Dr KARL SHUKER

Zoologist, media consultant, and science writer, Dr Karl Shuker is also one of the best known cryptozoologists in the world. Author of such seminal works as Mystery Cats of the World (1989), The Lost Ark: New and Rediscovered Animals of the 20th Century (1993; greatly expanded in 2012 as The Encyclopaedia of New and Rediscovered Animals), In Search of Prehistoric Survivors (1995), and more recently Extraordinary Animals Revisited (2007), Dr Shuker's Casebook (2008), Karl Shuker's Alien Zoo: From the Pages of Fortean Times (2010), Cats of Magic, Mythology, and Mystery (2012), and Mirabilis: A Carnival of Cryptozoology and Unnatural History (2013), his many fans have been badgering him to join the blogosphere for years. The CFZ Blog Network is proud to have finally persuaded him to do so.

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Wednesday, 28 April 2010

THE GIANT MOLE OF MESTY CROFT

A common mole Talpa europaea

People often claim that objects, buildings, animals, etc seemed much bigger when viewed as a child than they do now when viewed as an adult. Yet I can’t say that I’ve ever noticed this, personally speaking. Everything that I can recall from childhood and which still exists in unchanged form today looks just the same to me now as it did then – which is why I cannot use this notion as an explanation for the giant mole of Mesty Croft.

Between the ages of seven and eleven (i.e. during the late 1960s), I attended Mesty Croft Junior School in Wednesbury, West Midlands, and whereas for many other erstwhile pupils of this fine establishment their abiding memories may well be of childhood classmates or even of teachers whom they liked or disliked, my most tenacious recollection of Mesty Croft is an extraordinary exhibit – one that fascinated me throughout my time there, and which I secretly coveted for what I now realise to be reasons of slowly-awakening cryptozoological awareness.

The exhibit was a taxiderm mole, mounted on a wooden plinth, and placed on a shelf beneath a window in the main assembly hall. For a child who hoarded dead insects in matchboxes, enjoyed birdwatching in the countryside at weekends, collected frogspawn and sticklebacks in jam jars, gathered up seashells off the shore on seaside holidays, and visited every major zoo in Britain, it is hardly surprising that I entertained daydreams of owning this wonderful item and displaying it in pride of place in my bedroom. However, thanks to a loving but responsible upbringing by parents who left me in no doubt about the evils of theft and other misdemeanours, a wistful daydream is all it ever remained.

It wasn’t until some time after leaving Mesty Croft that I saw other taxiderm moles, and was astonished at how small they were (no more than around 5 inches long at most) in comparison with the example that I had known so well at junior school, and which I now realise was almost as big as a rat in terms of body size (but with only a very short tail). Not only that, their fur was always velvety smooth, whereas the Mesty Croft giant mole’s was decidedly curly and much harsher, as I well remembered from having stroked it on a couple of occasions when walking by its shelf in the assembly hall.

Could it be that the latter specimen’s fur had deteriorated over the years since its pelt had originally been prepared by the taxidermist? Yet if so, a more likely outcome would surely have been fur loss, not increased curliness? And how can this mega-mole’s size be explained? Is it possible that it was not a specimen of the common mole Talpa europaea, but of some much larger, exotic species from outside Europe? Its fur was jet black in colour, whereas that of the common mole is more often dark grey, thus providing further support for the prospect that this was no ordinary British mole.

Today, the trail of Mesty Croft’s giant mole is so cold that there seems little hope that it can ever be thawed out. As far as I am aware, none of the teachers who were at Mesty Croft during my time there are still alive; and in less than a decade from when I left, the entire school was razed to the ground and later completely rebuilt in a totally new layout. So whatever happened to its mole of mystery? Was it simply discarded during this major upheaval, or did someone rescue it from such a cruel fate, so that somewhere out there it may still exist today - preserved in scientific anonymity, perhaps, on someone’s windowsill, bookshelf, or mantelpiece?

I appreciate that it is a very remote possibility, but if there is anyone reading this who can shed any light on the very curious case of the long-lost giant mole that once resided proudly on a shelf in Mesty Croft Junior School, Wednesbury, West Midlands, I’d very much like to hear from you.

16 comments:

  1. That is absoloutely fascinating. I'm tempted to look up other mole species now to see if anything jumps out at me.

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  2. I looked at wikipedia, and this mole seems to fit the bill for the most part, rat sized and black:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Townsend%27s_Mole

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  3. Hi Tim, Thanks very much for your thoughts. I too had speculated about Townsend's mole as a possible candidate, bearing in mind that it is North America's largest species of mole, but having checked it out I can confirm that not only is it too small but its shiny, velvety fur does not correspond at all with that of the Mesty Croft specimen, which was matt rather than shiny in appearance and definitely coarse or harsh to the touch, with those peculiar curls or ringlets all over its body. Very odd indeed. All the best, Karl

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  4. Maybe it is a long shot, but have you tried contacting the local museum (or natural history museum) if there is such a thing. It is just possible that some former member of staff with above average intelligence could have passed it on, rather than allowing it to be destroyed along with the school.

