The Strange High House on Wickham Road

The Big Retort has unearthed an account of an extraordinary séance in Brockley, believed to have been held on Wickham Road.
A website dedicated to the work of ‘psychical researcher’ Harry Price features his account of a visit to a house in Brockley on December 15th, 1937 where a lady claimed that séances were encouraging the spirit of a little girl called Rosalie to materialize.
Price was invited to attend, provided that he promised not to reveal the identity of any of the sitters, or the locality where the séance was held. Of the visit, he wrote “I journeyed alone to the London suburb - to the most amazing séance that even I have experienced.”
The article says:
The external appearance of the house, 'a typical, largish, mid-Victorian, double-fronted detached suburban house', is described by Price in rather minute detail, and he gives a plan of the room in which the séance was held. His precautions involved a very thorough search of the house, sealing of all doors and windows, and then an elaborate sealing of the séance room. The servants, a cook and a parlour maid, were instructed that during the séance they were not to answer the door, and telephone callers were to be told to ring later (this latter detail is important as establishing that the house was one with a telephone).
The family is described as consisting of Mr and Mrs X and a daughter 'aged nearly seventeen'. 'Mr X is in business in the city, and both he and his wife are charming, with most affable personalities.' The sitters, besides these three, were Price, Madame Z, who was the mother of 'Rosalie', and a young bank-clerk aged about twenty-two, whom Price thought had more 'interest in the daughter of the house than in "Rosalie"'.
The séance commenced just after nine o'clock, and for most of the time was held in total darkness… Just after ten o'clock, 'Rosalie' appeared. As Price describes it:
'Mrs X leant towards me and whispered, "Rosalie is here—don't speak!" At the same moment I, too, realised that there was something quite close to me. I neither heard nor saw anything, but the sensation was an olfactory one—I seemed to smell something that was not there previously. It was a strange, not unpleasant smell. Everyone was silent except for the rather distressing emotion of the mother. I sensed, rather than knew, that she was fondling her child. The next sound I heard was a sort of shuffling of feet on my left at the same moment as something slightly touched the back of my left hand, which was resting on my knee (we were not holding hands in any way). It felt soft and a little warm. I did not attempt to feel what had touched me, but sat very still. Madame Ζ continued to whisper to the 'child' and her sobbing ceased somewhat.
'After a few minutes, Mrs X asked the mother whether I could touch the materialization. Permission was given, and I stretched out my left arm and, to my amazement, it came in contact with, apparently, the nude figure of a little girl, aged about six years. I slowly passed my hand across her chest up to her chin and cheeks. Her chest felt warm, though (and this may have been imagination) not so warm as one would expect to find normal human flesh. I laid the back of my left hand on her right cheek; it felt soft and warm and I could distinctly hear her breathing. I then placed my hand on her chest again and could feel the respiratory movements.'
Later in his report Price described Rosalie's appearance, which he was allowed to view by the light of luminous plaques. He says: 'We beheld a beautiful child who would have graced any nursery in the land. Her features were classical and she looked older than her alleged years.' Discussing his experience a year later, Price remarked:
'If "Rosalie" was genuine, then I have witnessed a "living" or semi-living full-form materialization. But the "Rosalie" experience was as unique as it was baffling, and that astounding "child" was "produced" under conditions which would not be accepted by one materializing medium in a thousand.
Later, the article focuses on the search for the precise location of the séance:
To our surprise, the only house that was even semi-plausible was one in Wickham Road, Brockley, where the search made by Dr Dingwall and Mr Hall had culminated, though for quite different reasons. This house, no. 21, is a detached, double-fronted Victorian house, but many details are wrong (the number of windows and steps are incorrect, it is not a corner house, etc.).


william peter blattey said...

"....I seemed to smell something that was not there previously. It was a strange, not unpleasant smell...."

Blame the dog, that's what I always do.

thisisengland said...

When I was young and impressionable, I was seduced by Harry Prices' books, and especially by his accounts of the hauntings at Borley Rectory. I went to Borley, the rectory is long gone, but the church is suitably spooky.

In the visitors book was the message "Harry Price is a charlatan". And so he was.

Clinton Baptiste said...

Don't shoot the messenger, I'm only telling you what the spirits are telling me.

Tamsin said...

Distinctly creepy...

Anyone else noticed how pre-War writers always seem to set anything sinister in South London suburbs - think of "The Norwood Builder". Mark you, the real causes celebres and unsolved sensational murders probably did not help the image.

Headhunter said...

Fascinating! There was a huge fascination with hauntings and seances in Victorian times and that obviously spilled into the early 20th century. With modern street lighting I can't imagine that a room on Wickham Rd would be dark enough for someone attending a sceance not to be able to see an apparition, there's too much light pollution.

Not all hauntings were in south London 50 Berkeley Square is in Mayfair and was reportedly the UK's most haunted building...

thisisengland said...

Harry Price lived in Brockley didn't he, in either Wickham or Manor I can't remember. He went to school at Haberdashers, and set up an experimental telegraph from St Peters Church. He was a consummate self-publicist.

Danja said...

With modern street lighting I can't imagine that a room on Wickham Rd would be dark enough for someone attending a sceance not to be able to see an apparition, there's too much light pollution.

Well that's progress for you. No chance of missing apparitions these days.

Anonymous said...

Like the description "My informant lives in one of the better-class London suburbs"!

Anonymous said...

It sounds like he's molesting a child ghost. Is that legal? And after the mum has fondled her too.

Miss L said...

Headhunter - ever heard of curtains? Those heavy Victorian ones they had back then certainly would have made a room dark, even if there were streetlights.

Headhunter said...

I think you'd need blackout curtains to completely cut the light out of a room in London these days!

Tamsin said...

Just line your curtains with black twill - our bedroom windows face east - it also saves them against fading.

Oli said...

I think the key line is "...and this may have been imagination"

Indeed it may have been!

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