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Seymour, Alice (1857–1947), schoolteacher and expositor and publisher of the writings of Joanna Southcott, was born at 16 Wyndham Square in Plymouth, Devon, on 10 January 1857, the daughter of James Seymour (1814/15–1872), linen draper, and his wife, Lavinia, née Day (1824/5–1874). Her parents, who lived in Union Street, Plymouth, were Christian Israelites—followers of John Wroe, one of the nineteenth-century Southcottian prophets—as were her grandparents. Her family was related to Wroe. She was educated in London, attending classes at Queen's College, Harley Street, and spent some time in London employed as a draper's assistant. She returned to Plymouth where she became principal of a private school for girls, Headlands College.

Seymour was first seriously attracted to Southcottianism in 1902, after experiencing the annual Southcottian service of ‘the lifting up of hands’, though she had read Joanna Southcott's books as a young girl. She was also influenced by her friendship with the Revd Walter Begley, vicar of East Hyde, Bedfordshire, a Church of England clergyman and devotee of Southcott, whose great-grandfather, the Revd Thomas Webster, had been one of Southcott's prominent Anglican clerical supporters. Begley encouraged Seymour in her interest, and planned to co-author a biography of Southcott with her, but died (in 1905) before he could do so. Seymour's first publication was Radia (1906), published under the pseudonym Alec C. More. She wrote that ‘in the early dawn of an October morning 1904 there came to me with great insistence that I was to write a poem on the Millennium and that it was to be in seven books’ (Seymour, ix). The work had no reference to Southcott but took the fulfilment of biblical prophecies to be the true gospel. She published her first work on Southcott, The Express, in two volumes, in 1909, inspired by an experience one evening in December 1907: ‘I felt as though the room was full of ministering spirits, all insistent on my beginning at once to write a life of Joanna Southcott. Crowds of ideas kept coming in overwhelming profusion, as though there was great promise of help from on high’ (ibid., x). The title came from book 22 of Southcott's writings, ‘My express shall fly’, and the volumes warned the nations of what was coming upon earth. It was reviewed in national papers, including the Daily News, which designated it their book of the week.

Seymour retired from teaching in 1909, moving to a cottage in Yelverton, Devon, where she completed The Express. As a result of its publication she received many requests for Southcott's writings, and reprinted all sixty-five of Southcott's books, as well as extracts from Southcott's writings—some from unpublished manuscripts in her possession—in a monthly magazine available by subscription, the Express Leaflets. This publishing enterprise expanded the existing network of Southcottians around the world, especially where they were already strong, on the west coast of the USA, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia. In San Diego, California, a woman and man reprinted all sixty-five books for American readers, and also published The Express and drove thousands of miles to publicize the cause. Seymour was astute in targeting specific groups—such as suffragists and suffragettes—with leaflets advertising her publications, and in persuading various society hostesses to host meetings about Southcott in their London homes. She was also one of those who campaigned for the opening of the box of Southcott's sealed prophecies that Southcott had instructed should be opened by twenty-four bishops of the Church of England in a time of national danger, a campaign that gained particular traction during the First World War. Seymour was never a custodian of the box, which was kept by other Southcottian believers.

In 1919 Seymour purchased what she believed was Southcott's former home in the Cotswolds, Rock Cottage, Blockley, and lived there with a former member of her teaching staff, Mary Robertson. In the 1920s and 1930s she and Robertson published a series of Southcottian leaflets: Southcott Despatch (1919–22), Southcott Express (1926–9), and Watch (1935–8). She continued to write on the relevance of Southcott's prophecies for the political situation; presided over the Southcott Society, a loose, international network of Southcottians; and in 1928 formed the Olive Branch League for young Southcottians.

Seymour outlived her income, and began to receive a pension of ten shillings a week from a parish charity. In 1941 she sold Rock Cottage, with all its contents, to Miss Vesey (later Mrs Annie Marie Vesey Stitt) for £500. Mrs Stitt cared for her in Rock Cottage until Seymour's death there on 24 October 1947. She was buried in Blockley cemetery. Seymour had a considerable collection of Southcott materials and artefacts, including unpublished manuscripts: many of these were destroyed in a fire at Rock Cottage in 1971, but some went to the British Library and the museum in Exeter, some remained in Blockley, forming the Blockley Southcottian collection, while others were sold through the antiquarian book trade.

Seymour was responsible, through her publications and activities, for a revival of interest in Southcott in the early twentieth century. But she was fiercely opposed to any group that deviated from, or added to, Southcott's writings. She was in that sense an ‘old Southcottian’. She rejected the Southcottian groups with new prophets that had grown up in the nineteenth century, such as the Christian Israelites, though she had been brought up in that tradition. She was proud of the fact that her father had, in his latter years, rejected Wroe's ideas and adhered only to Southcott's writings. She absolutely rejected the Panacea Society, a larger, rival organization to her own smaller, looser network of believers, and the claims of its leader Mabel Barltrop (Octavia), though it was her republication of Southcott's writings that led to Barltrop's interest and capacity to attract followers herself. Several of Seymour's adherents, such as Ellen Oliver, found her increasingly difficult and too vague about money matters, and transferred their allegiance to the Panacea Society. Despite the antagonism between herself and Barltrop, Seymour remained in touch with the Panaceans because they were the main campaigners for the box to be opened: she did not want to be left out of the ceremony, and she also insisted on determining Southcott's very precise conditions for the opening of the box. Her own smaller band of followers began to decline in the mid-1930s as the Panacea Society's numbers were beginning to dwindle.

Jane Shaw

Sources  

A. Seymour, introduction, The voice in the wilderness, ed. A. Seymour (1933) · J. Shaw, Octavia, daughter of God: the story of a female messiah and her followers (2011) · F. Brown, Joanna Southcott's box of sealed prophecies (2003) · J. D. M. Derrett, Prophecy in the Cotswolds, 1803–1947 (1994) · census returns, 1861, 1871, 1881, 1891, 1901 · b. cert. · d. cert.

Archives  

Panacea Society Archives, Bedford


Likenesses  

photograph, repro. in Brown, Joanna Southcott's box · photograph, repro. in Derrett, Prophecy · photographs, Panacea Society, Bedford