This is an article from 1964 which provides a fascinating biography of Gordon’s life to that point. It discusses his development, his time in the war and how he became the medium of choice for the Spiritualists National Union (SNU) publicity meetings. When people are able to demonstrate mediumship to the very high calibre that Gordon did, there are occasionally those who think that there may be fraud involved. The article discusses the accusation of fraud which had been made against Gordon and the tests that he undertook to counter the accusations. There would be other accusations of fraud in the 1970s, but no evidence of fraudulent mediumship was ever proven against Gordon. The way Gordon dealt with such accusations, by rising above them and allowing his work to speak for itself, is a lesson for all mediums. I do hope that you enjoy the article.
THE OTHER SIDE OF HIGGINSON
By Derek Everitt
Debt of Honour
See his tense, high pitched psychic demonstrations. Watch him pacing the vestry floor in restless anxiety before a service, whilst a procession of elderly ladies come “to-have-a-few-words-with-Gordon” and go through a ritual of affectionate hand-patting until he excuses himself on a fundamental pretext, impatiently looking at his watch. Witness all these and you see a target: a debonair, forty-three-year-old public figure ripe for the smear, the innuendo and the charged question.
But the account needs balancing. For ten years Gordon Higginson’s life has been a round of top-brass public appearances. Side by side with him have stood, at various times, most of the leading S.N.U. propagandists depending upon him to substantiate their words. The Movement has availed itself freely of the Longton hospitality where Higginson leads perhaps the most successful Church team ever. To such a man we owe a debt of honour. We’ve used him freely, we’ve eaten at his table and been served by his friends. The time has come to say “Thank you.”
Some Would, Some Would Not
Much of the material for this article came from willing memories and old files. I acknowledge the help received from many sources, but especially am I indebted to Mr Richard Ellidge, Dr John Winning and Mr Ernest Sills for access to records and for supplying straight, ungarnished facts. My colleague, Miss Gladys Owen, made a considerable contribution in supplying notes on Gordon’s many adventures. The opinions expressed herein are, however, my own and mine alone. Others have contributed only facts.
Whilst several folk wished this venture well, others who were asked to help, even though their dealings with Gordon had been many and intimate, preferred not to reply. So be it. The situation is not without historical parallel.
“Proud of all My Children”
“I am proud of ALL my children,” replied Mrs Fanny Higginson when she was once asked how she felt towards her son Gordon. An accomplished medium herself, it was “natural” that Gordon, whom she bore in 1920 [actually 17 November 1918], should exhibit psychic ability whilst still a young boy. His home background and Lyceum training culminated in the early awakening of his extra-sensory faculties, which were carefully guided in a home developing circle under the tuition of his mother. At the early age of twelve, his success in taking a meeting at Newcastle-under-Lyme earned him the title of “The Wonder Boy Medium.”
At home, Higginson developed his powers of psychometry and clairvoyance. To this day he has continued his membership of a circle interested in all phases of mediumship. His particular metier proved to be clairvoyance to such a proficient degree that at 16 years old he took his first propaganda meeting, at Oldbury Town Hall. A meeting at Wolverhampton City Hall soon followed when his speaking partner was the Rev. Sparke Kirtland.
Dear Mr Keeling
As a medium he became an ascending “star” and it was inevitable that he should come to the notice of the Spiritualist “establishment.” Mr Joe Capstack, President of Coventry Church, reported in 1939 to the SNU Head Office that he had found: “A remarkable boy medium in the person of Mr Gordon Higginson, aged 19.” This quarter-century-old letter carries a postscript: “He is attached to Longton Church.” Person and place were associated for their mutual fame.
At 19, Gordon Higginson’s boyhood was to end abruptly. His private life had been successful; at 15 he had joined an old established firm of shoe retailers and by the time he was 17, he had become their senior salesman. Taken as a whole his adolescence was a model of the ambient principles of the 1930’s: loyalty, industry and, to be added very soon, patriotism. At 20 he was called up as a militiaman in the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry.
Sergeant with Nine Lives
By the time he was evacuated from Dunkirk, Gordon’s natural ability as a leader had emerged as a potential officer, so he was drafted to OCTU [Officer Cadet Training Unit]. This was not entirely to his liking. Instead he was promoted to Sergeant and eventually resumed active service with the First Army at Algiers. The barrack-room seances which he had held so often as a private in England now took on a sinister realism, for it was noticed that when he led a patrol into enemy lines he succeeded in his purpose where others would have at best failed, at worst been killed. There were those who said that Sgt. Higginson had nine lives.
After the fall of Tunisia, Gordon was again offered a commission which, again, he refused. The battalion was posted to Italy for active service in some of the bloodiest actions of the war. At the battle for Monte Casino, he was so badly burned that there was talk of amputating his arm. Meanwhile, at home, Mrs Higginson had been told of her son’s plight by her Spirit friends who said that he would recover. He did.
