Magonia 33, July 1989
In Magonia (August 1988) Peter Rogerson writes that ufologists must accept that as recorders of stories we are in effect folklorists, and this is how our writings may be regarded by historians in centuries to come: “the dominant folklore in British ufology at the moment appears to be earthlights or spooklights … the powerful appeal of this concept lies in its romantic roots. It is a folklore of open spaces, where tales still survive of the eeriest secrets of wild nature, before TV and streetlights robbed them of their wonder.“
These words have a particular poignancy in reference to the strange story I am about to relate, for despite the advent of ‘TV and streetlights’ which Peter regards as stripping nature of its wonders, folklore seems to be very much in the making in the haunted areas of the Pennine Hills into which I have been wandering in recent years.
For example, on 27 September 1987 the Sheffield Star, in a front page article entitled “‘Ghost’ sightings on a new road”, described a series of weird happenings said to have taken place on the Stocksbridge by-pass road then under construction by the McAlpine construction company, to the northwest of Sheffield.
“Terrified security guards”, read the report, “called in police and clergymen after seeing ‘ghosts’ on a bypass being built near Sheffield. A sergeant and police constable sent to the area – near Stocksbridge – later said the ‘felt a presence’ as they patrolled … but South Yorkshire police have refused to comment on the incident, or on reports that the Panda car was jolted by mysterious thuds …”
Other than the police, the two other witnesses, security guards Steven Brookes and David Goldthorpe – who work for Constant securities of Mexborough, were extremely disturbed by their experiences. On the morning of 8 September they arrived at the home of a Stocksbridge clergyman, waking him at 7am, apparently wanting to know if the area had once been a graveyard and whether an exorcism was possible. One of them later burst into tears and went into shock, but both agreed to return to work at the bypass.
In an attempt to ascertain the facts behind this peculiar story before it entered the realms of popular mythology (i.e., the columns of the News of the World), I made contact with the police officers involved and arranged to interview them and visit the scene of the alleged ‘happenings’. I have found that obtaining first-hand transcribed accounts from witnesses and visiting the scene of their experiences with them as soon as possible afterwards is the only honest way of conducting a worthwhile investigation into such claims.
I arrived at Deepcar police station on the evening of 1 October 1987 armed with my trusty six-celled flashlight, Geiger counter and pith helmet and, after a lengthy discussion, accompanied the witnesses, PC Richard Walton and Special Constable John Bellamy (1) to the scene of the phenomena in a police Landrover. Although the night was cold, and and extremely windy, the witnesses took me to the unfinished road on the lonely hillside above Stocksbridge and described once again what transpired. I was impressed by the sincerity of both witnesses – who had been subjected to considerable ridicule by friends and workmates, and I am convinced they were telling the truth about a baffling experience.
Although the alleged ‘hauntings’ received a fair amount of publicity in the local press, due to the police policy of refusing to make any comment on the incident it did not make the national newspapers. Shortly before I travelled to Deepcar I was invited to discuss the matter with the police superintendent responsible for the Ecclesfield division at Hammerton Road in Sheffield. He expressed concern about how publicity surrounding the events would reflect upon his force so I was asked not to speak to the press or to use the real names of the witnesses.
The alleged ‘paranormal’ manifestations took place on a stretch of the then uncompleted Stocksbridge bypass road, at grid reference SK 272989. The bypass, which has cost over £14 million to build, was opened in April 1988 and links the M1 motorway with the A628 Trans-Pennine Barnsley to Manchester road. At the time of the incidents the road was in the final stages of construction by McAlpine and this particular stretch on the hillside above the steelworks at Stocksbridge was patrolled each night by two security officers in a Landrover.
Pearoyd Lane is a steep-sided track which climbs from the steelworks in the valley to the villages of Hunshelf and Green Moor which stands at 303 meters above sea level on a ridge of high land above. High-tension electricity pylons straddle the hillside along the length of the new road, running between Barnsley and Rotherham. It was around one of these pylons that phenomena were observed.
