Posts Tagged ‘Winston Churchill’

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

Gay Baldwin wrote a book, I picked it up probably ten years ago or more, about the local ghosts on the Isle of Wight. The Island is small and you can travel around most of it pretty quickly but if you are looking at some of the out of the way areas this one is pretty good for some side visits.

Of course readers will now have guessed I do have a thing for the oceanic types of haunts and Chapter Thirteen of “More Ghosts of the Isle of Wight” has provided another good read.

Bouldnor, near Yarmouth is mentioned, a couple saw a vessel come close enough to the shore that they might well have been able to touch it. This was in 1978 and the book contains statements from both witnesses who have yet to change their claim on the matter.

The sighting came some years before the discovery of mystery vessel by divers. It has now been identified as the wreck of either a 16th Century Spanish or Portuguese carrack. She is now lying entombed in mud and sand off Solent.

Another one I found from a website, Mystery History suggests there is more than one sighting.

Two people out night fishing spotted an old ship with three masts sailing towards them. The vessel appeared to be illuminated by several lanterns across its masts and bow. As the ship neared the witnesses, it slowly faded away.

Another rather enjoyable anecdote for ghost ships:

The HMS Eurydice, a 26-gun frigate that capsized and sank in Sandown Bay during a blizzard in 1878, is a famous phantom vessel that has been sighted by sailors over the years. On October 17, 1998, Prince Edward of England (1964– ) and the film crew for the television series “Crown and Country” saw the three-masted ship off the Isle of Wight and managed to capture its image on film.

The HMS Eurydice is pretty famous and has said to have been spotted by more than just Prince Edward and the TV crew. She was a vessel caught out by bad weather, there were two other ships in the area and despite the bad weather she continued on with her gun ports open, a strange action in the given weather.

There was not enough time to get to the crew via lifeboats as the crew were pretty much on the decks below at the time. The Ventnor residents stood on the cliffs and were said to be dumbstruck by the incident as it was such a calm day beforehand. After the freak storm died down all that could be seen was the mast and upper sails/rigging around two miles off the island.

A schooner, Emma, went to find survivors, she picked up five people from the waters but only two survived. One of those two said they were ordered to bring the sails in but the snow in the blizzard was so thick they could not see.  One of the witnesses at the time was a young Winston Churchill living in Ventnor with his family at that time.

1898 saw a powerful poem about the affair by the creator of Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The poem is The Homecoming of the Eurydice.

The Home-Coming of the ‘Eurydice’

Up with the royals that top the white spread of her!
Press her and dress her, and drive through the foam;
The Island’s to port, and the mainland ahead of her,
Hey for the Warner and Hayling and Home!

Bo’sun, O Bo’sun, just look at the green of it!
Look at the red cattle down by the hedge!
Look at the farmsteading–all that is seen of it,
One little gable end over the edge!’

‘Lord! the tongues of them clattering, clattering,
All growing wild at a peep of the Wight;
Aye, sir, aye, it has set them all chattering,
Thinking of home and their mothers to-night.’

Spread the topgallants–oh, lay them out lustily!
What though it darken o’er Netherby Combe?
‘Tis but the valley wind, puffing so gustily –
On for the Warner and Hayling and Home!

‘Bo’sun, O Bo’sun, just see the long slope of it!
Culver is there, with the cliff and the light.
Tell us, oh tell us, now is there a hope of it?
Shall we have leave for our homes for to-night?’

‘Tut, the clack of them! Steadily! Steadily!
Aye, as you say, sir, they’re little ones still;
One long reach should open it readily,
Round by St. Helens and under the hill.

‘The Spit and the Nab are the gates of the promise,
Their mothers to them–and to us it’s our wives.
I’ve sailed forty years, and–By God it’s upon us!
Down royals, Down top’sles, down, down, for your lives!’

A grey swirl of snow with the squall at the back of it,
Heeling her, reeling her, beating her down!
A gleam of her bends in the thick of the wrack of it,
A flutter of white in the eddies of brown.

