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FA I TH


Contemporary amulets


To accompany Wellcome Collection’s 2011 exhibition Charmed Life: The solace of objects, anthropologist Nathalia Bruchet took to the streets of London to discover whether present-day Londoners carried amulets. Though they may not have defined them as such, Bruchet’s interviewees kept or carried charm bracelets, milk teeth, stones, brooches and pieces of paper. These highly personalised objects made their owners feel safe, secure and hopeful, and would cause anxiety if lost. One of the interviewees worried, however, about developing unhealthy attachments to objects, which might become encumbrances.


Edward Lovett


Blue glass beads UK RRa0178 / 1985.51.72 Pitt Rivers Museum


Around the time of World War I, blue necklaces like this were put around the necks of working-class London children to be worn as preventative charms against bronchitis. They were never removed – even for washing – and remained on the body after death.


London districts where blue amulet necklaces were collected Sketch Edward Lovett, 1914 L0051628 Wellcome Images


Edward Lovett (1852–1933), a bank clerk in the City of London, lived in Croydon but spent his spare time visiting working-class areas of London to collect material from herbalists, costermongers and dock workers. His 1916 exhibition The Folklore of London was held in the Wellcome Historical Medical Museum and he later published Magic of Modern London, now available as a Wellcome mobile app.


…for the seeker after amulets,


there is no better hunting ground than the hawkers’ handbarrows in the poorest parts or slums of


such dense aggregations of people as London, Rome, and Naples.


Edward Lovett writing in Folklore, 1909 Read


Roud S. London Lore: The legends and traditions of the world’s most vibrant city. London: Arrow Books; 2010.


— 199 — …many things which by our defi nition are amulets


are to their users merely medicines just as simple and as natural


in their actions as the decoctions of roots and herbs… Should an


inquirer ask merely about ‘amulets’ in use, he is likely to be given little information… Should, however, the inquirer ask concerning


medicines which are to be carried or kept, he will be far more likely to get information of the very sort he seeks…


Walter Hildburgh writing in Folklore, 1951


Lovett considered that researchers ‘of folk-beliefs and articles connected with them’ met with far more difficulties than other collectors, since ardent believers might be averse to exposing ‘sacred things’ to an outsider. Unbelievers might also be reluctant to share information about superstitions they thought degrading. Lovett himself was dismissive about the idea that amulets could work as magical objects.


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