It should be noted also that 10 miles to the northeast a low-level UFO was reported above the same length of electricity pylons at Hoyland, near Barnsley on 10 February 1988. Two witnesses here observed a huge black triangular object at a very low altitude with pulsating red and green lights apparently following the course of the pylons between Harley and Wentworth in the direction of Rotherham after 10.30pm. Five other groups of witnesses in the same area independently reported a similar brilliantly lit object at the same time. Investigations ruled out aircraft or helicopters as an explanation. (2)
|PEAROYD BRIDGE AND THE PYLON AROUND WHICH |
THE DANCING FIGURES WERE SEEN
The scene of the ghostly happenings is isolated and has an eerie reputation locally. There are no houses nearby except a few scattered farms, the nearest habitations being the streets of Stocksbridge in the valley below. In September 1987 as the new road was being constructed the area was out of bounds to the public and the new road was inaccessible to any vehicles except Landrovers and earth-movers. The possibility of a hoax is very unlikely, and no other explanations have been suggested to the investigators.
The story is best told by Police Constable Walton [RW] and Special Constable John Bellamy [JB], the two eyewitnesses whose account is here transcribed word for word:
RW – “Tuesday 8 September. A gentleman called Steven Brookes rang Ecclesfield police station. He works for Constant Securities who subcontract to McAlpine. Some time on either the Monday or the Tuesday night – we’re not really sure – they were driving up Pearoyd lane to check out the section of new road there. There were two of them in the Landrover; and as they’ve driven up they’ve seen the figure of a man standing on the newly constructed bridge. What you’ve got to bear in mind is that there’s no way you can get onto the bridge. You can’t walk onto it, drive onto it. It’s made that way so the kids can’t climb onto it. They’ve stopped the Landrover at the base of the bridge. Brookes has stepped out of the Landrover; his mate has driven round. As he’s put the full beam on the headlights – they’ve noticed at the same time that the beam goes straight through it. Then all of a sudden it was gone.
“He rang us, and of course we were sceptical. We said, ‘Well, what can we do – it’s not a police matter; there’s nothing we can do’. We just left it with them and said we’ll keep our eyes peeled. They rang their boss, Michael lee, and he rang me to ask what I thought. He said ‘They’ve worked for me for a number of years; they’re good lads and they have seen something’. We left it at that until the following morning – the Wednesday.
“Then Stuart Brindley, who’s Stocksbridge’s vicar, rang Ecclesfield to say that the men had been in touch with him, asking if he’d do an exorcism as they were too frightened to go back. It got back to me to sort out. When I spoke to Mr Brookes again he told me that just prior to this they had seen a group of young children playing just down from the bridge, near the new road around a pylon. They’d driven past the kids – this was at 12.30 at night – roughly the same time as before, parked the Landrover, got out and found there was nothing there. They’d examined round the pylon, which is fresh mud, no sign of footprints. They had followed that through by talking to some of the local workmen who were living nearby in caravans, who said that they’d also heard kids’ voices late at night. Now I live very close to the scene, and I wrote that off immediately as sheep. There’s a lot of sheep up there on the bank and at night when they are asleep they make a lot of weird noises.
“The following Friday night – 11 September – I went up there with another Special Constable, [but] it was throwing it down with rain, and we didn’t stop. But on the Saturday night me and John went up, round about midnight. We’d purposely told our other colleagues that we’d gone down to Oughtibridge, so they would not think we were up there for them to set us up! We went up from the Deepcar end and drove to the bridge, and parked roughly halfway between the pylon and the bridge where the two sightings have supposedly been. We parked the car up; we turned all the lights off. It was a clear night, clear sky, virtual full moon; after a while we could see great. We’d got about three-quarters of a mile straight behind us, two hundred yards to the bridge, three hundred foot banking on the right-side, twenty foot banking on the left, so if anyone came near us we could see them.
“We’d been sat there a couple of minutes and up by the bridge I’d already noticed a large container which was like a white-painted pallet box. I’d been looking at this for quite some time and I asked John to look at it to see if anything was amiss. We both the decided that there was something moving across and around this pallet box. We could see a shadow going across it. So I put the full beam on the car, and saw nothing at all. We let our eyes adjust, then drove up. Put the lights on, got out, not a damned thing. We went back exactly to where we were, sat and watched, and lo and behold, there was something moving again around this pallet box. Did exactly the same again, went up and looked – nothing at all. We’d been there now about twenty minutes. Went back again for the third time, to exactly the same spot and decided that it must have been the lights from the steelworks in Stocksbridge below, that were reflecting upon the box and causing the shadows. But on the third time we stopped we both noticed within a matter of seconds that there was nothing moving by this box, which we thought odd, but we didn’t think much more about it.
