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Travel to The Grand Illusion locations with Syd Moore

  • Submitted: 27th March 2024

Travel to The Grand Illusion locations with Syd Moore

Novels set in unique times in history with a keen sense of place are very fine literary guides. Think of Essex with gothic overtones, creepy woods, old houses and more.

Syd Moore is on The BookTrail today:

The Grand Illusion Syd Moore

Map of locations in The Grand Illusion

This novel was the first in the Essex Witch Museum Mysteries, whose central protagonist inherits the museum from her estranged grandfather, Septimus Strange. I was on the hunt for the bones of a woman who had been executed for witchcraft in St Osyth, Essex, four hundred years before. Her name was Ursula Kempe.

Syd outside the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic (c) Syd Moore

Syd outside the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic (c) Syd Moore

Map of locations in The Grand Illusion

Through a very convoluted route I found myself at the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic in Boscastle, Cornwall. When there, I interviewed the assistant curator, Joyce Froome about the founder of the museum, Cecil Williamson, and the part he played in Ursula’s story. Before we met, I browsed the museum’s collection taking in some of their incredible artefacts. One of the exhibits that caught my eye was a small display (pictured).

Board of Curiosities (c) Syd Moore

Board of Curiosities (c) Syd Moore

Map of locations in The Grand Illusion

The central photograph featured a porcelain figure of Adolph Hitler bending over. Just look at what is embedded in his posterior! It was quite striking, as you can see. Below, there is a short description of a similarly strange war time activity.

It reads – ‘A Cone of Power Against Invasion’ and tells of the story of how Gerald Gardner and the New Forest coven took part in an anti-invasion ritual in the New Forest in 1940.  The story of how they directed a ‘Cone of Power’ against Hitler to sabotage Operation Sealion, his plan to invade the British Isles.

Hitler Pincushion (c) Syd Moore

Hitler Pincushion (c) Syd Moore

Map of locations in The Grand Illusion

I mentioned this in my novel Strange Magic, really just as an interesting aside, and did not think about it anymore in terms of fictional ideas, as the war period was outside of the timeline for the series. However, the story refused to leave me alone. It was always there at the back of my mind, like a recurring itch. During lockdown, probably because there were so many comparisons made to World War II, I finally gave into its call and decided to investigate. I soon became enthralled by the extraordinary stories my research uncovered.

 

Farnham Castle (c) Syd Moore

Farnham Castle (c) Syd Moore

Map of locations in The Grand Illusion

The heroine of The Grand Illusion is Daphne Devine, an assistant to The Grand Mystique, a stage magician at The Oriental Theatre in London.

They are enrolled into the Secret Service with headquarters at Wormwood Scrubs. After that, they go for  training at Farnham Castle in Surrey. This was the residence of the Bishops of Winchester. However,  from 1940 to 1944 it became the home of the Camouflage Training and Development Centre of the Royal Engineers. In its ranks were some of the strangest recruits the military has ever seen. The list of these is long and includes the artists Blair Hughes-Stanton, Edward Seago, Frederick Gore and Julian Trevelyan. Add to that a West End theatre designer, a circus manager, an art critic, a magazine editor. Then what about some designers, sculptors, cartoonists, artisans and a surrealist poet!

Bolderwood (c) Syd Moore

Bolderwood (c) Syd Moore

It is here that Daphne and Jonty cut their teeth and develop strategies to confuse, dazzle and deceive. Their outstanding talents bring them to the attention of the Commander Lieutenant General. He soon dispatches them to the New Forest to work on Operation Reynard with occultists and Canadian airmen, to implement the Cone of Power.

Map of locations in The Grand Illusion

Map of locations in The Grand Illusion

While researching this section I stayed at the Crown Manor House Hotel in Lyndhurst, the forest’s ‘capital village’. This building is a 15th-century Grade 1 listed manor with gorgeous period features and open log fires. It became my fictional Burleigh Hall, the HQ for the Operation. Opposite to this stands St Michael’s and All Angels Church. This is where Alice Liddell, who inspired Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, is buried. Her grave is to the south side of the church and decorated with flowers left by readers.

St Michael’s and All Angels Church

And of course, I journeyed deep into the New Forest as it is said that the ritual took place here. Bolderwood is a beautiful part of the forest  – some of the oldest Douglas fir trees grow here.

Bolderwood (c) Syd Moore

Bolderwood (c) Syd Moore

Map of locations in The Grand Illusion

There is also a deer sanctuary with an observation platform. The wood has a very special atmosphere and really, it is no stretch of the imagination to believe that under its canopy of leaves, in the summer of 1940, something very magical did indeed take place.

 

BookTrail Boarding Pass:The Grand Illusion

Twitter: @SydMoore1

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