Dorothy Stella Cranshaw (1900–?) British physical Medium discovered and tested by Harry Price, known in research reports as “Stella C.” An “e” is sometimes wrongly appended to her last name.
Stella Cranshaw was born on October 1, 1900, in North Woolwich, England. Little has been recorded about her early life, and what is known comes from Price, whose writings are of questionable reliability. According to Price, when Cranshaw was 11, she attended a service in a Spiritualist church, but she had to be removed when she became possessed by an uncontrollable fit of giggling.
She is said to have been the centre of poltergeist disturbances even into her 20s—small objects sometimes moved in her presence, Rappings sounded around her, occasionally there were flashes of light. Two or three times a year, she would feel strong breezes in her room. These occurred even in the dead of winter, when the windows and doors were shut tight, but always when she had flowers close by. She was passionately fond of flowers. Price reportedly met Cranshaw one evening early in 1923 on the train out of London, on his way home to Pulborough. She was at this time happily employed as a nurse in a hospital.
She evinced little concern about her psychic experiences, about which she told Price she had never talked before. He explained his line of work, and had no trouble persuading her to let him test her in an experimental setting. In keeping with the style of the day, this meant a series of mediumistic Séances, which were held at the London Spiritualist Alliance beginning on March 23 of that year. Cranshaw received a modest payment of a few pounds per week for her services, for which she had to take off work in the afternoon.
The first Séance brought some surprises, most importantly the discovery that Cranshaw, who had never considered herself a medium, had a Control—a personality, ostensibly a discarnate spirit, who was supposed to be responsible for all that took place. Cranshaw’s control, “Palma,” communicated with the sitters through raps, and would follow requests made of it, such as that it should move a heavy oak table in various directions around the room.
At the same Séance, thermometers recorded a rapid drop in temperature. Falls in temperature, in fact, were a hallmark of Cranshaw’s mediumship. Price introduced various devices into the Séance room in an attempt to study the phenomena Scientifically. One of the regular sitters built a special double table, the inner table actually being a sort of cage, into which various articles were put.
The first time this was used it contained musical instruments such as a harmonica and a Trumpet, which were sounded during the Séance. A rattle somehow was thrown out of the cage. Price himself constructed a device called a “telekinetiscope,” which would light up when two metallic contacts were joined. The contacts were in a cup covered by a strong soap bubble, making it impossible to press them together fraudulently without everyone present knowing about it. Nonetheless, the red light would occasionally go on during Séances.
The first series ran to 11 sittings and was broken off by Cranshaw, who was exhausted by the weekly trials. She was often tired during Séances, her pulse raced, and the drops in temperature would cause her to be overcome with shivers. She saw a doctor, who advised her to take a rest. Another unfortunate result of her work with Price was the loss of her hospital job. Not only Cranshaw, but Price also, suffered from fall out from the sittings. Price had a background in conjuring (at this time, in fact, he still identified himself as a “conjurer”), and had only recently entered upon psychical research.
His fellow conjurers criticized him for taking Cranshaw’s phenomena seriously, whereas the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) was uncomfortable with Price’s affiliation with the British College of Psychic Science (BCPS), a spiritualist organization, even though SPR research officers attended some of the sittings. These gentlemen convinced Price that it would be well to have additional sittings at the SPR headquarters.
Only with difficulty was Price able to persuade Cranshaw, who had found a secretarial position with a manufacturing firm, to continue the sittings. Two more Séances were held at the SPR late in 1923, then Cranshaw again broke off the work. Her relations with Price, formerly warm, turned cool, then chilly, then momentarily icy, for reasons that are not altogether clear. Although she pleaded fatigue, a different motive is suggested by a letter she wrote to Price in February 1926, just before she began yet further work with him. In this letter, she says that she had come to the conclusion she had “badly misjudged” him before.
The 1926 sittings were held in Price’s National Laboratory for Psychical Research, then newly established in rooms at the London Spiritualist Alliance (see College of Psychic Studies). Cranshaw’s phenomena were similar although weaker in the 1926 sittings. Fourteen sittings were held before Cranshaw once again broke off the proceedings, in August.
Cranshaw sat with Price again in 1927, so that he could study the nature of the temperature drops, and participated in a final series of nine sittings with him in 1928, shortly before her wedding. Cranshaw married Leslie Deacon in August 1928 and ceased to give sittings. She never became a professional medium, and all of her Scientific sittings were held with Price. The course of Cranshaw’s later life is not known. She lived at least into her 60s, at which time she still resided in London.
- Hall, Trevor. Search for Harry Price. London: Duckworth, 1978.
- Tabori, Paul. Companions of the Unseen. New Hyde Park, N.Y.: University Press, 1978.
- Turner, James T., ed. Stella C: An Account of Some Original Experiments in Psychical Research. London: Souvenir Press, 1973.