In Memoriam: Nicholas Bishop-Culpeper
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.
Owner and Editor
Wow! I'd forgotten Nick once had hair that wasn't snow white! I first met him about 25 years ago when I was compiling my Aleister Crowley Scrapbook. I visited him twice shortly before he died, and was amazed that his copy of that modest effort had been treated like all the rarities on his shelves: preserved in as near mint state as possible, with relevant material laid in. There was my first letter to him asking to buy stuff from one of his fascinating little lista, along with a xerox of the launch invite and a card from Tim d'Arch Smith commenting on the folks seen there: "Weird, eh?!" Nick was still on form on those visits, showing us rare telegrams and cards from Jimmy Page about their buying adventures and parceling out reference material and ephemera to be passed to friends before he went,"because I'm a great believer in things going to the right people". He never complained. His typically understated message on being given two months to live was, "Sandy, I've had a bit of bad news". He was a descendant of Nicholas Culpeper the early herbalist, and could trace his family tree back to Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. Apart from AC, he was an expert Ripperana man, a researcher of old Essex murders, a motorcycle afficionado and a fan of the films of Roger Corman. His funeral is 22 feb at Cambridge crematorium with a meeting of friends afterwards at the Fleur De Lys in Widdington. As many of us who knew him have been invited to turn up and be as irreverent as possible. No tears, please - he wouldn't have wanted them! What a gentleman, in every sense of the word. It was a privilege to know him. - Sandy Robertson.
I didn't know Nicholas, but I do have a fond memory of him that I would like to share, as it was important to me and I haven't forgotten it after all these years. At one time, I did purchase some items from him. It was back in those days when I was going through a feeding frenzy on all things Crowley, as many of us have. It was probably back in the early 80's e.v. when I placed the order from a list I had received. When I received the items I ordered and I do not remember what they were, I remember being struck by the masthead he used in the letter that came with it. It had at the top A.C.'s Baphomet Grand Master symbol, but at the bottom it had a quote from Liber LXV ii 35...
"Where now is the Master? cry the little crazy boys.
He is dead! He is shamed! He is wedded! and their mockery shall ring around the world."
Now, at this point I had only begun my studies and I had not yet even seen the Holy Books. I saw this quote and thought, WTF? What could that possibly mean? Of course, years later I was able to gain some insight into an answer to that question. But at the time, it really enflamed my interest and created a further spark within me to want to know more! Anyway, I just wanted to pass that story on. Though I did not know Nicholas, I do credit him with having a positive influence on me.
Nick Culpeper was a man that lots of people heard across a crowded book launch. He had a distinctive and frequent laugh and a great fund of anecdotes. You'd know him if you saw him in his blue velvet jacket and stripey shirt, one arm across his beer stomach and the other supporting his chin. He had a good life away from the occult circuit with books, beer, 'birds' and bikes being his pleasures but film ran them all a close second.
He had a great delight in his obsessions and was obviously very knowledgeable about Crowley and Ripperdom. His catalogues were jampacked with books and can hardly claim to have been designed - except to use every possible space.
We have all read '...a short illness bravely borne'. In Nick's case it was true. I saw him a bout three weeks ago and there was no gallows humour, no endlessly listing every twinge, no self pity. Just bravery. He'll be furtling about in the back of the Akashic Records by now, unearthing obscure references knowing he can roar off to the pub on his bike with no regard for speed limits.
The Atlantis Bookshop.
I first met Nick in the mid-seventies. As well as A.C. we were both interested in old British bikes and he was always good company. I was then researching the Rites of Eleusis and he sold me my first set of the Equinox (I think it was the limited '74 reprint) at ten pounds a volume - very reasonable even then. I marvelled at his collection and he obviously enjoyed showing it to me. His knowledge of obscure publications cxontaining references to Crowley was legendary. Nick was very knowledgeable about AC's life and always willing to loan items, copy rare pieces he had and sell duplicates at very reasonable prices. Added to this he had a wonderful sense of humour - he never took himself too seriously.
