My Books



THE POLTERGEIST PRINCE OF LONDON

The Remarkable True Story of the Battersea Poltergeist


(Available in paperback or for the Kindle)

Published by The History Press, 2013, 320pp, illus.

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HAUNTED LONDON

Ghosts and legends of London


(Available in paperback or for the Kindle)

Published by The History Press, 2007, 128pp, illus.

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HAUNTED WANDSWORTH

Ghosts and legends of the London Borough of Wandsworth (covers Balham, Battersea, Putney, Tooting & Wandsworth)


(Available in paperback)

Published by The History Press, 2006, 96pp, illus.

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HAUNTED LAMBETH

Ghosts and legends of the London Borough of Lambeth (covers Brixton, Clapham, North Lambeth, Norwood, Stockwell & Streatham)


(Available in paperback or for the Kindle)

Published by The History Press, 2013, 96pp, illus.

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STRANGE MITCHAM

Ghosts, legends and curiosities of Mitcham in Surrey / south London


(Paperback)



(Kindle)

Published by Shadowtime Publishing, 2nd edition 2011, illus.

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MYSTERIOUS MITCHAM

More ghosts, legends and curiosities of Mitcham in Surrey / south London


(Published online)

Mysterious Mitcham

Online sequel to 'Strange Mitcham'.

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Not tempted by anything above? Okay then, try this:


Blog: Notes from a Weird World

(September 2013)

'Du Cane Court, Balham: Haunted by a past that never was'

Du Cane Court

Countless buildings hold ghost stories, the eerie tales murmuring half-forgotten memories of events in those places' histories. Other locations, though, can haunt us despite having no phantoms, spirits or spectres assigned to them; sometimes even when the history in question never actually occurred.

Du Cane Court stands in Balham High Road, south London. A wonderful example of Art Deco architecture, whose impressive size accommodates more than 670 flats, Du Cane Court opened in 1937. Three years later, the Blitz was reducing much of London to burning rubble, yet this large apartment block would emerge intact from the fury of Hitler's bombing, and its survival gave rise to some curious rumours.

The area around Du Cane Court certainly did not escape the German bombers' attention. Shortly after 8 p.m. on 14 October 1940, for example, a bomb fell on the High Road, right above the platforms of Balham Underground Station where some 500-600 people had sought shelter. The explosion burst a water main, sending water and debris crashing down onto the terrified occupants and more than 60 people were killed. The devastation was such that it was several months before the last of the bodies was recovered.

Du Cane Court

Other bombs, too, fell around this area. (One destroyed my infant dad's home in nearby Carminia Road.) Yet, despite its size, Du Cane Court itself was never hit. Local residents wondered whether it was being deliberately left alone, and a number of claimed reasons for why this should be have circulated since the early 1940s.

One suggestion is that the building's shape was so easily recognisable from the air that German pilots used it as a navigational landmark and so wanted it kept intact.

Related to this is the suggestion that the building was left alone because it looked like a swastika when viewed from above an unlikely sounding theory, although with a little imagination one can see how this idea took root:

Du Cane Court - swastika and plan

(Above: Nazi swastika [left] and plan view of Du Cane Court [right].)

Some folk believed that the Germans had valuable spies based here and that the bombers were under orders to protect these assets.

Then there is the persistent belief that Du Cane Court had been earmarked as a residence for senior German officers or possibly even as a headquarters building for Hitler himself to be used following the invasion of England.

There may be some truth in one, or more, of these rumours; however, all of these ideas do seem to credit the German bombers with a remarkable ability to drop their payloads over Balham with pinpoint accuracy.

Perhaps the truth behind Du Cane Court's remarkable (but welcome) survival is more mundane: that it was never hit simply because the bombs landed elsewhere.

Stories refuse to be bounded by logic, however, and as you stand before Du Cane Court today it is all too easy to find yourself remembering an alternative reality. One in which this distinctive building truly had been earmarked as Hitler's HQ, and after the Luftwaffe gained supremacy of the British skies in 1940 (or perhaps following the failure of that massive gamble codenamed Overlord, or after any of the other pivotal moments of those desperate years) these walls had taken on a very different aspect.

And a snapping in the wind would draw your gaze upwards, towards blood-red banners in the centre of which crouched a crooked black cross.



(In memory of my father, for whom Du Cane Court held altogether different memories.)






Discover more strange stories from this part of south London in my 'Haunted Lambeth' (covers the London Borough of Lambeth, taking in Brixton, Clapham, North Lambeth, Norwood, Stockwell and Streatham):


Image credits:

  • Top image adapted from a photo by Roger W Haworth
  • Other images © James Clark

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