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

(December 2013)

'The Ghost of Christmas Presents – Part 1'

63 Wycliffe Road

(Above: Mrs Hitchings outside No. 63 Wycliffe Road. The house no longer exists. Image © Shirley Hitchings.)

Do ghosts celebrate Christmas? It may be a strange question but one of south London's strangest stories suggests that one ghost – or rather a poltergeist – took to doing precisely that!

In early 1956 the Hitchings family of No. 63, Wycliffe Road, Battersea (approximately a mile northeast of the busy Clapham Junction railway station) started to be disturbed by mysterious thumping and tapping sounds in their home. The activity soon developed into full-blown poltergeist-like phenomena, with objects moving, bedclothes being pulled from sleepless occupants and – terrifyingly – outbreaks of fire. While this was going on, however, there was a remarkable development: communication was apparently established with what was by now presumed to be their poltergeist intruder.

Using a simple code (one tap for 'yes', two for 'no' and three for 'don’t know') the poltergeist – who had become known as 'Donald' – would answer simple questions. Gradually the tapping code evolved into a method whereby someone would point to letters of the alphabet and the poltergeist would tap to select a particular letter. As Donald engaged in these peculiar conversations details of what he claimed was his true identity slowly developed; the story began to emerge that Donald was actually 'Louis' - long-dead son of the French king Louis XVI and his queen Marie Antoinette.

After several weeks it seemed that tapping was no longer enough for Donald. Scraps of paper bearing writing started to be discovered around the house, and these were understood to be written by Donald himself.

SLA 31 March 1956

(Above: 'Now he's writing and talking,' proclaimed the South London Advertiser at the end of March 1956.)

By December 1956 the more dramatic and frightening poltergeist phenomena had (temporarily) abated but Donald continued to communicate – largely by writing now. Notes in what had become his characteristic style of curved capital letters, littered with spelling mistakes and the odd French word, were turning up around the house increasingly frequently. It was evident from these that Donald's thoughts were turning towards Christmas....

(Click here to read Part 2)

(Adapted from an earlier article published in the Christmas ['Bedside'] edition of the Wandsworth Society newsletter in December 2009.)


For the full story read 'The Poltergeist Prince of London: The remarkable true story of the Battersea Poltergeist' by Shirley Hitchings and James Clark (The History Press, 2013), available now in paperback and for the Kindle.



Image credits:

  • Photo of Mrs Catherine ('Kitty') Hitchings outside No. 63, Wycliffe Road is © Shirley Hitchings.

  • Newspaper article appeared in the South London Advertiser on or around 31 March 1956.

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    'The Ghost of Christmas Presents – Part 2'

    (Click here to read Part 1)

    Marie Anotinette and her children

    (Above: The poltergeist claimed to be the spirit son of Marie Anotinette, seen in this painting clinging to his mother as she faces the Revolutionary mob in 1792.)

    Donald, who claimed to be the spirit son of Marie Antoinette, often referred to Shirley by the vaguely French-sounding name Renee or Renie. In a note discovered on Thursday 6 December 1956 the poltergeist wrote:

    'RENEE – I WANT YOU [and] ME TO MAKE CHRITMASY [sic] THINGS – WEE – YOU GET THINGS – KIT [will] GIVE YOUR SILVER [money] BUT I TELL WRITE ON LIST WHAT [to] GET BECAUSE I CANNOT GO UP SHOP.'

    The following Monday, Donald asked for materials to make Christmas decorations, requesting:

    'PINS TO PUT UP PAPER – I WANT YELLOW RED BLANCH [sic] IS WHITE PAPER PLEASE – SIX CARDS – PINS – PAPER CREAP [crepe] – I MAKE MAGIC LANTERNS.'

    The next day the family received a visit from Harold Chibbett, a civil servant and amateur psychical researcher who had won the family's confidence and dedicated himself to investigating this story.

    Harold Chibbett

    (Above: Psychical researcher Harold Chibbett. © Shirley Hitchings.)

    When Chibbett arrived he found Shirley's father, Wally, putting up Christmas decorations in the kitchen. Wally told him that Donald had already taken it upon himself to decorate 'his' own room (a particular downstairs room that had by this time essentially been taken over by the poltergeist).

    Chibbett later described the scene he found in Donald's room:

    'Paper streamers crisscrossed the room in various directions. Cotton wool in vast quantity was stuck on every available space, and a small Christmas tree was already hung with presents from "Donald" – even one for me, tersely entitled: "For Chib". In the centre of the mirror, decked out in gaily coloured tissue paper, were the words: "JOYEUX NOEL".'

