Grantham Civic Society Column: Man of magic was ‘Universal Fortune Teller’
In the early 1800s, Grantham’s growing suburb of Little Gonerby was known throughout the country, because of one man, Dr John Parkins.
Little is known of his early life, except that he was born about 1771. He had some training in the magical arts from the London occultist and physician Ebenezer Sibly.
He became a professional cunning-man and established the nationally acclaimed Temple of Wisdom in Little Gonerby. He built up a considerable clientele from all around the country for his charms and un-bewitching services. He was very popular for removing spells from people and providing charms for everything from prosperity to fertility.
Unlike most cunning-folk, he printed several books and pamphlets to advertise his business. His first book, printed in London in 1810, was The Universal Fortune Teller. In it he described how he could foretell future events and contingencies, by the ‘science of astrology, physiognomy, geomancy, palmistry, moles, cards etc’. (Physiognomy is foretelling the future by the colour of hair, the size and shape of the forehead, eyebrows, eyes, nose, mouth and chin, whilst geomancy is the reading of patterns of thrown soil, rock or sand).
His second book in 1811 was The Young Man’s Best Companion or Self-Instructor. It contained advice on grammar, mathematics, and skills such as bricklaying.
His third book in 1812 was The Cabinet of Wealth: or The Temple of Wisdom, printed by Storr of Vine Street, Grantham. There followed two more books printed in London, the first in 1814 The English Physician Enlarged. To which is added The Family Physician, which was an edited and extended version of Nicholas Culpepper’s ‘herbal’ printed in 1653. In the book he demonstrated the astrological principles underlying the herbal treatment of a distressed lady in 1807. The book includes ‘A present for the ladies’, which is a short selection of recipes. In 1817, he published The Book of Miracles: or Celestial Museum.
The following extract is from one of his leaflets printed in Grantham in 1812: “The cabinet of wealth, or, The temple of wisdom : including our Celestial touchstone: containing a never-failing method to obtain and acquire riches, wisdom, knowledge, wealth, dignities, honour, health, pleasure, happiness, and felicity, both in this world, & in that which is to come: with other matter equally profitable and curious: being a complete directory to an inexhaustible treasury: beautifully adorned with the flowers of literature & the essence of divinity: with a description of the happy man by Dr. Parkins.”
In a book published in 1819, entitled Ecce Homo, John Parkins is attacked as someone ‘who impiously styles himself Grand Ambassador of Heaven’. His books were widely available throughout the country, including from William Parkins in Marston, who may have been his brother, as he was born in Marston in 1776 to John and Hannah Parkins, as was William’s sister Eleonar in 1777.
John Parkins died in 1830 aged 59. He must have been highly respected, as his death was reported in the Gentleman’s Magazine, which read: “Lately at Grantham aged 59 Mr Parkins commonly called Dr Parkins a celebrated astrologer and fortune-teller.”