Spirituality has always been a thing in my family. Not ever really an in-your-face thing like you’ve just walked into a New Age shop when you step into the house. It’s more of a gentle murmur in the background, like a pot on a back burner quietly simmering away – it’s there, but it’s not the focal point of the room. Maybe a crystal here or there, openly talking about experiences with clairvoyants, my uncle gifting me a deck of fairy oracle cards. But perhaps the strongest link to the occult in my household was growing up with mum’s stories about her grandmother, who lived with one foot in the spirit world.
Her name was Elizabeth Rose Quelch, and she was a psychic.
Over the years Mum’s told me bits and pieces about Grandma Quelch – my grandad’s mother – and the kinds of things she would do with her spirituality. I knew she practiced readings in the sitting room back in England, and that she’d see spirits regularly, but I never really knew much more about her.
Wanting to know more about our family’s history with woo-woo stuff, I called Mum up to chat about Grandma Quelch, Mum’s relationship with her, and whether her psychic lifestyle ever affected the rest of the family.
Grandma Quelch was born in England in 1893, and spent most of her life living in a one-bedroom flat in Warthamstow in London’s east end. As a child, Mum would spend many Christmas holidays there, where Grandma Quelch would tell her stories about her spirituality and experiences.
“She said to me that in the old days, she would have been considered a witch,” Mum said.
“And she would have been killed for it. She grew up in what was probably a really country area, out Cambridge, and she told me she used to play with Romani children, and spirit children. She’s been a psychic ever since she was a little girl.”
Whenever Mum visited her – usually for a week at a time over the winter holiday – Mum would have to sleep in the living room. She said that Grandma would often remark to her husband (my great-grandad who didn’t believe in spirits) that she could see his father by the television.
“I was probably nine or ten, maybe younger,” Mum said.
“We would be sitting around the dinner table and she’d suddenly say to my grandad ‘Oh, I’m just seeing your father over by the TV’.
“Yeah, I had to sleep in that room. It was a shut-your-eyes-tight, not-look-at-anything sort of thing when I went to bed.”
As well as helping out with my great-grandad’s cobbling business, Grandma Quelch held a few other odd jobs. She was once a maid in royal houses in England (where she regularly saw ghosts), and she once unsuccessfully ran a lolly shop from their front room until the council shut it down because she didn’t have a permit – but her gift was in faith healing and psychic readings.
“She read auras, did faith healing, held seances, and could read palms,” Mum said.
“She also had a spirit guide, who would take over her body and speak through her when she did seances.”
Mum told me that her guide’s name was Zoe, and he would speak through Grandma Quelch regularly during her sessions with people – which she never charged for, because she always saw her spiritual abilities as a gift. In faith healing sessions, she would take a large bowl of water and a towel into the sitting room with her, and after a while would come back out to empty out the water, which had turned cloudy.
Just before my Mum’s family emigrated from England to Australia in the 60s, Grandma Quelch told them that she’d never see them again. She passed away about five years after they moved to Melbourne, when Mum was about 17.
“I cried for days,” she said.
A few years later, Mum went to visit a psychic herself back in London. She said that when she sat down, a woman approached her to tell her that someone was here and stamping her foot at Mum, and saying that she’s “too impatient”, and mentioned the name Zoe.
She knew straight away that it was Grandma.
Mum never really thought her grandma’s spiritual home life was unusual. She also didn’t care that Grandma Quelch had an affinity for feeding all the stray cats in the neighbourhood, or that she would go up to strangers at the shops and give them messages from spirits.
Sure, in her time she would have been seen as the Weird Cat Lady in the town, but it seems that never phased her from doing what she loved.