Eland Road Poltergeist
During December 1927 the family home of Mr Henry Robinson in Eland Road, Battersea came to the attention of the Police and the local media following reports of suspected Poltergeist like activity. On 19th January 1928 Harry Price, president of the Ghost Club started to investigate the case. Henry Robinson (aged 86) was an invalid who shared his house with his four children, Frederick Robinson (a tutor aged 26), Kate Robinson (school teacher), Lillah Robinson (school teacher) and Mrs Perkins (widow) with her own son, 14 year old Peter.
The following background story of the case which appeared in his book ‘Poltergeist Over London’ (1945) was given to Price by Frederick and Kate Robinson. ‘Except for Percy,’ said Mr. Robinson, ‘we lived in the house for twenty-five years, happily and peacefully. Then on November 29, lumps of coal, pieces of soda and pennies began to fall on the conservatory – a lean-to building at the back of the house. It stopped for a few days. It began again early in December. It struck me as being extremely curious at the time that, although the pieces of coal were very small, they broke the glass. Things became so serious that I decided to call the police. I had no other idea except that some person was throwing things over the garden wall. A constable came along, and together we stood in the back garden and kept watch. Pieces of coal and pennies crashed on to the conservatory roof, but we could not trace their flight. One lump of coal hit the constable’s helmet. He ran to the garden wall, but there was nobody there. On December 19 our washerwoman said she would not work any longer in the house. She came to me in a state of terror and pointed to a heap of red-hot cinders in the outhouse. There was no fire near. How could they have got there? Again I called a constable, and we decided to watch in the kitchen. Two potatoes were hurled in while we were sitting there.’
‘It was on Monday that the climax came – at nine o’clock in the morning – and for an hour the family was terror-stricken. There were loud bangings in all parts of the house. My sister ran to tell the magistrate. The window panel in my father’s bedroom was smashed, and as he was in such a state of fear I decided to remove him from the house. I called a man from the street, and together we carried him from the room. Just as we were taking him out a heavy chest of drawers crashed to the floor in his bedroom. Previously, my sister had seen the hall stand swaying and had called me. I caught it before it fell, but some strange power seemed to tear it from my hands, and it fell against the stairs, breaking in two parts.’
Mr. Bradbury, the man who was called in to help move the old gentleman, confirmed Mr. Fred. Robinson’s account. He said: ‘Mr. Robinson called me to his house, and when I arrived there at about ten o’clock there were a fishmonger and a greengrocer discussing with him what had happened. I saw several women in the house and they appeared to be very frightened. Mr. Robinson took me up to a bedroom, where he said his father had been sleeping, and showed us an overturned chest of drawers.
‘One of the women said that she was afraid to stop in the house, and that she was also afraid to go into her room to pack up her clothing. We went with her into her room, and she told us that she had been awakened by loud bangings on the door, and the crashing of glass. We stayed there until she had packed her bag and then returned to the back bedroom, where Mr. Robinson showed us pennies and coal on the conservatory roof.
The four of us – all men – were watching these, when suddenly from another bedroom came a great crash and downstairs we heard a woman scream. We ran to the room and there we saw a chest of drawers lying on the floor. It was all very strange, and Mr. Robinson then took us to the kitchen and showed us the damage done there.’
On an early visit to the Eland Road address, Harry Price witnessed the damage caused by the poltergeist and was in a position to hear a wooden handled gas lighter land as if thrown.
Suspicion fell on Frederick Robinson as cause of the activity and he was taken by the Police to observe his mental state at St. John’s Hospital, Battersea. The phenomena however was reported to have continued whilst he was away.
During a visit on Monday 23 January 1928, Price was informed by Mrs Perkins that during the weekend there had been much activity with the furniture in the house. Chairs had apparently marched down the hall way in single file of their own violation and when Mrs Perkins was trying to set the table for dinner on the Saturday, the chairs stacked themselves upon the table. When this happened for the third time she went outside into the street seeking assistance from a Policeman, who thought she had stacked the chairs herself.
Further testimony from Miss Robinson explained how a table and an umberella stand had fallen over and an attaché case flown from a chair onto the floor. ‘We were so frightened that we went outside. Through the kitchen window we saw all the kitchen chairs fall over. We went upstairs and found stones on the roof. An extraordinary part about it is that the furniture seemed heavy to pick up again’.
Peter was frightened and would not sit in any of the chairs. (Eventually he was sent to the country to recuperate.)
Again during this visit Harry Price heard something. ‘To me the noise sounded like the fall of a heavy boot or brush and I at once began to look for such an article: so did the Evening News representative (Mr Grice who accompanied Harry during the investigation). In a minute or so I saw something dark under a chair in the corner and putting my hand on it I found it was a pair of lady’s black shoes. Actually I put my hand on a hard object which was in the right shoe and brought it to light. It was a small bronze ornament in the form of a cherub, weighing about four ounces.
The cries of astonishment – real or simulated – with which the ladies greeted my ‘find’ were renewed when it was discovered that the ornament was missing from the mantlepiece of the front sitting-room, where, I was informed, it had reposed (together with its fellow cherub) for twenty-five years. We were assured that these cherubim and never been removed from the front room. I continued my search of the kitchen but could discover nothing else which could have fallen. If the bronze ornament really came from the next room it must have made two right-angled turns and travelled over our heads. It is conceivable that the ornament may have been thrown by one of the women, but I was within a few inches of both Mrs. Perkins and her sister and saw no suspicious movement on the part of either. Mr. Grice also declares that he saw nothing that could account for the flight of the ornament, which was quite cold when I picked it out of the show; if it had been held in the hand, it would, of course, have retained some of the heat.’
Following this the house was shut up and according to Price ‘the strange occurrences were driving the family to distraction. With both of its male members away, one daughter ill, and the little boy dispatched to the country, the two remaining sisters determined to quit the house of evil associations. The crowds, too, were frightening them. During the week-end mounted police were necessary in order to keep back the gaping mob which all day and night stood in the road and gazed, open-mouthed, at nothing more thrilling than a couple of broken panes of glass. On the Saturday evening the Battersea hooligans threatened to break into the house if they were not permitted to ‘investigate’ the phenomena for themselves.’
The house was reopened within a very short time and Mrs Perkins was present at Prices next visit. Harry Price, on the suggestion the Editor of The Daily Express took a medium to the Eland Road address on Wednesday, 25 January 1928. The psychic came up with nothing of consequence and during the visit a piece of soap was found on the upstairs corridor, which no one could explain.
The phenomena died down shortly after this and the case closed. Frederick was allowed home and Henry died in hospital and the family moved to a new address.
A private asylum could be seen from the rear garden where shell shocked patients were cared for. It was considered that projectiles could have been fired the 80 yard distance from this asylum by means of a catapult and Price initially thought this was the cause as the Robinson family had had problems with the patients in the past. This could not explain all the reported phenomena and Price also considered that a member of the family may have faked the disturbances, though he couldn’t justify a reason for doing so.
Price wrote ‘The incidents of the gas-tighter, the cherub and the soap are still puzzling me. On the three occasions when I witnessed the movements of the objects I could never be quite certain that a normal explanation could not be found for the supposed phenomena…..I feel convinced, though I have no evidence, that the disturbances were started originally by some of the soldiers who were receiving treatment at the private mental home. That the worry and anxiety caused by these disturbances may have reacted on some of the Robinson family seems obvious. Whether this reaction was a normal or extranormal one is, in the absence of further evidence, a matter for speculation. But I consider that the evidence for the abnormality of the occurrences is much stronger than that for the theory that the Robin
son family were wholly responsible for the trouble.’