The House On The Borderland In Search Of William Hope Hodgson
Fortean Times|November 2019
In his new book, EDWARD PARNELL goes in search of the ‘sequestered places’ of the British Isles and explores how these haunted landscapes shaped a kaleidoscopic spectrum of literature and cinema. Here, he arrives in Cardiganshire to look for the house in which the neglected master of weird fiction William Hope Hodgson wrote one of his greatest works.

The shore he used to lookout across, over which he would sometimes walk, shimmers through the glass. Perhaps this was even the room in which he wrote – it’s said he preferred to work at night – though I’d hazard that would have been up on the third floor. In the picture I have seen of him on Borth beach, he stands in the foreground, this side of his bonnet-clad favourite sister, Lissie, almost as if they are joined at the shoulder. He is looking into the distance, out to sea, his mouth slightly agape in a smirk, his hands in his pockets. He is dark haired and tanned, and at five foot four and a half (164cm) is only just taller than her, but undoubtedly he is handsome; by all accounts he was a hit with the young women of the village.

Bookcases fill two walls of the room, a mixture of titles stretching from floor to ceiling. A rugby match is playing out silently on the television that stands on a low occasional table in front of the window.

I had doubted whether I would be able to find this place: the Welsh house in which one of the greatest English writers of weird fiction wrote a significant amount of his work, including my favourite of his four novels, The House on the Borderland. Like many details about this author’s life, the exact timing of when and where he worked on each of his books is subject to debate, though it seems he was living here during the book’s completion and publication. This much we know, because he signs and dates his name below the introduction to The House on the Borderland’s mysterious manuscript: William Hope Hodgson ‘Glaneifion’, Borth, Cardiganshire, December 17, 1907.

I had arrived sometime after lunch in the likeable coastal resort of Borth, a few miles north of Aberystwyth. After squeezing my car into one of the few available spaces, conveniently next to a pleasant-looking café, I take advantage of the fine spring weather and buy an ice cream. I expect the mission I’ve given myself – to see if I can find William Hope Hodgson’s house – will prove fruitless, as in the century that has passed I’m sure names are bound to have changed. I do know, however, that the Hodgsons’ accommodation had its back to the sea, so I concentrate on that side.

I’ve just started into my ice cream and crossed the road and there, directly in front of me, it is – a quest that has taken less than a minute. An attractive three-storey villa, Glaneifion has a claret-coloured door and windows. Its dark exterior has a mottled appearance, as if capillaries flow beneath its surface. This is where Hodgson lived on and off between 1904 and the end of 1910, and where in earlier summers his family holidayed.

I stare at the building and wonder if I should knock, though as I’m still scoffing my ice cream, I figure I’ll take a walk first. A passageway bisects the terrace a few doors down and I emerge from shadow onto the upper beach. I’m not sure whether I will be able to work out which is Glaneifion from this new angle, but it’s instantly obvious. Four figures sit at the boundary of its garden, overlooking the glinting sea; I decide to wander to the shoreline before accosting them.

A WANDERING LIFE

William Hope Hodgson was born in November 1877 in the Essex village of Blackmore End, a few miles north of Braintree. His father, the Reverend Samuel Hodgson, was an unorthodox character prone to disagreements with his superiors, which led to him being posted to various disparate parishes around the country. William – known to his family as Hope, to distinguish him from his well-to-do tailor grandfather – was the second of 12 children, three of whom were to perish before reaching the age of two.

The young Hope showed an aversion to organised religion, though a spiritual element is present in his second novel The House on the Borderland (published in 1908), and his final full-length work The Night Land from four years later. The earlier book is ostensibly set around an otherworldly mansion located “some 40 miles distant” from Ardrahan on the west coast of Ireland’s County Galway, the place where the Reverend Hodgson was exiled as a missionary in 1887. There he was charged with converting the local Catholics to Protestantism, an exercise doomed to failure as the resident population resented the presence of an Anglican English family in the Old Rectory, out of sight and apart from the village like the titular house of the novel, down a lengthy drive encased by vast orchards. These same expansive surroundings, in which the unruly Hope once spent several days stuck up a tree he had climbed – he was fed and sustained by the family’s servants before he finally descended – were stripped of their fruit by the villagers as tensions between the two strands of Christianity came to a head, resulting in the Hodgsons’ return to England.

There, in 1890, they settled in the northern industrial heartland of Blackburn. Late the following year, Hope, aged 13, ran away properly after a ratcheting up of the friction between father and son, signing on for a four-year apprenticeship as a cabin boy in the Mercantile Navy, which paved the way for a further stint of similar length as a seaman. By the time Hope came back from sea in 1898 – a spell that was to have a profound influence on his first works of weird fiction – his father was gone, a victim at the age of 46 of cancer of the throat. This, it has been speculated – though the claim sounds spurious to me – resulted from the tight dog collars the Reverend Hodgson was forced to wear. His death plunged the family into several years of financial hardship alleviated only by the passing of Hope’s wealthy grandfather and namesake.

