THE WARMINSTER THING
Posted June 17, 2011on:
Warminster, a sleepy little market town in Wiltshire, was at the centre of an extraordinary UFO flap which lasted several years, and some believe is still ongoing. It should be a source of endless fascination for British Ufologists, and yet it is regarded as something of an embarrassment. There is even an element of snobbery towards it, such as “Warminster? Pah!” type of attitude, which is a shame, as it is extremely interesting indeed.
IN THE BEGINNING …
It’s never entirely clear exactly when it all first started. Sometimes November 1961 has been pencilled in as the start date, because 4 witnesses observed a UFO leaving a trail of sparks then, but this date is not certain. Some sources put this incident as 3 or 4 years later. The start date most commonly used is Christmas Day 1964. In the early hours of the morning witnesses claimed to be woken by a loud noise, variously described as like twigs or leaves being dragged across a roof, or a chimney crashing to the ground. In total 30 people claimed to have heard this noise. At 6:12 AM a Mrs Marjorie Bye was walking to church when she heard noises that she found so loud and disturbing, that it all made her feel weak and unable to move.
A few months later, on 3 June 1965, a bright, glowing cigar-shaped object was seen by a family at Heytesbury, near Warminster. The same object was seen by 17 people, who were fishing and swimming at Shearwater. On 10th August, at 3:45 AM a local woman was woken by a droning sound. On looking out of her bedroom window she said she saw a bright object like a star. Things were kicking off in Warminster.
It is around this time that Arthur Shuttlewood comes into the story. It is impossible to write about Warminster without writing about Shuttlewood. He was a journalist on a local newspaper, and he was instrumental in getting the strange events at Warminster into the national press. By all accounts he was a charismatic man, and I feel his interest in the Warminster Thing in the early days was entirely professional. He was a local journalist, and it was an intriguing local story. Eventually though, as we shall see, The Warminster Thing was to become his life.
The fact that Warminster was close to an important RAF base, and this was the height of the intensely paranoid Cold War era, led to quite a surge of interest in The Thing. So much so that a public meeting was arranged, to be held at the Town Hall, and it was to be broadcast on national television. Conveniently, the meeting was arranged for the August Bank Holiday weekend, and (no surprise) Warminster was packed with visitors, all keen to see a UFO for themselves, and to hear about The Thing. The town was so packed in fact that hotels and guest-houses were full up, and people were sleeping in their cars, or out in the countryside. It must have all been very exciting.
But there was a spectre at the feast, in the form of a local man called David Halton. He had decided to poke a stick into the hornets nest and give it a stir. Halton had put it about that he had seen the corpses of dead pigeons, which he said had been killed by the noise from The Thing. He produced no photographic evidence to back up this astonishing claim. He also claimed that he had accumulated file upon file of numerous UFO sightings in the area. Not unreasonably, he was asked if he could bring these files along to the public meeting, as everyone would be absolutely agog to see them. Mr Halton went all coy at this point, and said that he didn’t think a public meeting was the best place to spring his extraordinary evidence on the world at large. Finally, in 2005, Halton wrote to the ’Warminster Journal’ and confessed that the whole dead pigeons saga had been a hoax. He had simply wanted to see what the psychological effect of it would be on the town.
Whether Mr Halton’s “psychological experiment” was the cause of it all or not is unknown, but over the next few years, some very astonishing claims were to be made about happenings in and around the town.
ARTHUR GETS A VISITOR
On the afternoon of 26 September 1965 Arthur Shuttlewood said he received a phone call from someone claiming to be from another planet (as you do). The planet in question was called Aestsa, and the caller was named Karne (which sounds like a suitably old-school alien type of name, straight out of a black-and-white b-movie). Arthur, not unreasonably, wanted proof that the caller was who he said he was, and so he invited him over. Seconds later there was someone at the front door. Arthur described Karne as having no pupils in his eyes, and blue blotches on his cheekbones and lips. He spent a total of 9 minutes closeted with Arthur, who confessed later that Karne had thoroughly unnerved him. He said he had the feeling that if he was provoked, Karne could kill him.
Aliens in those days liked to give out dire prophecies, and the threat of imminent nuclear war was a stock favourite. Karne was no exception. He gave the dismal news that a 3rd World War was “inevitable” at “some point in the future” (which comfortably left all his options open). He also spoke of a war in the Middle East (not exactly a startlingly unexpected prophecy), and further UFO experiences.
Arthur said that at times Karne seemed to be having difficulty breathing, and he would also glance regularly at a gold disc on his wrist. When he came to leave Arthur went to shake his hand, and Karne winced in pain. He walked away in a slow and deliberate fashion. This is all classic Men In Black behaviour. Most witnesses to these strange visitors often observe that they don’t seem at all comfortable in their own skins.
