St John Karp

Ramblings of an Ornamental Hermit

The Man with Half a Million Followers

The Life of W.J. Ennever

by St John Karp

Mr. W.J. Ennever, Founder and President of the Pelman Institute

This biography is dedicated to Kathleen Ennever, who fought to keep her family together. Without her notes and memoirs, much of her father’s life would have been lost. Her children remember her fondly.

I am indebted to Ann, John, Mary and Tom Tribe for their extraordinary help in documenting their grandfather’s life. Without their help this biography would certainly never have been possible.

The Life of W.J. Ennever

26 March 1869 — 16 August 1947

W.J. Ennever will best be remembered with the same credit he always gave himself, as the man who founded the Pelman Institute. The Institute’s flagship was Pelmanism, Ennever’s own peculiar system of mind training and philosophy. He brought this new creation to the world and found that the world wanted it, if only for a little while. His life and profession, however, grew out of a strange turning point in human history.

Around the time of the Renaissance, early scientists began to uncover the way the world worked. History books document the discovery of a scientific principle, and then leave the topic. It is as if from that point on mankind knew and understood that idea. That is only half the story.

Between their discovery in the lofty upper plains of scientific knowledge and their common understanding amongst all people, these scientific concepts seemed like magical things to a public that did not fully understand them. There can be no better demonstration than the material set forth by tricksters and con-artists to part an awe-stricken public from their money. In her book English Eccentrics, Edith Sitwell documents some of these characters in the chapter “Quacks and Alchemists”, people “who would cure the ills of the world”[^0]. Sitwell notes the claims of Dr. Graham, who was indefatiguable in singing the praises of his “Electrical Aether, Nervous Aetherial Balsam, Imperial Pills, Liquid Amber, and his Restorative Balsam”. Graham pitched his pseudo-science in the light of new discoveries in medicine, thus dazzling his audience and parting them from their money. This is by no means a phenomenon peculiar to the 18th century. Even in modern times after the discovery of radioactivity, advertising began to infiltrate a public that poorly understood it. Products came on the market like the “radium water” that was sold as a health tonic in the early 20th century despite the now-understood dangers of radioactivity.

The fact that the public bought into these scams reflects the great optimism of the age. Mankind could accomplish anything with the aid of science, and civilisation was tirelessly pushing forward to a better future. But paradoxically it was thanks to these tinkerers and con-men that science did move forward. It is because of their absurd claims that we discovered the harmful effects of radioactivity. By testing their claims, people discovered what worked and what didn’t.

As scientific concepts became better understood, much of the colour fell from the advertising of the con-men. Modern miracles such as “unique water” supposedly contain minerals and salts - a poor match for the “Nervous Aetherial Balsam” of Dr. Graham or the wonders of a radioactive tonic. W.J. Ennever came at the crossing point between two eras, the lifetime during which the over-optimistic hope for nervous balsams faded and a more stone-cold empirical realism began to grow. But even then tinkerers could explore the boundaries between science and fantasy. The mind was only just becoming worthy of study, and even today it is poorly understood. This left a gap for those interested in the study and training of the mind, a gap that W.J. Ennever, among others, stepped in to fill.

It was the golden age of the correspondence course, when knowledge became available through the mail. Ennever invented a system of memory training called “Pelmanism” that was taught through one of the early correspondence courses. The mind was a new and exciting front and, as with Dr. Graham’s balsams, the public were eager to take part. Although the advertising for Pelmanism inevitably grew from the advertising for false scientific wonders, Ennever’s work was a more practical kind of approach. Instead of miracle pills, his course was founded on the well-known principles of practise and study.

Ennever’s family was an old one that had lived in England for centuries. Their names are well-documented in historical records, but little has been written about the people themselves. Despite their large footprint in the media and in history, the Ennevers have been forgotten by a culture eager to move on. W.J. Ennever lived at the top of society; he spread his correspondence course all around the globe to thousands of pupils; he published a best-selling book; and he was even offered a knighthood. Yet we have left Ennever behind. It was a great surprise to learn that there are virtually no secondary sources concerning his life. The Pelman Institutes around the world have long ago abandoned the original Pelmanism course. Ennever’s book is now a quaint 1940s relic available on eBay. Pelmanism has been inherited by the internet traders, modern-day Dr. Grahams who peddle Ennever’s work as a long-forgotten secret. In this respect they are not entirely wrong.

Although little has been written about Ennever, there are a number of primary sources. There is his own book, Your Mind and How to Use It. This is slim on biographical detail, but it does provide more than enough of Ennever’s own views of the world. The Ennever clan’s large historical footprint has also helped preserve their story, leaving a trail of newspaper articles, census records, and records of births, deaths and marriages. Most of all, however, the author is indebted to the grandchildren of W.J. Ennever, who were generous enough to share their memories of him and to help fill in a few of the holes in our knowledge of Ennever’s life.

Teresa Ann Sherrott, 1880.
Teresa Ann Sherrott, 1880.

William Joseph Ennever was born on 26 March 1869[^1] to parents William Joseph Ennever and Teresa Ann Sherrott. Teresa was described as “dignified”[^2], but little else is known about Ennever’s parents or extended family. William and Teresa did not stop at one or two children, eventually producing a family of eleven children[^3]. The family had a strong Roman Catholic upbringing, which affected the daughters most of all, with Ennever’s sisters Catherine, Agnes, Philomena and Teresa being educated in a Roman Catholic convent[^4]. W.J. Ennever was not a practising Catholic later in life, and was himself educated in “private schools”[^5].

