Alfred Ernest Scanlan was initiated into the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn at its Horus Temple in Bradford Yorkshire, between March 1893 and the end of that year. He chose the simple and relevant Latin motto ‘Medicus’. Although the 1890s were a particularly busy time in his life, and despite not actually living in Bradford, he was able to do the study necessary to progress further in the Order; and was initiated into its inner, 2nd Order in April 1896. It was only when and if you had that second initiation that the GD allowed you to do any practical magic. As the records of the Horus Temple have been lost, it’s not possible to say how long Alfred remained an active member of it; though evidence from elsewhere suggests he was still in touch with GD members in 1901 and as late as 1908.

Alfred was one of a small group of GD members who lived in Middlesbrough. He was the link between two of the others, fellow GP William Charles Hopgood and music teacher Arthur Wilson, who were initiated at the Horus Temple during 1894.

This is one of my short biographies. They mostly cover GD members who lived in Bradford, Liverpool and Edinburgh. I’ve done what I can with those people, using the web and sources in London. I’m sure there’s far more information on them out there, but it will be in record offices, the local papers...I’d need to be on the spot to look at them, and I’ve had to admit that life’s too short!

Sally Davis

February 2016



A couple of weeks ago I was contacted by Alfred’s great-grandson Richard Merson, who has been investigating his family’s history. Thanks, Richard, for sending me copies of all those documents and generally clearing up points of family history that had puzzled me before. Richard has also pursued Alfred through the local newspapers and has sent me news of his busy life as a citizen of Middlesbrough. So the biography is now not so very short!

So the information below is now what I and Richard Merson have found on ALFRED ERNEST SCANLAN.


There’s nothing by or about him in the GD collections at the Freemasons’ Library and the Warburg Institute; and as I’ve said above, no records remain of the GD in Bradford. However, one letter to him, and his reply, have been published in the Collected Letters of W B Yeats; and a copy of his natal chart is in the Yeats archive in the National Library of Ireland.

One of the two letters is a copy of an original sent by Yeats to Scanlan, undated but thought to be from around January 1901. It was, perhaps, a difficult letter for Yeats to write, which is why a copy exists: it might have taken several attempts to get the wording right. Yeats wanted to ask Alfred if someone confessing to a Roman Catholic or high Anglican priest was obliged to mention that they were a GD member; or that people they knew were. Quite why Yeats should be asking Alfred this question is something the editors of Yeats’ letters don’t have an answer to; and I certainly don’t have one. But the editors do suggest why Yeats was asking it now: the woman he loved, Maud Gonne - who had been in the GD for a brief period - was preparing to convert to Roman Catholicism in order to marry a Catholic. A long confession of past sins was a part of the process and Yeats was obviously worried about how much information she would have to give away. Alfred replied that he thought not, on both counts; which Yeats was probably very glad to hear.

As to Yeats’ having Alfred’s natal chart, it is with a group that have the date 1908 attached to them: quite a while after the GD had fallen apart into its two daughter orders.

There are no other letters from Alfred amongst Yeats’ papers, but perhaps Alfred and W B Yeats knew each other better, and for longer, than you would think.


Collected Letters of W B Yeats Volume III 1901-94 p18.

At, the National Library of Ireland. Its Collection List 60: Occult Papers of W B Yeats, Mss 34,270 and 36,273-36,285. Ms 36, 274/11. Other charts in the group are those of the spiritualist William Stainton Moses; and GD member Edmund Hunter and both his sons - Edmund had married Yeats’ friend, GD member Dorothea Butler.


Yes indeed, and it’s almost certainly through them that Alfred discovered the GD’s existence.

Alfred was a freemason, though there are no records of him at the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE) held at the Freemasons’ Library (FML) in London; and until Richard Merson told me, I didn’t know he’d had any involvement in the Craft. Alfred’s absence from the FML means two things. Firstly, it indicates that Alfred kept his involvement very local – he didn’t ever hold regional, let alone national, office in the UGLE. Secondly, it suggests he was not sufficiently interested in masonry’s history, or its metaphysical side, to write about any aspect of them or to join one of the orders that specialised in them (the Knights Templar, for example, or SRIA - Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia).

Alfred was initiated into North York Lodge 602 in 1886. North York Lodge 602 was pre-eminent amongst Craft lodges in and around Middlesbrough. It had been founded in 1852 and in its first fifty years, 17 mayors of Middlesbrough were members of it. It was, therefore, a great compliment to Alfred that he was offered membership of it. With the exception of a three-year gap, he continued to be a member until at least 1921. The three-year gap came between 1896 and 1899; both Richard Merson and I think that it is significant that those three years come immediately after Alfred reached the inner order of the GD. In Alfred’s second period of membership of 602, he made his way up the hierarchy of officers, ending with a year as the lodge’s Worshipful Master in 1909/10.