STRANGE HAPPENINGS OUT ON THE ROADS
It wasn’t just Arthur though who was having an interesting time of it that autumn. In October and November there were sightings of balaclava-clad men in and around Warminster, Heytesbury, and North Bravant. The ones in the last location were seen by a retired RAF Captain and his wife who were driving in the area. Seconds later they saw a youth, naked except for a jacket, stagger over a hedge by the roadside. The couple decided to drive back to see if he needed help, but he had vanished. On an earlier occasion another witness had seen a body lying by the roadside, with its legs in the road. This witness too went back to offer help, and but the body had vanished.
On 16 December that same year, near Calloway Clump, a Londoner, Reg Roberts, said that just before 8 o’clock in the evening he saw a grey-clad figure with “streaming fair hair” jump in front of his car. Mr Roberts stopped the car and ran back to see what had happened, but again, there was no one there.
Driving in the Warminster area wasn’t going to get any easier near Christmastime either. On the night of 21 December, at Shearwater, a farmer and his wife felt their car bump solidly over a figure (described as long-haired and wearing tight trousers) that had rushed blindly from a hedge, and thrown himself under the wheels. They too stopped the car, and the farmer’s wife was sick by the roadside. Her husband searched the area for 10 minutes, but in vain.
Exactly a month later, at midnight on 21 January 1966, a Somerset man was riding his motorbike near Shearwater Lake, when he saw 3 short grey-garbed and white-faced people, looking like frogmen, entering a hedge. He said they had wide-spaced eyes and no mouths. The witness said he also saw a saucer of light coming from the lakeside.
This is all about as strange as it can get (although you aint seen nothing yet). Things did (to the best of my knowledge) go quiet for a year after that, but the surreal activity around Warminster hadn’t finished yet. In January 1967 a pensioner claimed he had seen a UFO hovering above a field. Two tall helmeted figures came out of it and wandered off into the woods nearby. When they noticed they were being watched one of the figures waved a gloved hand at the witness, as though warning him off.
Cradle Hill, Starr Hill and Cley Hill all became focal-points of UFO sky watching groups at this time, and have remained so this day. Cley Hill has a long history of folklore attached to it. It was reported to have been built by the Devil, and legend has it that it is haunted every Halloween by figures dancing round large burning fires and singing in an unknown language (ancient druids perhaps?). The sky watches reached the peak of their popularity from the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s. Cradle Hill was especially busy throughout the summer of 1967, and presumably not just because this was legendary Summer Of Love! On 8 July a woman said she actually brushed against an alien there, and said that his clothing “crackled”. During a sky watch on 29 August, 25 witnesses claimed to see a UFO. Our old friend Arthur approached it and had a “reassuring chat” with one of its occupants. That’s nice.
Naturally there has been plenty of scepticism about the Warminster Skywatches, particularly when the likes of Arthur make astonishing claims like that one. In their book on the Warminster phenomenon, ’In Alien Heat’, the authors, two local men called Steve Dewey and John Ries, said that Arthur had such a charismatic presence on these events by this time, that if he pointed at a planet like Jupiter or Venus and said it was a UFO, then the others would automatically believe him.
All of this is starting to sound dangerously religious, with Arthur as the Messianic figure, chosen as The One to mediate between the Believers and the godlike beings. It is true that at this point in time Arthur came over all spiritual (some believed, more bluntly, in true British fashion, that poor Arthur was going round the twist). On 27 August 1967 Arthur claimed to have what in some cultures would be regarded as a religious vision. He was lying in bed when he saw a figure with long, flowing hair and “glorious eyes”. A brilliant light illuminated the room. Put like that there is very little difference between this and visions of the Virgin Mary many people claim to have had in Catholic countries.
Arthur had had a Conversion, of sorts. He went from simply being a journalist covering an interesting local story, to an Absolute Believer in a sort of new religion. The aliens had taken over his life. They even followed him and some fellow Ufologists on a trip to Longleat in January the following year. Arthur had another little chat with one of the aliens there, and would only say that it concerned “the under core or central ball of earth”. Quite.
Arthur was to go on to write books about the Warminster Visitation (as it was also referred to sometimes, again with religious overtones). Because Arthur by now was prone to going on poetic flights of fancy, and also because, like Clive Harold in his book on Broad Haven, ’The Uninvited’, he tended to novelise events, these aren’t the easiest or most reliable of reads. But when I first visited Warminster back in the 1990s, they were still to be found proudly on the shelves of the public library, so they are held in some regard locally.
