Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Stig Of The Dump!

Neil's latest post for the CFZ (Centre for Fortean Zoology) concerns possible connections between the classic children's book 'Stig of the Dump', and the area of Blue Bell Hill in Kent, and some of its resident creatures. Read more HERE

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Some unusual birds in Sussex

As noted by THE FIELD magazine of 1855:

Over the years there have been many records of unusual birds seen over the county. Some more remarkable than others.

On 24th February 1855 it was recorded in The Field magazine of an unusual incident which took place in West Sussex.

‘The Eagle Shot – For some time past a very fine eagle has been seen hovering about the neighbourhood to Balcombe, attracting general notice, and affording to many a knight of the trigger the hope that he might be the lucky shot. The eagle was seen on two occasions to pounce down on a rabbit and the spot, being watched, Mr Baines, of Crabbet Park, offered pecuniary reward to a gamekeeper to dispatch him. Some fowls were staked down and the keeper lay up for the envied bird. On Monday his decoy birds had the effect of inducing a visit, when a shot from the keeper, passing through his body, brought “his Majesty” to a standstill, without much injuring his plumage. The eagle, which measures eight-feet from tip to tip of wing, has been forwarded to London to be preserved and will afterwards remain at the Three Bridges station for one week for inspection.’

The Field also reported on another eagle (10th Feb’ 1855), stating, ‘Alfriston – The weather here has been very cold and there have been several flights of wild fowl, including many geese, ducks et al, some of which have been shot. A very large eagle of fine species has been seen flying about in the Levels. Some expert knights of the trigger have given him chase, thinking it will be a prize should they capture him.’

The same magazine of August 18th 1855 reported on a ‘Singular Bird – A Mr Stephen Gates of Crawley, was walking in his garden when he espied a depredator among his cherries, and fetching his gun determined to stop his career. It proved to be a starling with beautiful glossy black head, crest, and wings, and back and belly of pale pink, or as some describe it, salmon colour. It will be stuffed, and is considered a very rare and remarkable specimen.’

Gravesend and Thanet water monsters...

A chap named Gravesender notes, in The Kentish Garner of October 31st 1981, ‘I send an extract from p.159 of Pocock’s History & Antiquities of Gravesend & Milton, relating to the capture of some extraordinary monsters off the Kentish coast:-

‘At Gravesend on the 7th October 1552 three great Fishes called Whirlepooles were taken and drawn up to Westminster Bridge.

In 1786 a Fish of the Grampus kind was brought here by a fishing vessel, who found it at sea, floating on the water almost dead, its mouth was full of thready bones – and the like before the oldest fisherman at this place (Gravesend) had never seen. But neither of the above Fishes were any comparison to one that was taken at St. Peter’s in the isle of Thanet on July 9th 1574, and which Mr Kilburne says, “shot himself on shore on a little sand called Fishness, where for want of water he died the next day; before which time his roaring was heard above a mile. His length was 22 yards, the nether jaw opening 12 feet; one of his eyes was more than a cart and six horses cold draw, a man stood upright in the place from whence his eye was taken, the thickness from his back to the top of his belly (which lay upward) was 14 feet; his tail of the same breadth; the distance between his eyes was 12 feet, three men stood upright in his mouth; some of the ribs were 16 feet long; his liver was two cart loads; and a man might creep into his nostrils.”

Pocock adds, “Whatever absurdities there are in this account, the Rev. Mr Lewis has transcribed it into his History of the Isle of Thanet. I therefore give it my readers, but without desiring to vouch for the truth of any of the extraordinary circumstances of this monster”

A Battle With A Sea Serpent In Kent And Sussex

Accounts of strange sea serpents around the Kent and Sussex coastlines are scarce, although in the CFZ Yearbook of 2010 I highlighted several cases. The following is an interesting report which suggests that a vessel once shot at and injured a sea monster.

From Bygone Kent magazine, Vol 6, No. 9, 1985, featured in an article named ‘Submarines, A Ghost And A Sea Monster’ by W.H. Lapthorne, ‘Each year during the silly season the media revel in fresh sightings of Nessie, the legendary Loch Ness Monster. Yet the sea monster encountered off the North Foreland in 1917 was far from legendary and more than just a product of a “wee dram”. In July 1917 the ‘Paramount’, an armed drifter from Ramsgate attached to the famed Dover Patrol, was cruising a mile from the Long Nose Spit, between the North Foreland and Margate. Suddenly the sharp eyes of the look-out sighted a large snake-like creature rearing out of the sea ahead of them “hard on the port bow”, a creature which the startled man later described as being “like some gigantic conger eel about fifty-feet in length, with a long scaly body, a large spiny dorsal fin and dark olive green in colour”. At the approach of the oncoming vessel the creature inquisitively raised its head, as the craft steamed past at a steady eight knots. At a distance of 300 yards the skipper gave the order to open fire on the curious but seemingly inoffensive beast. Six shells were fired, the last of which struck the creature in the dorsal fin. After thrashing violently on the surface for a few seconds it sank from sight in a welter of blood. Years later in 1957 a sequel to this narrative came some miles down Channel at Seaford in Sussex, when local fishermen reported having their nets ripped to pieces by a strange sea serpent some fifty-feet in length, with a long scaly body bearing traces of a deep seven-foot scar. The same thing happened again in 1968, when the incident was reported in a national daily and described as the Martello Monster, as it took place off Martello Tower No. 74 at Seaford, but this time the assailant remained unseen below the surface.’