Helpless Dancer

The Endless Note

Season Of The Witch

Medium Helen Duncan (25/11/1897 – 6/12/19560, a Scottish housewife with six children, is often regarded as the last woman in Britain to be convicted of witchcraft when back in 1944 one of her seances exposed a government attempt to cover up the deaths of 861 sailors.

It started much the same as her other seances. With a chilling moan and strange white substance leaking from her mouth, Helen Duncan began communicating with the dead…

But suddenly, the eerie calm was pierced by a police whistle and officers piled into the house, in Portsmouth, Hants, to arrest Britain’s top medium.

The following morning Helen, known as Hellish Nell, was charged under section four of the 1735 Witchcraft Act.

As noted above Duncan is often referred to as the last person to be convicted of being a witch, but this view is incorrect in two important aspects. Firstly, the Witchcraft Act 1735 under which she was convicted dealt not with witchcraft but with people who falsely claimed to be able to procure spirits.

Secondly, there was a subsequent conviction under the act, of Jane Rebecca Yorke of Forest Gate in East Ham later in 1944; Yorke was bound over to keep the peace.

On her release in 1945, Duncan promised to stop conducting séances; however, she was arrested during another one in 1956. She died at her home in Edinburgh a short time later.

Duncan’s trial almost certainly contributed to the repeal of the Witchcraft Act, which was contained in the Fraudulent Mediums Act 1951 promoted by Walter Monslow, Labour Member of Parliament for Barrow-in-Furness. The campaign to repeal the Act had largely been led by Thomas Brooks, another Labour MP, who was a spiritualist.

Duncan’s original conviction still stood, and a campaign to have her posthumously pardoned continues

It was 1944, and, astonishingly, officials had ordered her arrest because they were afraid she would reveal top-secret plans for the D-Day landings.

They had been monitoring her since she had revealed the sinking of a British battleship earlier in the war – even though the government had suppressed the news to maintain morale at home.

It took a jury just 30 minutes to find her guilty and she became the last person to be convicted of witchcraft in Britain.

As she was led away to start her nine-month sentence in London’s Holloway Prison, the housewife cried out in her broad Scottish accent: “I never heard so many lies in all my life!”

Helen’s “gift” had long put her on a collision course with the authorities and led to one of the most bizarre chapters in British judicial history.

Helen Macfarlane was born into a poor family in Perthshire, central Scotland, in 1897. Growing up in Callander, Stirlingshire, she earned her nickname due to her tomboyish behaviour. Even as a teenager, she appeared to have a sixth sense, predicting the length of the First World War and invention of the tank.

When the unmarried Helen became pregnant in 1918, she fled the village and settled in Dundee. There, she married an invalid soldier, Henry Duncan, and had five more children.

During that period, Britain was still reeling from the devastating losses sustained in the First World War and many grieving families sought spiritual comfort.

Seances quickly sprang up, conducted by people claiming to be in touch with the dead.

Helen was among them and, by the 1930s, she was travelling the country, summoning up spirits before incredulous audiences.

But while the seances were making her a celebrity, scientists were already questioning her abilities and, in 1931, she was invited with Henry to London to have her skills tested by psychic researcher Harry Price.

He recalls: “She was placed in the curtained recess. In a few seconds, the medium was in a trance. The curtains parted and we beheld her covered from head to foot with cheese-cloth!

“Some of it was trailing on the floor, one end was poked up her nostril, a piece was issuing from her mouth. I must say that I was deeply impressed – with the brazen effrontery that prompted the Duncans to come to my lab, with the amazing credulity of the spiritualists who had sat with the Duncans and with the fact that they had advertised her ‘phenomena’ as genuine.”

In a bid to reveal the contents of Helen’s stomach, Price asked if she would undergo an X-ray.

“She refused. Her husband advised her to submit. But that seemed to infuriate her and she became hysterical. She jumped up and dealt him a blow on the face.

“Suddenly, she jumped up, unfastened the door and dashed into the street – where she had another attack of alleged hysterics and commenced tearing her sŽance garment to pieces.

“Her husband dashed after her and she was found clutching the railings, screaming.” Yet the researchers did not bring about Helen’s downfall. Instead, the seeds were sown in the Mediterranean, on November 25, 1941.

HMS Barham, a 29,000-tonne battleship, was attacking Italian convoys when it was hit by three German torpedoes.

The ship went down within minutes, with the loss of 861 lives. Already reeling from the Blitz, the British government decided to keep the news quiet, even forging Christmas cards from the dead to their families.