W.J. Ennever senior, 1880.
W.J. Ennever senior, 1880.

Ennever’s family was based in London, and London would always be the home of Ennever himself no matter how much of a seasoned traveller he became. The family trade had been in pianos at least since Ennever’s grandfather’s time. The first mention of pianos in the family is Ennever’s grandfather William Joseph Ennever in 1838, when he is listed as a pianoforte maker. There is then a mention of the piano makers Ennever & Steedman registered in London in 1850, and W.J. Ennever & Son appeared around the same time[^6]. W.J. Ennever & Son was a major piano business, and their pianos can occasionally be found on the market today. Whenever she saw a piano, Ennever’s daughter Kathleen would lift the lid to check whether it was a W.J. Ennever & Son[^7]. The family trade was then passed on to sons William Joseph and George Vincent. Ennever’s father had high hopes that he too would take on the family business, and there must have been enormous pressure to follow his father’s and grandfather’s career and to keep a W.J. Ennever in the company. It is a mark of Ennever’s great will and independence that he refused: “Filled with a desire to see the world, he… ran away to sea instead of succeeding, as he might have done, to the centuries old manufacturing business of his father and grandfather”[^8].

The fact that Ennever ran away indicates a tendency of his. When the pressures became too much and his responsibilities weighed down on him, Ennever’s reaction was to escape into travel. He would be faced with another such moment later in life. This time, however, Ennever spent the three years from 1887 to 1890[^9] at sea, encountering “many countries… and all sorts and conditions of men”[^10]. It is unknown exactly what Ennever found overseas, but it must have been a formative experience for the 18-year-old, and one in which he determined that he would become a writer.

W.J. Ennever as a youth.
W.J. Ennever as a youth.

Upon his return to England, he began working. He first worked as a secretary, and then as an editor[^11] under the famous magazine publisher Thomas Gibson Bowles, founder of Vanity Fair and The Lady. At the time, the world of correspondence courses was in its infancy, and taught a wide variety of subjects such as creative writing and memory training. Ennever’s introduction to this world came from Professor Loisette, a well-known memory training specialist of the time. Loisette’s book Assimilative Memory or How to Attend and Never Forget is still in print, and at one time he numbered Mark Twain among his pupils. Loisette summoned Ennever to manage a memory training course he had set up[^12].

His experience with Professor Loisette paved the way for Ennever to set up his own course, the event which would make his name and determine the rest of his life. The correspondence school he set up would be called the Pelman Institute, and would teach a system of memory training known as “Pelmanism”. The course taught a curious mix of philosophy and memory exercises which would probably not meet success in the modern world. Today’s “self-help” books peddle easy answers and over-optimistic praise of the reader’s abilities. Pelmanism, on the other hand, while being optimistic and encouraging the readers to better themselves, does not indulge in pointless flattery. Instead it mixes empirical observation on the workings of the mind with Ennever’s own philosophy of life to form the basis of a mind training system with an overall emphasis on practice. The course itself makes no mistake that it requires effort, and this is an important difference from modern steps-to-success programmes: “For success in our Course, there is one other qualification even more important than confidence, and that is WORK; work in the sense of effort. Continued effort is the price we have to pay for progress”[^13].

The most well-known feature of Pelmanism is the card game, which today is called “memory” or “patience”. In this game, the player must match pairs of cards by turning them face-up two at a time. If he fails to find a match, the cards must be turned down again and their location remembered. With many such simple but effective exercises, Ennever brought the word “Pelmanism” into the English language and made his own name. A short biographical entry for him can be found in Who’s Who, and there are entries for “Pelmanism” in dictionaries of a certain age.

Sources are vague on the foundation of the Institute. Sources date the foundation anywhere from 1896 to 1899. W.J. Ennever takes the credit for the foundation of the Pelman Institute in 1898[^14], but there are contradictory sources that state that the Institute was founded by Christopher Louis Pelman, a British psychologist, in 1899[^15]. To confuse matters further Ennever himself was sometimes known as “Mr. Pelman” thanks to his involvement at the Institute[^16]. John Tribe, one of Ennever’s grandsons, mentions the real Pelman briefly as a partner in the early days of the course who died before it was completed[^17], and Ennever hints at this, although never mentioning Pelman by name: “I realised, however, that the training of the mind was a practical possibility; and, in conjunction with some of the ablest psychologists of the time, I brought out the first modest system of mind and memory training”[^18]. It thus appears that over the years 1898-1899, Ennever worked with Pelman and others to realise Ennever’s dream of a mind training system. Unfortunately there are no reliable sources on Christopher Louis Pelman himself, and his fate remains unknown.

Ennever’s business was not known as the Pelman Institute from its inception, since it started as a much smaller venture. Success came slowly, but eventually the public began to flock to Ennever’s correspondence course. In 1905 the business was taken over by a limited company called Pelman Schools and then was merged with the Pelman Institute in 1920[^19]. Ennever would stay in the correspondence course business, later taking over from journalist and politician T.P. O'Connor as the head of the London Correspondence College[^20].

