The Order of The Magi's first council
A kind of Magi
The Order of The Magi, Manchester's Magicians' Society, celebrates its centenary this year with a show at its current home, the Irish World Heritage Centre in Cheetham Hill – but its beginnings stretch back to a Peter Street barbershop.
In the early 1900s, Manchester's magicians met informally at the Medlock Street home of Harry Whiteley, a keen amateur conjuror and author. Harry held Sunday gatherings of local illusionists and any touring magicians who happened to be in the city, where magic would be debated and demonstrated.
George Panter and Charles Waite
Two regular attendees were George Panter and Charles Waite. George was a member of the recently formed Magic Circle in London, and soon realised that Manchester’s magical community were also in need of a formal society, so he enlisted the help of Charles and set about arranging an inaugural meeting.
Cutting hair to cutting cards
Charles was a local businessman, having a busy barbers and magic shop on Peter Street. It was here that an advert was posted inviting interested parties to attend a gathering at the Cities Hotel on Deansgate on Thursday 11 March 1909.
Around 30 magicians turned up and the society was duly formed, with George being elected as the first president and Charles as treasurer. Interestingly, Harry Whiteley didn’t take a position on the first council, despite his enthusiasm for magic.
Peter Street in 1904
The name, The Order of The Magi, was chosen both for its biblical connection to the three wise men and for its reference to the ancient priests of Zoroastrianism, who were seen as experts in sorcery.
Amongst those present was an 18 year old illusionist called Roland Bumby. Impressively, Roland’s involvement with the society lasted from that day until just before his death, aged 91, in 1982 and included being elected as president in 1967.
A year after that meeting, the order produced its first magazine, called The Magi. It was a two page hand-duplicated pamphlet which remained unchanged until 1950, when it was put into print and began increasing to the 24 page glossy it is today.
Order of merit
Of course, the order would be nothing without its members (now numbering around 100) and there are a fair few sizable names amongst its past members.
A magician performs Le Roy's levitation trick
Servais Le Roy, who invented the world famous levitating assistant illusion called Asrah The Floating Princess, was a member, as were Opportunity Knocks winner Bob Martell, TV presenter Mike MacLean, Nevil Maskelyne (who, alongside his career in magician, was a noted name in the field of early wireless technology) and David Devant, who was the most famous magician of his day and a prolific inventor of tricks.
It’s not a bad collection of names for a society that started with a poster in a barbers shop 100 years ago.
The Order of The Magi celebrate their centenary with shows at the Irish World Heritage Centre on Saturday 21 March, Sale Waterside Arts Centre on Friday 27 March and Bury Met on Saturday 28 March.
last updated: 04/03/2009 at 14:27