Bude Mystery Woman – Pamela Colman Smith

Pamela Colman Smith is something of a mystery, which is maybe part of her enduring appeal to her followers. It was only when investigating the history of Bude for my forthcoming book, Secret Bude, that I came across her, for she died in the town. Part of the mystery is where she is buried, or whether she was cremated. We all like a grave to act as a marker.


Christened Corinne Pamela Colman, Smith was born on 16th February 1878. Her address was then 27, Belgrave Road, which was in Pimlico, London. Her father was a merchant, Charles Edward Smith, and her mother Corinne Colman Smith, formerly Colman. Her birth was registered on 29th March 1878. Although it does not appear on her birth certificate, the name Mary arrives when she writes her will, coming between Pamela and Colman.


Pamela died on 18th September 1951, by which time she had become Corinne Pamela Mary Colman-Smith. She was 73 years of age, a spinster of independent means, and died of a myocardial degeneration. The actual death occurred at the Conservative Club in Bude. She had lived in Bude since 1946 as tenant of a flat shared with Nora Lake.


Her probate was dealt with by Andrew & Jones Solicitors in Bude on 13th November 1951. George Lyons Andrew and Richard Hugh Studley Jones were the executors (and solicitors). The gross value of her estate was £1048. The net value was nil. When she died, she lived at 2, Bencoolen House in Bude, and was listed as a spinster. In her will, written in 1851, she left all her real and personal estate to her friend, Nora Lake. A sale of her furniture and effects at Villa Hall on 15th November left a cheque of £127.00. Articles included a bed, cooking bowls, a table and an antique chest of drawers.


There were preferential debts owed for wages (£15) and Inland Revenue one year of tax assessment (£688.10) which indicates some earnings, plus Bude & Stratton Unitary District Council £5 13s 1d for rates. She had other non-secured debts: utilities, and various local companies. Plus, more taxes to the Inland Revenue, amounting to £920+.


Payments went to Parkhouse funeral directors, the Cornish & Devon Post for announcements, Notary Public fees, Bodmin Probate Registry, including a certified copy of probate for America, plus other administrative fees. The balance at the bank at the date of death was £59.10. she also had a balance of income due to American Trust Funds (Manufacturers Trust company of New York) of £953.19.9. This looks like being substantial income, but still she died in considerable debt. After the sale of her goods, non-preferential creditors accepted a payment of five shillings and five pence in full satisfaction of their debts. The flat had to be cleared.


In 1982, Kaplan from New York, contacted the County Record Office at County Hall in Truro, to uncover whether Pamela was buried at Bude. It is recorded that a burial took place on 20th September 1951, but there is no plan of the burial ground and no indication in the register of the grave location. The incumbent at the time was Rev E.J.Widdows, Bude Haven Vicarage on Falcon Terrace, Bude. He contacted the vicar, Rev Widdows, who advised that the location undertaker had no reference to it on his plan. Further research by the retired sexton threw no more light on the issue. It seems bizarre that someone can be buried without trace. Mr Kaplan made a donation to the church anyway and asked about the possibility of cremation.


Mr Widdows replied:


“Regarding the possibility of cremation: this is not  very widespread occurrence in Cornwall. There is only one crematorium at Truro, and another at Barnstaple in Devon. What should occur in Burial Registers of churches is an entry for the burial of cremated remains in a specific churchyard…sometimes, however, the cremated remains are deposited at the crematorium itself, or scattered in accordance with the wishes of the deceased or the executors, e.g., at sea. So it would appear to me that if a cremation did take place, the deposition of cremated remains must have been at the Crematorium and not in a churchyard, otherwise it would have been turned up in general enquiries. So, the implication is that Pamela was cremated”.



Any light on the mystery very welcome. Thanks to Susanna Dark of Wise Old Crow for allowing me sight of the documents.






  • Roger Hunter says:

    “Pamela died on 18th September 1951”

    “Her probate was dealt with by Andrew & Jones Solicitors in Bude on 13th November 1851.”

    Well one of these dates must be wrong !