Pelmanism began to enter the British consciousness, and the “little grey books” in which the course was taught soon became iconic. The advertising from this time clearly shows that Pelmanism was grounded in the quackery that had come before it. One advertisement bears the prominent title “Brain Magic”, and touts the many benefits and customer endorsements for the Institute’s little grey books: “‘A single one of them would be cheap to me at a hundred pounds,’ declares a solicitor. ‘As a direct consequence of them I gained a step in promotion,’ writes a Lieut.-Colonel”[^21]. The correspondence course gained success all around the world, from Africa to the USA. Over the years its students numbered in the hundreds of thousands, with Ennever once being named “A man with half-a-million followers”[^22]. Among these followers were T.P. O'Connor, a prominent figure in British journalism and politics; Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of the Scouting Movement; and countless British writers, politicians and military men of the time.

W.J. Ennever, Margaret Lawson and Unknown in Germany, 1900.
W.J. Ennever, Margaret Lawson and Unknown in Germany, 1900.

In 1895, Ennever married Mary Margaret Oldacres Lawson, and on 27 September 1904 Margaret gave birth to their daughter Kathleen. The news must have been at once joyous and depressing to Ennever. Although a child is a great source of pride, the huge responsibility and commitment would have made Ennever start to feel old beyond his years. He was a man who disliked the thought of growing old so much that he insisted his grandchildren call him “Uncle Billy”[^23], and the sudden arrival of a daughter would have made him feel the years encroaching. Only a few weeks after Kathleen’s birth, on 8 November Margaret died of a pulmonary embolism[^24]. This left Ennever with a child to raise, a business, and the grief of losing his wife of nearly ten years. Add to this the perceived approach of old age, and it is not hard to understand Ennever’s feeling of claustrophobia and mild panic. In 1905 Ennever once again fled his responsibilities in England. Shortly before it became Pelman Schools, Ennever sold his business for £100,000[^25] and left Kathleen in the care of aunts and boarding schools. Just as when he was pressured to go into the family business, Ennever escaped into travel. This time he sailed for America to market Pelmanism across the Atlantic. Because of his travels on Pelman business, he did not get to know his daughter while she grew up, and it was only much later in life that the two would discover each other.

Margaret Lawson in Africa, 1903.
Margaret Lawson in Africa, 1903.

Ennever was a handsome man, and is described as such by even his daughter and grandchildren. In his photographs he is often seen with a stern expression on his face, although if his daughter’s dry humour is any indication then he must also have had a keen sense of humour. He managed to keep his hair all his life, although it was already a striking white when Kathleen was a child. Kathleen said that when she was young and was asked what she wanted to do when she grew up, she answered “push daddy around in a wheel chair”[^26]. Ennever was rarely seen without a monocle, and in photographs it can usually be seen dangling from Ennever’s waistcoat.

My Father was what they called a ladies man,” writes Kathleen, “he liked them, and they liked him”[^27]. While seeing the world on Pelman business, Ennever began to travel with lady companions. This may have been in response to the grief of losing of his wife and his desire to flee the responsibilities of age. When he returned to England, he married Emmy Elvira Christina Sjöberg in 1906[^28]. Sjöberg, like Ennever, had lost a previous partner and the marriage was the second for both of them. The marriage, however, was short-lived thanks to Ennever’s fondness for companionship. The two divorced four years later in 1910 “on grounds of desertion and adultery”[^29].

W.J. Ennever with 'wife' June Elvidge, 1939.
W.J. Ennever with “wife” June Elvidge, 1939.

For the rest of his life, Ennever would go out with many women, few of whom seemed permanent. Kathleen Ennever recalled that she and a boy went to see Madame Butterfly, but she suddenly felt overcome and returned to her hotel room early. But “when we got there my father was busily entertaining a lady friend, so we were not very popular”[^30]. In 1923, when Kathleen sailed to New York for a trip with her father, they were accompanied by a woman whom Kathleen assumed was her own companion, but whom she discovered was actually her father’s[^31]. In February 1930 Ennever sailed to the USA alone, but in April the same year we find him travelling with a June or Jane Ennever who is recorded as being his wife[^32].

Ann Tribe, one of Ennever’s grandchildren, recalled receiving a book in 1940 as a gift from Vera Thomson, another of her grandfather’s companions[^33]. Thomson had been married to a man whose ancestor was James Thomson, the poet who had written the words to “Rule, Britannia”. A newspaper snapped Ennever together with another partner, June Elvidge, who the journalist described as Ennever’s wife[^34]. Ennever’s work with Pelmanism had made him rich, and the fact that Elvidge was a famous star of silent movies demonstrates the circles in which he moved.

Ennever family photo, 1898.
Ennever family photo, 1898. Back row, second from left is W.J. Ennever with wife Margaret Lawson in front of him. Tentative identification of two girls at far left as sisters Catherine and Philomena; woman in centre as mother Teresa Ann Sherrott; and elderly woman on right as aunt Catherine. The remaining men are presumed to include brothers Joseph, George and John.

Many of Ennever’s brothers and sisters lived only short lives, with very few surviving to old age. Teresa, the first child of the family, died when she was only nine[^35], while Mary died before she turned 15. John was a private in the First World War, and was taken ill whilst on parade in 1915. He was operated on for appendicitis but continued to get worse. When the doctor operated for a second time, he discovered two feet of gangrenous bowels[^36]. John died a few hours later at age 38. George, a salesman, died one year after at 44. Joseph, an accountant and railway clerk, married late and died in 1934 at age 63. Augustus, a commercial clerk, got married and had three children, but his wife deserted him and took his three children to Canada[^37]. One of Ennever’s brothers also helped him in his business, acting as a salesman for Pelmanism in Africa. More than one brother was a salesman, however, and the details are not known.

