Situated just west of Dorchester, England is a place called Monkey’s Jump, at which, today, a roundabout and cafe exist, but which may have been the original crossroads in the area (crossroads, interestingly, play integral roles in many tales of a paranormal nature). A number of theories exist to explain the name, including the possibility that it was provoked by the escape – many decades ago – of a monkey from a traveling circus. Another, more intriguing, story, however, tells of a woman, driving a pony and trap from Bridehead to Dorchester, at some point during the First World War. According to the story, on-board the trap was the woman’s small, pet monkey that duly escaped at what is now Monkey’s Jump, scarpered up a tree, and which, after refusing to come down, was eventually shot for being a German spy! The “Monkey’s Jump” story is very similar to a tale that originated in 1879 in central England. It’s the saga of the Man-Monkey that haunted Bridge 39 on the Shropshire Union Canal, England. It was within the packed pages of Charlotte Sophia Burne’s book of 1883, Shropshire Folklore that the dangerous antics of what some have since perceived to be the closest thing that the U.K. may have to the North American Bigfoot and the Yeti of the Himalayas, were first unleashed upon an unsuspecting general public.
According to Burne: “A very weird story of an encounter with an animal ghost arose of late years within my knowledge. On the 21st of January 1879, a laboring man was employed to take a cart of luggage from Ranton in Staffordshire to Woodcock, beyond Newport in Shropshire, for the ease of a party of visitors who were going from one house to another. He was late in coming back; his horse was tired, and could only crawl along at a foot’s pace, so that it was ten o’clock at night when he arrived at the place where the highroad crosses the Birmingham and Liverpool canal.” It was then, Burne faithfully recorded, that the man received what was undoubtedly the most terrifying shock of his entire life – before or since, it seems pretty safe to assume: “Just before he reached the canal bridge, a strange black creature with great white eyes sprang out of the plantation by the roadside and alighted on his horse’s back. He tried to push it off with his whip, but to his horror the whip went through the thing, and he dropped it on the ground in fright.” Needless to say, Burne added: “The poor, tired horse broke into a canter, and rushed onward at full speed with the ghost still clinging to its back. How the creature at length vanished, the man hardly knew.” But the story was far from over, Burne learned: “He told his tale in the village of Woodseaves, a mile further on, and so effectively frightened the hearers that one man actually stayed with friends there all night, rather than cross the terrible bridge which lay between him and his home.”
Still on the matter of horses, carts and strange beasts, I’ll address the Welsh Bwbach, a diminutive creature that can be friendly or dangerous. Back in 1880, Wirt Sikes – in his book British Goblins – recorded the following: “There was a Bwbach belonging to a certain estate in Cardiganshire, which took great umbrage at a Baptist preacher who was a guest in the house, and who was much fonder of prayers than of good ale.” For those who may not know, they’re small, goblin-like things, and sometimes covered in hair, and on other occasions not.” Sikes continued: “Now the Bwbach had a weakness in favor of people who sat around the hearth with their mugs and their pipes, and it took to pestering the preacher. One night it jerked the stool from under the good man’s elbows, as he knelt pouring forth prayer, so that he fell down on his face. Another time it interrupted the devotions by jangling the fire-irons on the hearth and it was continually making the dogs fall a-howling during prayers, or frightening the farm boy by grinning at him through the window, or throwing the maid into fits. At last it had the audacity to attack the preacher as he was crossing a field.” The story continues:
“The minister told the story in this wise: ‘I was reading busily in my hymn-book as I walked on, when a sudden fear came over me and my legs began to tremble. A shadow crept upon me from behind, and when I turned round – it was myself! – my person, my dress, and even my hymn-book. I looked in its face a moment, and then fell insensible to the ground.” And there, insensible still, they found him. This encounter proved too much for the good man, who considered it a warning to him to leave those parts. He accordingly mounted his horse next day and rode away. A boy of the neighborhood, whose veracity was, like that of all boys, unimpeachable, afterwards said that lie saw the Bwbach jump up behind the preacher, on the horse’s back. And the horse went like lightning, with eyes like balls of fire, and the preacher looking back over his shoulder at the Bwbach, that grinned from ear to ear.'” Wirt’s account ends.
There are several threads to all of these stories that are worthy of note. In the tales of the Monkey Jump creature, and the Man-Monkey of the Shropshire Union Canal, we see the presence of either a pony and trap or a horse and cart; while the Welsh tale of the Bwbach involved a horse and rider. And, in all of these cases, the animals seem to have been of relatively small stature: even the Man-Monkey has been given a height of between four-and-a-half and five-feet, for the most part. Then, there is the matter of the Dorset monkey shot for being a German espionage agent. This is clearly an update of an even earlier, and very famous, story that dates way back to the Napoleonic Wars, when a monkey – said to have been dressed in the uniform of the French military of the day – was supposedly hanged in Hartlepool, England for being a French spy! Somewhere, in all of these tales, I’m sure there are ultimate truths still to be found and understood. Today, however, those truths, whatever they may be, are so deeply entangled in distortion, myth, legend and folklore that it seems most unlikely we’ll ever have the full, true answers we seek.