“We’d been sat there again for a few minutes; it was a nice night, I put my window down, I was sat in the driver’s seat, John was in the passenger seat. Suddenly I had a feeling – not like I’ve ever had before, because we’ve been working nights for a long time – just as if someone had walked over my grave, because I just froze”
JB – “You went cold, didn’t you?”
RW – “And what was so odd I went cold without knowing what was the matter. Then a few seconds after I had another feeling that someone was stood at the side of me, and I turned my head slowly, and I could see that there was something stood by the side of the car. But as I turned quick, there was nothing there. But as I saw there was nothing there John let out such a scream and hit me with his arm, and I looked around, and there’s somebody stood next to the car …”
JB – “Literally next to the car.”
RW – “… all I could see was his torso, because he was stood next to the passenger window. By the time it had registered with me that there was somebody there it had gone. There was no way that anyone could have approached us without us seeing. John was adamant that there was somebody there, because he was looking closer than me. So we thought we’d shout for Don to come and join us, because we thought that if we were going to see it then somebody else was going to see it. So we drove up to the bridge and parked up. We didn’t use the radio signal down in the dip, because the radio signal up here is bad anyway, so we shouted for them to join us. We’d been sat in the car for a few seconds and something thumped on the back of the car. I didn’t know whether it was the back or the sides – it was just that something hit the car. Again there was nothing at all about; we could see all around too well and were out too quick to check it. It wasn’t like it says in the Star, the car didn’t physically shake. When this happened we thought ‘bugger this for a lark!’ and drove back down into the works. We met Don, who was with another two lads and we went back up and sat for five – six minutes, not a damn thing. But what was so weird about it was the way I felt before anything had happened. I knew before anything had happened that something was wrong.
Something thumped on the back of the car – I didn’t know whether it was the back or the sides. When this happened we thought ‘bugger this for a lark!’ and drove back down!
JB – “Virtually it went from my side of the car to your side of the car at the same time … As Dick was looking out of his window I was just gazing up into the banking, and I just turned to Dick and shouted and there was this chap just stood there, next to the car. It was really weird.”
[Investigator] – “What was it wearing? How did you know it was a man?”
RW – “I don’t. We could only see part of it at eye-level through the window of the Vauxhall Astra. It definitely formed the impression of being a person, to me a man”
[Investigator] – So you saw his face as well?”
JB – “For a split second his face, yes. And to me it looked like he had got some kind of a cravat on, and a waistcoat. It looked like something out of Dickens’s day. But I looked again and tried to focus and it was gone”.
RW – “All I saw was a ‘V’ on his chest, I couldn’t say it was a waistcoat. It was light clothing, I could see it in the moonlight …”
Neither of the two witnesses could account in any way for what they had observed, and after considerable local inquiries we were unable to find any logical explanation. There are no records of similar reports in the same area in the past, and there was certainly no graveyard or anything of that kind upon the site. However we did ascertain that the Pearoyd Lane area has a local reputation as a weird place, and that a recluse who lives in a house on the hillside had at around the same time reported seeing a similar group of what looked like small children dancing around electricity pylons and a workman’s caravan in the middle of the night.
The possibility of children from Stocksbridge or nearby villages climbing in pitch darkness onto the dangerous and unfinished road appears unlikely, and is not accepted by the witnesses. After the appearance of the report in the local press, hoards of teenagers and curiosity-seekers descended on the area from surrounding towns and held nightly vigils on the windswept hillside, but nothing further was reported.
PC Walton told us that:
We’ve had a lot of people coming forward who have seen some things. They’ve only come forward because somebody else – as they say – has admitted it. Some people have seen something like a monk flying about. He’s been seen far and wide at Finkle Street, towards Wortley, all up and around there. PC Walton also added that “A few years ago when I was at Ecclesfield, most of the lads I used to work with over there have seen strange lights over Greno Woods. A lot of people here, nightwatchmen and guards at British Tissues have seen the coming over Wharncliffe Woods. We don’t even make a record in the logs [as] our people see so many weird things on the night patrol that it’s not worth it.
As well as the sightings of ‘apparitions’, another police contact informed us that in about the same week as these reports, two officers on patrol at Lodge Moor, a remote area on the western outskirts of Sheffield, had observed a group of brilliant lights moving at low level in the area of the Redmires Reservoirs. Despite making diligent inquiries we were unable to trace these witnesses and thus this story must remain anecdotal.