Kathleen Ennever was not fond of her aunt Agnes, who she writes “used to pull my hair” and “used to hit my hands with the hair brush when I put them on my head when she pulled”[^38]. Agnes never married. Catherine (Kitty) and Philomena (Mena), like Agnes, used to shout at Kathleen and tell her off, despite which Kitty and Mena were the only aunts she really loved. She writes that “Kitty I loved, Agnes I did not and Mena… is the only one who looked after me when I was four years old and whom I loved very much, maybe more than any one else in my childhood as she was the one who really seemed to care for me and share her home and children with me”. Both Ennever’s sisters Catherine and Teresa[^39] had a rare longevity, with Teresa dying at 83 and Catherine at 87. Neither had ever married. They had both assisted the nuns at the Faithful Companions of Jesus convent, and in their old age the sisters took care of them in return[^40]. The nuns respected them so much that Catherine and Teresa were buried in the same grave as one of the old heads of the order, Mother Pauline O'Brien[^41].

Meanwhile the Pelman Institute was the subject of many ups and downs in the business world. Ennever had disposed of his shares in his business shortly before it became Pelman Schools in 1905, but he must have returned to the company by 1915. In his brother John’s death report from 1915, W.J. Ennever is listed as a company director[^42], presumably of Pelman Schools. He later wrote that “In 1916 I received an offer of £200,000 for my interests. The offer was made on behalf of a well-known man, but refused, as I considered it was my duty to stay by the students who had enrolled for the Course under my supervision”[^43]. Since he had sold his shares earlier, this indicates a return to the company in the interval. When Pelman Schools was finally merged with the Pelman Institute in March 1920, Ennever was listed the chairman. At the end of 1920, however, B.J. Redman purchased £20,000 of the directors' shares. Ennever, along with two others, resigned[^44], with Ennever later stating that “on medical advice, I reluctantly retired from the direction of the Institute”[^45]. Shortly after Redman’s takeover, the Pelman Institute started to flounder, and in 1921 the company went into receivership. Ennever resumed control of the Institute late in 1921 because “he wished to safeguard the interests of tens of thousands of students of Pelmanism all over the world, who wished to complete their courses of study”[^46]. March 1922 found the Institute in trouble again when it was to be liquidated under a “compulsory winding-up order”[^47]. It is uncertain what happened, but the business survived in one form or another for several decades longer.

Ennever’s continual returns to the company and personal responsibility for it show a far from superficial commitment to his course and the welfare of his students. In all his articles, Ennever always emphasised the importance of his students. He even went so far as to say that he was not the true author of Pelmanism, but that Pelmanism was the “tabloid form” of all the best psychology and the result of years of feedback and fine-tuning. He also remarks that he spared no personal expense to keep the correspondence course up to date: “I have never avoided changing the whole edition because of the thousands of pounds it would cost”[^48]. And Ennever did not take on these responsibilities just once or twice, but continually returned to the Institute whenever he saw it in jeopardy. Here was a man who was wholly dedicated to the work he was doing and to the students who benefitted from it.

Kathleen Ennever, 1928.
Kathleen Ennever, 1928.

With all his travel and business Ennever rarely saw his daughter, despite which Kathleen Ennever was well looked-after. Kathleen would later say that she had been “born with a silver spoon in my mouth, which I quickly opened and dropped”[^49]. She was “farmed out” to her aunt Lucy and then to her aunt Philomena, then was sent to boarding school. During the holidays she lived with her god-mother, but at school she invented a rich fantasy life involving the mother she never knew. Kathleen wrote that she would lie to the other children and tell tales of her wonderful mother and their adventures during the holidays[^50].

She was shunted around to more schools and carers, eventually coming to a governess in France. Here she learned French but soon fell ill and was subjected to the ministrations of a doctor who bled her with leeches. She wrote to her father to tell him she was so miserable and hungry that she had to sneak down to the beach and eat the raw limpets she found. W.J. Ennever did not believe her, but after he heard about the leeches he sent one of his brothers, probably Augustus, to check on her. He took one look at her and took her home with him that night. Ennever thought Kathleen was now ready for society, but after her failed attendance of Madame Butterfly he sent her to finishing school in Geneva.

W.J. Ennever indulging in yachting, one of his favourite pastimes.
W.J. Ennever indulging in yachting, one of his favourite pastimes.

In 1911 Ennever purchased his first car, an early model Rover, and took Kathleen for a drive. Kathleen recalled that her godmother said “Don’t go fast and frighten the child”, despite which Ennever reached about 25 mp/h and Kathleen started to scream. As well as a car, Ennever also owned a yacht named the Lady Belle with a crew of four. Ennever once told Kathleen to fetch the cabin boy for a drink, but, unable to find him, Kathleen surprised her father by dressing up as the cabin boy. Yachts were expensive enough, let alone cars during the early years of their development. The Ennevers' adventures with them are the antics of a high class family. Their standing was such that Kathleen once danced with the Prince of Wales[^51], although she didn’t think much of his dancing. It is said that after Ennever sold the yacht, it was used to evacuate Allied soldiers from Dunkirk during the Second World War.

