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Stories that inspired M.R. James

Twelve tales of terror recommended by the master of the genre!

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Episode 20 – Speaker Lenthall’s Tomb

Sir Lawrence Tanfield's Tomb in Burford ChurchIn this episode Mike and Will head up the road to Burford to take a peek inside Speaker Lenthall’s Tomb by M.R. James!

Yes, it is another unpublished M.R. James manuscript fragment this week. The most complete version of this story is available in ‘Curious Warning: The Great Stories of M.R. James’ edited by Stephen Jones.

Show notes

  • William Lenthall, 1591 – 1662 (Wikipedia)
    The real Speaker Lenthall was a politician during the English Civil War, famous for standing up for the rights of parliament before King Charles I. For more information see www.parliament.uk
  • Oxford Movement (wikipedia)
    This story is set against the backdrop of the work of the Oxford Movement, also known as the ‘Tractarians’, who agitated for religious change within the Church of England in the first half of the 19th century.
  • Gothic Revival (wikipedia)
    M.R. James once again uses this story to take a swipe at the followers of the gothic architectural revival, whose renovations of English churches during the 19th century resulted in the destruction of many historic church interiors.
  • Burford Church (burfordchurch.org)
    The church that features in this story is St John the Baptist Church in Burford, West Oxfordshire. Check out the 360-degree view from the church tower, which gives a very nice view of the town as it looks today.
  • Tanfield Tomb (burfordchurch.org)
    The tomb in this story is based on that of an ancestor of Speaker William Lenthall, Sir Lawrence Tanfield. Like the tomb in the story, it fills up most of the north choir aisle of Burford Church, and largely matches the stories description.
  • Burford Priory (wikipedia)
    In the story Mr Cave and his family live in what was originally Burford Priory, now a very fancy private residence. Also see this pdf for images of the Priory as it was at the time of this story.
    Those in the UK can also watch this episode of ‘Time Team’ on 4oD in which they excavate the remains of the priory hospital beneith the front lawn! And finally, how do you link Speaker Lenthall to the phone hacking scandal? Easy!
  • More photos on Facebook (facebook.com)
    To see photos taken by Will of Burford Church, the Tanfield/Lenthall tomb and of Burford Priory, head over to our Facebook page.
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Episode 18 – An Episode of Cathedral History

An Episode of Cathedral History by Alisdair Wood

Illustration by Alisdair Wood (woodnart.blogspot.com)

This episode Will & Mike slip into their cassocks, whip out their prayerbooks and head down to Southminster for ‘An Episode of Cathedral History’ by M.R. James.

Questions answered in this episode:
– When is a vampire not a vampire?
– Do Lamia have hairy legs?
– What length of skirt do Mike and Will wear?

Big thanks go out to Roger Burton West who provided the readings, and Alisdair Wood for the awesome custom illustration on the right!

Show notes

  • The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens (wikipedia)
    This story refers twice to characters in Dickens’s famously unfinished novel ‘The Mystery of Edwin Drood’.
  • Rochester Cathedral (Monty’s World)
    There are various suggestions in the story that M.R. James may have had Rochester Cathedral in mind while writing this story.
  • Isaiah 34:14 (bible.cc)
    This website illustrated quite how much the Isaiah quote which appears in this story differs from one translation to another!
  • Lamia  & Satyr (wikipedia)
    The latin quotes in this story make reference to two creatures from Greek Mythology, the Lamia and the Satyr.
  • The Demon in the Cathedral by Rosemary Pardoe (Ghosts & Scholars)
    Apparently the plot of this story was used as part of a hoax played on Fate magazine in 1977!
  • The Lamia and the Screech-owl by Peter Bell (Ghosts & Scholars)
    This essay examines ‘An Episode of Cathedral History’ and discusses the mythical creatures mentioned in the story.
  • Charles Simeon (wikipedia)
    This story refers to ‘Simeon’s Lot’, a reference to the English evangelical preacher Charles Simeon, who James’s own father was a follower of.
  • Patrick J Murphy (Miami University) & Fred Porcheddu (Denison University)
    Patrick and Fred are two American academics who are conducting research into the medaevalist and antiquarian background of M.R. James’s stories.
  • Warnings to the Curious (Amazon.co.uk)
    During this episode we mention various essays which are featured in this book, including essays by Michael A. Mason, Jacqueline Simpson
  • A Pleasing Terror (Amazon.co.uk)
    The excellent footnotes on this story in the ‘A Pleasing Terror’ ebook were of great help to us when researching this story.
  • Speaker Lenthall’s Tomb (Ghosts & Scholars)
    The unfinished James tale dubbed by Rosemary Pardie ‘Speaker Lenthall’s Tomb’ bears some striking similarities to ‘An Episode of Cathedral History’.
  • The Gothic Revival (Wikipedia)
    It is an understatement to say that M.R. James was not a big fan of the architectural changes undertaken in British churches in the name of the gothic revival during the 18th and 19th century.
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