    • Dawn Robinson says:

      I will amend, thanks. Always good to have people to correct me. Fancy doing some writing, too?

      • Lyn says:

        I subscribe to Ancestry and could not resist entering the details in regarding your query. There is just one tree that is for Corinne Pamela Mary Colman-Smith and it is private – would like me to contact the person who owns it and see if they know any details?
        Look forward to your reply.

        • Dawn Robinson says:

          That would be brilliant, thanks, Lyn. Please do.

          • Lyn says:


            I found a few more to contact on Ancestry and have had a couple of replies but as yet no luck. I did a check on the 1939 Register and found Corinne living at 24 New North Road, Exeter with Nora Lake and a couple of others. I then looked at the Global Find a Grave Index for burials at sea. There is a memorial page added there for her in 2008 which says ‘non cemetery burial’ and that there has not been any grave site at that time found. The link for this is

            I looked at the probate notice which was 13th November 1951 and it stated probate to George Lyons Andrew and Richard Hugh Studley Jones, Solicitors £1048 11s 5d.

            I will let you know of any more information comes to light.



          • Thanks, Lyn. I’ve now started work on my book and had a look at the site. What does N.F.S. actually mean in this context, do you know? Dawn

          • Lyn, do you know who the ‘couple of others’ were, e.g., Freddie Lake at all?

    • Marilyn says:

      A fascinating woman worthy of a documentary of her life. So many of us in the Tarot community already feel that we know her, yet we long for more. A movie would take too many liberties.

  • Mary Hallett says:

    A burial without reference to a specific plot is not unusual for 1951, and if there is an entry in the burial register then it is likely that she was buried at Bude, BUT it’s just possible that the burial register entry refers to a memorial service and she was subsequently cremated (although this should be made clear in the register!) Enquiries at the crematoria would confirm whether or not this was the case. If no-one provided a headstone then it’s not that unusual for the location of a plot to be lost in time. Often finding where someone was buried can be a bit challenging – historic records are subject to the vagaries of human beings and sometimes things were mis-recorded or not recorded at all! Also her death certificate records that she died at 2 Bencoolen House (was that her flat or the CC) and the informant gives his address as the Conservative Club. I love a good family history mystery :)(I used to do research!)

  • Susanna Dark says:

    When she converted in later life to a Catholic, she added her new middle name of Mary.

  • Jim Foley says:

    At this time a cremation for a Catholic would be unheard of unless they were no longer active communicants of the church. It is, of course, possible that her friend Nora Lake disregarded Corinne’s religious beliefs.

  • Jane Herbert says:

    As a Catholic, might she have been buried in Launceston?

    • Dawn Robinson says:

      That was suggested by someone I met in Bude who was once her delivery boy. Not sure how one finds out. Ideas?

      • Mary Hallett says:

        Someone would need to look at the burial registers for the relevant parishes, which are probably to be found at the County Record Office. In the article you implied that there is an entry in the burial register for Bude, which would indicate she is buried here. It is not at all unusual for a Catholic to be buried in an Anglican churchyard and the Anglican priest would allow his Catholic colleague to officiate at the burial – this would be recorded in the burial register.

  • Dawn Robinson says:

    Thanks, all. This is a fascinating mystery. The latest from Lyn is a non-cemetery burial. Could she have been buried at sea? Would that happen to someone to poor to have a churchyard grave?

    • Mary Hallett says:

      In 1951, anyone who lived and died in Bude would have been buried in the churchyard of Bude Church, unless they had made specific provision in their will (and left the money to pay for it). People were buried in the parish churchyard irrespective of wealth or belief. Rich people could pay for a specific plot and a fancy headstone, but even a pauper would be buried. I used to be a churchwarden in Sussex and we spent years trying to reconcile various records trying to identify who was buried where to create a proper plan of our churchyard. Unless someone has done the same for Bude then for a burial in 1951 I would not be at all surprised if the exact location of an unmarked grave was now unknown although you should be able to narrow it down to a smallish area of the churchyard by reference to surrounding headstones. I’m afraid we may never know exactly where Pamela now rests but if there is an entry for a burial, then she is in Bude.