In 1923 when Kathleen finished school in Geneva, she sailed to New York to join her father and was taken on “the Grand Tour” trip around the world for two years[^52]. Even without the world tour, Ennever’s travels would have been remarkable. Even before Ennever fled his father’s piano business, he had travelled to New York in 1884. Then came his three-year escape and, although we do not know where he went, three years would certainly have shown him the world. He then travelled to New York dozens of times from 1902 onward[^53], presumably using it as a launching-pad for Pelmanism in America. This marked the beginning of Ennever’s travels to market Pelmanism around the world. In 1905 he returned to New York, this time in response to the death of his wife. He set sail with his second wife Elvira in 1907, taking in South Africa and Australia, among other countries. Among his many trips, the records show that Ennever returned to New York in 1919 with his then ex-wife Elvira. Why they travelled to New York together nearly ten years after their divorce remains a mystery. It is possible that they made a final attempt to reconcile, because they each listed their status as married despite neither being married at the time. Listing themselves as married would have kept up appearances if they were together again.

Ennever spent little time with his daughter while she grew up. As a father he seems distant and cold, and Kathleen estimated that she had only known him for six months in total until she was 18. This was what Kathleen called “a strange relationship”[^54]. She writes that at Christmas in 1922 she was in San Francisco with her father when he went out and told her not to leave her hotel room. The hotel manager “told me he was sure my Father would want me to have a Christmas dinner”, and so took her to the dining room. Her 21st birthday was a similarly “disappointing day”. Kathleen writes that “I was with my Father and we were going to play golf and my father said I was not to tell any one it was my birthday, for he did not wish them to feel they had to give me a gift, so I just sat there all lunch feeling unhappy”.

W.J. Ennever with a bridesmaid at a wedding.
W.J. Ennever with a bridesmaid at a wedding.

As well as being a distant father, Ennever did not separate himself from his Pelmanist persona. Kathleen was never allowed to use a bookmark. Instead, her father insisted she memorise the page number. He was so methodical he even taught Kathleen that when she bought a new dress she should throw one away, a new pair of shoes, an old one away, etc. Kathleen later said that when she couldn’t sleep, her father told her to start relaxing from the toes up. This exercise sounds remarkably similar to the muscle and breathing exercises propounded in the little grey books.

Although Ennever was a largely absent father, it could never be said that he did not care. On that same day he took Kathleen golfing on her 21st birthday, he gave her an emerald and diamond ring. He also took a great interest in Kathleen’s activities to make sure she was safe. Kathleen was a keen dancer, and used to dance with her boyfriend every night at the Palais in London, an activity that “wasn’t done in those days”. She and her boyfriend made the semi-finals in a competition, but Kathleen was too afraid of being found out to enter it. When she returned home, Ennever asked about the finals and would only say that “there isn’t much I don’t know. I have you very carefully watched”. Kathleen’s boyfriend, however, was not the one for her, and she later married Arthur Tribe in 1928. After the wedding Ennever revealed that he knew a policeman whom he had asked to tail Kathleen in his off-duty hours. He could thus keep a watch over his daughter without interfering with her freedom[^55].

A kind of childlike enjoyment coexisted with W.J. Ennever’s harshness. Kathleen told a story about when she was young. She kept her biggest Easter egg specially to show her father, but she went for her afternoon walk and when she came back her father had eaten the whole egg[^56]. He also spent his money with an eye to pleasure. Apart from a yacht and an early car, he owned numerous properties which included a golf course. He was offered a knighthood, but refused it on the basis that “He felt he was the same Person without it, it would not make any difference to The Person he was”[^57].

Your Mind and How to Use It (1962)
Your Mind and How to Use It (1962)

The Ennevers had an idyllic and carefree existence until the Second World War. The Depression must have been eating into Ennever’s savings, because by the late 1930s he had started to lose his fortune. His very last journey to New York, among the dozens of others he had made, came in late 1937. The cost of sea travel must have been formidable, and it is likely he could not afford to return. Kathleen Ennever writes that “by 1938 my father was no longer so rich and the allowance he had given me since I was 18 was reduced”[^58]. In 1938 Ennever published his book, Your Mind and How to Use It. In it, he cites his desire to produce a more affordable and compact version of his correspondence course, but perhaps his dwindling cash was an ulterior motive.

1940 found Kathleen sailing for Singapore with her children, the youngest of whom was only two. Her husband Arthur was in the Royal Naval Reserve and had been called out to Singapore, where he invited Kathleen to join him. Kathleen intended to sail for Singapore via Canada where she had relatives, but Arthur was suddenly transferred back to England. Kathleen attempted to return to England from Canada, but by that time London was being evacuated and she and her children were not allowed to return[^59]. Kathleen was now stuck and had to raise her children on her own.

Kathleen’s father could no longer help her, as Ennever had lost his remaining money. It is possible he had his money invested and then lost it all with the onset of the War. In late 1940 Ennever went bankrupt, and in 1941 he filed for bankruptcy with liabilities of £16,092 and assets amounting to a mere £106. He attributed his insolvency to “the supplemental demands for income-tax and other causes”[^60].

Kathleen had always received an allowance from her father, but by 1942 the payments stopped coming[^61]. Only now did Kathleen realise how well-off she had been before. Yet her father’s generosity in the past saved her now. On her 21st birthday Kathleen had wanted a car, but her father instead gave her a ring, telling her that the car would keep costing money but the ring could be sold if she ever needed the money. Now the ring became a “god send”, and Kathleen sold it to help her while stuck in Canada[^62].

