Brent Swancer's latest article - "The Mysterious Ape Man of Kent, England" - makes for fascinating reading. It's a little-known fact that there are numerous reports of what can be termed "British Bigfoot." Of course, the idea that huge, lumbering beasts of a Bigfoot-type could be roaming around the U.K. is ridiculous. And, yet, that's what appears to be happening. As Brent says: "In England especially, hairy hominids have been sighted surprisingly frequently, in all areas of the region, including Britain, Ireland, and Scotland, and one area that has a history of such sightings going way back is the county of Kent, in South East England. There is no reason at all for why a giant apeman would have any business being here at all, yet if sightings are to be believed, the anomalous beast has been lurking around here for quite a while." Brent is well to use the words "the anomalous beasts," as just about everything about these "creatures" is downright weird. My interest in this subject goes back to when I was a teenager. It all revolved around a strange, hair-covered hominid that had been given the name of the "Man-Monkey." Fortunately, the animal (yes, there was just one - there usually is in the British Bigfoot cases) lurked barely half-an-hour or so from where I lived. So, it was road-trip time.
From a bookseller whose name and location have now well and truly been long lost to the inevitable fog of time, I had ordered a cheap, used, hardback copy of Janet and Colin Bord’s excellent book Alien Animals - a classic and essential title that dug deep into the many worldwide legends and tales of ghostly black dogs, mysterious big cats, hairy man-beasts, winged monstrosities, and those unknown denizens of the deep, such as the Loch Ness Monster, Ogopogo, as well as a multitude of sea-serpents. It was 1986, I still very well recall, when the copy Alien Animals finally arrived in the mail. I eagerly sat down to read it and found mention of the infamous Man-Monkey; a bizarre, shining-eyed Bigfoot-type creature that I had never previously come across, but that the Bords said haunted Bridge 39 on the Shropshire Union Canal, Staffordshire. This was of particular interest to me: it so transpired that where the creature lurked was actually very close to that of my daily van-driving route, as I worked for a paint/wallpaper store at that time.
It was within the packed pages of Charlotte Sophia Burne’s book of 1883, Shropshire Folklore that the unholy antics of what some have since perceived to be the closest thing that Britain 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 onwards 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." Burne’s wild story continued that, by the time he reached the village of Woodseaves, the unnamed man was in a state of "excessive terror" and promptly retired to his bed for several days "so much was he prostrated by his fright." Burne also recorded that, on the following day, another individual traveled back to the sinister bridge and, sure enough, there was the man’s whip, still lying at the very place where it had fallen to the ground after the nightmarish and bizarre encounter.
Almost inevitably, dark tales of the crazed beast and its infernal night-time activities began to spread like absolute wildfire throughout the little villages and hamlets of the area, as Burne quickly learned and recorded thus in her book: "The adventure, as was natural, was much talked of in the neighborhood, and, of course, with all sorts of variations." Most regrettably, Burne failed to elaborate on the particular nature of these ‘variations’ and gossip. But, it seems that the local constabulary had heard all about the nature and exploits of the hairy demon and knew exactly what was afoot, as Burne carefully chronicled: "Some days later the man’s master was surprised by a visit from a policeman, who came to request him to give information of his having been stopped and robbed on the Big Bridge on the night of the 21st January."
The "master’," who, apparently, was very much amused by this development in the escalating and seemingly mutating story, carefully explained to the visiting policeman that this was completely untrue, and that, in reality, it was his employee who had reported a strange encounter at the ‘Big Bridge’, but that there was most definitely no robbery involved at all. Interestingly, when the real details of what had occurred were related to the policeman, he was seemingly completely nonplussed, came to the realization that no actual crime had been committed at all, and merely replied in a distinctly matter of fact fashion: "Oh, was that all, sir? Oh, I know what that was. That was the Man-Monkey, sir, as does come again at that bridge ever since the man was drowned in the cut."
Charlotte Burne also revealed that she personally had the opportunity to speak with the man’s employer, but, also to our cost today, she did not expand upon the specific nature of the conversation within the pages of Shropshire Folklore. Nevertheless, Burne did describe the "master" as being a ‘Mr. B_____ of L_______d’. And although the man’s name remains unknown to us (and probably always will remain so), ‘L_______d’ it is very possibly, and probably quite likely, a reference to the, nearby ancient Staffordshire city of Lichfield. So what, precisely, was the strange, hairy critter that was seen wildly roaming the distinctly darkened corners of the Shropshire Union Canal by moonlight on that winter’s night way back in January 1879? Was it truly some form of Bigfoot or Yeti-like entity? Could it potentially have been an exotic escapee of the simian kind, and possibly one that originated with a private zoo somewhere in the area, or even a traveling menagerie of the type that were indeed popular back then? Did it have wholly supernatural and paranormal origins, rather than purely physical ones? Or was it something else entirely?
The fact is that we have very few answers and a lot of questions for what the Man-Monkey was and still is. That's right: people are still seeing this semi-spectral ape-like thing. In the next part of this story I'll address the undeniable paranormal side of the British Bigfoot.