At the end of Alfred’s 12 months as WM of lodge 602, a new lodge was consecrated in Middlesbrough - Erimus Lodge 3474. Alfred served as its first WM. However, he only remained as a member for a few years, resigning in 1913.

Alfred’s son James Ernest Scanlan was also a freemason, active in Middlesbrough; he was probably introduced to the craft by his father.


Alfred’s official application to join the TS is dated November 1891. At that time, all applicants had to have references - two sponsors who were already members. Alfred’s references were impeccable, making his acceptability a foregone conclusion; they also indicate that he’d been a TS member for much longer than his application date suggests – in its early years in the 1880s the TS wasn’t very good at keeping membership records! Alfred’s sponsors were Walter Richard Old (later known as Walter Gorn Old) and G R S Mead, two members of the very select inner circle that Helena Petrovna Blavatsky formed around herself when she took up residence in London in 1887.

G R S Mead was co-editor (with Annie Besant) of the theosophical magazine Lucifer for much of the 1890s, and published a series of books on aspects of the occult. W R Old was a qualified doctor, though he doesn’t seem ever to have practised. I’ve tried to find out where Old trained, without success. Consequently I’m not able to prove it, but it is possible that he and Alfred were medical students together - they were about the same age. An interest in astrology links Alfred with W B Yeats and also with W R Old: Old was an acknowledged expert on the subject, working and publishing as Sepharial. Old became general secretary to the TS’s British Section when it was founded in October 1889, so he probably processed Alfred’s application himself.

Alfred didn’t act as sponsor to new TS members himself very often, but in September 1893 he did do so for Thomas J Charlton of Middlesbrough, a friend of his I would suppose. Where he was active as a TS member was in helping to found Middlesbrough TS Lodge, in June 1893. GD member Arthur Wilson was also a member of this; though GD member William Charles Hopgood was not in the TS at all.

The early 1890s saw a rapid expansion of the TS in Britain, but a dispute within the TS worldwide brought that phase to an end in 1894-95. The dispute was, essentially, over who should lead the TS and in what direction, now that Blavatsky was dead. It became very vitriolic, and eventually very public. Many members resigned in disgust or despair at how the dispute was being handled. Many more just stopped paying their yearly sub, and it seems Alfred Scanlan was one of those; by December 1897, his membership was judged to have lapsed. Any theosophy that he read or discussed or believed after that was purely a private affair and he had his membership of the GD as a western-esotericism based alternative; the GD was another esoteric group rent from time to time by noisy dispute, but most of its squabbles never became public knowledge.


Particularly in Bradford, men’s involvement in freemasonry, theosophy and the GD was so inter-twined that it’s impossible to separate them. The web of relationships extended to the nearby towns as well, through regional meetings, exchanges of hospitality, and talks given by speakers visiting from other groups. Oliver Firth is a fine example of this: a freemason in Baildon Lodge 1545 from 1892 as well as very active in both the TS and the GD in Bradford. In the early 1890s Firth also travelled all over northern England giving lectures at other TS lodges. In November 1893, he went to Middlesbrough TS to speak on Karma, Free Will and Fate. Firth and other theosophists in Bradford also worked with members of the TS in Middlesbrough to set up the magazine The Northern Theosophist, which ran for two years in the early 1890s.

Alfred could also have met the Bradford-based jeweller Thomas Henry Pattinson any time from the late 1880s. Pattinson was also in Baildon Lodge 1545; and he was a founder of both the TS and GD lodges in Bradford. Pattinson’s web of contacts stretched further than Firth’s, though - he had links with occultists and freemasons in London for many years, including with Dr William Wynn Westcott, one of the GD’s founders. So Alfred could have found out about the GD’s existence, and been offered initiation, quite easily, through acquaintances in Yorkshire.



Craft lodge membership and subscription records held at UGLE, but now also online at Ancestry; though the records go only as far as 1921 which is why I can’t be certain how long Alfred was a freemason or when James Ernest Scanlan was first initiated.

On freemasons’ lodges in Middlesbrough:

See This website focuses on lodges that are still in existence so does not have a page on Erimus Lodge 3474.

Lane’s Masonic Records at During Scanlan’s lifetime both 602 and 3474 met at Middlesbrough’s FMH in Marton Road. 3474 was erased 2006 because of its lack of members. Warrant October 1910; constituted 23 November 1910.