The Pelman Institute continued to operate after Ennever’s bankruptcy, but Ennever was no longer associated with it. Although there is no source that elaborates on Ennever’s position, as a bankrupt he would no longer have been able to sit on the board, let alone direct the company itself. The Institute continued to operate throughout the 1940s and advertised regularly in Argosy, a short story magazine. The company demonstrated a great deal of business acumen not only by pitching advertisements to soldiers, but by selling Pelmanism to the public in the light of the war. For example, one ad offers this gem of wartime rhetoric: “Time and energy to spend in service that will add to Britain’s striking power!”[^63]. According to the campaign, Pelmanism would equip men and women on the “home front” with efficient and powerful minds, thus concentrating the mental energy to be used in His Majesty’s service. For a company trying to sell a non-essential product in the midst of wartime rationing, it was a very clever angle to take.

The fact that none of these advertisements mention Ennever, the founder of the Institute, is a sure sign that he was no longer involved. Previous campaigns had always contained personal messages and endorsements from Ennever, but his name is notably lacking from the Institute’s advertising from the 1940s onwards. The Pelman Institute continued to advertise in Argosy until 1961, but its fate after this time is not known. By the late 1950s the advertisements had become smaller and were located towards the back of the magazine rather than the inside front cover, indicating a decline in fortunes.

If the Institute had a sharp wartime sense of business, then it had been inherited from its founder. None made better use of his circumstances than W.J. Ennever himself. During the First World War Ennever created a Pelmanism correspondance course specially designed for soldiers[^64], and the newspaper articles on Pelmanism at the time strongly emphasised the need for Pelmanism to win the war: “The effective building up of our National fortifications will depend wholly upon the amount of efficient brain power which the nation can call into action. And mental efficiency like physical efficiency can only be obtained by a sane and scientific course of mental training. That is the royal road. There is no other way. That is why I look upon the brass plate at No. 4, Bloomsbury street [the Pelman Institute] as a brass plate on the open doorway of the Empire”[^65]. With this kind of rhetoric in his favour, Ennever could hardly fail. He repeated his tactics when the next war rolled around. When the Second World War was at its height, Ennever was no longer involved with the Institute but nevertheless made the best of his situation. He produced a special abridged version of Your Mind and How to Use It, a special forces edition “for the benefit of the Forces and war workers at this critical time in our national affairs”[^66].

When he lost his money, Ennever owned a Rolls Royce of which he was very proud. This was one of his last possessions to be sold, and even then his chauffeur Payes and his wife stayed on to look after Ennever. Mr. Payes served as Ennever’s butler and chauffeur, while Mrs. Payes was his cook and housekeeper. The Ennevers and the Payes were quite close, and Ann Tribe remembers having sat on the running board of the Rolls while Payes cleaned the car. She writes of the Payes, “They were very fond of him and I believe when things were bad, they still stayed on for very little money”[^67].

W.J. Ennever with granddaughter Mary, c.1939.
W.J. Ennever with granddaughter Mary, c.1939.

Ennever remained poor for the rest of his life, and his sudden lack of success and inability to support his family must have hit him hard. Ennever had written that “Too often age, bringing with it a few failures, induces pessimism. Fear grips the heart. The spirit of resignation to fate takes possession, and a dull and dreary outlook follows. This sort of thing must be stopped”[^68]. It is unknown how much Ennever felt the bite of depression, but it does seem that he took his own advice. Only two years after he had gone bankrupt, Ennever began advertising for “Super-Pelmanism” in The Times, a postal course that “Assures full benefits in half the time, at a fraction of the former cost”[^69]. Very tellingly, the ad was posted in the personal classifieds, as opposed to the grand half- or full-page commercial advertisements of the past. Mail was to be sent not to any institute or company, but direct to Ennever himself in London. It even appears that Ennever’s fortunes had started to reverse. By 1945 he had published the “special forces edition” of his book and was marketing Your Mind and How to Use It in the papers. Instead of the Pelman Institute, Ennever had established the Ennever Foundation at Vernon House, Sicilian Avenue.

Even when times were down, Ennever’s situation was still not entirely bad. Although hiding his reduced circumstances by having his mail delivered to the Devonshire Club, Ennever took the chance to get to know his only daughter and he corresponded with his family often. Age and circumstances, however, seemed to take some toll on him. In a letter to his 15-year-old granddaughter Ann in 1944, Ennever makes a bittersweet reference to his fall from grace: “I think we could have a jolly good time together even if we haven’t much money, but some day we shall have some and we’ll let the world know it, and probably have just a little of it, not too much”[^70]. While the comment contains traces of Ennever’s unhappiness, it is also tinged with an almost childlike optimism. Ennever had confidence in his ability to re-establish himself in the business world.

Ann Tribe advanced the idea that perhaps Ennever thought he could get back at Dale Carnegie, the popular American author of How to Win Friends and Influence People whom the family believed had stolen Ennever’s ideas. It is unclear what Ennever himself thought, but Kathleen would later say that Carnegie had stolen her father’s ideas and become successful using money and American know-how, leaving Ennever bankrupt[^71]. John Tribe, on the other hand, expressed scepticism at the idea. What we can tell, however, is that Ennever’s age must have caught up with him by the time he wrote his letter to Ann. Ennever had always clung to his youth by insisting his grandchildren call him “Uncle Billy”, but when he concludes his letter he finally concedes the title “grandad”.

Kathleen Ennever was still in Canada when she heard of her father’s death. She had been cabled when her father died, but never received the message. Instead, she first heard the news by mail when a friend in England sent her the newspaper cutting. On the 16th of August 1947, W.J. Ennever died on his way to hospital. His death certificate lists as the cause of death a combination of broncho pneumonia, pulmonary tuberculosis and cancer of the colon[^72]. Ennever was buried in St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Cemetery in London[^73]. He left behind in his will the sum of £139.1.9d[^74].