  • Milton Bolechala says:

    I submitted a couple of comments regarding Pamela, in that the Local Authority would normally pay for a pauper’s funeral, so the Town Council may may hold a dusty file or two on where she is buried.

    I have also found this :  “I have found some material relating to life in Bude parish in the 1950s
    and 1960s. Please ask if you would like to look.” which I have taken from :
    There was a very good Catholic Parish Priest at St. Peter’s R.C. Church. So RC Church records may be of help, as would the RC community of that era. Bude & Stratton Post article?

    Best Regards

    Milton Bolechala

  • Dawn Robinson says:

    Hi Marcus, thanks very much for your comment. May I say I enjoyed your book immensely and it did indeed shed new light on Pamela. I’m a little bemused, however, why a Catholic priest would use an Anglican church to conduct a burial service. One suggestion made to me was that Pamela may actually be buried in the Catholic churchyard at Launceston.

    • Pammie Couchman says:

      Do you have anymore news Dawn, I will be down in Bude next week -)

      • Dawn Robinson says:

        What are you specifically wanting to know? I’ve been researching but more about her life than her death, and that is taking me beyond Bude.

    • Mary Hallett says:

      Hi Dawn, Anglican parish churchyards are public burial grounds and any person who dies within the local area would normally be buried there, especially in 1951. Anglican priests allow their Catholic/Methodist etc colleagues to officiate at the actual burial in the churchyard, but the funeral service would be held elsewhere and then the congregation would proceed to the burial location for the internment. Mary

  • Thank you, Dawn, for meeting with our tour group, “Tarot Magic in Merlin’s Britain,” in Bude. It was one of the highlights of our trip. Being a group of Tarot enthusiasts we brought dowsing rods, a pendulum and a medium with us to the St. Michael’s churchyard where the outer corner of the old church yard seemed to yield a very positive response to our asking for her grave. We each spoke our gratitude to her for producing the wonderful Tarot deck and all the other beautiful works she created. Then, one of the participants dropped her pendulum in that spot and heard it hit the ground, but no amount of searching through the grass turned it up. When we got back to the bus the driver asked if anyone had left a pendulum in the bus, and there it was! So, that night at the Camelot Castle Hotel bar we used the pendulum to ask Pixie whether she had returned the pendulum to the bus – Yes! – and if we had found her burial site, along with many more questions. Nothing scientific and definitive in all this, but I thought everyone would be interested in our little foray into her mystery.

    • Dawn Robinson says:

      Thank you, Mary. It was lovely to meet your group and I’m glad the pendulum was returned because I revisited the site later to seek it but to no avail. What a bizarre, yet fascinating, ending. Meanwhile, if anyone out there remembers Father du Moulin Brown, or indeed Pamela’s friend, Nora Lake, please let me know. Nora, I now gather, was a spiritualist, who had a son called Freddie. Father du Moulin Brown presided over Pamela’s funeral and I gather was a lovely person who was sadly knocked down on a zebra crossing in Bude. We are looking at around the 1950s…

      • This was the only mention I found on-line to the priest you mentioned.
        Marriage certificate: No 67 of Stratton Registration Districy of the county of Cornwall.
        Marriage date: 21 Sept 1963. Names:[specifics deleted]
        Place: Catholic church of St Peter’s, Bude, by Joseph H du Moulin Brown, priest and W J May, registrar.

        [Joseph H du Moulin Browne is almost ceretainly the Josephy[sic] Henry du Moulin Browne in Crisp and Howard’s “Visitation of England”, vol 1, p. 119, privately printed 1893. Born 23 Mar 1890, bapt 24 Mar 1890 at St Peter’s church, Leamington.}

        So: Joseph Henry du Moulin Browne of St. Peter’s Church, Bude.

        The same priest ID is mentioned by Marcus Katz and Tali Godwin. http://www.waitesmithtarot.com/the-final-resting-place-of-pamela-colman-smith/

        Would love to learn more about Nora Lake.

