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:


Notes from a Weird World

(July 2015)

How I Died: Memories of a Poltergeist

How I Died

One of the hardest parts of writing a book is selection: choosing not what to put in but what to leave out. It's a task that becomes even more difficult when writing about events for which you've been given access to an almost overwhelming amount of documentation.

In 'The Poltergeist Prince of London' – the book I co-authored with Shirley Hitchings about her poltergeist experiences that began in Battersea, south London, in early 1956 – I described the heroic attempts of psychical researcher and early fortean Harold Chibbett as he struggled to persuade the communicative but frustratingly evasive poltergeist known as 'Donald' to yield firm details of 'his' life story.

Donald claimed to be the spirit of France's lost Dauphin, the 10-year-old Louis-Charles, son of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. In defiance of what orthodox history records, Donald insisted that he had not died in prison after the French Revolution but had instead been rescued by a mysterious figure calling himself Count Hensdorf who had hidden him on a sheep farm in or near Basel (Switzerland) until a ship could carry him to England and safety.

On 15 August 1959 Chibbett wrote to Donald at the Hitchings family home in Battersea. He already knew that Donald had (supposedly) drowned in 1795 when the ship taking him across the English Channel sank, but now he wanted the poltergeist to fill in details of what had happened leading up to that point, the events that took place immediately after the young boy left the sheep farm on his doomed journey.

Ten days later Chibbett received Donald's comprehensive and typed reply. (Yes, this was a poltergeist who apparently learned to use a typewriter!)

Towards the end of Chapter 32 of 'The Poltergeist Prince' I stated that Donald's reply was too long to transcribe in full in the book. This was true but Shirley and I both felt it a shame that this part of Donald's story could not be given in its entirety. Happily, this is something that can be remedied here.

What follows is the full transcript of Donald's letter, typed over three sheets of flimsy blue paper and delivered by the Royal Mail through the letterbox of Harold Chibbett's north London home on 25 August 1959. The erratic spelling and occasional appearance of a French or pseudo-French word were typical of the communications of this most remarkable character.


3-page letter

fleur-de-lys

[sic throughout]

From the sheeps farm at Basle. I say good bye to everyone and then they give Hendoff food for and long journey and horses gave him maps and a letter which was sealed, to give to some one has we passed through a place called Ioigny. I had a letter all so what my pere, gave moi. and told moi this your life mon son. guard it well let non one have it for if should get into the enemies hand, those trators would claim the throne of france. he also gave me the ring of off his little finger. the gold one. We changed horses and got more food and by horse, - back and went straight to a place. Fontainebleau, which was a big forest, we rested there for two days. by now looking like a couple of pesants Hensdoff was a traveling farmer and I his son.

The Forest runs for miles. so were safe, and made our way to Chartres. to meet someone who would give us more food for the whole journey on again and fresh horses up to caen still stopping on the a way side farm sleeping by day up trees in barns, Hensdoff grew a beard.

When we did finely did reach Caen we were well rest again by friends I did not know, but they addressed moi as Sire, around Deaville, and then Cherbourg, we did get there Cherbourg est a fishing port Fishing boats go out every night, for some reason they fished by night.

It was night when e we got to Cherbourg meet by two horse men, who said this the boy. one asked forgivness for being so informal. They took us to an inn the wind was g cold, it had no name it was forthe fisher folk i was told where the drank an evening away, there was no one theer, except a very gray haired old man, and these two men Hensdoff and I. They gave me and Hensdoff hot drink like your soups. and a chunk of bread very hard, not even white, but when your hunger is at a busting point you would eat old rope. Oh they also made very fine rope there one of the men told me a little story. he was well built like pere. et wore dubblet and Hose et a big clock.

The boat was to come the following night, but that night as I lay thinking of Home and the prison mere, pere, Royale. and Nickolas. who took my place. [1] est it possible to go so far and reliase what you had done, surposed to have killed mon pere by signing a papier. my mere was a trator and was giving secret messages to the Austrians. all therses were trumped up charges.

I thourght of poor Nickolas how he did not know what suffering was before him when he volenteird to take mon place at the prison. My Head was heavy wiht thourght it was full of thing I had never known before I planned to run away from Hendoff but I would be found in a village they would surley take me back. I hunted you see. the Tribunal every village was against my pere, his kind of people moi mere. et Royale. O'God I was not asked to be born, Theses were moi thourghts on that horrible night. The next day I was keept warm for moi jourey, It was ten o’clock [here, Donald had added 'PM' in ink], the boat was ready a sharp knock at the door of moi room came. I shouted Entre. Hensdoff came in behind him was a gentleman dressed in the hight of fashion he was clean shavern tall like Hensdoff. wiht red of red hair that I will never forget, he had staring eyes that went right thought you. and bowed slitly and sax took my hand and said Your Highness tis a great pleasure to be in your presants, he wnet on to convey his messages from England and hopes that our jourey will be a safe one, He was said to hear of mon pere.

This was all in French Hensdoff translated formoi. [2]

I sat again waiting alone while Hensdoff et Lord Averington made plans. I looked out of moi window it wasa windy night the moon was misty the sky was full of darkness. I said a pray and asked forgivness. formoi sins

I am going to a strange country,

I hope they like moi, have the letter, yes it est there, O'God I am scared,

The door opened and Hensdoff came in, to the window put his hand on my head, et softly he said, in french, I write in English for vous.)

Do not worry, I pomissed your mother I would guard you wiht mon life. Your friends are wiht you, loads more over that tiny streach of sea.

Have non fear, But chib I had a lot to fear what ever he said.

We went down the stairs tiny so small. and made our way to the boat it was there, down to the que and on board horrible saylors, Hendoff et I went below, so did Averington we cast off I heard a saylor shout.

I fell asleep but was awkened by a storm the boat was mad

I fell asleep I did not know any more,

Sorry chib that iazz was the end of moi.

Hope I have given you a pictue, I am not going to repeat what est written hear now. answer questions yes but no repeat, I do not like remembering.

fleur-de-lys

Whoever or whatever Donald really was – the spirit of Louis-Charles, a supernatural entity masquerading as the Dauphin, an offshoot of the teenage Shirley's own personality, or something else entirely – he was a fascinating character. And Donald's account of his own death is infused with such a childish poignancy that, despite the horror involved, you find yourself wanting to believe him.


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.



Notes:


[1] According to Donald, his rescue from the Temple prison had involved another boy being left in the prison to take his place. Donald says here that this boy was 'Nickalos' but previously he had claimed that the substitute had been Count Hensdorf's son, Karl. Nickalos had previously been given as the name of a friend who had drowned with the Dauphin. Chibbett immediately picked up on this discrepancy and asked Donald to comment. The poltergeist's response was: 'DID JE SAY NICKALOS ... NO SORRY VOUS RIGHT IT [was] KARL ... HENSDOFF SON.' On occasions such as these he blamed his poor memory.

[2] Chibbett annotated Donald's letter with a question mark at this point. Given that Donald claimed to be the spirit of a French boy, it seems peculiar that he apparently states here that Count Hensdorf had translated French conversation for him. However, Chibbett does not appear to have asked Donald to comment on this.

Image credits:

Title image: detail of 'A Shipwreck in Stormy Seas' by Claude-Joseph Vernet, 1773.

Scans of Donald's letters are © Shirley Hitchings.

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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.