Henry James Edwards (18931976), by unknown photographer, c.1955
Edwards, Henry James [Harry] (18931976), spiritual healer, was born at 79 Crayford Road, Islington, London, on 29 May 1893, the eldest of the nine children of Henry James Edwards, compositor, and his wife, Emma Jane, née Buist. A pupil at Noel Park School, Wood Green, he was an unruly child but found stability in the Church Lads' Brigade and as one of the first boy scouts. At fourteen he was apprenticed as a compositor with the Field and Queen printing house in Fetter Lane. In November 1914, at the end of his apprenticeship, he enlisted in the 2nd/6th (cyclist) battalion of the Royal Sussex regiment and was sent to Brighton to watch for an invasion. He was posted to India and later the Middle East as a corporal in the Royal Engineers. Given a field commission, he was told to build a railway line between Tikrit and Baghdad using skills he picked up as he went along. He rose to the rank of acting major and director of labour in northern Persia, where, resorted to by the local tribespeople, he discovered innate healing abilities.
Back in England, Edwards married, at Balham parish church on 17 April 1922, Phyllis Dorothy White (18991969), a dairymaid from Long Bredy, Dorset, and daughter of Edgar Herbert White, steward. They had three daughters and one son. With a war gratuity he set up in business with a stationer's and printing office in Balham, but struggled with debts for the next twenty years. Active in the Liberal Party in Balham and Tooting, he stood unsuccessfully as a Liberal candidate for London county council elections in 1928, and as parliamentary candidate for Camberwell North in 1929, when he came third. He lost his deposit when he stood as a Liberal for North-West Camberwell in the general election of 1935. In that year he established a printing business in Balham High Road.
Edwards had sought social amelioration from childhood, but had little sympathy with the trappings of organized religion. In the 1930s he and his wife went to a local spiritualist church looking for fraud but were impressed. Attending a church with friends in Clements Road, Ilford, Essex, he found himself speaking in trance, and believed that he possessed healing powers. From about 1936 he set aside one evening a week after work for healing, and claimed successes. He brought a Welsh medium, Jack Webber (19071940), to London and sponsored his public appearances. In 1944 his home in Balham was hit by a V1 rocket and the family, unharmed, moved to a larger house in Ewell.
The new house quickly proved too small for the clientele seeking Edwards's healing ministrations and, after transferring the printing business to his brother, he acquired a large house and grounds, Burrows Lea at Shere, near Guildford, in Surrey, in 1946. In that year he described his methods in his book Psychic Healing (1946). He rejected the theatrical gestures of other healers, believing that it was simply necessary to place his hands on the troubled area. He found absent healing, conducted through the post, equally effective. The flow of correspondence was said to have reached 3500 letters a week by 1948. He worked with two assistants, George and Olive Burton, and his sons and one of his daughters. He disclaimed any financial motive in his healing, asserting that his healing sanctuary at Shere was funded by private donations.
From 1947 Edwards held public healing demonstrations around the country, often attracting large audiences; 6000 were reportedly present at the King's Hall, Belle Vue, Manchester, in November 1948 when he gave a demonstration of psychic healing. In 1952 he founded a journal, the Spiritual Healer. Concerned that the revival of spiritual healing, exemplified by Edwards's popularity, reflected a failure by the church to carry out a healing role in its ministry, the archbishops of Canterbury and York in 1953, at the request of their respective convocations, appointed a commission of inquiry into divine healing. Edwards gave oral evidence to the inquiry. Early in 1954 the archbishops' commission sought the assistance of the British Medical Association (BMA) in evaluating the evidence for the efficacy of spiritual healing and the BMA set up its own inquiry, which reviewed cases submitted by Edwards.
Edwards responded by founding in 1955 the National Federation of Spiritual Healers, of which he was president, and which held annual meetings at the Royal Festival Hall where Edwards and his assistants would demonstrate healing. The BMA report, published in 1956, examined nine cases reported by Edwards and found that none of the cases investigated provided evidence of cures that could not be performed by conventional medicine, but admitted the benefits of religious ministrations in healing. He complained that the archbishops' commission, which reported in 1958, did not itself examine his claims, and referred to him merely as expounding the theory of healing by spirit doctors. He pointed to the fact that influential patients (including figures in public life) consulted him, and claimed a degree of recognition when, in 1960, members of his federation were permitted to give treatment at hospitals where patients requested it.
At the height of his fame Edwards attracted adulation, audiences reaching to touch him as he walked to the stage. Spiritual healing for him was a science whose rules would soon be uncovered and he commonly compared it with a force like electricityonly observable when conducted properly. A stocky figure, wearing a white coat during his demonstrations, he had a slow, vatic manner, probably originating in his childhood struggle with a stammer. The journalist Godfrey Winn, who wrote a sympathetic account of him, said he had wrestler's arms, quilted palms, and a magnificent head (Sunday Dispatch, Nov 1954). Of his many books and articles his last, A Guide to the Understanding and Practice of Spiritual Healing (1974), gives a synopsis of his teaching. He also left a partial autobiography, Thirty Years a Spiritual Healer (1968). He died at the Harry Edwards Spiritual Healing Sanctuary, Burrows Lea, Shere, on 8 December 1976, and was cremated. A memorial service was held at Burrows Lea the following January.
P. Miller, Born to heal: a biography of Harry Edwards, the spirit healer, new edn (1962) · H. Edwards, Thirty years a spiritual healer (1968) · R. Branch, Harry Edwards: the story of the greatest healer since the time of Christ (1982) · The Times (9 Dec 1976) · Divine healing and co-operation between doctors and clergy (1956) · The Church's ministry of healing: report of the archbishops' commission (1958) · b. cert. · m. cert.
photographs, c.1950, Mary Evans Picture Library, London · R. Burkett, photograph, 1951, Getty Images, London · photographs, 195160, Rex Features, London · C. Capa, photographs, 1952, Getty Images, London · group portrait, photographs, Photoshot, London · photographs, repro. in Miller, Born to heal · photographs, repro. in Edwards, Thirty years a spiritual healer · photographs, Harry Edwards Healing Sanctuary, Surrey; repro. in www.sanctuary-burrowslea.org.uk/ [see illus.]
Wealth at death
£7175: probate, 16 March 1977, CGPLA Eng. & Wales