After his return to Blackburn, Hope opened ‘WH Hodgson’s School of Physical Culture’ during the second half of 1899. His early gymnasium apparently proved popular with the local police force, running for the next few years and perhaps right up until he moved to Borth in 1904. Hodgson also wrote various articles for national magazines on ‘scientific exercises’. In October 1902 he was involved in an extraordinary incident in the Lancashire town’s history, when the American escapologist (and later debunker of fraudulent mediums) Harry Houdini visited: “Mr WH Hodgson, principal of the Blackburn School of Physical Culture, took up the challenge issued by Houdini, the ‘Handcuff King’ who engaged to forfeit £25 to the infirmary if he failed to free himself from any irons placed upon him.”

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine

MORE STORIES FROM FORTEAN TIMESView All

Lightning Or Legendry?: The Chase Vault Moving Coffin Mystery Revisited

The moving coffins of Barbados have been a staple subject of books on the unexplained for over a century, and yet no one has so far provided a wholly satisfactory solution to the mystery. BENJAMIN RADFORD argues that we might have been looking in the wrong place...

10+ mins read
Fortean Times
November 2019

The Haunted Generation

Bob Fischer Rounds Up The Latest News From The Parallel Worlds Of Popular Hauntology...

3 mins read
Fortean Times
November 2019

The House On The Borderland In Search Of William Hope Hodgson

In his new book, EDWARD PARNELL goes in search of the ‘sequestered places’ of the British Isles and explores how these haunted landscapes shaped a kaleidoscopic spectrum of literature and cinema. Here, he arrives in Cardiganshire to look for the house in which the neglected master of weird fiction William Hope Hodgson wrote one of his greatest works.

10+ mins read
Fortean Times
November 2019

Fortean Traveller: 117. The Mediæval Crime Museum, Rothenburg, Germany Fortean Traveller

STEVE TOASE feels the thumbscrews tighten as he explores a grisly collection exploring the history of mediæval torture and its relationship with the law

7 mins read
Fortean Times
November 2019

Where Ghosts Gather

In 1977, Usborne published World of the Unknown: Ghosts, the children’s book that inspired a generation of junior forteans. Four decades on, following a concerted fan campaign, the book is back in print... and the perpetually haunted BOB FISCHER tracked down its pleasantly surprised writer, Christopher Maynard, to discuss its genesis and unexpected impact.

10+ mins read
Fortean Times
November 2019

A Bang On The Head

MARK GREENER explains how traumatic brain injury can change personality, creating serial killers and even vampires.

7 mins read
Fortean Times
November 2019

Classical Corner

FORTEANA FROM THE ANCIENT WORLD COMPILED

4 mins read
Fortean Times
February 2018

High Priests And Kraken Soup

Richard Freeman in a recent opinion piece (FT357:55) discussed the fascinating life of Pierre Denys de Montfort, who, according to the article, died penniless in the gutter in Paris having seen his career destroyed because he argued for something that the “high priests of science deemed to be an old wives tale” – the existence of giant cephalopods (the taxonomic group that consists of squids, cuttlefishes and octopuses).

6 mins read
Fortean Times
January 2018

It Happened To Me...

The road beyond the village drops and twists steeply, so I drove cautiously.

4 mins read
Fortean Times
Christmas 2017

Living With Gods

DAVID V BARRETT visits a new exhibition at the British Museum with an emphasis on the universals of religious practice

4 mins read
Fortean Times
Christmas 2017
RELATED STORIES

UNA LINEA EN LAS MONTANAS

UN PEQUEÑO CAMBIO EN UNA MAPA HECHO POR UNA AGENCIA GUBERNAMENTAL DE ESTADOS UNIDOS LLEVÓ A INDIA Y PAKISTÁN A UNA GUERRA EN EL CAMPO DE BATALLA MÁS ALTO DEL MUNDO. QUIÉN HIZO ESTE CAMBIO Y POR QUÉ HA SIDO UN MISTERIO… HASTA AHORA

10+ mins read
National Geographic en Español
Marzo 2021

Hodgson left raging after Palace wilt

UNDER-FIRE Roy Hodgson launched a scathing attack on the attitude of his players after another shocking performance.

2 mins read
Daily Record
February 15, 2021

Natural Instinct

The Modernist aficionados behind leading US creative outfit BassamFellows are in their element with the transformation of the company’s headquarters.

5 mins read
Belle Magazine Australia
February-March 2021

ROY'S ON EZE STREET WITH PALACE PAIR

ROY HODGSON believes Wilfried Zaha’s partnership with new-boy Eberechi Eze can be the spark to ignite Crystal Palace’s season.

1 min read
Daily Mirror
December 12, 2020

The control freaks will stifle rugby fans' interest

“Borthwick also appeared to have a problem answering questions from the media”

4 mins read
The Rugby Paper
November 29, 2020

MEAL DEAL

Roy gives Nuno food for thought

2 mins read
Daily Star
October 30, 2020

I'm thrilled rugby's back – but I want it fast and open

NOTHING will ever quell my excitement at good rugby played at pace by smart, talented players, although I must admit that before lockdown I was tired with the lack of action being taken to improve some aspects of the game.

5 mins read
The Rugby Paper
August 09, 2020

ROY BACKS RACE ROW ACE

ROY HODGSON is prepared to leave Wilfried Zaha out of the Crystal Palace team if the racist abuse he receives ever gets too much.

1 min read
Daily Star
July 16, 2020

Quarter Scale Bentley BR2 Rotary Aero Engine

Mick Knights completes his aero engine.

4 mins read
Model Engineer
4625