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

(November 2013)

'Black Magic, Parliament and the Battersea Poltergeist'

Palace of Westminster

On the evening of Wednesday 22 February 1956, in a house in Stockwell, south London, an underground train driver and part-time medium named Harry Hanks prepared to exorcise 15-year-old Shirley Hitchings of her poltergeist.

Hanks placed himself into a trance and as his breathing slowed a hush enveloped the crowd of reporters, photographers and TV cameramen squeezed into the medium's sitting-room. Everything was in readiness – but before the exorcism could get underway there was a hammering at the front door. The police had arrived.

The events of that evening are covered in the book I recently wrote with Shirley – 'The Poltergeist Prince of London' – but space precluded us from including in our book details of this episode's aftermath, which took place in no less a setting than Parliament.

Hanks did not appreciate the police's interference and he took the matter up with his M.P. So it was that on 1 March 1956, Lt-Col. Marcus Lipton, Labour M.P. for Brixton, rose to his feet in the House of Commons to protest that his constituent deserved an official apology for the way the police had interrupted his (first) attempt to exorcise Shirley.

Police call at Hanks home

(Above: Police call at the Hanks home.)

The speeches reproduced below are taken from the Hansard transcription (HC Deb 01 March 1956 vol 549 cc1343-5) of the session and the reactions of those present come from newspaper accounts of the same. Parliamentary material is reproduced with the permission of the Controller of HMSO on behalf of Parliament.

Lt-Col. Lipton asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department to explain why the police had called at Mr Hanks's home on 22 February. The Home Secretary, Major Gwliym Lloyd George, replied: 'Normally, the reasons for police action in the course of their duty are not given, but in the circumstances of this case I am willing to state that I am informed by the Commissioner of Police that on the evening of 22nd February the police received information purporting to come from this address about a black magic circle proposed to be held there that evening. As the practice of black magic is an offence at common law the police called to inquire whether there were any grounds for police action.'

'A Labour Party committee?' shouted out Conservative M.P. Mr K Thompson, provoking some laughter among the assembled Ministers.

'This is a serious matter for my constituent,' insisted Lt-Col. Lipton. 'Is the Home Secretary aware that my constituent, a man of good character and a spiritualist for over 30 years, justifiably resents the unwarrantable intrusion of the police, who alleged black magic and witchcraft, and who stayed on his premises almost a quarter of an hour? Is he not, in all the circumstances, entitled to something in the nature of a public apology?'

Harry Hanks

(Above: Underground train driver and part-time medium Harry Hanks.)

'I am not sure that I agree,' replied Major Lloyd George. 'As I have mentioned, black magic is an offence at common law.'

There was more laughter at this, and when an anonymous M.P. called out asking to know what 'black magic' actually was, Major Lloyd George responded: 'It is the opposite of white magic,' a reply that caused even more amusement.

When the merriment died away, Major Lloyd George continued with an attempt to define white magic: 'I cannot go further than to say that this is magic performed without the aid of the devil; therefore, I assume that the other kind is with his aid. In any case, it would not be under that, I should have thought, that action would be taken, but under the Fraudulent Mediums Act of 1951. The fact is that there was a 999 call sent to the police–'

'Black magic?' asked one Honourable Member.

'It nearly turned out to be so,' said Major Lloyd George. 'Obviously, they had to respond to that call and they went there. After interviewing a lady [Hanks' wife] they came away perfectly satisfied that nothing wrong was going on.'

And with that important matter cleared up, Parliament turned its attention to other matters of state.

Meanwhile, the saga of Shirley and her poltergeist was very far from over.

'The Poltergeist Prince of London: The remarkable true story of the Battersea Poltergeist' by Shirley Hitchings and James Clark (The History Press, 2013) is available from bookshops now.



Image credits:

  • Photos of Harry Hanks and of the police arriving at the Hanks home are taken from an article titled 'You may be a ghost!' by Richard Egan, which appeared in 'Weekend', 19 February 1963.

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    NOTE: Material above is © James Clark. All rights reserved. Should you wish to refer to material presented here you are most welcome to quote a short excerpt (of no more than one or two paragraphs) provided you give full attribution and supply a link back to this website. Use of longer excerpts will require the author's prior written permission - by all means feel free to ask! But please DO NOT steal my work by copying great chunks and posting them in their entirety without permission. Thank you.