Ooh, Interesting! - The Origins of the Magic Circle

February 05, 2016

Pretty much everyone knows that the world’s best magicians are all part of the Magic Circle but how many people know how it came to be? In this week’s Ooh, Interesting!, our blog dedicated to fascinating facts in the entertainment world, we look at when this magical society first formed, why it formed and what it was originally called. It’s an intriguing story that is sure to make you go, “Ooh, Interesting!”

The Magic Circle was founded in 1905 after a meeting of 23 amateur and professional magicians at London’s Pinoli restaurant on Wardour Street. Here’s what it looks like today. The meeting was chaired by the wonderfully named Belgian magician Servais Le Roy, who was the creator – along with his wife – of the Asrah levitation, where a magician’s assistant lies down, is covered by a cloth and then mysteriously floats in the air. No doubt you’ve seen a version of this trick over the years!

But what to call this new group of Magic folk? These 23 entertainers sitting in a Circle in the restaurant? That’s right, the Martin Chapender Club! Yes, this was genuinely the initial name in memory of a founding member who had passed away at just 25, but it was ultimately agreed that the Magic Circle would be more appropriate and fortuitously shared the same initials as the late magician.

After the initial meeting, the first official meet up was at another pub (you gotta love magicians!) – the Green Man in Soho, before discussions moved to the regular venue of St George’s Hall in Langham Place, where magicians David Devant and John Nevil Maskelyne would regularly perform. Indeed, Devant would go on to be the first President of the society in 1906 and he is still remembered within the Magic Circle headquarters; a function room is named after him to this day. For what it’s worth, Maskelyne edited the first issue of The Magic Circular that very same year and it still runs to this day! He also invented the pay toilet, so you have him to 'thank' for having to 'spend a penny' (where the phrase comes from) when you are next at London Waterloo!

Incredibly, the club was male only until 1991, when more than 75% of members voted to admit women. As of 2010, eighty women had been admitted and by 2014, they had their first female office in the form of the brilliant Megan Knowles-Bacon. Unfortunately for members of the public, the society’s motto is indocilis private loqui, which roughly translates as ‘not apt to disclose secrets’. Don’t feel too bad though; The Magic Circle museum is available for people to visit by arrangement and features wonderful items from the likes of Tommy Cooper and Houdini! And of course, you could always hold a corporate event or private event within the premises. It's a wonderful venue are fairly certain we could find a magician willing to perform!



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By Henry Fosdike