We use cookies to enhance your experience on our website. By continuing to use our website, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Find out more
Owen, George Vale (1869–1931), Church of England clergyman and spiritualist writer, was born at 82 Lady Wood Lane, Birmingham, on 26 June 1869, the eldest son of George Owen, chemist, and his wife, Emma Bradley, née Redding (1845/6–1909). The family moved to Soho Road, Handsworth, a few years after he was born. After leaving school at fourteen, he worked as a foundry clerk before seeking ordination. In order to improve his Greek and Latin he took night classes at the Midland Institute and then enrolled at the Queen's College in Birmingham to train for the Anglican ministry. During the course of his studies he met Rosa Ann (Rose) Pemberton (1866–1957), a receptionist in a photographic studio, daughter of Samuel Pemberton, mechanic. They married on 21 November 1892 and had five children, three of whom survived infancy.

After passing his examinations, Owen was ordained deacon in the diocese of Liverpool in 1893 and priest in 1894, serving in Seaforth and then Fairfield (from 1895) before becoming curate of St Matthew's, Scotland Road, Liverpool, in 1897. He became a regular contributor to the local press, lamenting the deplorable state of the poor in his parish.

In 1900 the bishop of Liverpool, Francis Chavasse, invited Owen to move out of the city to Padgate, near Warrington. At one end of the parish lay the hamlet of Orford, growing in population, but without a church building; the people worshipped in the school house. Encouraged by Owen, the parishioners raised money to build their own church. St Margaret and All Hallows, Orford, was consecrated on 31 October 1908, Owen becoming the first vicar in December that year. He was noted as a kind and caring pastor, known affectionately to his parishioners as ‘GVO’, and possessed, according to one admirer, a ‘genius for friendship’ (Owen, Life beyond the Veil, xvi).

In September 1910, a year after his mother's death, Owen became interested in the ministry of angels. He wrote a pseudonymous letter (as Beckett) to The Guardian arguing that the church had neglected its teaching about angels, and recounting instances when he had felt a ‘presence’ supporting him in his pastoral ministry. He added that he was not a spiritualist, had never attended a seance, and did not encourage people to experiment with contacting the dead. The letter prompted others to share similar accounts—although there were also more dismissive responses which pointed him in the direction of literature on angels. Owen continued with an interest in psychic science, contributing articles to the journal Light, and becoming known in spiritualist circles, although it was Rose who, after a family party playing with a planchette, discovered she had talents as a medium. Rose received the same message several times via the planchette: ‘Tell George to sit quietly and wait for messages’ (Owen, The Priesthood of the Laity, xx).

Owen was initially dubious, but finally, in September 1913, he sat one evening in his vestry, took a pencil and some paper, said a short prayer and waited. His hand wrote out messages which came, initially, from his mother. These described the landscape and activity of the afterlife, as she encountered it. The messages came regularly until the end of October, when they stopped abruptly. On 3 November messages began to come from a spirit known as Zabdiel. He also received messages from Astriel and Arnel. These later messages had a more philosophical and reverent tone, describing spiritual progress and the soul's development, rather than the physical surroundings.

Some of the spirits' messages to Owen were published in the Strand Magazine in July 1917 and unsuccessful attempts were made to publish the full text as a book. His career as a spiritualist writer might well have ended at this point, had it not been for the intervention of a more famous writer and spiritualist: Arthur Conan Doyle. Dismayed by the Church of England's apparent disregard for spiritualism displayed at the 1919 Church Congress, Conan Doyle responded with a lecture which named Owen as both a devoted parish priest and ‘the greatest writing medium in England today’ (Doyle, Our Reply to the Cleric, 7). The speech was reported in The Times (20 Oct 1919) and journalists made their way to Owen's door. Lord Northcliffe obtained a copy of Owen's script, and serialized it in the Weekly Dispatch in 1920. Owen refused remuneration for the work. The spirit messages were subsequently published as The Lowlands of Heaven and The Highlands of Heaven, The Ministry of Heaven, and The Battalions of Heaven.

An article in the Church Times in 1921 strongly criticized Owen's work, and, even as his fame grew, he found himself at odds with his bishop. Although Chavasse was undoubtedly hostile he did not hound Owen from his living, despite Conan Doyle's assertion (Doyle, History of Spiritualism, 222). According to Owen himself, although viewed with suspicion by his superiors, he made the decision to leave Orford in order to give himself more fully to his new challenge: lecturing and promoting the importance of spiritual communication. He had not ‘given up the Church’, and continued to perform the duties of a priest whenever he was invited to do so (Owen, On Tour in USA, 144).

After leaving Orford in 1922, Owen and his wife moved to Finchley as Facts and the Future Life was published, in which Owen set down his own thoughts on spiritualism. At the request of Conan Doyle he toured some of the eastern states in the USA; the tour was not a financial success, although he was warmly received. He returned to England and the family set up home at Lincoln Lea, Tubbenden Lane, Farnborough, Kent. Owen gave the remainder of his life to writing and to the cause he felt so strongly about: the need for the Christian faith and spiritualism to accommodate each other.
What is needed at the present time is the Christianising of Spiritualism on the one hand and the Spiritualising of the Churches on the other. I am out to do what I can, be it only a little, to this end. (Owen, On Tour in USA, 143)
In early 1931 Owen was diagnosed with bowel cancer, and died at his home in Farnborough on 8 March 1931. His body was cremated at West Norwood crematorium and the service was conducted by the rector of Farnborough and a Free Church minister and leading spiritualist, Charles Drayton Thomas.

Georgina Byrne


G. V. Owen, The life beyond the veil (1920) · G. V. Owen, Facts and the future life (1922) · G. V. Owen, On tour in USA (1924) · D. A. Owen, When the angel says ‘write’ (1989) · A. C. Doyle, The history of spiritualism, 1st edn, 1926, 2 (1989) · A. C. Doyle, Our reply to the cleric: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's lecture in Leicester, October 19th 1919, following the Church Congress (1920) · The Times (9 March 1931) · G. Byrne, Modern spiritualism and the Church of England, 1850–1939 (2010) · census returns, 1881, 1901 · b. cert. · m. cert.

Wealth at death  

£565 15s. 9d.: probate, 10 June 1931, CGPLA Eng. & Wales