Alfred’s two years as WM: North Eastern Daily Gazette 23 November 1910, seen by Richard Merson.


Theosophical Society Membership Register September 1891-January 1893 p21 entry for Alfred Ernest Scanlan, with details of addresses during his period of membership; which lodges he was a member of; and when he ceased to be a member (usually this was by not paying the yearly subscription for three successive years). “Lapsed 12 97".

Walter Old and G R S Mead both have pages on wikipedia.

Website Old’s appointment as general secretary of the TS in Britain.

Alfred as sponsor: Theosophical Society Membership Register June 1893 to March 1895 p35.

Lucifer: A Theosophical Magazine Volume XII covers March-August 1893. Edited by Annie Besant, published by the Theosophical Publishing Society of 7 Duke Street Adelphi. Volume XII number 70 issued 15 June 1893 p341 in the news section: formation of Middlesbrough TS Lodge.

Lucifer: A Theosophical Magazine Volume XIII covers September 1893 to February 1894. Editor Annie Besant, published by the Theosophical Publishing Society of 7 Duke Street Adelphi. Volume XIII number 75 issued 15 November 1893 news item p254: Oliver Firth’s talk at Middlesbrough TS Lodge. And Volume XIII number 76 issued 15 December 1893 p265 involvement of members of Middlesbrough Lodge in setting up the magazine The Northern Theosophist.


No. A local paper published a short report of his death.


Alfred’s father James appears in official records as both ScanlOn and as ScanlAn; I shall spell his name with the ‘o’ to distinguish him from his son James who also figures in this biography. However, Alfred seems to have stuck to Scanlan with the ‘a’.


Alfred was the youngest child in the kind of complex family now more familiar as a result of divorce but which in the 19th century was due to the early death of spouses. Alfred’s father James Scanlon was a jeweller and watch-maker who had come to England from Sligo. In 1851, as a widower with four sons and one daughter, he married Margaret Woolmer, a widow with two sons. They then had three children together, of whom Alfred, born 1857, was the youngest.

All three of James and Margaret Scanlon’s children were born in Chester, but by the day of the 1861 census the family had moved to Cambridge Street, Chorlton-upon-Medlock, Manchester. Most of James’ children were living elsewhere by then, including his son James, of whom more later; but Edward and Robert Scanlon were still at home. So also were Margaret’s sons Samuel and William Woolmer; and her children with James Scanlon - Oliver aged 9; Selina aged 6; and Alfred. The census official was obviously very confused as to who was whom in this big family: he wrote down all the children’s surnames as Scanlon, and called Alfred, Ernest.

By census day 1871 James and Margaret had moved out of Manchester to Ruthin in Denbighshire, a town Margaret had lived in during her first marriage; the Cotton Famine which resulted from the American civil war may have forced James to look elsewhere for customers. James Scanlon was away on census day, and the number of children at home with Margaret at 11 Llanfair Street was much reduced – just Samuel Woolmer, Selina Scanlon, and Alfred. Samuel was working as a printer; Selina, now 16, was working in her father’s business; and Alfred was still at school.

Alfred began to train for a career in medicine in 1875 and never lived in his parents’ household again.


Watchmakers and Clockmakers of the World volume 1 p689 has an entry in 1848 for a James Scanlon who was working in Rhyl Wales in 1848; I think he is probably Alfred’s father.


Birth certificate of Alfred Ernest Scanlan seen by Richard Merson.

Census information: 1871, 1881.


I don’t know where Alfred went to school; but his medical education was a sign of the changing times in which he and his older siblings were living. Whereas earlier in the century, most general practitioners learned on the job from a physician already in practice, by the time Alfred began his training qualifications were becoming important. It was desirable, if not yet necessary, to take the exams of the Scottish or English colleges of physicians and surgeons and be licensed by them to practice. By the time Alfred’s son started his medical training in the early years of the 20th century, you could not practice, nor hold any public medical appointment, without university qualifications and RCP and RCS licensing.

In late 19th century terms Alfred was a thoroughly modern GP: he trained as a physician and surgeon at the Victoria University in Manchester and Anderson’s College in Glasgow. He was licensed to practice LRCP and LRCS Edinburgh in March 1881 and graduated MB and MS from the University of Glasgow in 1886.


On the day of the 1881 census, which came only a few weeks after he was licensed to practice, Alfred was living at Snaith in Yorkshire gaining some experience in general practice. Then he moved to the Linthorpe district of Middlesbrough, to go into partnership with his older half-brother James Scanlon or Scanlan. James Scanlan had trained in the old-fashioned way, by serving an apprenticeship with local physician Dr Williams. No doubt he knew his business, but James never gained any qualifications. He died in the autumn of 1882 aged only 40; but even if he had lived, he would not have been eligible for the new, paid posts of medical officer in poor law hospitals and local councils; Alfred was eligible, however, and was employed during the 1890s as Medical Officer to the Middlesbrough Poor Law Union, working in its Second District.