It is ironic that we have lost so much information about a man who dedicated his life to memory. Many of the dates and hard facts of Ennever’s life have been discovered from disparate sources, but this leaves the more personal details of the man himself. Were it not for the help of his grandchildren, this information may well have been lost forever.

Ennever’s life is not a cautionary tale, nor a didactic lesson in success and failure - he lived the same highs and lows that everybody does. Nor is it important to read about his life and apply it to the modern world. But nevertheless, in a world in which our knowledge of the past is unparalleled, it is strange that W.J. Ennever should have slipped under the radar and into obscurity. His life’s work is the strangest quirk: a mind training system that drew on both the frauds of the past and the brightening world of empirical science, and that found success all over the world. In a historical backflip, the Internet has seen the resurgence of the frauds who use their Internet presence to sell all manners of magic and mysticism. They have discovered Pelmanism, and market it now as a lost miracle[^75].

It is hard to imagine Pelmanism making a serious return, especially in a world which is inundated with self-help books and tutorials “for dummies”. These courses offer patronising instruction or empty confidence-building rhetoric, whereas Ennever’s course requires honest reflection, practice and common-sense. A course like Ennever’s could certainly not compete, and is likely to be forgotten in time.

While reading Your Mind and How to Use It, I was surprised to find that Ennever pin-pointed exactly how I came to research him: “…use your reading of books, your conversations, and your reflections, to discover a line of investigation that not only appeals to you but which may lead to original results”[^76]. I would bet that Ennever never thought that line would come to apply to his own life. I hope that I have done something new with this biography, that I have put together information that might never have been connected, and that I have done something to make the memory of W.J. Ennever that little bit more permanent.

W.J. Ennever, c.1930.
W.J. Ennever, c.1930.


Documentary Sources

Oral Sources

Family Tree

Descendants chart for William Joseph Ennever

|- subject
|- children
|- grandchildren
|- greatgrandchildren ….

|- William Joseph Ennever c 1803-14 May 1885
m1 10 Jan 1824 Jane King c 1797-28 Jun 1838
. |- Elizabeth Jane Ennever 2 Oct 1824-
. |- Anna Maria Ennever 20 Oct 1826-
. |- Mary Ann Ennever 16 Jul 1828-
. |- William Joseph Ennever c 1830-3 Sep 1917
. | m 1865 Teresa Ann Sherrott 1 Oct 1842-25 Jan 1930
. | |- Teresa Mary Ennever 1867-1876
. | |- William Joseph Ennever 26 Mar 1869-16 Aug 1947
. | | .m1 1895 Mary Margaret Oldacres Lawson 9 Jan 1874-8 Nov 1904
. | | . |- Kathleen Ennever 27 Sep 1904-2 Jun 1994
. | | . m 8 Jun 1928 Arthur Stanley Tribe
. | | m2 12 Sep 1906 Emmy Elvira Christina Jacobson 1885-
. | |- Joseph Aloysius Ennever 28 Feb 1871-21 May 1934
. | |- George Joseph Vincent Ennever 1872-1916
. | |- Mary Amy Ennever 20 May 1874-1889
. | |- Catherine Mary Isabel Ennever 1876-29 May 1963
. | |- John Dominic Joseph Ennever 1877-18 Nov 1915
. | |- Agnes Mary Ennever 1879-1966
. | |- Philomena Mary Iwelda Ennever 1880-
. | |- Teresa Mary Ennever 1882-1965
. | |- Augustus Bonaventure Joseph Ennever 1883-Aft 1920
. |- Rebecca Emma Ennever 28 Sep 1832-
. |- Catherine Ann Ennever c 1833-1909
. |- Jane Ennever 3 Jul 1834-1903
m2 18 Aug 1840 Margaret Juanna Hederman c 1820-11 Jan 1861
|- Julia Margaret Ennever 2 Dec 1841-1843
|- Rosa Mary Ennever 18 May 1844-1874
|- Margaret Louisa Ennever 5 Sep 1846-1849
|- Joseph William Ennever c 1850-1851
|- Eliza Georgiana Ennever 1852-3 Jan 1939
|- George Vincent Ennever 1854-20 Feb 1902


  1. Edith Sitwell, English Eccentrics, Penguin (Ringwood, 1972), pp. 58-97. 

  2. Birth certificate obtained from the General Register Office. 

  3. Kathleen Ennever, “An Early Life Story” (c. 1987/8). These short memoirs by Kathleen Ennever were written for and kindly supplied by her daughter Mary Tribe. 

  4. See Appendix 2 for a family tree. 

  5. 1891 census. This Teresa is the second of two Ennever siblings with the same name. 

  6. Who Was Who 1941-1950, 3rd ed. (London, 1964), p.360. In the 1881 census, W.J. along with siblings Joseph, George and Mary, are listed as pupils at 1 Elm Villa, Stroud Green, North Side. 

  7. Patricia Hill, letter 1 November 2006. The company W.J. Ennever & Son seems to have disappeared soon after 1906. 

  8. Mary Tribe, interview 10 July 2006. 

  9. Thomas Sharper Knowlson, foreword to W.J. Ennever, Your Mind and How to Use It — Brain Building for Success (London, 1962), p. 6. 

