Horror in the Skies
The Mothman of Point Pleasant, West Virginia; Cornwall, England’s Owlman; the Houston Batman of Texas; the legendary Thunderbirds that populate Native American lore; and the flying woman of Vietnam: they all have one thing in common, namely that they are undeniably weird winged things that have no business surfing the skies of our planet. But, that doesn’t mean they’re not! Indeed, the sheer wealth of testimony on record suggests that’s exactly what they – and many more of their monstrous ilk – are doing.
And while the critters cited above are all well known to the field of Forteana, many others are not, including one I investigated more than a decade or so ago in central England, and which is way up there in the truly weird stakes. So, where to begin? There’s only one place we can: the beginning of course…
Needwood Forest – of the county of Staffordshire, England – was a chase, or a royal forest, that was given to Henry III’s son, Edmund Crouchback, the 1st Earl of Lancaster, in 1266, and was owned by the Duchy of Lancaster until it passed into the possession of Henry IV. In the 1770s, Francis Noel Clarke Mundy published a collection of poetry called Needwood Forest which contained his own poem of the same name, one regarded as “one of the most beautiful local poems.” And much the same was said about the forest – which was an undeniably enchanting locale, filled with magic, myths and ancient lore, as forests so curiously often are.
Today, however, things are sadly very different, and most of the ancient woodland is now, tragically, gone: presently, the area is comprised of twenty farms, on which dairy farming is the principal enterprise; and less than 500 acres of woodland now remain. Some parts of the forest are still open to the public, including Jackson Bank: a mature, mixed 80-acre area of woodland which can be found at Hoar Cross near Burton upon Trent and which is owned by the Duchy of Lancaster.
And then there is Bagot’s Wood near Abbots Bromley, which claims to be the largest remaining part of Needwood Forest, and which takes its name from the Bagot family, seated for centuries at Staffordshire’s Blithfield Hall. Situated some 9 miles east of Stafford and 5 miles north of Rugeley, the Hall, has been the home of the Bagot family since the late 14th century; while the present house is mainly Elizabethan, with a Gothic façade added in the 1820s to a design probably by John Buckler.
In 1945 the Hall, then in a neglected and dilapidated state, was sold by Gerald Bagot, (the 5th Baron Bagot) together with its 650-acre estate to the South Staffordshire Waterworks Company, whose intention was to build a reservoir, and which was completed in 1953. The 5th Baron died in 1946, having sold many of the contents of the house. His successor and cousin, Caryl Bagot, repurchased the property and 30 acres of land from the water company and began an extensive programme of both renovation and restoration.
The 6th Baron died in 1961 and bequeathed the property to his widow: Nancy, Lady Bagot. In 1986, the Hall was divided into four separate houses, the main part of which incorporates the Great Hall and is owned by the Bagot Jewitt Trust. Lady Bagot and the Bagot Jewitt family remain in residence.
And, it is against this backdrop of ancient woodland and historic and huge old halls that something decidedly strange occurred back in the summer of 1937, when Alfred Tipton was but a ten-year-old boy. And like most adventurous kids, young Alfred enjoyed playing near Blithfield Hall, and in the Bagot’s Wood, with his friends: on weekends and during the seemingly-never-ending school-holidays. And, it was during the summer holidays of 1937 that something strange and monstrous was seen in that small, yet eerie, area of old woodland.
According to Tipton, on one particular morning he and four of his friends had been playing in the woods for several hours and were taking a break, sitting on the warm, dry grass, and soaking in the sun. Suddenly, says Tipton, they heard a shrill screeching sound that was coming from the trees directly above them. As they craned their necks to look directly upwards, the five pals were horrified by the sight of a large, black beast sitting on its haunches in one particularly tall and very old tree, and “shaking the branch up and down with its claws tightened around it.” But this was no mere large bird, however.
Tipton says that “it reminded me of a devil: I still don’t forget things and that is what I say it looked like.” He adds that the creature peered down at the five of them for a few moments and then suddenly opened up its large and shiny wings, which were easily a combined twelve-feet across, and took to the skies in a fashion that could be accurately described as part-flying and part-gliding, before being forever lost to sight after perhaps 15 or 20 seconds or so.
Significantly, when shown various pictures, photographs and drawings of a wide variety of large-winged creatures that either still roam our skies or did so in the past, the one that Tipton said most resembled the creature he and his mates saw was a pterodactyl. Of course, the pterodactyl is long extinct; however, Tipton is adamant that the beast the boys encountered was extremely similar to the legendary winged monster of the distant past.
Were the boys merely spooked and confused by their sighting of a large, exotic bird – albeit one of a conventional nature and origin, and perhaps even a circus- or zoo-escapee? Or, was some hideous winged-thing really haunting Bagot’s Wood on that fateful, long-gone morning back in 1937? Sadly, probably neither we nor Alfred Tipton will ever know the answers to those thought-provoking and controversial questions.