Sunday, 26 August 2012

Strange Aeons - Hon. Basil Ignatious Howard G.C.

Hon. Basil Ignatious Howard.

Hon. Basil Ignatious Howard G.C.

The Hon. Basil Ignatious Howard was born in May 1880, the second son of Lord Burford, Earl of Gloucester. His early years were spent at the family home of Bramish Hall, just outside Fulbrook, under the watchful eye of his Nanny Pewsey. At the age of seven he was sent to boarding school where he began his long academic career. The greatest influence in the formative years of his life was that of William Winstanley, his personal tutor. Winstanley was himself a student of the occult and a member of the recently formed Golden Dawn, an occult society with its history in the Rosicrucian Society of England. A close friend of Dr William Wynn Westcott, Winstanley had progressed through the ranks of the Masons and was welcomed into the Golden Dawn when it formed in 1887. This obsession nurtured an interest in the young Basil and Winstanley slowly introduced him to the religious and historical aspects of the occult. In his teenage years his depth of reading increased and by the time he was to attend Harrow his knowledge allowed him to focus his studies on this chosen subject. Howard later attended Oxford, as a student of comparative religion and it was at this time he was to last see his mentor. William Winstanley had set off for far away continents in search of lost cities. It would be the last time anyone was to see Winstanley alive again. No trace was found of his disappearance.

Following university, Howard worked in research at the British Museum for several years, but found this to be too unfulfilling. This prompted his resignation from the Museum and his joining with his old school chum Henry 'Harry' Winstanley on a trip to the Americas. Harry Winstanley was the nephew of William and the son of Hugh Wallace, the Earl of Thewkes, and he too shared a fascination in the occult. The two, along with Harry's friend Dr Frederick Sunderland, an archaeologist, decided first to travel to South America and research ancient civilisations and religions there, but the trip was curtailed early on in Iquitos on the Amazon in Peru. . For reasons they never divulged, what happened there resulted in the death of Dr Sunderland and a hasty retreat to the United States soon followed. After some travelling the two young men stopped in the town of Arkham, Mass. Settling here for a year Howard gained employment at the Miskatonic University as a researcher. Before long the intrepid duo set out on several funded field expeditions across the globe for the University and made many incredible discoveries.

In 1906, Howard returned to London. His father had died from poor health and his father’s executor had called him back to England to receive his inheritance. His older brother, Christian, inherited the main estate at Bramish and became Lord Burford. Basil inherited the families London holdings and a substantial amount of money, allowing him the freedom of independent wealth.

The following year Howard, now circulating in the London occultist sets, met with Arthur Edward Waite, the famed occultist and current leader of The Golden Dawn. Howard enjoyed a brief spell in the Outer Order, making many contacts in Masonic and occultist circles, some due to his association with William Winstanley. In early 1908, under the guidance of Waite, Howard set up his own club with the intention of attracting students of the occult to somewhere they could go to be among those with similar interests. Howard raised capital by the sale of some of his London properties, then reinvested in a luxurious building in the elegant St. James area on Pall Mall. This was the most popular for gentleman's clubs, such as The Carlton, The Reform and The Athenaeum, and Howard decided it would be the most appropriate area for him to attract the right class of clientele. Its several rooms included a library, a study, a smoking lounge, a billiards room, a meeting hall and a small dining area. Howard staffed it with some of the best chefs, valets and stewards in London, stocked the cellars with the finest European foods and wines and ensured the library was as comprehensive as possible. Howard deemed that regular monthly meetings, with speakers and open discussion, would be necessary to retain the basis of the club and its intentions. In honour of his and Harry Winstanley's friend, the club was named The Sunderland Club. Its initial members, included eminent occultists, historians, archaeologists and authors such as Dr Ernest Blackwood, Michael James Wolfe, Harry Winstanley, Dr George Herbert and William Augustus Winstanley, Harry's younger brother. With members of this stature the club grew quickly and became well regarded within the year. Membership had increased to one hundred and fifty eight by 1914, a number that looked likely to grow steadily, but this was not to be. The problems in Europe had escalated and in August of 1914, Britain went to war with Germany. Howard joined the 24th foot regiment as a lieutenant and over the course of the war was to see much fighting. Howard fought at the first battle of Ypres in 1915 and the disaster at the Somme in 1916. Following this traumatic battle, he found himself promoted to Captain and transferred to Palestine, due to his smattering of Arabic. Serving under Viscount Allenby Howard fought at the victories of Beersheba, Gaza, Jerusalem and Damascus in 1918. By the end of the war Howard had been promoted to Major and had received the Gold Cross, the 1914-15 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal.

Howard spent the next two years in Egypt, studying the culture and history of the land. Howard returned to London again in late October 1920 to re-open the Sunderland Club. The old members flocked back to the club, some bringing new initiates with them. A younger member, Count Josef Von Sondergaard, had travelled to America during the war years and formed a small American wing of the club. Several members of the American wing were to join including the eminent French occultist and spiritualist Emile Lagaronne. The club continued its growth. Howard allowed the senior members of the club to run it on a day to day basis but remained the Chairman. He returned to his research work and spent much time abroad on exploratory missions with Harry and Jonathan Winstanley.

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