      • Carole Wakefield says:

        It’s probably too late now, and may not be relevant, but I have some information about where Freddie and Mrs Lake lived in the early 1960s. Please email me if you would like further details.

        • Nicole Quinn says:

          Hello Carol

          I’m researching for a series I’m writing on PCS. I’d like to know anything you can tell me about Freddie and Nora Lake.



          • I think Nora and her son Freddie, are mysteries. There is a little in my book gleaned from local oral history, but anything more would be a fabulous find.

  • Mary Worrall says:

    Dawn – Most interested in the book that you were writing. Has it now been published? As to Pamela I wonder if you have come across any further information regarding her possible links or friendship with Osman Spare? It is generally surmised that they must have been acquainted by their common friendship with the Pankhursts!

    • Dawn Robinson says:

      Hi Mary, not yet published as every time I start to seriously write up my research, I uncover something else, which tells me my research is incomplete. Anything you can throw my way re Osman Spare would be appreciated. THere is now a novel about Pamela (and others) by Susan Wands which you may enjoy, called Magician and Fool.

    • Both of them exhibited at the Baillie Gallery and Pamela was good friends with the John Baillie family. It would be strange if they didn’t have some knowledge of each other, but with Spare’s involvement with Crowley’s OTO and Pamela’s conversion to Catholicism I doubt if they were friends.

      • Mary Worrall says:

        I assume PCS converted to Catholicism late in life, well after designing the tarot pack for which she is mostly known. So a friendship with Osman Spare isn’t at all unlikely. Before he wandered off into cats, alcohol, and witchcraft he was a golden boy prodigy at the Slade and big friend of Emmeline P. As a Tarot by Spare predating the Rider Waite deck has recently come to light they could certainly have this in common. Pamela was also a member of the Golden Dawn.

        • Mary Greer says:

          She converted a couple of years after doing the Tarot deck. She was 32 when she did the Tarot deck and she was in Waite’s Fellowship of the Golden Dawn, which was far more mystical than magikal. Waite and Crowley disliked each other greatly. Spare was 8 years younger than Smith. His personal deck was nothing like hers at all. I consulted on the book about Spare’s deck. I’m not saying she hadn’t met him – I really don’t know, but as Pamela became interested in Catholicism she turned away from old friends and former interests. I’m not familiar with her relationship with Sylvia Pankhurst. Pamela never showed any socialist leanings that I’m aware of. If you have concrete information it would really help. I’ve spent the past year working with Stuart Kaplan and two of Pamel’s biographers on a book about Pamel’s art and life. We’ve tried to track down every bit of information that we could. If you have a concrete lead, please let me know.

  • Mary Worrall says:

    As to Colman Smith and political leanings she belonged to and contributed artworks to the Suffrage Atelier. This was a group set up to promote and publicise Women’s Suffrage by art and the written word. Sylvia Pankhurst, who was at the Royal College with Spare (and known to have been his friend) also contributed to the Atelier. As Colman Smith set up a studio in London in 1901 I think it most likely that Sylvia Pankhurst possibly attended events/soirees there. Maybe Osman Spare went along with her. There is apparently a book written about this period featuring Pamela’s studio (allegedly) by Arthur Ransom called Bohemian London, published 1907. As I’ve only just found out zbout it I’ve yet to read it myself. Don’t think it’s in print- but your local library can help here with inter library loans. To sum up Pamela Colman Smith was certainly a supporter of Women’s Suffrage and moved in the same circles as the Pankhurst family and contributed to an artistic collective which included Sylvia Pankhurst. The artistic community in London just prior to the first world war was fairly small so I think it more likely than not that Osman Spare and Pamela Colman Smith must have run into each other at some point.

