Nov 09, 2022 I Nick Redfern

The Man-Monkey Beast: A Kind of Bigfoot or a Paranormal Creature

Just a few days ago, I wrote an article here at Mysterious Universe on the possibility there just might be "Littlefoot" type creatures hiding in the woods and forests of the United Kingdom. That's right: shrunken-down creatures that look somewhat like the North American Bigfoot. One of those little creatures - that was first seen in 1879 - became known as the Man-Monkey. So, today, I have decided to provide you a good, solid study of that particularly, strange creature. Constructed in the early part of the 19th Century, England’s historic Shropshire Union Canal, or the “Shroppie” - as it has come to be affectionately and popularly known by those that regularly travel its extensive and winding waters – is some sixty-seven miles in length and extends from Ellesmere Port near the city of Liverpool right down to Autherley Junction at Wolverhampton in the Midlands. The southern end of the old canal, that was originally known as the Birmingham and Liverpool Junction Canal, was the very last of the great British narrow-boat canals to be built, and is a true testament to the masterful engineering of Thomas Telford. Deep cuttings and massive embankments are the veritable hallmarks of the canal and they paint a picture that is as eerie as it is picturesque. There is something else, too:

(Nick Redfern) The saga of the Man-Monkey

The Shropshire Union Canal is quite possibly Britain’s most haunted waterway, as the local folk that intimately know and appreciate the history and lore of the canal are only too well aware. At Chester’s old Northgate, for example, and where the canal was dug into part of the town’s old moat, a ghostly Roman centurion can be seen – when circumstances are said to be right, that is – still guarding the ancient entrance to the city. Then there is the “shrieking specter” of Belton Cutting, which is a veritable wailing, Banshee-style monstrosity that strikes cold, stark fear into the hearts of those who have the misfortune, and bad luck to cross its terrible path. At the site of the former lock-keeper’s cottage at Burgedin, on the nearby Montgomery Canal, come intriguing reports of the ghostly, ethereal figure of an early Welsh princess named Eira. And bringing matters relatively more up to date, there is the spectral American Air Force pilot whose aircraft crashed near the canal at Little Onn, at Church Eaton, Staffordshire during the Second World War. There is also the "helpful resident ghost’ of Tyrley Middle Lock at Market Drayton, which has allegedly been seen opening and closing the lock-gates for those novice, holidaying boaters that, from time to time, negotiate the waters of the long canal. But by far the most famous – or, perhaps, infamous would be a much more accurate word to use – ghostly resident of the Shropshire Union Canal is a truly diabolical and devilish entity that has become known as the Man-Monkey. That's right: Britain's Bigfoot - to a degree, at least.

It was within the packed pages of Charlotte Sophia Burne’s book of 1883, Shropshire Folklore that the sinister activities 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's very own words: “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 labouring 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 un-named 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 travelled 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 neighbourhood, 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 does seem 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 realisation 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.”

(Nick Redfern) Where the hairy monster lurks

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 only described 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” is very possibly, and probably quite likely, a reference to the ancient, nearby 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 travelling 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 questions are many. The answers are few. But, there is still more to say about the Man-Monkey…

Elliott O’Donnell was a prestigious author, one who penned dozens of titles on the world of the paranormal, and who died in 1965, at the age of ninety-three. In his 1912 book, Werewolves, O’Donnell said: “It is an old belief that the souls of cataleptic and epileptic people, during the body’s unconsciousness, adjourned temporarily to animals, and it is therefore only in keeping with such a view to suggest that on the deaths of such people their spirits take permanently the form of animals.” This, O’Donnell said, accounted for the fact that the places where such people died “are often haunted by semi and wholly animal types of phantasm.” The human dead returned in animal form was not the only theory suggested for the presence of the Man-Monkey, however. A rumor quickly circulated in the area that a gorilla had escaped from a traveling menagerie that had recently visited the nearby town of Newport. While it’s not entirely impossible that just such a creature could have briefly survived in the cold wilds of Staffordshire, it should be noted that the “circus escapee” theory is one that had been trotted out on numerous occasions – and all across the world – to try and rationalize reports similar to that of the Man-Monkey. In nearly all cases, no evidence of any such escapee is found.

Now, let's have a look at a latter day case of an encounter with the Man-Monkey. In 2002, a report surfaced of an encounter with the Man-Monkey at the same wretched stretch of canal; it was one that had occurred back in the 1980s, but which remained hidden for years, until the witness finally decided to reveal the facts. A journalist for the website waterscape.com described the story – as told to their staff by the man himself - as follows: "When British Waterways appealed for information about ghosts on the waterways in 2002, one respondent reported a more recent sighting of the ghost and thanked us for proving to his family that he was not seeing things! He told us that during a boating holiday on the “Shroppie” in the 1980s he took the tiller while the family were inside the boat preparing lunch. Passing under a bridge he looked up to see what he described as “a huge black, hairy monkey” staring down at him. Astonished, he called his family out to see the creature. But by the time the boat had passed under the bridge, the creature had vanished. The man said he had been teased by his wife and children ever since over his sighting of the phantom monkey and was grateful to hear that others had seen it, too.’

There is, however, clearly something extremely supernatural about the Man-Monkey, since sightings of the always-solitary beast began in 1879 and have continued to be reported into the 21st Century. Clearly, there's no way such a creature could live for so long. And the events are almost identical in nature: the location is usually Bridge 39, the monster leaps out of the trees and terrifies the unwary, and it displays qualities and characteristics that are part-flesh and blood and part-spectral. Interestingly, this particular point of the creature being somewhat ghostly, to turn invisible, and to be somewhat spectral, has been reported with the Bigfoot of the United States. Could there be some kind of connection?  Whatever the true nature of Ranton’s resident, hairy, monster-man, it shows no signs of leaving its tree-covered haunt anytime soon. Should you, one day, find yourself in the vicinity of Ranton, take great care and heed if you are forced to cross Bridge 39: the Man- Monkey may be waiting in the woods that surround the old canal, ready to strike at a moment’s notice.

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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