William Charles Hopgood also lived and practised in Linthorpe so he and Alfred must have known each as fellow professionals at least.


Freebmd, census 1881, 1891.

Via to the Minutes of the General Council of Medical Education (the GMC) volume XIV issued 1877: Alfred Ernest Scanlan and a couple of other doctors had asked that the start of their medical training be backdated to October 1875; the GMC granted their request.

The Students’ Journal and Hospital Gazette 1880 p200 Alfred Ernest Scanlan of Chester is in a list, presumably of those who have just passed their final exams.

GMC registers (which first appear in 1887). If you were only in private practice you didn’t have to register and Alfred didn’t do so until 1899; from then until 1927, however, he’s in all the issues. In 1899 his address was Brynheulog, Princes Road Middlesbrough but by 1903 he’d moved to Westbrook, elsewhere in Linthorpe, and that’s where the practice remained at least until ill-health forced Alfred to retire, at some time during the 1920s.

Report on the death of Dr Alfred Ernest Scanlan from an unidentified newspaper, collected at the time by a family member and now owned by Richard Merson.


I haven’t found any.

ALFRED’S OTHER LEISURE PURSUITS, which were many and varied. This section was researched by Richard Merson in Middlesbrough’s newspapers.

I’m not quite sure that being a local councillor is a leisure pursuit but I’m including Alfred’s years in Middlesbrough’s civic life here. In November 1893, he stood in Middlesbrough’s Newport Ward. However, he chose not to stand again in the elections held in November 1896. I imagine he had found the commitments of a Councillor, added to his medical work, just too much for him; in 1891 he was employing an assistant to help with surgical operations, but from James Scanlan’s death until after World War 1 he had no partner. I asked Richard Merson if he knew which political party Alfred had represented on the Council. He sent copies of two articles in the local papers from 1893 and 1896; as a result of which I have no more idea than before! Perhaps it doesn’t matter: in 1893, Alfred stood unopposed; and even having three candidates contesting his seat in 1896 had generated “Little excitement” in the town. Democracy seems to have been rather moribund in Middlesbrough in the 1890s.

More in the established ‘free time’ mode is Alfred’s decision to enter the Long Newton Agricultural Society show in 1900. He showed his own cob in the show’s ‘ponies’ section; and won a prize.

Alfred was also a keen cyclist and an active member of a cycling club in Middlesbrough, serving on its committee and organising its first aid crew.

As Richard remarked to me – you wonder how Alfred found time for his medical practice! The 1890s seem to have been a particularly hectic period.


1891 80 St Paul’s Terrace: his home, not the address of the GP surgery

1893 The Surgery, Feltham Place Middlesbrough; not his home


In 1885, Alfred further complicated the relationships in his family by marrying his sister-in-law Jemima Sayce, at Stockon-on-Tees; Alfred’s half-brother James Scanlan had married Martha Sayce. Jemima and Martha’s father, Evan Sayce, had been born in Cardigan, west Wales, and the family was proud of its Welsh heritage. Evan had been working in the south Wales iron industry in 1866, when Jemima was born in Brynmawr. However, iron-working was an industry particularly subject to boom and bust, with the inevitable redundancies; and by census day 1871 the family was in Middlesbrough, with Evan working as the foreman at an iron foundry. On census day 1881, he was still living in Middlesbrough, but was unemployed. Jemima, too, was still in Middlesbrough; she had gone to live with her elder sister Ann, in Marsh Road Linthorpe. Ann had married William Walters, who worked in a rolling mill.

On the day of the 1891 census, Alfred and Jemima were living at 80 Newport Road Middlesbrough with their children Lena Nesta (born 1887) and James Ernest (born 1890). Alfred’s father, James Scanlon, had died in 1882 and his mother Margaret had come to live with them. Also in the household that census day was Alfred’s employee James Cormac, described as a “surgical assistant”. In addition to Mr Cormac, the Scanlans’ income was large enough for them to employ a nurse/housemaid, and one general servant. Imagine what a big step up into the middle classes it was for Alfred and Jemima, to afford servants – neither family had ever had servants when they were children.