    The Hitchings family assured Chibbett that all they had done was to 'start the decorations'. The rest, they said, had been finished by Donald himself, in what Chibbett described as 'a remarkably short space of time'....

    (Click here to read Part 3)

    (Adapted from an earlier article published in the Christmas ['Bedside'] edition of the Wandsworth Society newsletter in December 2009.)


    For the full story read 'The Poltergeist Prince of London: The remarkable true story of the Battersea Poltergeist' by Shirley Hitchings and James Clark (The History Press, 2013), available now in paperback and for the Kindle.



    Image credits:

  • The poltergeist claimed to be the spirit son of Marie Anotinette, seen in this painting clinging to his mother as she faces the Revolutionary mob in 1792. Painting of Marie Antoinette and her children from Wikipedia Commons

  • Photograph of Harold Chibbett is © Shirley Hitchings.

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    'The Ghost of Christmas Presents – Part 3'

    (Click here to read Part 2)

    Christmas card

    (Above: Detail from front of Donald's Christmas card to the Hitchings family.)

    Having examined the Christmas decorations supposedly put up by the poltergeist, and feeling something of the festive spirit himself, Chibbett asked whether Donald would like to receive a Christmas present.

    'Rather rashly I promised to get him whatever he wanted!' wrote the psychical researcher afterwards. 'In fact, I suggested that he should state his requirements in a letter. I would then get his present and hang it on my Christmas tree at home. Would he then come and fetch it? "Yes!" – he rapped.'

    A little later, as Chibbett stood in the passageway preparing to go home:

    '... something hurtled out of "Donald's" room, which was in darkness, and landed with a thud at the foot of the stairs, just by my feet. [Chibbett did not record whether anybody was inside Donald's room when this happened.] I picked it up. It was a cardboard box containing some of Shirley's paints. On the bottom were scrawled – in "Donald's" handwriting – the following words: "CHIB – I WANT TRAIN!"'

    As good as his word, Chibbett duly bought the poltergeist a toy train for Christmas. Unfortunately, the poltergeist failed to collect it from Chibbett's home as promised and so the hardworking researcher ended up having to deliver the gift in person.

    In the meantime, Donald had been keeping busy. Over the previous few months he had taken to writing (and getting the family to post on his behalf) letters to numerous people. These included the stars of his favourite television shows - shows such as The Adventures of Robin Hood. Recently the poltergeist had also started to send Christmas cards, and Chibbett had been among the first to receive one in the post; it was inscribed: 'To Mr Chib from Donald – Joyeux Noel!'

    Another card - a card showing Westminster Abbey on the front - was left for Shirley and her parents. A handwritten message on the back read: 'To Kit Wallie [sic] and my Renie ... Joyeux Noel'.

    Christmas card interior

    (Above: Donald's message inside his Christmas card to the Hitchings family.)

    With seasonal greetings flying back and forth, even the local South London Advertiser newspaper publicly wished Shirley a Merry Christmas that year, in tongue-in-cheek gratitude for the many articles she had inspired. In the 20 December 1956 issue, the paper wrote:

    'Merry Christmas to Shirley Hitchings ... and, for her stocking, a collection of all the Christmas ghost yarns ever written. You've got to hand it to 15-year-old Shirley. She held all Britain more firmly entranced than Uncle Naser himself – with her romance with a spirit.' ['Uncle Naser' [sic] referred to Egypt's President Nasser and the Suez Canal Crisis of 1956.]

    And so 1956 drew to an end with Donald showing no signs of leaving. Most poltergeists seem to fade away after only a few weeks or months but not this one. Donald would stay with Shirley and her family for many years to come – and he would celebrate several further Christmases with them at No. 63, Wycliffe Road.

    (Click here to read Part 4)

    (Adapted from an earlier article published in the Christmas ['Bedside'] edition of the Wandsworth Society newsletter in December 2009.)


    For the full story read 'The Poltergeist Prince of London: The remarkable true story of the Battersea Poltergeist' by Shirley Hitchings and James Clark (The History Press, 2013), available now in paperback and for the Kindle.




    Image credits:

  • Christmas card from Donald to the Hitchings family, December 1956. © Shirley Hitchings.

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    (Return to Blog Contents)


    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.