Abode of Love: Home to a Wacky Victorian Sex Cult

What images come to mind for the Victorian era? Maybe corsets, tea, and large country homes come to mind. Maybe the values of the time: wealth, family, morality, and strict gender roles (like divorce as a rare occurrence and society’s obsession with virginity). The last thing you might think of is a crazy sex cult housed in something called the “Abode of Love.”
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Yes, I’m not kidding you. They called themselves Agapemonites, taken from the Greek term agapemone and translates to “abode of love,” and this weird cult was founded in 1846 by Reverend Henry Prince.
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File:Rev Henry Prince.jpg
Reverend Henry Prince, Creepy Cult Leader. (Source: Utopia Britannica – British Utopian Experiments 1325 – 1945)
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The story starts out with the reverend finding himself possessed one Sunday while performing services at Charlinch in Somerset. He continued to experience these “possessions” every Sunday, throwing himself about the church, and drawing in large crowds. Eventually, Prince determined an explanation for these “possessions”: he had absorbed the spirit of God and embodied the Holy Spirit. Sound like the makings of a cult leader to you?
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Reverend Prince was eventually stripped of his holy cloth, but that didn’t stop him from starting his own congregation. Most of his followers were virginal, unmarried women who handed their worldly goods over to him to fund the purchase of the “Abode of Love.” Over time, this became a cluster of cottages protected by a 12-foot wall. (Remind anyone else of James Jones and Jonestown? Luckily there’s no Kool-Aid in this story).
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The Abode of Love
Abode of Love (Source: Quantock Online Community)
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Prince’s scheme was funded largely by the inheritance of the Nottidge sisters, whom he married off to his disciples in what he called “spiritual marriages.” These marriages, however, were very celibate. Prince preached abstinence to his followers, but this didn’t stop the eldest of the Nottidge sisters, Agnes, from getting impregnated, possibly by her husband.
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However, Prince engaged in many lewd and public sex rituals. In 1856, he performed one of these rituals with Zoe Patterson, one of his virginal followers…for a large audience…on a billiard table. Why did he choose there? No idea! The guy was insane. Many of his friends and closest followers seemed to agree.
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The Agapemone Chapel (Source: Wikimedia Commons, Derek Harper, CC BY-SA 2.0)
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Dozens withdrew from the cult after this theatrical display, calling it blasphemous and immoral. Now that sounds more like Victorian-speak to me.
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Even though he claimed to be immortal, Prince died in 1899 at the ripe, old age of 88. His cult continued on, however, until 1956.
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Further Readings:
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13 thoughts on “Abode of Love: Home to a Wacky Victorian Sex Cult

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  1. Thanks for this bit of history, showing the Victorian Era was not always as strait-laced as people think.
    I’m more familiar with the various sexually deviant communities here in the U.S. We had our celibates, such as the Shakers (who originated in Manchester, England). And our more sexually adventurous ones, such as the Oneida Community.
    I wonder if there’s a study that compares the two sides of the Atlantic?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi, Brian! Thank you for reading my article. I’m glad you enjoyed reading about this one of many wacky, sex-crazed cults from the Victorian era.

      I haven’t seen any studies comparing U.S. deviant communities to those in the U.K. I’ve also not specifically researched this subject. It’d be interesting to read. Maybe I’ll cover the topic in a future blog post.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Well, the American winner for oddity is probably Oneida, in which everyone was married to everyone else, but it was most definitely not free love. If, in that copious spare time we all dream about having, you want to dip into a contemporary account about Oneida, I highly recommend the 1875 study, “The Communistic Societies of the United States” by Charles Nordhoff. You can find it free on Project Gutenberg; go for a copy with the illustrations! Oneida has a chapter about 43 pages long; a light afternoon read.

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          1. Thank you. I went to see the Dashwood mausoleum in Wycombe on my “ancestry trip” to Great Britain, years ago. (No, Dashwood is not an ancestor; I was mixing family origins with other types of history.)

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          2. The connection was merely circumstantial: I was taking a trip to see where my ancestors came from in Great Britain, and was staying with a work colleague who lived in High Wycombe.
            So it became a tour to see the ancestral destinations I knew (Little Waldingfield, Suffolk from 400 years ago; Milngavie and Cardross near Glasgow, 72 years ago) and other interesting sites, which besides the Dashwood mausoleum included Hadrian’s Wall and the standing stones of Callanish.

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