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The History of the Bristol Society of Magic

It is Ray White who could be called the founding member of the Bristol Society of Magic, who after becoming acquainted with several local magicians, sent out 23 invitations to all those magicians he knew of, inviting them to a meeting at his house at 155 Coronation Road with a view to forming a society. Eighteen magicians turned up on 8th February 1921 at Ray White's house where apart from possibly being a bit of a squeeze, it was unanimously decided that a society be formed.  

Mr E.H.C. Wethered was elected President (later to become a judge), Prof Herwin Vice-President (who was credited with inventing the Thumb Tip!), Mr Ernest Bradford Hon Treasurer, and Ray White was elected Honorary Secretary who then had the task of finding suitable premises for  the society to meet.  For the first 6 months the Café Baldwin on Baldwin Street in the city centre became the society’s first rendezvous until, with the membership growing, it moved to a photographer’s studio on Park Street for the next few years. During this period the society held its first public show at the Folk House College Green where during the interval there was a surprise for the audience in the person of Ching Wu, who came across in full regalia from the Bristol Hippodrome and . . . treated us to a fine display of magic.

With the growth of the membership, once again the society had to look around for larger and more convenient headquarters and these were found in the opulent Cavendish Club on High Street with its fully carpeted rooms and deeply upholstered chairs! In 1936 it moved again to the YMCA Theatre Trenchard Street where decades later it would stage it’s sell out annual shows in the 60s & 70s. With the outbreak of war in 1939 it was decided to suspend activities until brighter times arrived.

After the war the society moved through numerous venues including Wolseley Hall, Redding Road, Eastville owned by a member Cecil Abbot, a room in a house inn Aberdeen Road, Clifton, a room in Radiant House, Colston Street, a room in the city centre’s South Western Electricity Company building, church halls in Clifton and Bishopston as well as naming the Royal Hotel College Green (now the Marriot City Centre) as the society’s HQ where more prestigious meetings and dinners were held. 

The Society was later to meet at the Moose Hall on Jacob’s Wells Road, The Bristol Lions Club HQ in a large basement room in Charlotte Street at the top of Park Street (parking was awful), a spartan one storey church hall in Kingswood for 25 years and finally to its present venue at the Vassall Centre Fishponds.

For many years Ray White and Vaughan Coleman were Hon. Vice Presidents, whilst Ernest Wethered, or the “Judge” as he was affectionately known was our President for 50 years until 1971 probably making him the longest serving President ever of a magic society (or any society?).  

The great achievement of the society is its own convention the Bristol Day of Magic inaugurated by Roy Darnley in 1961, it celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2010. After outgrowing several venues in Bishopston, Filton, Bedminster and Thornbury,  in 1994 it moved to Weston Super Mare where it is held across two fantastic venues at the Winter Gardens and Playhouse Theatre.  High profile lecturers and professional artists from Europe and the USA are featured at the convention and it has become the largest one day convention in the UK.

The BSM has grown into one of the leading provincial magic societies, in part by the profile given to it by the Bristol Day of Magic. The Society celebrated its 75th anniversary in 1996 and was 90 years old in 2011. Its centenary will be in 2020 -2021 season.

(Partly adapted from an article written by Ray White in The Bristol Magician Dec 1951)


 
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