My clearest memory of Nicholas Bishop-Culpeper is meeting him on my first visit to England. Sunday, January 28, 1990, was the last day of a month-long research trip. A leisurely day in the country with my pen-pal and his family, away from the hustle and bustle of London, sounded like the perfect way to end my trip.
I expect I wasn’t the first young, shaggy-haired, wide-eyed Thelemite—dressed more for comfort than for fashion—to land on Nick’s doorstep. Yet the genuine cheer and hospitality he showed this cold and weary traveler was truly heartwarming. He was delighted to show the collection he’d built since the 1960s to someone who shared his passion. And what a collection it was! Rare first editions. Rare variations of first editions. Books with ownership inscriptions and marginalia by Aleister Crowley. And so on. He described years wandering various used bookstalls and fairs, “If I saw anything from the right time period, I’d flip through it or look at the index to see if there was any mention of Crowley.”
We’d barely scratched the surface and my head was reeling when suddenly he announced it was pub time. So we walked down the hill and entered what to an American resembled someone’s living room…except it had lots of chairs filled with people who knew Nick. We had light conversation over a pint—just long enough for me to regain my faculties—then returned to the collection. He unveiled ephemera like original newspaper clippings or volumes of the Cambridge and Granta undergraduate magazines to which Crowley had contributed. Just as I thought for a second time that my head might explode, his mum walked in with tea and biscuits. This overwhelming-then-distracting pattern characterized my visit: Tea, books, more pub, more books, dinner, yet more Crowleyana, then finally back to the train station.
I departed Newport that evening with a stack of books and ephemera—some purchased from his catalog, others generously given to help with my research. He also promised to mail photocopies of other material from his collection. Nick’s generosity and helpfulness—ever eager to answer questions and provide information—replayed itself many times over the years our friendship. He was similarly behind the scenes for many important Crowley-related works, from the big blue brick Magick to 21st century biographies of the Beast.
Before leaving Nick’s home that evening, I wanted to commemorate his tremendous friendship and hospitality. I asked him select the most valuable book in his collection and pose with me for a photo. The result, I think, sums up Nick’s delightful sense of humor, and gives some insight into why he is beloved and missed by so many.