Nov 07, 2022 I Nick Redfern

The British Wild Man: A Strange and Paranormal, Hairy Human

Over the years I have written various articles on the matter of what has become known as the "British Bigfoot." In these cases, we're talking about ape-like animals. Some of them are the "Man-Monkey," the "Bolam Beast," and the "Shug Monkey." There's no doubt these creatures are paranormal in nature. There is, however, another category too this controversy. It's the "Wild Man." It, too, is clearly paranormal, but it has an appearance that is human-like, rather than ape-like. It's this "wild" group I'm going to talk about today. Let's take a look at some of these  strange, forever elusive, things. The well-known Cornwall-based anomalies researcher, writer, and blogger, Elizabeth Randall, has spent many a lot of time seeking out the truth behind the Woodwose legends and says of the creature that it " usually shown as a complete, part human, figure carrying a club with the limbs being leafy. It also often shows a thick beard and wears a cap. The Woodwose may also be shown holding the club in different positions. Sometimes this is on its side and sometimes it is raised. There is a theory that a raised club depicts the figure before it was converted to Christianity, but it’s probably more correct to believe that it was raised to ward off evil spirits."

(Nick Redfern) Wild in the woods

Liz Randall also notes that it wasn’t until the early medieval period that wild men were thought of as being truly human beings, but ones that had been driven wild due to madness. At this particular same time, she comments, "...Celtic tales attribute poetic, or prophetic, powers to wild men. In Welsh tradition, especially, such powers are given to Myrddi, (a.k.a. Merlin), who at one point becomes mad and goes into a forest where he finds himself able to write prophetic poetry. Mediaeval literature, and art, is full of wild men stories and icons and, whilst mostly portrayed as being mainly human, they are sometimes shown as crawling on all fours and attacking dogs. Rather than being the true Wild Man of the Woods, who lives a feral life, it is possible that the Woodwose falls into the category of a strange being that manifests itself into reality from time to time. If that is true then it may account for the occasional reports that still surface today."

In 2011, author and creature-seeker Neil Arnold noted: ‘Many years ago when I first began writing for Animals & Men magazine [the Centre for Fortean Zoology’s in-house magazine] I mentioned to Jon Downes something regarding cryptozoological pub signs. There are many St. George and the Dragon signs, and I know a few which also mention unicorns. However, one particular pub sign, which is of great interest to me is that which belongs to the Wild Man at 29 Bedford Street in Norwich. Now, most pub signs have a meaning, but the legend which pertains to the Wild Man is extremely intriguing. So the folklore states, many, many years ago a six year old boy named Peter became lost in a wood in Germany. Around six years later the boy had grown wild, and in naked form would prowl the woods, living alongside the resident animals. Eventually he was found and picked up by a travelling showman who exhibited throughout Europe."

As Neil also said: "St. Mary’s Northchurch adds more to the legend, for within its walls there is an inscription which reads: “To the memory of Peter, known as the Wild Boy, having been found wild in the forest of Hertswold near Hanover in the year 1725. He then appeared to be about 12 years old. In the following year he was brought to England by the order of the late Queen Caroline, and the ablest masters were provided for him. But proving himself incapable of speaking, or of receiving any instruction, a comfortable provision was made for him at a farm in this parish, where he continued to the end of his inoffensive life. He died on the 22nd of February, 1785, supposed to be aged 72.”’ And there the inscription ends. But why was there an association between wild Peter and the Norwich-based pub itself that led the owner to even name the inn after the slightly tragic soul? Neil provides the answer: ‘Around 1751 Peter was housed at the public house. In the past the sign would depict the unfortunate chap as a demonic character amid flickering flames. Now the pub sign shows him frequenting the forest alongside bears.'" Notably, and demonstrating the paranormal aspect of this case, the hairy boy was, on one occasion, vanish in front of two shocked people. And by that, I mean he dematerialized.

(Nick Redfern) Ape-Man or Wild Man: This paranormal creature is still seen at England's Shropshire Union Canal

On the matter of strange-looking people living wild in Suffolk, England and, in the process, provoking myths and tales of enigmatic feral-style entities, I feel duty bound to reference the famous story of the green children of Woolpit (which is also associated with the even more renowned tale of the Babes in the Wood), a village situated between the towns of Bury St. Edmunds and Stowmarket. So the tale goes, back in the 12th Century, a young girl and boy, of strangely green-hued skin, appeared in Woolpit one day, claiming to have come from a magical place called St. Martin’s Land, which existed in an atmosphere of permanent twilight, and where the people lived underground, on nothing but green beans. While the story has been relegated by many to the realms of mere myth and folklore, it may not be just that. It might, actually, be much more. Interestingly, they were covered in a light covering of hair. According to the old legend, the two children remained in Woolpit and were ultimately baptized by the villagers, who accepted them as their very own. And although the boy ultimately grew sickly and eventually died, the girl did not. She thrived and finally lost her green-tinged skin to normal coloured skin of healthy appearance. She also, somewhat in defiance of the disapproving attitudes of certain members of the village, became, as it was amusingly termed back then, according to the legend, ‘rather loose and wanton in her conduct’. 

