On 29 November 1935 Mr Frederick Robinson was in the kitchen of his modest terraced house in Eland Road, in the London suburb of Battersea, when he heard a strange pattering noise coming from the conservatory at the back of his house. It did not sound quite like rain, so Mr Robinson went through to the conservatory to see what was causing the noise.
Looking up through the glass panels, Mr Robinson saw a number of small pieces of coal, three pennies and a few lumps of soda on the roof of the conservatory. As he watched another tiny piece of coal fell on to the glass roof and rolled down to lodge against a metal beam. Then silence fell. Mr Robinson thought that some practical joker in the area was having a jape. When nothing further happened, he went back to the kitchen. Later that day he went up a ladder to clear the roof, adding the pieces of coal to the family coal scuttle and pocketing the pennies.
On 2 December Mr Robinson heard the noise again. This time he did not bother going into the conservatory, but rushed straight out into the garden hoping to catch the prankster. As soon as he got into the garden, the rain of small objects stopped. Mr Robinson peered over his back wall and into the neighbouring gardens, but there was nobody in sight.
Next day the mysterious rain of objects came again. This time Mr Robinson’s nephew Peter Perkins was at home. The two men raced into the back garden and without pausing to look at the conservatory, vaulted over the back wall to catch the culprit. There was nobody there. Returning to the garden, the two men were suddenly startled by a terrific crash that sent broken glass flying. Going into the conservatory, the men saw a very large lump of coal that had come crashing down, apparently vertically, to smash a panel in the glass roof.
That was too much for Mr Robinson. Peter was sent to run out into the street to find a policeman. This was in the days before a working class family like the Robinson would not have had a phone and at a time when policemen could be relied upon to be out and about in the community rather than sat in offices filling in paperwork. Peter soon found a policeman out on his beat and brought him back to the house. The policeman surveyed the damage, asked questions and made notes. Then he went into the back garden to look for a place where a coal-thrower might have been hiding out of sight of the two Robinson men. Mr Robinson followed, Peter stayed indoors to clear up the mess.
No sooner were the policeman and Mr Robinson in the back garden than an object fell on to the conservatory roof with a tinkle. Peter called out that it was a penny. The policeman looked toward the conservatory just as a second penny came falling down to hit the roof. He was as baffled as Mr Robinson had been. The penny seemed to have fallen straight down, not arced over as it would have done if thrown from a neighbouring garden. The policeman looked upward to try to find the source of the falling coin.
That was when the policeman was hit forcibly on the back of the helmet by a large lump of coal. He spun around, but there was nobody there. He climbed the back wall, as Mr Robinson had done before him, but again no coal-thrower was to be seen. The policeman was more thorough than Mr Robinson and spent some time looking about. He even exercised the authority of his uniform and climbed into neighbouring gardens to search for a likely culprit. He found nothing.
Mr Robinson invited the policeman into the kitchen for a cup of tea so that they could discuss the situation. Mrs Robinson put the kettle on while the three men sat down at the table. The policeman had barely got out his notebook to begin asking for more details when a large potato hit the table with a thud and rolled toward him. Like the other objects, the potato seemed to have fallen down vertically, rather than having come in at an angle was would be normal if it had been thrown.
All three men looked up to see if there was a hole in the ceiling through which a potato could have fallen. They saw a second potato materialise in mid air and fall down to the table. There was a rush to get out of the room. The policeman tucked his notebook into his pocket, said that he was totally baffled and would report the incident to his superiors. Then he left, hurriedly.
The events of December 1935 in the Robinson household proved to be merely the opening salvo in a reign of terror that would last for weeks. Furniture was smashed, ornaments and crockery danced around the house by themselves and threatening messages were written on sheets of paper by unseen hands. Unsurprisingly, one member of the family would be so traumatised that he had to be hospitalised.
The police were baffled and sent for private investigators. The Press arrived, along with psychics, mediums and others professing an expertise in the supernatural. Each new arrival had a new theory about what was going on and a new suggestion for how it should be tackled. Nothing worked, and the disturbances continued unabated.
Then one day, the unexplained events stopped. They never started again and the Robinson household returned to normal.
The Battersea Mystery House, as the events became known, had made the headlines across London for weeks. They were thoroughly investigated at the time and witnessed by a range of entirely respectable people whose testimony must be considered reliable. The disturbances were by turns annoying, terrifying and spiteful. They were and they remain unexplained.
These days we recognise the disturbances at Battersea as being a poltergeist visitation. Every poltergeist is different in its own way, but they share a number of features that make them a clearly defined type of event. In this book I shall be looking at the poltergeist phenomenon, seeking to build up a clear picture of what happens during a visitation and attempting to find some answers to the great mystery of the most terrifying and bizarre of all paranormal events.
This is an extract from Poltergeists and Other Hauntings by Rupert Matthews