Where English folk music had Cecil Sharpe and American roots music had Alan Lomax the outer reaches of the sonic spectrum has its own audio relic hunter. A shadowy enigma who set off in search of lost melodies and forgotten horrors more years ago now than anyone cares to remember. He surfaces every few months with a knapsack full of dusty reel-to-reel tapes and curious field recordings. Never aging – never speaking, this denizen of the field bazaar is known only as Melmoth (The Wanderer).
It was Melmoth who first revealed to the world the truth behind the lost village and has subsequently become something of a curator of its creative output. Rumours soon sprung up as to Melmoth`s connection to this mysterious location– and it is even suggested that his shadowy origins and personae of anonymity stem from his time as a resident of this strangest of places.
There is a small, almost forgotten village in the county of Lancashire, not far from the shadow of Pendle Hill, which bears the unusual name of Septimus Keen. However it wasn’t always this way…
Traditionally the village had been a small but thriving example of Blake’s green and pleasant land until the rise of the dark, satanic mills stripped it of its workforce, its pride and its identity.
The village – by this point almost abandoned – was saved from eradication by well-known philanthropist and local eccentric Mr Septimus Mordecai Keen.
He purchased the village and then proceeded to invite many of the day’s greatest minds and artists to join him. What he had planned for the village was to set up what was initially a psychological experiment under the guise of a very unusual artist community. His first move was to rename the village after himself; then he went on to insist that absolutely everybody who came to live in the village would also be required to change their name as well – also to Septimus Keen. His dream was that a community
would grow where all sense of class or hierarchy would be rendered unnecessary because every man, woman or child would be made equal by their shared name. Without a name to identify someone when they weren’t present he believed would lead to gossip and criticism becoming a redundant concept. It was in this idyllic environment that Septimus Mordecai Keen envisaged a utopian, creative hive that would change and lead the world. This theory did seem to work for a while until the issue of the naming of babies born to community members became a reality and people started to leave in protest to his hard-line dogma. The small group who remained (a mere 14 people compared to the original 103) carried on this eccentric way of life long after their founder’s death. It was often said that the village of Septimus Keen was the only place in Europe not effected by the Great War – a fact that may have sown the final seed of resentment and suspicion which eventually lead to the abandonment of the village in 1922.
The most interesting outcome of this experiment relates to this last pocket of believers. After 20 years the name `Septimus Keen’ now no longer referred to a specific individual in any way and the name had become meaningless. What remained was a village where there were so many `Septimus Keens’ that in fact no one was Septimus Keen anymore. Labelling individual identity had become redundant.
Because of this all of the writings and the music, artwork and theatre, science and electronics that came out of the village at a prolific rate in those last 5 years are credited solely to `Septimus Keen’. There is no way of knowing the age, gender or ethnicity of any of the creators. We don’t even know how many different
people were involved in this last body of work nor if they were original invited villages, children of the commune or strangers who had found refuge there.
When Warhol commented that he wanted to distance the artist from the art and leave just the impression of the piece he was referencing the earlier achievements of this artistic community. The Sci-Fi-Delic sounds you hear were indeed written, arranged and performed by Septimus Keen – we just don’t know which one.
One of the earliest known photographs of a resident of Septimus Keen. It can be dated due to the fact it quite clearly predates the village’s newspaper ban – which came into force 18 months after Septimus started recruiting the great and the good to join him in his privately owned village.
Resident photographer and feminist trail blazer Septimus Keen not only recorded life in the village but was also instrumental in the breakdown of this artistic Utopia. The birth of her daughter Septimus (seen here in one of her own portraits) prompted a discussion about the anonymity of the shared name and it’s suitability for children born to the commune. It was this questioning of Village founder Septimus Mordecai Keen’s vision that signalled the start of the end for many folk.
Recently recovered from a box of junk thrown out during a house clearance these plates record the very first spring the inhabitants enjoyed at Septimus Keen. The sense of playful excitement and experimentation that were hallmarks of the early years is evident in these charming images.