Margaret Scanlon died in 1892 and it may have been at this point that Alfred and Jemima moved into Westbrook, at 5 Cambridge Road, where they remained until Alfred’s death. It was still term-time on census day 1901, so Nesta Scanlan was at the Welsh Girls’ School in Ashford in Middlesex; but Alfred, Jemima and James were at home. James Cormac had left the household. Jemima’s father Evan Sayce had moved in; he died a few months later, aged 76. Alfred and Jemima could afford to pay Nesta’s school-fees and still employ two servants, a cook and a housemaid.

On census day 1911 Alfred, Jemima and Nesta Scanlan were at home in Westbrook. Though the household was a little smaller, but in an age where families were reducing the number of their servants, Alfred and Jemima were still employing two – they were now very comfortably off. In 1905, James Scanlan had started as a pupil at Epsom College in Surrey; the school had been founded to educate the sons of physicians. He left the school in 1909 to begin his medical training at St Mary’s Hospital; but census day 1911 fell during the Easter vacation and he had gone to stay with a friend he had made at Epsom – Owen Deane Brownfield, who was also studying medicine. Owen’s father, Harry Munyard Brownfield, was a GP in Petersfield and the family lived at The Old College Petersfield.

The plans of Alfred and Jemima for James Ernest to become Alfred’s partner in the medical practice were delayed by World War One, but father and son were working together by 1923. Alfred’s last entry in the GMC Registers was in the list of 1927.


Census 1891, 1901, 1911.

Epsom College: see

- the Epsom College Register 1855-1905 p267

- atelim/com//epsom-college-1855-1899

- // especially for the career of James Ernest’s friend Surgeon Rear-Admiral Owen Deane Brownfield (1891-1955) who remained in the Royal Navy after World War 1.

For Harry Munyard Brownfield and his family, and a photograph of their home in Petersfield, see


Alfred Ernest Scanlan died on 9 January 1930 after several years of ill-health. Jemima died in December 1941.


Probate registry entries 1930; 1942.


Alfred’s daughter Nesta never married. She died in 1977.


Alfred and Jemima’s son James joined the navy as soon as he was medically qualified, being made a temporary surgeon lieutenant in November 1916. He was sent to sea on the dangerous North Atlantic Patrol, but survived the war and returned to Middlesbrough to become the junior partner in his father’s GP practice, taking it over entirely when Alfred retired. In 1924 he married Lucy Emmett Pearson. They had two daughters, Patricia and Moira. James survived his mother by only a few months, dying in July 1942.

Richard Merson is one of Moira’s children.


Navy List of January 1919 p476 with a list of temporary surgeon-lieutenants appointed 1916.

London Gazette 9 November 1926 p7288 James acting as executor; current address

Brynhenlog, Princes Road Middlesbrough.

Probate Registry entry 1942.

BASIC SOURCES I USED for all Golden Dawn members.

Membership of the Golden Dawn: The Golden Dawn Companion by R A Gilbert. Northampton: The Aquarian Press 1986. Between pages 125 and 175, Gilbert lists the names, initiation dates and addresses of all those people who became members of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn or its many daughter Orders between 1888 and 1914. The list is based on the Golden Dawn’s administrative records and its Members’ Roll - the large piece of parchment on which all new members signed their name at their initiation. All this information had been inherited by Gilbert but it’s now in the Freemasons’ Library at the United Grand Lodge of England building on Great Queen Street Covent Garden. Please note, though, that the records of the Amen-Ra Temple in Edinburgh were destroyed in 1900/01. I have recently (July 2014) discovered that some records of the Horus Temple at Bradford have survived, though most have not; however those that have survived are not yet accessible to the public.

For the history of the GD during the 1890s I usually use Ellic Howe’s The Magicians of the Golden Dawn: A Documentary History of a Magical Order 1887-1923. Published Routledge and Kegan Paul 1972. Foreword by Gerald Yorke. Howe is a historian of printing rather than of magic; he also makes no claims to be a magician himself, or even an occultist. He has no axe to grind.

Family history: freebmd; (census and probate);; familysearch; Burke’s Peerage and Baronetage; Burke’s Landed Gentry; Armorial Families;; and a wide variety of family trees on the web.

Famous-people sources: mostly about men, of course, but very useful even for the female members of GD. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Who Was Who. Times Digital Archive.

Useful source for business and legal information: London Gazette and its Scottish counterpart Edinburgh Gazette. Now easy to find (with the right search information) on the web.

Catalogues: British Library; Freemasons’ Library.

Wikipedia; Google; Google Books - my three best resources. I also used other web pages, but with some caution, as - from the historian’s point of view - they vary in quality a great deal.


18 August 2019

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Find the web pages of Roger Wright and Sally Davis, including my list of people initiated into the Order of the Golden Dawn between 1888 and 1901, at: