This page: News and Comment


2017 AGM and Dinner

report on 2016 AGM and Dinner

refocusing the Angels controversy

Machen's Great Grand-daughter in Exhibition


2017 AGM and Dinner

The FoAM 2017 Annual General Meeting is to be held on 4 March at The Yorkshire Grey, 2 Theobalds Rd, London WC1X 8PN. The meeting will begin at 2pm. The annual dinner, at the same venue, will begin at 7.30pm. All members may attend the meeting. If you would like to come to the dinner, you can pay the £27 fee through the donations button on the Friends page above. Deadline for bookings is 31st January.

A more informal gathering is likely to take place on the evening of 3rd March, for those anticipating the AGM. Watch this space for details.

A walk is also planned, for the morning of 4th March. Minimum Labyrinth, who have several years' experience hosting guided walks and performances in London, including two Machen-inspired events, have agreed to run their Thin Veil of London experience exclusively for FoAM members, before the AGM begins, at a specially discounted price of £10 per ticket. Due to the nature of the walk, numbers will be limited to 25. The walk will commence at 12 noon from the Queen's Larder pub, 1 Queen's Square, and deliver you at the AGM venue by 2:30pm. It does, of course, involve some tramping the streets, but nothing strenuous, and there will be at least one or two comfort/refreshment breaks en route. More information about the walk is available at If you would like to book a place, please contact James Machin at

Angels of Mons Centennial: Where is the Real Controversy?

It's a century now since the first disastrous clash between British and German armies, at Mons. An enduring folk-legend has it that disaster was prevented from becoming absolute rout of the British Expeditionary Force by supernatural forces coming to their aid. These supernatural forces are most commonly called Angels, but the most usual form they took was as celestial archers from the days of Agincourt, sometimes depicted as gigantic in size, sometimes of normal human dimensions. The genesis of this folkmyth is most often credited to a story written by Arthur Machen, which appeared in the Evening News late in 1914. This leads naturally to the question: how did a mere story come to be taken as fact?

Some Factors to Consider...

The Climate of the Age. A century before the battle, during the Romantic era, whose values still prevailed in 1914, the poet Coleridge proclaimed the idea that Imagination could produce realities. Coleridge's argument was that God had given us humans Imagination so we could know him. The deep Romantic response to nature was the prime example of Imagination leading to spiritual truth, but there were also examples of writers of a mystical persuasion saying, in effect, "It's true because I imagined it." The craze for Spiritualist seances which arose in the mid-nineteenth-century and lingered well into the twentieth, is a testament to how far Imagination could permeate ordinary reality.

The Climate of the Time. The Empire on which the sun never set was not used to defeat, nor to enmity in Europe. It was ninety nine years since Britain had been involved in European conflict: during that bourgeois century, Western Europe had been for Brits a civilised export market and an arena for genteel tourism. The royal families of Britain and Germany, and the peoples themselves were so closely related: how could this war be even happening?

Conditions of Reporting. The War Office took the route of censoring news. Not only were newspaper accounts relentlessly upbeat: soldiers' letters home were also censored. But wounded men were constantly arriving back home, with personal tales which did not bear out the official view. Rumours, such as that of masses of Russian soldiers in transit through British raliway stations, abounded. Truth had become an unstable commodity. Reporters fell back on individual memoirs of battle, many taken from the testimonies of wounded soldiers arriving home. The newspaper-reading public became used to constructing its view of what was going on from the slender basis of individual testimony. This would play into the hands of Machen's piece of fiction, which focuses on just such individual testimony of the battle.

How The Bowmen was published. Machen was employed by The Evening News more as a journalist than a reporter. He dealt with soft news, and was also a big gun brought out when needed for big occasions such as Captain Scott's funeral in 1913. His articles appeared under his own name. He was known to the public as an author of fiction, but until 1914 he had never published fiction in The Evening News. The paper did regularly publish fiction in those days, but this was always clearly headed: Our Short Story. This was never on the front page. "The Bowmen" was published on the front page, under the name of a writer who did not do fiction in the paper, and his piece was not labelled as Our Short Story. To add to the potential confusion, the paper did pubish something labelled Our Short Story, on a later page, as was their custom. Clearly then, by its heading, by its association with a writer of non-fiction, and by its position on the front page, "The Bowmen" could not be fiction.

A Deliberate Fabrication? When Machen insisted his story was just that - fiction - his opponents averred that he had been vouchsafed a vision, but had not recognised it as such - imagination with a capital I. But since so many of the factors which led to the story's misprision arose out of editorial decisions, there are other possibilities. It's possible that confusion arose because newspapers work under pressure, and decisions were taken in haste, their implications unseen. But it's also possible that a news-editor took decisions as to how Machen's piece would be presented with some inkling of how it might be understood by his readers. It's unlikely that the controversy did the paper's circulation any harm; and the putative editor might also have held the view that a belief in supernatural entities fighting for Britain would be a good thing. The real controversy in our media-savvy age today should turn on whether the public were indeed practised upon and, if so, by whom.


Friends of Arthur Machen, 2016 AGM and Dinner

Under the aegis of Jon Preece, on a near-freezing York Friday night (4th March), a small group of us met in the Shambles for interesting ales and other beverages followed by curry of the first order. Next morning many of the same group, plus a few other familiar spirits, could be found haunting a variety of the town's excellent bookshops, obsessively combing the same shelves, moving on in the same shambling, desultory trance...

Later, much later, all converged on the Marriott Hotel, Tadcaster Road, York, where the AGM, book-auction and Annual Dinner were attended by a record number of 43 member-guests. All were made welcome. The AGM revealed that FoAM funds are in good shape and that the Machen notebook from the late 1890s is now transcribed, edited, and at the printers, teetering on the edge of distribution to members. It is expected that hunger for this item should drive membership to new and even greater heights.

Thanks to the generosity of members, or perhaps their overstuffed bookshelves, the book auction was of an unprecedented size, so much so that many items had to be grouped in lots rather than sold singly. The auction raised over £400, which went towards the cost of venue hire and liquid refreshment for the dinner. Then, an innovation. The hiatus between auction and dinner has often proved a low point; but this year a musical entertainment filled the gap. Rudolf Rocker are a three piece folk-band named after an early twentieth century anarcho-syndicalist: their songs were interestingly pacey and included one which arabesqued around the theme of the Angels of Mons. What was Not to Like?

Dinner was pleasant, and the speeches, toasts and readings added sparkle. The mood was mellow rather than raucous; this may have reflected that some members felt a little stung in the pocket by the venue's price for a 175ml glass of wine. However, the earlier decision to investigate the possibility of staging the 2017 event in London probably means that the Marriott will not have the record for the cost of a glass of claret for long.

...and the band played on...


Arthur Machen's great grand-daughter, the artist Tessa Farmer, is participating in a London exhibition. The exhibition is titled The Alchemy of Making, and can be seen at The Griffin Gallery, 21 Evesham Street, London W11 $AJ (tel 020 8424 3239, from 4th October to 18th November 2016.