Ursula Greville

Ursula Greville (1898? – 1991) was a well known British soprano singer and editor of the Sackbut music magazine. She was also a close friend of Israel Regardie, and was associated with Anthony Greville-Gascoigne and The Brothers of The Path, writing an article on the Tarot for The Golden Dawn magazine.

She spent a lot of time in America on tour in the 1920s and 1930s, and then seems to have moved there permanently when the Second World War started. She lived in California with her son and died in 1991.

Early Years

I can’t find any British records for her birth, but later records from her life in the United States suggest that she was born in London in 1898. Presumably she studied as a singer, and she began practicing her art in the 1920s.

Musical Career

She first appears in the records in 1921, when she takes over editorship of the influential Sackbut music magazine in her early twenties. This was rather controversial as she was at the time the mistress of the magazine’s publisher John Kenneth Curwen. She supplanted Peter Warlock (the composer Philip Heseltine), as the editor and he was very bitter about it, penning a rude limerick about her! [1]

The first editorial she wrote began: “I have not the remotest idea how to write an editorial, since I have never been an editor before, and even reading the London Mercury, Punch, Musical News and Herald, and Femina does not seem to have helped me much.”

Ursula Greville Pictured in a  newspaper article from 1926 [2]

Ursula Greville Pictured in a
newspaper article from 1926 [2]

At the time she was living in the West End of London with her maid Kitty, but she was soon living with John Kenneth Curwen at 24 Berners Street. During the 20s and 30s she went on numerous concert tours to the United States, accompanied by her maid and sometimes by Curwen. A newspaper article from 1926 [2] shines a little light on her career. She is described as a soprano, whose forte is singing modern British songs with folk songs as part of the program. She took on the editorship of Sackbut to earn a bit of extra money as she studied, but now “I don’t need to do it any longer, it’s like having the lion by the tail. I don’t dare let go of it, because I’m so fond of it.”

As well as performing she also published a number of songs.

Relationship with Israel Regardie and Anthony Greville Gascoigne

Israel Regardie came to Britain age 21 to work as Aleister Crowley’s secretary, which he did from 1928 to 1932. He published his first book, The Tree of Life in 1932. In 1934 he joined the Stella Matutina, a continuation of the Golden Dawn, but found it in a state of decay. He decided to break his oath and publish the Golden Dawn rituals. Volume I of his book The Golden Dawn was published in 1937. In the same year he returned to live in New York, studying at Chiropractic College.

Ursula and Israel are recorded [3] travelling together on a trip by steamship to Tenerife and back in the summer of 1936. This could either have been the occasion of their first meeting, or perhaps they were already friends and taking a holiday together. Ursula wrote an article on the Tarot in the first extant issue (Vol 1 No 6, June 1938) of Anthony Greville-Gascoigne’s Golden Dawn Magazine. In the article she mentions how she was taught by Israel Regardie, and the implication is that he first introduced her to it perhaps three years before the article was written, which would have been around 1935.

Ursula also made an impression on Regardie, as is shown by his dedication of a book to her in 1983. His commentary on Crowley’s AHA! is:

loving, generous, devoted friend
of many long years who, like
Aleister Crowley, changed the
entire course of my life.

(see http://www.skepticfiles.org/mys1/a_h_a.htm)

The exact nature of the relationship between Anthony Greville-Gascoigne on the one part and Ursula and Regardie on the other is less clear. There is quite a lot of evidence that Greville-Gascoigne admired the pair, but there is less evidence of reciprocation:

  • As already mentioned, Ursula Greville wrote an article for Anthony Greville-Gascoigne’s Golden Dawn magazine, and so did Israel Regardie (in Vol 1 No 7, Vol 2, No 4, Vol 5 No 2 & 3).
  • Anthony Greville-Gascoigne’s book The Way of an Initiate, published in 1940 is dedicated to “Ursula and Francis”. (Regardie’s full name was Francis Israel Regardie).
  • In The Student Manual for Anthony Greville-Gascoigne’s The Brothers of The Path, published in 1941, “Miss Ursula Greville” and “Dr F.I. Regardie” are listed as honorary members of the Student Advisory Council. Ursula’s movements are also noted in the Golden Dawn Magazine’s gossip column.

Later life in the United States

When the second world war broke out, Ursula Greville moved to the United States. (In the Golden Dawn Magazine for Dec 1939, she is noted as being resident in New York). She appears to have then moved to California and settled there with her son who became a doctor. There is an interesting snippet about her on a music website describing her in 1978 as “the late alternative-med doctor and ex-soprano Ursula Greville.” [4] So perhaps she shared Anthony Greville-Gascoigne’s interest in alternative health.


[1] The limerick ascribed to Peter Warlock was:

A singer named Ursula Greville
Had a lousy affair with the devil.
Her bush was so thick
It obstructed his prick
So he sent for the barber of Seville

“Peter Warlock – in reference to a colleague.”

It is worth noting that Peter Warlock had ‘occult’ interests as well – mainly on the dark side. He had been a member of the Theosophical society and met W B Yeats.

For more on Peter Warlock, see http://www.peterwarlock.org/WARLOCK.HTM
For detail on the Sackbut, see http://sinenomine.co.uk/curwen/?bibno=Cg2/1#Cg2/1

[2] The Sunday American (Syracuse, NY), Sunday Jan 3rd 1926. Extracted from: http://fultonhistory.com/Newspaper%2017/Syracuse%20NY%20Journal/Syracuse%20NY%20Journal%201926/Syracuse%20NY%20Journal%201926%20-%200074.pdf

[3] UK National Archive Passenger list data via Ancestry.co.uk

[4] http://rogerbourland.com/2008/04/28/scarlattis-complaint/#comment-78743


About singinghead

druid, mathematician, blogger, gardener...
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