That both wild children were reportedly green-skinned and lived underground in a mysterious locale, has led many to disregard the tale out of hand as one of fairy-based, mythological proportions and nothing else whatsoever. That may not actually have been the case, however. The pair may have been suffering from a condition called Hypochromic Anaemia, in which the sufferer – as a result of a very poor diet that, in part, affects the colour of the red blood-cells – can develop skin of a noticeably green shade. In support of this scenario, Hypochromic Anaemia was once known as Chlorosis, a word formulated in the early 1600s by a Montpellier professor of medicine named Jean Varandal. And why did Varandal choose such a name? Simple: it came from the Greek word Chloris, meaning greenish-yellow or pale green. In this case, there may not have been a paranormal angle, but it still demonstrates that wild people were roaming around the .UK.

Robert Newland and Mark North say that Dorset legends tell of Woodwoses inhabiting the woods of Yellowham Hill, which is located near to the town of Dorchester. The creatures had the regular habit of abducting young girls from the nearby villages, many of whom supposedly ended up pregnant during their time spent in the company of the Woodwose. One such incident befell a particular young girl, who, when questioned by magistrates about the nature and name of the father of her impending child, replied: "Please your worshipfuls, ‘twere the Wild Man of Yal’ham." No-one should doubt the possibility – perhaps even the probability - that this may simply have been an ingenious ploy on the part of the girl to try and protect her unknown, very human lover from the scalding wrath of her irate father! Or, perhaps, on the other hand, Woodwose really did once inhabit the thick woods of Dorset. And, in view of the many and varied hairy man-beast encounters that have been reported from all across the British Isles for centuries, we might well ask this important question: Are the woods of Dorset still, to this very day, the domain of the Woodwose? 

There is one other matter worth noting in relation to the words of Mark North and Robert Newland. It’s one that is supportive of the aforementioned theories of Jon Downes. If the Woodwose were truly Bigfoot-style entities, then they surely would not have been able to successfully mate with Homo sapiens. However, if they were merely human beings who, having reverted to wild lives and states, subsequently developed excessive amounts of body hair as a result of near-starvation, then getting the girls of the local villages pregnant would not have posed much of a problem at all. While the wild men may have looked somewhat unusual, their genetic make-up would have been perfectly compatible with the girls, because for all intents and purposes, they were of one and the same, precise type. I cannot resist noting that Dorset borders the county of Somerset, which has also been the location of wild man-type reports that – in view of the very close proximity to Dorset – may have some degree of bearing on the Woodwose legends that have for so long populated the area. The Somerset reports come from Jon Downes, who states that: "Many years ago, the area around what is now an abandoned mine at Smitham Hill, in Somerset, was linked to tales of strange beasts seen watching the miners. Sometimes on returning to work in the morning, the men would find that carts and equipment had been pushed over and thrown around during the night.’"

(Nick Redfern) Jonathan Downes of the U.K.-based Center for Fortean Zoology, who has investigated many Wild Man cases

Jon Downes expands further, but on matters of a far more modern day nature: "These things, whatever they were, are still seen in that area today; or, at least, as late as November 1993. This is an exact quote taken from a witness whose case is in my files: 'I was on a walk through the woods, when I heard a twig snap. I thought nothing of it and continued on. Suddenly the dogs became very agitated and ran off home. At this point I became aware of a foul smell, like a wet dog and a soft breathing sound. I started to run, but after only a few feet, I tripped and fell. I decided to turn and meet my pursuer only to see a large, about seven feet tall, dark brown, hairy, ape-like man. It just stood, about ten feet away, staring at me. It had intelligent looking eyes and occasionally tilted its head as if to find out what I was. After about twenty seconds it moved off into the forest.'"

Finally, consider, for example, the following account of one Ralph, a monk and an abbot at Coggeshall, Essex. Recorded in the year 1200 in Chronicon Anglicanum, it describes the remarkable capture in the area of a wild man of the woods-style creature: "In the time of King Henry II, when Bartholomew de Glanville was in charge of the castle at Orford, it happened that some fishermen fishing in the sea there caught in their nets a Wildman. He was naked and was like a man in all his members, covered with hair and with a long shaggy beard. He eagerly ate whatever was brought to him, but if it was raw he pressed it between his hands until all the juice was expelled. He would not talk, even when tortured and hung up by his feet, Brought into church, he showed no sign of reverence or belief. He sought his bed at sunset and always remained there until sunrise. He was allowed to go into the sea, strongly guarded with three lines of nets, but he dived under the nets and came up again and again. Eventually he came back of his own free will. But later on he escaped and was never seen again."

It's possible that the Man-Monkey I mentioned earlier, was a Wild Man, rather than an ape-like thing. I say that because, like the Wild Men, the Man-Monkey was seen with a carefully made club. As you can see from the picture above. Perhaps, somewhere deep within the wilder parts of southern England, the Woodwose/ Wild Men still live on, totally oblivious to what such an extraordinary revelation, if proved, would provoke in the scientific and zoological communities.

Nick Redfern

Nick Redfern works full time as a writer, lecturer, and journalist. He writes about a wide range of unsolved mysteries, including Bigfoot, UFOs, the Loch Ness Monster, alien encounters, and government conspiracies. Nick has written 41 books, writes for Mysterious Universe and has appeared on numerous television shows on the The History Channel, National Geographic Channel and SyFy Channel.

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