Wellcome Collection is offering Londoners the chance to experience an enchanted version of their city with the release of a new free iPhone app, Magic in Modern London. With a 1906 map to guide them, users follow in the footsteps of the early 20th-century folklorist Edward Lovett in search of the amulets and charms he collected exploring the superstitions of the city.
From simple coins to meticulously carved bone and from sheep hearts to delicate coral, curious objects reveal the city afresh, seen through the eyes and beliefs of its previous inhabitants. The app will be available through the Wellcome Collection website from Monday.
Sixty-four amulets await discovery in one or more of 220 'areas of enchantment' scattered across the city. Each is situated in a place of relevance, either to the charm itself or to the fear it guards against.
Featuring 600 images from nine different archives, the beautifully designed app - conceived by Alex Butterworth and produced by his company Amblr - immerses the user with layered soundtracks by composer David Williams and sound artist Chris Ward, illustrations by Joanna Walsh, atmospheric audiovisual material, geocached readings from Lovett's work by actor Michael Maloney, and additional material voiced by Emily Woof. All are triggered as questing users draw near to the charms.
Edward Lovett was a bank clerk who scoured London after hours, buying curious objects from London's mudlarks, barrow men and sailors and selling them on to museums and collectors, including Sir Henry Wellcome.
Lovett's 1925 book 'Magic in Modern London', from which the app takes its name, gives a colourful and often poignant account of his amulet hunting. It records the fears and hopes of Londoners before and during World War I, as well as the extraordinary range of ailments and misfortunes they warded off with small objects.
In late 2011 several of Lovett's amulets were brought together in a sculptural work by artist Felicity Powell as part of Wellcome Collection's 'Miracles and Charms' exhibition. Commissioned as a digital legacy for the exhibition, Magic in Modern London offers an evocation of Lovett's life and work, inviting the user to help an elderly Lovett reassemble his amulet collection by visiting significant sites around London on his behalf.
Danny Birchall, website editor at Wellcome Collection, says: "Magic in Modern London continues Wellcome Collection's programme of developing digital experiences to engage and delight audiences. Working with Amblr to develop playful narratives from Edward Lovett's work, we have discovered how the depth and richness of Wellcome Collection's themes can be explored through interactive experiences and games."
Alex Butterworth, director of Amblr, says: "Magic In Modern London is intended to reframe how users see the city: it's an experiment in bringing some enchantment back into our everyday lives. Anyone who downloads the app and moves through London will be prompted to pause and explore, to reconsider the world around them and reflect on their own fears and superstitions."