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The name 'Barham' came from Admiral Charles Middleton who was Lord Barham. He became the First Lord of the Admiralty at the time of Trafalger 1762-1813. He also worked with Admiral Horatio Nelson.
In 1944 at the Old Bailey, Helen Duncan went on trial under the Witchcraft Act as a possible danger to morale and security.
From THE TIMES Jan 1998
Mrs Duncan, the wife of an unemployed Cabinet maker, had given seances all over Britain during the 1930s and 1940s. Sceptics claimed that the medium used yards of cheesecloth to simulate the forms of spirit friends. But the incident which led to her eventual court appearance occurred in 1941 and featured the spirit of a dead sailor.
This time her wardrobe of props apparently included a hatband with the words HMS Barham.
The Sailor is alleged to have said; "My ship has sunk" At the time, the Admiralty suppressed the news of the ship's destruction off Malta in order not to shake public morale.
The trial made Mrs Duncan the most famous spiritualist of her time and even provoked an intervention by Winston Churchill over the seven-day hearing which grabbed headlines and drew crowds who packed the public gallery.
Churchill sent a note to the Home Secretary demanding a report on the Witchcraft Act under which she had been prosecuted and the cost of the case, which he dismissed as "obsolete tomfoolery to the detriment of necessary work in the court".
After the Barham incident the authorities became alarmed and feared she would reveal the beaches chosen for the D-Day landings, and the was detained.
Churchill ensure that the antiquated law was never used again. In 1951, afer his return to power, the Witchcraft Act was repealed and replaced by the Fraudulent Mediums Act.
Read a story about Helen Duncan on the BBC website here.
| last updated:
13 July 2013