The very idea that the green and pleasant British countryside may well be playing host to hidden populations of wild baboon sounds manifestly bizarre and unlikely in the extreme, which, for the most part anyway, it surely is! And, yet, sightings of baboon-like animals certainly do surface from time to time, and from across much of the entire nation. That these same sightings, of what are actually African and Arabian Old World monkeys, are comprised of encounters with both flesh-and-blood entities and beasts of a distinctly spectral and paranormal nature, only adds to the mystifying strangeness, as you will now come to firmly appreciate.
In 1913, Elliott O’Donnell penned the classic title Animal Ghosts, which included in its pages the decades-old story of a ghostly baboon seen in a large, old, imposing country-house-style abode near the English town of Basingstoke, Hampshire. In O’Donnell’s own words:
“A sister of a well-known author tells me there used to be a house called The Swallows, standing in two acres of land, close to a village near Basingstoke. In 1840 a Mr. Bishop of Tring bought the house, which had long stood empty, and we went to live there in 1841. After being there a fortnight two servants gave notice to leave, stating that the place was haunted by a large cat and a big baboon, which they constantly saw stealing down the staircases and passages.
“They also testified to hearing sounds as of somebody being strangled, proceeding from an empty attic near where they slept, and of the screams and groans of a number of of people being horribly tortured in the cellars just underneath the dairy. On going to see what was the cause of the disturbances, nothing was ever visible. By and by other members of the household began to be harassed by similar manifestations. The news spread through the village, and crowds of people came to the house with lights and sticks, to see if they could witness anything.
“One night, at about twelve o’clock, when several of the watchers were stationed on guard in the empty courtyard, they all saw the forms of a huge cat and a baboon rise from the closed grating of the large cellar under the old dairy, rush past them, and disappear in a dark angle of the walls. The same figures were repeatedly seen afterwards by many other persons. Early in December 1841, Mr. Bishop, hearing fearful screams, accompanied by deep and hoarse jabberings, apparently coming from the top of the house, rushed upstairs, whereupon all was instantly silent, and he could discover nothing.
“After that, Mr. Bishop set to work to get rid of the house, and was fortunate enough to find as a purchaser a retired colonel, who was soon, however, scared out of it. This was in 1842; it was soon after pulled down. The ground was used for the erection of cottages; but the hauntings being transferred to them, they were speedily vacated, and no one ever daring to inhabit them, they were eventually demolished, the site on which they stood being converted into allotments.
“There were many theories as to the history of ‘The Swallows’; one being that a highwayman, known as Steeplechase Jock, the son of a Scottish chieftain, had once plied his trade there and murdered many people, whose bodies were supposed to be buried somewhere on or near the premises. He was said to have had a terrible though decidedly unorthodox ending – falling into a vat of boiling tar, a raving madman. But what were the phantasms of the ape and cat? Were they the earth-bound spirits of the highwayman and his horse, or simply the spirits of two animals? Though either theory is possible, I am inclined to favour the former.”
Moving on, in September 1979, wild rumors that a terrifying monster was haunting the dark woods of Brassknocker Hill, near the old British city of Bath began to surface. Described variously, and in both excited and hysterical tones, as resembling a baboon, chimpanzee, spider monkey, gibbon or lemur, the creature was of far more concern to some than it was to others. Eighty-one-year-old Brassknocker Hill resident Frank Green, clearly hyped up and living out his Dirty Harry fantasies, took up nothing less than a shotgun vigil and said loudly: “I am very fond of some animals, but I reckon this creature could be dangerous and I am taking no chances.”
By the following summer the mystery seemed to have been solved when a policeman caught sight of a chimpanzee in the woods. “We were sure this mystery creature would turn out to be a monkey of some sort,’ said Inspector Mike Price, adding with humor: “After all, men from Mars aren’t hairy, are they?” Quite! But rumors of baboons on the loose in Britain don’t end there.
On January 17, 1999, a very curious story surfaced in the pages of Scotland’s Ayrshire Post newspaper. Titled Baboon sighted near Prestwick Airport, it read as follows: “A motorist spotted what he believed was a ‘Baboon-like creature’ on the Shaw Farm Road in Prestwick, not far from the airport. Police rushed to the scene, and as the officers got to within 30 yards of the animal it disappeared into the undergrowth.”
A police spokeswoman told the newspaper: “We received a call from a local man who said he’d narrowly avoided hitting a baboon-like creature on Shaw Farm Road, Prestwick. A patrol car was sent out and after a search of the area the officers reported seeing an animal of some sort, although they couldn’t be sure what it was.”
Given that the eye-witnesses to the beast included members of the police, the matter was taken seriously, and newspaper staff noted that careful-but-futile checks were made at the airport, which, rather interestingly, had received a cargo of livestock only days earlier. A baboon, said an airport spokesperson, was most certainly not part of that same cargo. As the mystery grew, and with no answer in sight, checks were also made with numerous zoos across Scotland, but none had lost a baboon – or, more correctly, none admitted to having lost one.
The final word on the matter came from a senior policeman, who – in light-hearted tones – told the press, always eager for an entertainingly weird story, and one that ultimately, albeit briefly, threatened to eclipse Scotland’s most famous mystery beast – the Loch Ness Monster – that: “The officers were very careful how they phrased the sighting over the radio…They didn’t want to make monkeys of themselves.”
So, what can we say for certain about these very odd cases, which span more than 170-years? Well, the answer has to be: not a great deal! But, if you should ever find yourself in the wilds of Britain and you come face-to-face with a baboon – spectral or physical – of one thing you can be sure: you won’t have been the first to have had such an encounter, and based upon what we have seen, you probably won’t be the last!