It broke in one moment of blizzard and blindness;
The next, like a foul bat, it flapped on its way.
But our ship and our boys! Gracious Lord, in your kindness,
Give help to the mothers who need it to-day!

Give help to the women who wait by the water,
Who stand on the Hard with their eyes past the Wight.
Ah! whisper it gently, you sister or daughter,
‘Our boys are all gathered at home for to-night.’

Warning – fairly lengthy post for me!

London was and remains a large scale part of English history, past and future. During the pre-Victorian and through the Victorian period finding a place to bury the dead was no easy task. London’s capital for instance had doubled in a short space, with it came the dead and more need to inter them.

Finding a cemetery that could be used for the purpose could be just as difficult as picking a first home. Cemetery space was at a prime, people needed the space and bodies were left in terrible states around the capital city. Regularly graves were desecrated and re-used, disinterred bones were left scattered across grounds. It wasn’t just cemeteries either but the results of this terrible lack of organisation meant that there was a great deal of risk for disease with the material from decomposing bodies entering drinking wells and springs.

1848-1849 saw a cholera outbreak that killed nearly 15,000 Londoners and made it very obvious that there was a drastic need to sort the situation out. A brilliant description of some of the problems was documented by G A Walker in his Gatherings from Graveyards, I have been very lucky to obtain a copy and if I get chance will scan some pages in at later date.

In 1849 Sir Richard Broun came up with an answer, he proposed buying a large area of land to build a massive cemetery. The 2,000 acre plot would be his Necropolis and at a distance of 25 miles from London posed little to no risk of seeing the same issue arise. He proposed that the railway line from Waterloo to Southampton could offer a way to transport coffins and mourners alike…

The idea of a railway link to rural cemeteries had been thought about before he presented his ideas but not everyone seemed convinced, the clamour and bustle of a train would detract from the dignified Christian funeral. Also would it not be somewhat offensive to have a body in a coffin on a train where the family and friends were already suffering, and then treat like some form of conveyor  belt affair?

The idea of rail travel was still a new thing anyway, but Waterloo line was completed 1848 and the first Necropolis Station came along six years after that. In June 1852 an Act of Parliament was passed which created The London Necropolis and National Mausoleum Company, it was later shortened to The London Necropolis Company. London & South Western Railway were the partner’s and they estimated £40,000 a year from it. It was decided however that the trains used would have to be a separate service, it was not a good idea to put a funeral party near mainstream passenger services and potentially drive away both.

There was another concern about how the varying religions and classes would be addressed using the service and so there were two stations. One served the conformist area on the sunny south side and the other served the non-conformists on the chilly north side. The class tickets also came into play, the dead were also split into the classes too.

Brookwood Cemetery grounds were consecrated 7th November 1854, six days later the world’s first funeral train was ready to go. The York Street terminus was restricting its passenger services, and if the company was going to expand it needed Waterloo and to demolish York Street terminus. A long period of negotiations went on and the London Necropolis was persuaded to give up it’s York Street post for a replacement 999-year lease, low rent and compensation along with a new supply train with return tickets for the mourners to use on the SWR more expensive trains at their own low cost.

The Act of Parliament meant the tickets prices for the Funerary side were fixed until 1939, Golfer’s going to nearby West Hill Golf Club would take advantage by dressing up as mourners. The remains of a rough footpath are still seen at the cemetery, it’s suggested the cheapskate golfers caused it. So far the history of the Funeral Rail service looked promising however in October 1900 the Necropolis Railway dropped Sunday services from it’s timetable and the trains went into decline until they ran once or twice a week. Finally the new motor hearse posed a new threat but this did not cause the end of its days, the German Luftwaffe did.

Bombs, April 16th 1941 was one of the worst nights of the London Blitz. The Necropolis train was berthed and did not escape, the area was levelled and only the platforms remained. It would have been too expensive it replace it and although the Necropolis Service ended in 1941 there is some evidence coffins were conveyed to Brookwood by rail into the 1950’s.