I last talked with him at a booklaunch at Atlantis Books. He was full of life, witty and charming as ever. I am really saddened to hear of his passing. He was a true gentleman.
The West Chapel at Cambridge Crematorium was crowded yesterday morning with friends of Nick Bishop-Culpeper. Always difficult to estimate numbers, but I reckon that at least 150 had gathered to mark his passing.
Thin Lizzy, The Beach Boys, The Korgis, Prefab Sprout and Count Basie rang out in the room and a large stuffed vampire bat adorned the coffin.
Friends gave evidence of Nick's great love of life and Aleister Crowley's The Lord's Day was read, providing an echo of another crematorium six decades previous.
After the service it was on to Nick's favourite hostelry, The Fleur de Lys in rural Widdington, for cake, reminiscences, a pint, great conversation and the opportunity to sing Nick's gloriously, joyously offensive lyrics to the tune of These Foolish Things.
So… Farewell, Nick. I'll miss you and am so glad to have had the opportunity for that last chat.
All is well…
Owner and Editor
Apologies: I failed to mention the very high quality of the Order of Service provided to those of us that attended the funeral. As one would expect, this was beautifully produced and included some delightful photographs.
Owner and Editor
Some notes towards my memories of Nick Bishop-Culpeper:
Eagerly awaited regular booklists, scrappily produced and absolutely fascinating. Delightful meetings and lengthy conversations at my "Crowley's Egypt" lecture, various book-signing events, the "Chemical Wedding" premiere and Gary's wonderful talks. Entirely unexpected gift packages in the post. Delightful emails over the course of many years. Extraordinary erudition on publications by and about Aleister Crowley. Unbelievably indiscreet and utterly fascinating tales of meetings with the great Jimmy Page. A shared love of the music of Led Zeppelin, the glory of The English Patient (book and film) and the artistic merits of Crowley's paintings and drawings. A desperately sad final telephone conversation: you were stoical, witty and charming - I was in tears.
Nick: it was an honour to know you. You gave much more than you took and you lived life to the full. You were blessed with the love and care of those that knew you and we were blessed by your presence.
Owner and Editor
Fraternal Greetings from Australia,
Having concluded my modest efforts elsewhere over the last three weeks of discussing a twenty-two year period of the "CULPEPER - BOOKSERVICE" I now need to focus attention on a personal commiseration.
Firstly, my most sincere condolence to Nick's immediate family for they more than anyone suffer the painful sorrow of his lost love.
Secondly, to the very wide circle of close friends Nicholas held dear and could rely upon before and during his illness I sympathise completely with your desolate feelings of profound loss.
Personally, a dagger of anguished grief is deep within me as I continue to mourn the heartbreaking death of a very charming gentleman I was privileged to call friend.
I never actually met Nicholas in person but was a committed customer of his marvellous "Mail Order Book Service". Over twenty-five years his incredible 'Book Catalogues' were irresistable to me. Their pages spoke volumes about the man who created them - erudite, dedicated, wildly eclectic, modern and witty.
The always generous assistance and excellent service Nicholas gave to me over those happy years of book collecting will be forever cherished...
A portion of this heavy angst I endure with his passing is the certain knowledge that we've all reached the end of an era. He's gone from us, so humanity will never again experience anyone like Nicholas Bishop-Culpeper. This terrible tragedy is a daily struggle to cope with, my only consolation being the shelves of beautiful books he successfully found and delivered to me in Australia.
Many magnificent ones.
My life is inestimably richer for having known him, through letters and telephone calls both professionally and personally, without question.
The cliche saying is - 'life goes on', but after Nicholas not without some fitful bouts of very sad tears.
My resignation to the fact that he has departed forever this corporeal existence serves only to strengthen the many, many wonderful memories I have of him, that very great soul who was Nicholas Bishop-Culpeper.
Farewell my very dear friend.
Michael Charles Kelly.