  10. Barry Ennever, Ennever Family History & Ancestry, <>. 

  11. Knowlson, p. 6. 

  12. Who Was Who, p. 360. Also see the 1891 census, where Ennever is listed as working as a journalist. 

  13. Knowlson, p. 6. 

  14. Pelmanism — The First Principles of Pelmanism, The Pelman Institute for the Scientific Development of Mind and Memory (London), I, 7. 

  15. Who Was Who, p. 360. 

  16. The Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed., Clarendon Press (Oxford, 1989), XI, 453. 

  17. Mary Tribe, interview 10 July 2006. 

  18. John Tribe, letter 31 May 2006. 

  19. W.J. Ennever, Your Mind and How to Use It — Special “Forces” Edition (London, 1945), p. 162. 

  20. Founder of Pelmanism”, The Times (London, 24 April 1941), p. 6. 

  21. Christopher Hilliard, To Exercise Our Talents, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2006), p. 23. 

  22. Brain Magic” in Arnold Bennett, Hugo — A Fantasia on Modern Themes, Odhams Limited (London), 6. 

  23. Pelmanism in 1922”, The Times (London, 2 January 1922), p. 6. 

  24. John Tribe, letter 31 May 2006; Mary Tribe, letter 28 June 2006; and Ann Tribe, letter 3 August 2006. 

  25. Death certificate obtained from the General Register Office. 

  26. Founder of Pelmanism”. 

  27. Mary Tribe, letter 27 November 2006. 

  28. Kathleen Ennever, “An Early Life Story”. 

  29. Marriage certificate obtained from the General Register Office. 

  30. National Archives cited in Hill, letter 1 November 2006. The decree nisi was not made absolute until 5 May 1914. 

  31. Kathleen Ennever, recorded memoirs c. 1977. 

  32. Kathleen Ennever, “An Early Life Story”. 

  33. Barry Ennever, “Ennever Family History and Ancestry”. 

  34. Ann Tribe, letter 23 November 2006. 

  35. Jack Lait, “Your Mind and How to Use It”, Sunday Mirror (London, 6 August 1939). 

  36. The following information about Ennever’s family comes from census and death records unless otherwise stated. 

  37. Hendon Coroner Court records, cited in Hill, letter 1 November 2006. 

  38. Kathleen Ennever, “An Early Life Story”. 

  39. Ibid

  40. Not to be confused with Teresa, the first daughter who died at nine. Both were called Teresa Mary Ennever, the second being named after the first. 

  41. Mary Tribe, interview 10 July 2006. 

  42. Ann Tribe, letter 28 February 2007. 

  43. Hendon Coroner Court, cited in Hill, letter 1 November 2006. 

  44. W.J. Ennever, Special “Forces” Edition, p. 163. 

  45. The Pelman Institute”, The Times (London, 12 May 1922), p. 4. 

  46. Pelmanism in 1922”. 

  47. The Pelman Institute - Control Resumed by Mr. W.J. Ennever”, The Times (London, 29 December 1921), p. 4. 

  48. The Pelman Institute”, Times, p. 4. 

  49. Pelmanism in 1922”. 

  50. Kathleen Ennever, recorded memoirs. 

  51. Kathleen Ennever, “An Early Life Story”. 

  52. who later became King Edward VIII and famously abdicated the throne in 1936. 

  53. Kathleen Ennever, cited in John Tribe, letter 13 June 2006. 

  54. All the following data for Ennever’s travels comes from Hill, letters 28 November 2006 and 20 January 2007. 

  55. Kathleen Ennever, “An Early Life Story”. 

  56. Kathleen Ennever, recorded memoirs. 

  57. Kathleen Ennever, “An Early Life Story”. 

  58. Kathleen Ennever, cited in Mary Tribe, letter 3 March 2007. 

  59. Kathleen Ennever, cited in John Tribe, letter 13 June 2006. 

  60. Ann Tribe, letter 28 February 2007. 

  61. Founder of Pelmanism”. 

  62. Kathleen Ennever, cited in John Tribe, letter 13 June 2006. 

  63. Kathleen Ennever, “An Early Life Story”. 

  64. Pelmanism on the Home Front”, Argosy of Complete Stories, vol.V no.6 (July 1944), inside front cover. 

  65. W.J. Ennever, Brain Building for Success, p. 3. 

  66. Geo. R. Sims, “The War of Peace”, The Times (London, 1 November 1917), p. 4. 

  67. W.J. Ennever, Special “Forces” Edition, p. 163. 

  68. Ann Tribe, letter 3 August 2006. 

  69. W.J. Ennever, Brain Building for Success, p. 53. 

  70. Super-Pelmanism”, The Times (London, 20 August 1943), p. 1. 

  71. W.J. Ennever, letter to Ann Tribe 24 November 1944. 

  72. Ann Tribe, letter 26 October 2006. 

  73. Death certificate obtained from the General Register Office. 

  74. Ann Tribe, letter 7 November 2006. 

  75. Calendar of Probate, cited in Barry Ennever, letter 28 February 2007. 

  76. See The Lost Art of Pelmanism, <>, Pelmanism, the success secrets that almost got lost, <>, and Powers of the Mind Personal Development Self-Help Course, <>. 

  77. Ennever, Brain Building for Success, p. 94. 

For more information on the Ennever family, I can heartily recommend Barry Ennever’s epic Ennever Family History & Ancestry, where he also hosts a mirror of this biography. There is also a great deal of information at Patricia Hill’s Ennever - Enever - Enefer Family History Site.