministry of Information and in "a department of the Foreign Office". After the war he became Honorary Assistant Keeper at the British Museum Library, later the British Library, where he became a recognised authority on historical erotica, as well as on magic and psychical research. He also continued to publish books including two collections of short biographies of strange characters, "Some Human Oddities" (1947) and "Very Peculiar People" (1950) and contributed to to a four volume treatise "Abnormal Hypnotic Phenomena: A survey of nineteenth century cases" (1967/68). Dingwall was married twice. His first wife Doris left him, his second wife was Dr Margaret Davies who died on Christmas Eve 1976. Dingwall spent his remaining years independently and alone until his death on 7 August 1986.

Access Information

Open except for records restricted under the Data Protection Act or the Freedom of Information Act. Please contact the University Archivist for details. At least 24 hours notice is required for research visits.

Other Finding Aids

Catalogued online, A hardcopy catalogue is available in the Historic Collections Reading Room (excludes files which are closed until 2025). A pdf version of the catalogue is attached to the fonds level description.