    • Yes, I’m familiar with her work with the Suffrage Atelier and I’ve read Ransome’s book and many others that mention Pamela during her London years. Like Dawn I’m especially interested in her years in Cornwall. I discovered a short while ago from a letter she wrote that she and her father first met Henry Irving at the King Arthur’s Castle Hotel (now the Camelot Castle Hotel). It was during the year it first opened. Irving indicated he was quite interested in her art and, of course, she soon illustrated a promotional booklet on the Lyceum Theatre productions. I also discovered two mentions of her from the 1920’s in a Catholic newspaper. She was not mentioned by name but they lauded the two ladies (her and her housekeeper/companion, Nora Lake?) who kept up the Our Lady of the Lizard Chapel and prayed for all the sailors who had died off The Lizard during the war. It seems there’ve been more shipwrecks there than in any other location in England. We still don’t know what the impetus was for her to move to such an out of the way place to create a priest’s retreat, although the tenancy was paid for when she inherited some money from an American relative.

      • mary worrall says:

        I think the Lizard Chapel is down on the Lizard peninsular and a Methodist place of worship related to the great Methodist revival in Cornwall in the 19C. So unlikely to be Catholic. In fact there are few traces of Catholicism the further down West you go, but masses of Chapels, some tiny and some enormous. Which makes all the business of Catholic priests etc. really unusual…


        • Mary Greer says:

          I only have a second to respond, but the website you point to is different than the “Our Lady of the Lizard” chapel that Pamela took care of. Her tiny chapel is mentioned a couple of times in a Catholic newsletter from around 1922-23. I’m teaching in China right now but when I get home I can give you more details.

          • Dawn Robinson says:

            Thanks to the two Marys. Yes, the Lizard was a hotbed of Methodism and non-conformism, but there was also Catholicism; for example, the church in Mullion not too far from Parc Garland, is Catholic.

  • Dawn Robinson says:

    I contacted the hotel at Tintagel but they say their records don’t go back far enough.

  • mary worrall says:

    I suppose anything is possible when you consider Crowley allegedly lived for while in Weston! Bude’s not that out of the way IMO and the Priest’s thing Pamela was involved in sounds more like a clerical version of a Theatrical Boarding House. Perhaps with her connections with Irving and her early stage design/walk on roles experience she spotted a gap in the market and thought she could make some money, rather than it being some spiritual retreat…. A nice bustling seaside B&B – aimed at priests – has a charming air of Father Ted doesn’t it?

  • Jackie Adams says:

    My husband and I were married in St. Peter’s Church, Bude by Father du Moulin Brown in January 1959 as my husband’s mother was a Catholic and I was eventually received in from the C of E. There were several local boys who were Servers, of which I could give you names and they may remember if there was a service in the Church and where exactly she was buried. Sorry, no further news on Nora Lake – but will keep on searching. Regards Jackie

  • Rik Schmidt says:

    Any where I can get more info on Nora Lake? Birthday? Death Date? Thank you in advance. Rik

  • Susan Collcutt says:

    I am interested in Pamela’s genealogy. There are several claims being made that her mother was Jamaican, but I can find no evidence of this and photographs of her mother’s parents and siblings certainly do not substantiate this, as far as I can tell. Have you uncovered any further details?

    • Hi, my book is now available, and in it you will see that I did not uncover evidence to substantiate it along with a few other myths in circulation. Pamela Colman Smith – Fonthill Media.

  • Mk says:

    I think it is an outrage that her lesbianism was dismissed. Yet again her life was defined by someone who seems to have chosen to deny her identity. Heartbreaking but not surprising. Kaplan’s qualifications are Tarot card collecting not sociology

    • The suggestion that Pamela was a lesbian seems to have been a modern one. I could certainly find no evidence of it, so it was not dismissed, it was thoroughly investigated. My qualifications are in sociology, but I still don’t think Pamela fits into that construct. I have no agenda, but quite simply found no conclusive evidence. If you have some, then please share because we’d all love to see it.

  • BDR says:

    R.I.P Mr Stuart Kaplan, may your legacy live on alongside Pamela Colman Smith.

  • Hopefully, my book, Pamela Colman Smith: the Pious Pixie, sheds some light on her later life.

  • Kass says:

    I have read your book Dawn and it’s a fascinating read, i fully recommend it.

  • Sue says:

    @MK, was there any evidence of her sexuality??? i think PSC was only interested in having close friendships and there was no mention by her closest friends that she preferred woman.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.