The Affair at the River
Crossing the swollen river Rondo, an advance mortar platoon ran into an enemy counter-attack which trapped them under heavy fire and with no means of re-crossing the river to their own lines. One NCO [Non-Commissioned Officer] quickly organised an attempted fording, but was killed in the process; then Sgt. Higginson saw “a light” which he followed, with survivors behind him. This strange light led them across the river in spite of the heavy fire and the hazard of a quick flowing torrent. This was another of the nine lives attributed to the mystic sergeant.
Typical of several incidents is one which he retells as if it were a Sunday outing. “I was on patrol with two men, our orders being to collect information from a village – about German movements – and return to our own lines. It soon became obvious that we were being followed, but under cover of darkness we continued until I decided to tell the two men with me to wait, whilst I went on alone. A voice told me which way to go into the village and I complied until I met an Italian civilian who directed me to a safe route back. Not only did we reach our lines safely, but we saw the German patrol which had been following us – but we were out of range by then.”
Whenever he was at base, or with even the least possible facilities, he would arrange meetings to discuss Spiritualism amongst the troops he was with. In barrack-rooms and camp theatres he has demonstrated his mediumistic abilities as propaganda for Spiritualism.
Back in Longton, the once boy medium now returned as a man. After a course at Wolverhampton Technical College, he was appointed display manager at the firm he had served as a lad. Eventually, his appointment as a director of the company made local history; hitherto only members of the founder’s family had held such positions.
The members of Longton Church elected Mr Higginson their President in 1946, a position which he still holds [and held until his passing in 1993]. Essentially he was a team leader with a group of members whose combined energies have gone from success to success. A congregation of 300 is normal, an annual turnover of £3000 also normal. Their healing clinic deals with 120 patients a week and at this tempo they can talk of enlargement, reconstruction and enhancement. It is not unknown for a Longton member, talking of their new ventures, to be cut short with: “Oh! but you can do that AT LONGTON.”
Publicly, the name Higginson will be associated always with propaganda meetings in grim town halls. His record so far is 130 meetings in twelve months, but the demand continues unabated. He has demonstrated in Greece, Belgium, Italy and North Africa, acted as “guinea-pig” in a newspaper investigation of mediumship and partnered the respected Harold Vigurs in several propaganda tours abroad.
In 1959 came the first public suggestion that Gordon’s work was not genuine. True, medium bating has been a common pastime amongst some Spiritualists for years, but here was something different for he had represented Spiritualism in public for so long. After this criticism of the SNU anchor medium, there was no alternative but to test him. There are two accounts of how this was done: the unofficial one talks of taking him blindfold to a Church without telling him where he was being taken to, the official report is less melodramatic. Higginson did not know his destination when he was escorted by Mr C. I. Quastel to Belper Church, and the officials of Belper Church did not know who was to take their service, but his demonstration cleared him completely of any possibility of fraud. The report speaks of an audience gasping with amazement at his accurate evidence.
Gordon’s evidence was checked thoroughly too when in Glasgow he gave a dozen different messages which were checked afterwards by a recorder. Take for example the following, but remember that the recipient said afterwards that Higginson could not of his own knowledge have possessed the information.
Higginson begins by pointing to a man: “You know Mrs X.”
Man: “Yes, she is my wife.”
H: “She speaks of John.”
M: “That’s me.”
H: “You have a daughter, Isabel, married to a man called Duncan M.”
H.: “You once lived in a row of houses; your number was 381.”
Then followed a personal message which was accepted by the recipient as coming from his “departed” wife.
And so it continues. After his more recent critical publicity, it was said that his success was at an end, but this has proved a false assumption. Gordon Higginson’s place in the history of Spiritualism is already etched. Attach his name to a meeting and the faithful gather by the coach load: it is not unknown for folk to travel a hundred miles to hear him.
Only history will reveal why his success has evoked such bitter reaction; we can guess, of course. He was, you recall. born in the twenties when a young Spiritualist would be regaled with the past glories of a movement which would never be the same without its pioneers. There was an ethos which age and reverence had crystallised into an ism of things-can-never-be-the-same-again. But Gordon Higginson has, at a mere forty-three, matched past glories and eclipsed them. In a small decaying pottery town, he has led a church to new standards of success. Not, be it noted in a busy metropolis but in what might have been a declining has-been church. Where others have spoken to hundreds, he has spoken to thousands and, far from complaining at the treatment received from the outside world, he has tasted merited success in his professional life also.
Salesman, infantry sergeant, company director, medium and Church President, and when you have looked at all those aspects you must also reflect upon the loyal friends beside him; for no man is an island.
Source: SNU Newsletter, February 1965 (First published in: Spiritualist Banner, May 1964)