Experimentation with Eastern religions and beliefs and those of a more esoteric nature very much informed the outlook and attitudes of the early residents.
Later to become a regular destination for village outings this plate shows Septimus Keen recording the recently discovered `Dark Hole’ which lay just outside the village.
After Marcus Swift chose the village of Septimus Keen to recover from his near fatal crash on the Bexhill Seafront there was a brief craze among younger residents for assembling a convoy of sidecars and heading off into the countryside for picnics. This was brought to an end when a collision with the gates of Stonyhurst School drew attention to the unconventional commune and Septimus Mordecai Keen was forced to
ban all petrol driven vehicles from his village just as he had done newspapers a few years earlier. This heavy handed approach to maintaining the village’s integrity and survival was certainly one of the factors in the beginning of the end for the village of Septimus Keen.
Resident photographer Septimus Keen provides the evidence for much of what is known about the strange and secretive daily life in the village of Septimus Keen. Her images and radical feminist views make her possibly the most significant resident after that of founder Septimus Mordecai Keen himself. Here is a self-portrait of Septimus with another of the village’s more well-known residents who before being invited to join the commune had performed for Princess Alexandra at Windsor Castle with a young Charlie Chaplin and The Eight Lancashire Lads
The Strigenforme Sisters from Hanover where, at Septimus Keen’s invitation, the first residents from overseas to arrive at the village but their unwillingness to adopt the communal name unfortunately meant their stay was a very short one.
It is believed that it was their ability to mimic birdsongs that amused and intrigued the village’s founder and lead to him paying for their journey from Prussi…a to Lancashire. It is even rumoured that they were able to reproduce a full dawn chorus using just their combined vocal mimicry
As with so many former residents it is not know what happened to them when they left the village…..but it is said that if you listen carefully as the sun comes up on a still summers morning they can still be heard in the countryside around the deserted village
A day trip to `the dark hole’ for the villagers of Septimus Keen.
A couple of photos showing the leisure activities of village members. From cricket matches on the green which would involve everyone in the village either playing, catering or simply sitting back and enjoy the sound of leather on willow.
The children were encouraged to express their artistic side and would often put on impromptu plays based on folk legends, heroic poems and tales of high adventure that would occasionally make their way into the village from the outside world.
These images have recently come to light from scrapbooks found in the vicarage of St. Mary’s and All Saints in the nearby village of Whalley. Research continues
There is still no explanation for the curious spheres that appeared buried on the outskirts of Septimus Keen. Many of the day’s top scientists and psychics gathered to examine them and exchange theories. Inevitably comparisons were drawn with the famous `Land Spheres’ of Yorkshire’s Black Meadow despite the lack of luminosity from those at the village of Septimus Keen. A series of leylines and old bridle paths that run through both villages are rumoured to intersect at Hobbs Lane in East London.
Another example of the experimental work being carried out by the scientific minds of Septimus Keen. Frustratingly nothing remains of their pioneering work other than a handful of photographs – so we unfortunately have no idea of what became of either one of these two.
Some of the nation’s greatest minds were lost/absorbed into the ranks of Septimus Keens. It is a testament to their belief in Septimus Mordecai Keen’s visionary experiment that they accepted the anonymity of becoming a village member. Of course the very fact they could hide away in such a liberal and anonymous community also allowed them to experiment on the very edges of what scociety considered acceptable – and beyond.
One of the more eccentric Septimus’ and his `Time Travel Device’ – no one knows what happened to him or his machine but they were both noted as absent when the village was finally closed down.
The village of Septimus Keen is considered by some as the birthplace of EVP research – recent analysis of the recordings made inside the electric pentacle have revealed an almost constant drone of voices and unexplained sounds that has left one of our researchers a gibbering wreck and seen the cylinders locked up in the basements of Cox & Co for everyone’s safety and sanity