But they never reckoned on Helen’s psychic powers…

Amended and updated from original news story by David Edwards as published in The Mirror on 6th December 2006.

“Season Of The Witch” – Terry Reid

“Season of the Witch” is one of the first “Psychedelia” songs, written by Donovan and first released in the UK on his June 1967 compilation album, Sunshine Superman.

The recording features Bobby Ray on bass and “Fast” Eddie Hoh on drums. The run-time for the song is 4:56, unusual for an era when the typical pop song ran perhaps 2:30.

Most recently, it was used in a 2010 ad for Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7.

To buy the music of Terry Reid click HERE

October 31, 2010 Posted by | Blast from The Past, Educational, Interesting Fact, Old Music, Video | , , , | Leave a comment

Blast From The Past – EMI Record Tokens

Despite much effort I have been unable to source a picture of an EMI Record Token.

People of my age who were music buyers will remember these well as they were always the opt out option for aunties and grannies who knew not what to buy you for your Birthday or Christmas present.

Getting them for a Christmas present I always found to be frustrating as for weeks afterward record shops were devoid of stock that you might actually want to buy with them.

The scrapping of EMI’s National Record Token Scheme was a huge own goal for the retailers as the scheme enabled your distant granny in Lands End to sent you a voucher as a present to Aberdeen where you could spend it in a variety of record stores thus actually receiving a present you wanted.

It was good old WH Smith who started the downfall by withdrawing from the scheme in 1995 and introducing their own voucher which could only be redeemed in their outlets. Given their shop in every big town they probably found out that whilst grannies from across the country were buying EMI Tokens from them fw were being redeemed given your average record buyer had better taste than WH Smith could offer.

When HMV jumped on the same bandwagon the days of the good old EMI Record Token were numbered.

“Man In The Corner Shop” – The Jam

Puts up the closed sign does the man in the corner shop
Serves his last then he says goodbye to him
He knows it is a hard life
But its nice to be your own boss really
Walks off home does the last customer
He is jealous of the man in the corner shop
He is sick of working at the factory
Says it must be nice to be your own boss (really)

Sells cigars to the boss from the factory
He is jealous is the man in the corner shop
He is sick of struggling so hard
Says it must be nice to own a factory

Go to church do the people from the area
All shapes and classes sit and pray together
For here they are all one
For God created all men equal

To buy the music of The Jam click HERE

April 20, 2010 Posted by | Blast from The Past, Educational, Interesting Fact, Old Music | , | 8 Comments

Memories – The Blue Train

Approaching Dumbarton Central

Nicknamed the Glasgow Blue Train, the Class 303 units operated around the Glasgow Electric network for over 40 years.

Ninety one of these 3-car trains were built by Pressed Steel at Linwood from 1959 to 1960.

The original livery of ‘Caledonian blue’ with yellow and black lining and grey roofs, gave these distinctive trains their nickname.

The electric trains entered service on the North Clyde routes in November 1960, but a series of incidents saw steam trains reintroduced in December, while the electric trains underwent modifications.

The North Clyde electrics resumed in October 1961 and South Clyde services started in May 1962.

Similar Class 311 units were built for the Inverclyde electrification in 1967.

A down turn in passenger numbers saw 12 sets sent to the north west of England in the early 1980s.
50 units were refurbished at Glasgow Works between 1984-87 with new interiors.

Interior of refurbished 303012, July 2001. Photo by Dysgraphyk

The remaining unrefurbished units were replaced by new Class 320 units, and were withdrawn from service by November 1990.

One unrefurbished unit, 303048, was restored to original blue livery in March 1991, and was used on special duties for a number of years. It was scrapped in 1998.

By the late 90s there were only 40 units left in service and eventually they were withdrawn once the class 334s became more reliable.

The last units in service were 303011 and 303088, which worked the 09:27 Bellgrove – Helensburgh on 30 December 2002.

Only 303032 survives and is based at the Bo’ness & Kinneil Railway where it can operate in push-pull mode with a diesel loco.


Milngavie Station


All this to justify posting this track

“Blue Train” – John Coltrane

To buy the music of John Coltrane click HERE

January 14, 2010 Posted by | Educational, Family, Jazz, Old Music, Photography | , , , | 4 Comments

Gonna Make You A Star

“Gonna Make You A Star” – David Essex

david essex then

To buy the music of David Essex click HERE

October 2, 2009 Posted by | Blast from The Past, Educational, Old Music, Video | , | Leave a comment


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