More interesting is the story of a motorist from Manchester investigated by peter Hought of MUFORA. His experiences took place on the night of 19 September, one week after the sightings at Pearoyd lane. He reported seeing, whilst driving past Langsett Wood on the moors outside Stocksbridge, a cluster of powerful red and white pulsating lights which appeared to be attracted to a circular object apparently hovering fifty feet from the ground amidst a plantation of fir trees. This sighting is still under investigation.
Eddie Bullard (4) writes that folklore and UFO lore share the same sort of evidence; in both cases it is “overwhelmingly anecdotal … [with] the verbal testimony of narrators describing extraordinary occurrences”. The fast-growing UFO mythology is undoubtedly the most extensive paranormal belief system at work on modern culture, comparable to the complex belief system of the fairy other-world in the Celtic countries of western Europe. In the Stocksbridge case above, common folklore motifs can be identified in the eyewitness testimony, such as the ring of dancing fairies who disappear into thin air, as well as the assumption that a ghost has appeared due to a burial ground (even though one never existed).
In the Welsh countryside the tylwyth teg were once regarded as a race of spirits who “would form a ring, would dance and sing out on the mountainsides”, but disappear when approached. According to W. Y. Evans-Wentz (5): “They were generally supposed to live underground, and to come forth on moonlight nights to dance in circles in grassy fields. As aerial beings they could fly and move about in the air at will.”
MUFOB in 1976 (6) carried a story from the Hull Daily Mail which described the weird experience of one PC David Swift who saw, whilst on patrol in the early hours of a August morning in east Hull a "strange bank of fog” on playing fields near Stonebridge Avenue. On investigating further “the mist revealed three dancing figures who he at first thought to be drunks playing around. As he got nearer they all disappeared into thin air, leaving a shaken police officer behind them. One of the figures was described as “a man dressed in a sleeveless jerkin, with tight fitting trousers, while the other two were women wearing bonnets, shawls and white dresses. All appeared to be dancing around a nonexistent maypole as they each had an arm raised.”
In his work on folklore, Tales of North Wales, Ken Radford (7) tells of a similar story of a ring of dancing figures which shares motifs with the sightings at Stocksbridge, which took place at Bodfari, a village besides Offa’s Dyke in the old county of Denbighshire in the late 18th century:
“One afternoon in summer some children were playing in the field nearby called Cae Caled [when] they saw several misty shaped dancing together under a tree.The dancers were no taller than the children themselves. To the sound of strange music they whirled and reeled. They had long flaxen hair and their clothes were scarlet flecked with gold. For a while the children watched in wonder. Then as the dancers moved nearer, they became afraid and ran towards the fence. The last to reach the stile was a young boy who turned to see one of the strange folk close behind. The face was grim with piercing eyes; quite the most unusual complexion he had ever seen. The boy just managed to scramble over the stile as his pursuer reached out to seize him.”
Ufologists, like folklorists, compare texts for patterns and similarities, for instance in regard to the abduction experience, but too often conclude that because these similarities exist, they must provide evidence for the objective reality of such reports. Folklorists such as Eddie Bullard would point out that “every UFO report claims to describe a real event, but truth and fiction, reality and belief are indistinguishable in [such] narratives”. The Stocksbridge report was interpreted by the police and press in terms of ghostlore due to the particular circumstances under which it occurred; in another context the humanoid figure observed by the two police officers could just as easily have become a ‘UFO occupant’.
As to the observed reality of the experiences detailed above, perhaps the most interesting and significant statement made by PC Walton relates to the scene of the events at Pearoyd Lane: “We were sat directly below a big radio mast were we where; there’s all kinds of energy around there. If I’d been there alone I’d have put it down to me scaring myself, but the two things that concerned me was the feeling I had, and the fact that John and I saw it at the same time. How on earth it got from one side of the car to the other in a split second I don’t know”.
- Both of these names are pseudonyms, at the request of the witnesses.
- See UFO Brigantia March/April 1988, p.27; May/June 1988, p.10.
- ‘Shout’ is a term used to describe making radio contact with nearby police patrols.
- BULLARD, Eddie. ‘Folklore Scholarship and UFO Reality’, International UFO Reporter, vol.13, no.4, July/August 1988, pp.9-13.
- EVANS-WENTZ, W. Y. The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries, Colin Smythe, 1977.
- MUFOB; new series no.5, autumn 1977, p11.
- RADFORD, Ken. Tales of North Wales, Skilton and Shaw, 1982, p.56.