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Roy, William (1911-1977)

Roy, William (1911-1977)

Pseudonym of William George Holroyd Plowright, a notorious mediumistic fraud in British Spiritualist history. He boasted that he had earned £50,000 by cheating the bereaved and others who attended his fraudulent séances. He even made money out of publishing his own confessions. It is to the credit of the British Spiritualist movement that its members took the lead in first exposing Roy.

Born in Cobham, Surrey, England, Roy was boastful and deceptive even at an early age. He was seventeen years old when he married Mary Castle, who owned a nightclub in the Soho area of London's West End. Mary was the first of many women who were deceived by Roy's glamorous tall tales.

During the 1930s, his wife died and Roy married again. He set up in business as a professional psychic medium. Roy used ingenious technical devices for fraudulent mediumship and also employed confederates. He concealed a microphone in the séance room and recorded the conversations of sitters before commencement of a séance.

When people wrote to ask if they could attend his séances, Roy researched at the registry of births, deaths, and marriages in order to obtain detailed information about their relatives. When they visited his house for a sitting, they would be asked to leave their bags and coats outside the séance room. These were searched by a confederate for letters, tickets, bills, or other scraps of personal information. All the facts concerning sitters were recorded in a detailed card index system, and cleverly worked into Roy's "psychic" messages during séances.

Roy also produced "spirit voices" and "materialization" phenomena through use of amplifiers, butter muslin, masks, and tape recorders and microphones in the hands of confederates. One of Roy's most shameless con tricks was the exploitation of a widow who attended his séances. Through a female accomplice, Roy obtained detailed information about the widow's dead husband and son, duly relayed to the widow at séances as messages from her loved ones. At the same time, Roy made advances to the widow and claimed that he wanted to marry her as soon as he could obtain a divorce.

During a séance, the widow was given "spirit messages" advising her to offer Roy's wife £15,000 in return for an arranged divorce. In due course, Roy produced a letter apparently from his wife through a firm of solicitors, giving consent for this arrangement. The letter and the firm of solicitors were both bogus, but the widow paid Roy £15,000, which went into his own pocket, and the pair went away on a "honeymoon."

Meanwhile Roy's second wife Dorothy committed suicide. Three weeks after her death, Roy married Mary Rose Halligan. Roy had rich clients and lived in style, with expensive motorcars. He separated from his third wife in 1956.

Meanwhile in August 1955, after almost 20 years of mediumistic trickery, his activity was first exposed by veteran Spiritualist Maurice Barbanell (editor of Psychic News ) in an article in the journal Two Worlds. The exposure did not occur until Roy quarreled with his accomplice, who left him and supplied evidence and explained Roy's methods and apparatus. Roy instituted libel proceedings, but withdrew the action in 1958.

In 1958, Roy unblushingly published his own confessions in the Sunday Pictorial newspaper. But he continued operating as a fake medium, using a new name "Bill Silver." At the age of 58, Roy bigamously married Ann Clements. He finally died at Hastings, Sussex, suffering from cancer, leaving three children from his various alliances.

Roy's ingenious apparatus for fake mediumship is now in the care of Scotland Yard, in a museum at the Metropolitan Police Detective Training School. After Roy's death and twenty years after his original exposure, Barbanell devoted a whole front page of Psychic News (August 13, 1977) to the story of Roy's frauds, illustrated by photographs of the apparatus and techniques used for fake mediumship.

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Ordnance Survey

Ordnance Survey. One of the beneficial results of the '45 rebellion. The difficulties of both the campaign and the measures after Culloden persuaded Lieutenant-General Watson, deputy quartermaster-general, that better maps of the Highlands were needed. Much of the work, later extended to the Lowlands, was done by William Roy. In 1765 Roy was appointed to survey coastal areas of Britain and to report to the master-general of the ordnance. At the same time the newly formed Royal Society of Arts offered rewards for county maps. After Roy's death in 1790, the duke of Richmond, master-general of the ordnance, appointed a small team in 1791, the effective work falling upon William Mudge. Working from the headquarters of the Ordnance in the Tower, they issued in 1801 the first of a series of one-inch maps, the county of Kent. A survey of Ireland was started in 1825.

J. A. Cannon

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