Posts Tagged ‘1916’

Duncan is best known for being the last person to be imprisoned under the British Witchcraft Act, 1735. She was born November 25th, 1897 and died December 6th, 1956. At school she was known to have alarmed fellow pupils with prophecies of doom and displaying hysterical behaviour.

She married Henry Duncan in 1916 who supported her talents and in 1926 she went from clairvoyant to medium, offering séances to summon recently deceased spirits via emitting ectoplasm. She worked part time in a bleach factory and was a mother of six, a pretty busy lady.

In 1928 photography showed her tricks via dolls and old sheets as drapes. In 1931 the ectoplasm was supposedly cheesecloth, paper mixed with egg-white and toilet paper. In 1933 a trick to summon ‘Peggy’ a spirit was investigated and she was fined £10 for fraud, Harry Price concluded it was all fake and so why am I reporting on her? Well… here goes.

November 1941, WWII, she held a seance in Portsmouth and laid down the claim that a sailor spirit told her the HMS Barham had been sunk. An official announcement for the sinking came months later in February 1942. Due to this the Navy took interest in her claims. There was scepticism about her claims of the spirit telling her this because close family members of the victims had been informed about it. It was summarised that she might has known as around 861 families at the time could have been discussing it with the links they had, and she may well have over heard the news.

Duncan’s claims were taken seriously enough that they arrested her on a minor other issue, but then found the clause of witchcraft. She had a mock-up of an old HMS Barham hat band but after 1939 they hadn’t been worn. There seemed to be concerns that she would leak more confidential information, whatever her source, and that she was exploiting the recently bereaved. Seances did not come cheap, incidentally they don’t these days either…

She was found guilty on one count, and she was imprisoned for nine months. Winston Churchill seemed unimpressed by what seemed to be a waste of time and resources on “obsolete tomfoolery”. In 1945 she was released and promised to stop, which clearly wasn’t the case as she was arrested again in 1956. There was no sign of anything odd about her death after though, she had been suffering ill-health from around 1944 and was an obese woman who would move slowly due to heart trouble.

All too often when the media talks about these events it is with a very sceptical approach. Replications of their so-called trickery has been given as the reason not to trust mediums etc. Helen Duncan was unfortunate in the media enough times I’d question why folks even continued to see her, but the grief of a lost one is hard and people may well have given her more benefit over doubt due to this.

In the case of HMS Barnham, she was in Portsmouth, a naval town in a time where it was already considered a badly kept secret. Sailors of the living variety may have been talking and she overheard it. Perhaps she truly was told by a spirit but I hate to admit full poo-poo on the situation however I would say the only S involved here was media speculation and sensation.

Helen-duncan-cheesecloth

The museum is located in Peterborough, Cambridgeshire, England and I used to regularly visit this Grade II listed building up until I was in my late teens. We used to go because Priestgate area was near my Nan’s cleaning work and she would finish up and then we’d go home with her for tea… all in all as it was free and it had dinosaurs it was a great place to spend some time. The building has been there for over 75 years and looks rather different now, it was originally a small area of office space and ran by Mr Yarrow as the full time caretaker, his wife and two children helped him. They lived in a flat on the first floor and this proved to be eventful itself.

September 1931 Mr Yarrow took his sons out for the afternoon and left Mrs Yarrow to lock up when the last of the visitors departed. With this done she went to the flat to start the evening meal, after half an hour or so she heard a noise on the main staircase and assumed they had returned, so she went out to meet them.

Mrs Yarrow came to see that there was a young man coming up the stairs, he was about 30 years old with brown hair and wore a green suit. She thought she had locked in a visitor by mistake, which seems a fairly reasonable assumption. It soon dawned on her that this might not be the case as his footsteps were unnaturally loud, and he was floating not walking. He reached the landing, walked through the doors near her and then without opening them headed off down the corridor and was not seen again. Spooked she left the building as quickly as possible.

The ghost might be that of a First World War Australian Soldier, Sergeant Thomas Hunter who was born in Newcastle in 1880. He emigrated to Australia as a young man and worked as a coal miner, in 1914 he enlisted in the Australian army and served as Gallipoli and on the Western Front. In 1916 he was seriously wounded, and was treated in a field hospital. He was then sent to Britain as he required more specialist care.

The medical staff found that his condition was worsening and they stopped at the next place they could, Peterborough. The hospital he was taken to is now the museum and sadly it was too late for him, he died there 31st July 1916. The operating theater there and is a rare example of a Victorian operating theater, when the redevelopments are finalized (probably have been by now) it’s due to be part of the public displays.

The soldier is buried at Broadway cemetery and his figure hasn’t been seen since the 1970’s but the anecdote has continued to be part of the museums history. Alongside this the staff has found furniture moved around at night too.

Along with the First World War soldier the museum is said to have a Roman Soldier and a White Lady there too. Alongside this in the geology gallery they are saying that a little girl likes to leave messages on tape recordings there and that she once popped up to terrify a workman.

I have to admit I don’t know if it was the fact there were loads of old things there, or maybe the giant plesiosaur looming over us, but it has a pretty creepy atmosphere in some sections. Then again you are talking to someone that shuddered when touching a half-bald taxidermy giraffe so who knows…

 

Peterborough Museum and Art Gallery - geograph.org.uk - 1777376