Sadly Arthur died in 1996, after a long illness. Being a dedicated Ufologist can be as bad for your health as ghost-hunting. You can end up spending hours in cold, damp, uncomfortable places, and I suspect all those years of exhaustive sky watching on the hills around Warminster took their toll. Arthur never (as far as I know anyway) ever deviated from his stories. A lot of his claims are very hard to swallow, even from someone who wants to believe like me, but Arthur seems to have been doggedly sincere about it all. There is an argument of course that when someone has dug themselves in that deep, it’s nigh-on impossible to dig themselves out again. And Arthur would have had a lot to lose by saying he had invented it all. By the 1970s he had become a respected figure in the UFO community. It would even be fair to say that he had a sort of guru-like status, with disciples hanging on his every word. But IF he was a charlatan (and I say IF) then he doesn’t seem to have done much harm on the great scale of things, which is more than can be said for many guru-like figures.
VERY HIGH STRANGENESS
Meanwhile, strange apparitions continued to be seen in and around Warminster for the next few years. Some time in 1972, a witness reported seeing an orange disc-shaped object descend over the area of the Bath Road. The witness then encountered a tall figure dressed in white clothing. It was said to move along the road with quick, loping movements. No facial features could be seen. This unnerving creature was also seen on 7 March, at 2:30 AM by Diana Granville Matthews, as she too was driving along the Bath Road. The creature this time was jumping over hedges. She said it wore white clothing and was of a giant stature. Diana sensibly pressed down hard on the accelerator and drove home. At around 5:00 AM she was woken up by someone ringing on her doorbell. She said she heard a voice calling, gently but insistently. When she got up to answer the door there was no one there. Which is very reminiscent of an anonymous police officer’s experiences in Avebury in 2009, who claimed to have seen white-clad humanoid figures inspecting a crop circle near Silbury Hill in the early hours of a July morning.
At a sky watch on Starr Hill, later that year on 13 August, some witnesses felt the air becoming “supercharged”. Moments later, they heard thumping noises coming from some nearby bushes. Going over to investigate they saw 3 huge humanoid figures standing in a triangle formation on the edge of the field. The witnesses reported feeling cold and apprehensive. At this point in the story it all becomes rather Dylan The Rabbit (“hey man far out!”). The oppressive atmosphere changed and a beautiful, warm fragrance filled the air (!). The witnesses spoke of feeling calm, and a great surge of love towards the hulking great humanoids. One of the male members of the gang approached and walked right through one of them. The creatures vanished when vehicles approached the area.
If you thought that was bonkers enough, then the following day, the 14th, was to be just as eventful. A married couple from Surrey were parked in their car near Longleat Woods, at 2:30 AM. Apparently they were there because they had heard of the strange happenings in the area and wanted to see it all for themselves. Well they got more than they bargained for. First they saw 2 small red lights come out of the woods and leap into the sky. One headed to the town, the other to Cley Hill. The couple went over to where the lights had appeared. They said it had a negative atmosphere, and they heard shooting sounds (bird-scarers?). The wife ran back to the car. What happened next is unclear. It is described on Albert Rosales’ humanoid sightings website as the husband “perceived” what he saw. And what he perceived to see was a goat-like creature, green in colour, of immense size, with fish-like scales all over its body.
I suppose there isn’t really much more that I can add to that. It would be very easy to dismiss it all as mass hysteria, but it’s a lot more than people sitting on hill-tops getting over-excited about a few lights in the sky. Whatever these apparitional sightings were, and even if it was All In The Mind, then it is still incredibly strange. Plus there is the intriguing almost throw-away line in the book ’In Alien Heat’ that many people in the area in the 1970s reported that their plants were growing exceptionally high, and no one knows why! It was all very far out round Warminster way back then.
In July 2010 the ’Daily Mail’ published photographs of some beautiful and elaborate crop circle designs that had appeared in the Cley Hill area. It also made the astonishing claim that in the previous month alone, 200 crop circles appeared in one elaborate formation at the nearby village of Mere. We were driving in this area on our way back from Somerset around this time, and (typical!) saw nothing.
GOING BACK BEFORE THE 1960s
After publishing this account on my website I was browsing through Albert Rosales’ collection of humanoid sightings, when I came across a couple of reports from the 1930s. One is a classic phantom hitch-hiker account, which shows that the roadways around Warminster have always been an odd place. A man was out driving in the Potterne area on New Years Day 1936, going to collect his wife from a party, when he saw a woman wearing a green suit standing at the side of the road. He gave her a lift, and she got into the back seat of his car. After a short distance she disappeared.
The last story is probably the most bizarre of the lot. One night in December 1930 a man was driving alone along the Salisbury-Bamford road when he saw a black mist coming towards him. Inside the mist was an object of indeterminate shape and size. The mist gradually enveloped the witness’ vehicle, and he said he was then grabbed by a “grey-looking hand”, which eventually released him.
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