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  5. Way ahead of you, Syd - a schoolmate of mine works at the local museum here, so I asked him some time ago about the mole, but he said that it is definitely not there. But thanks for the suggestion, much appreciated. If only schoolkids in my generation had been blessed(?) with mobile camera-phones like they are today - at least I'd have been able to snap some pix of it (with for scale purposes a plastic ruler placed alongside it from my geometry set!). Never mind. Thanks again for your response. All the best, Karl

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  6. Julie Hurd (previously Parton)1 May 2010 at 02:28

    And who said nothing interesting ever happened in Wednesbury?

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  7. Julie Hurd (previously Parton)1 May 2010 at 02:31

    Have you tried asking about it on Mesty Croft / Wodensborough / Wood Green's threads on Friends Reunited - maybe someone does have a photo of it?

    Julie

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  8. Hi Julie, I've never got involved with Friends Reunited, but bearing in mind that I appeared to be the only person who ever gave the mole specimen a second glance during my time there, plus the fact as I noted above that camera-carrying was not around in those days to anywhere remotely near the extent that it is today thanks to mobile phones, I rather doubt that there is much hope of there being a pic of it out there. But thanks for the suggestion - all of which are very welcome.

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  9. Dr Shuker
    Have you tried newspaper archives as a long shot of course.
    Norman

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  10. Early this year 2010 on Rural TV there was a programme about an ancient mole catcher of vast experience. He lived in my neck of the woods and it would be worth asking him about special moles. When I can find him I will ask him about your mole and get back to you if possible. Norman
    NB still looking for the de loys uncropped photo!

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  11. A few thoughts spring to mind.

    The idea of a British crypto-mole, to me, summons up images of the Scottish earth-hounds which have been discussed by you. (On another note: do you think it possible that the earth-hound could have been a (small) woodchuck or groundhog? AFAIK, they're not normally native to Britain [or indeed, Europe at all that I know of], they have the mole-like claws and the large incisors could be referred to as 'tusks' as in one account - just a thought).

    I see according to my copy of "Guide to the Mammals of Pennsylvania" that the eastern mole (Scalopus aquaticus) also reaches lengths of up to 8 inches, certainly in the size-range of this specimen. But that seems to have a short-haired coat much like the common British ones.

    Looking around, the marsupial moles (Notoryctes) seem to have the sort of coat mentioned, but seem to be about the same size, again, as your common variety and as Australia had been part of the British Empire it's conceivable some could have been brought to England.

    It seems golden moles could approach a similar size as well at the larger end of their range. They appear on the pictures I've seen at least to have coarser fur than a standard mole. Being from South Africa, possibly a memento brought back by some local fighter in the Boer War?

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  12. Hi Norman, I've never seen anything in either of the two local newspapers here (we have had both of them ever since I was a child), but I'd be very interested in any thoughts that the mole-catcher in your area would like to offer. Hi Andrew, the marsupial moles are the wrong colour and not large enough to explain the Mesty Croft specimen, and the golden moles, though bigger, are only superficially like true moles and again are not black. Having viewed the Mesty Croft specimen at close range many times, there is no doubt whatsoever that it was a true mole, but a mystifyingly big, curly-coated one.

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  13. I attended the school but the hall was the place where assembly and those school dinners on long tables. Cant say I recall the mole. Wish I had seen it. Happy days and good luck in finding if it indeed went back to ground. I attended in 1960 to 1966 and my maiden name of emms

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  14. I attended in 1966-1971, and the mole was in the hall, on the ledge of the window in the back wall, directly facing the main entrance to the hall.

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  15. Your mention of an old schoolmate working at the local museum was very interesting.
    (I was about to contact you anyway about this)
    Did he not mention anything about another strange Taxidermy found in the museum in 2008?
    (Presuming by local museum, you mean local to Wednesbury?)

    I must admit, i had at first thought I had found your mole, when i read the words 'Giant strange taxidermy' found in museum.
    It showed a picture that was too dark and nothing next to it to compare size.
    But I was curious by now and searched until I found an article in the Bugle dated 2008.
    With pictures!

    The picture sadly confirmed straight away that this was no mole, in fact it seems to have puzzled a lot of experts. It seems to be a mish-mosh of animals, but why would a taxidermist do that?

    I couldn't shake the feeling that your mole and this 'thing' was connected. And the connection could only be the Taxidermist.

    One member of staff, who has worked in Sandwell’s museums service for more than 25 years, recalled talk about a mischievous taxidermist with a rather unusual sense of humour had done this?

    Could it be the same taxidermist, did he make a Giant mole for fun or maybe to show more detail?

    Did he then decide to go a step further? (It doesn't say when this Otter may have been made, but the rumour has been going around for years!

    I'm not sure but something is telling me this large fanged Otter and your Mole have the same Dad.

    I shall be posting the pictures on 'The History of Wednesbury Face Book a little later, if you are interested?

    THOW

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  16. Yes, he did mention the otter specimen, but I'd already seen a photo of it in an Express and Star newspaper report, and that seemed to show merely a large but otherwise very ordinary otter. So I'll definitely be interested in seeing your pictures of it on your FB page, in case they show additional details not present in the E&S picture.

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