The Magical Amulets of Edward Lovett
Recently, while digging through some material on the disciplinary origins of folklore studies, I came across this map, which was drawn by the English folklorist Edward Lovett in the early twentieth century. It depicts the locations in London where he supposedly acquired some of the objects in his magical amulet collection. Although most people today have probably never heard of Lovett, in the early twentieth century he was one of the most active folklore collectors in Britain.
Lovett was born in Islington in 1852, but spent much of his life living in Croydon. He worked as a bank clerk for the Royal Bank of Scotland in London. However, during his spare time he collected, wrote about, and lectured on folk relics. His most famous book was Magic in Modern London (1925), which contextualised the beliefs and practices surrounding some of the more interesting objects he collected around the city.Like many folklorists in this period, Lovett was deeply concerned about the loss of traditional beliefs and customs, and he therefore sought to preserve as many of these folk practices as possible by amassing testimonies and old curios.
SOURCE: Edward Lovett, Magic in Modern London, Croyden: The Advertiser Offices, 1925.
What kind of relics did Lovett collect? His collection was diverse and included objects such as a pockmarked piece of coral that was said to help ease the chances of contracting smallpox, horseshoes that were to be tied above beds to allegedly stop children from having nightmares, and a pair of mole feet, which Lovett collected in Downham Norfolk in 1910, which were used to cure cramps.
But my absolute favourite relic from Lovett’s collection is a medical amulet, made from iris root, from around the turn of the twentieth century. Said to be anthropometric in shape, it was originally collected by Lovett around 1900 in Whitechapel, London. It belonged to an elderly Jewish man and was said to possess curative powers that could reduce gum pain. Lovett credited this practice as being a specifically Jewish one. When Lovett eventually published his book Magic in Modern London in the mid-1920s, he devoted a whole section to the Jewish amulet titled, ‘Orris Root for Cutting Teeth.’
Today you can find some of Lovett’s folklore collection on display at the Science Museum in London, and also via their online catalogue. For example, there is a wonderful collection of amulets which were owned by soldiers during the First World War and used for protection. One of these amulets is a black cat broach that was worn by a man from Royal West Surrey Regiment of the British Army.
Thanks to the efforts of early folklorists like Lovett during the opening decades of the twentieth century, we now have some wonderful examples of early English folk culture. These sorts of materials and beliefs are often lost because records and collections were not properly kept. Thus, Lovett was an important preserver of traditional English culture, custom, and belief.
Dee Dee Chainey, A Treasury of British Folklore: Maypoles, Mandrakes and Mistletoe, London: Pavilion Books, 2018.
Matthew Cheeseman and Carina Hart (eds.), Folklore and Nation in Britain and Ireland, Abingdon: Routledge, 2022.
Richard Mercer Dorson, The British Folklorists: A History, London: Routledge & K. Paul, 1968.
Edward Lovett, Magic in Modern London, Croyden: The Advertiser Offices, 1925.
Jacqueline Simpson and Steve Roud, Dictionary of English Folklore, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000
A.R. Wright and Edward Lovett, 'Specimens of Modern Mascots and Ancient Amulets of the British Isles,' Folklore, 19 (1908), 287-303.