The Shropshire Union Canal man-monkey (Richard Svensson)
There is a pub in Smethwick, just outside Birmingham, in the West Midlands, England, called the Blue Gate that may lay claim to erstwhile cryptozoological fame. Mysteries researcher and author Nick Redfern now resides in the USA, but he formerly lived only a few miles from Smethwick, and on 5 November 2007 he gave me the following fascinating information - derived from the great-uncle of a friend, Eddie, of Nick’s father.
Around the end of the 19th Century, Eddie’s great-uncle Ned was driving a pony and trap on Rolfe Street, Smethwick, late one night when he heard some strange noises behind him. Suddenly, a weird-looking animal leapt out at him, but he supposedly fought it off with his horse-whip. The creature was killed, placed in a glass case, and displayed in the Blue Gate pub on Rolfe Street for some time, where the locals dubbed it ‘Old Ned’s Devil’. Sadly, however, this mystifying specimen, for which no morphological description exists, apparently vanished years ago, and nothing more is known of it.
Living not too far from this area, I have made some enquiries myself, but no-one has been able to add to the above details given to me by Nick. I also included an item on it in my Alien Zoo column for Fortean Times not long after I received the original information on it from Nick, but it did not elicit any response from readers. So at present this is where the matter rests – except for the intriguing fact that the general storyline of the Smethwick mystery beast’s attack upon Eddie’s great-uncle is very similar to that for another bizarre beast from that same bygone period, the Shropshire Union Canal man-monkey.
As Nick has actually written a book about this latter beast, he is naturally particularly curious about the Smethwick equivalent, as indeed am I. Could the two stories stem from a single source, and, if so, how? Alternatively, were there truly two separate albeit very comparable incidents and, if so, what exactly was Old Ned’s Devil? An escapee/released exotic pet, possibly?
Earlier this year, seeking to revitalise this dormant mystery, I emailed its details to Professor Carl Chinn, the leading historian of the Black Country - the longstanding nickname of the former highly-industrialised region of the West Midlands (deriving the name from the thankfully long-vanished black smoke belched out by furnaces, factories, and other industries here) encompassing Sandwell, Dudley, Wolverhampton, Walsall, and the outskirts of Birmingham (including Smethwick). Prof. Chinn was so interested in it that on 15 July he included a sizeable section documenting its history in his weekly Black Country history double-page spread in the local Express and Star evening newspaper and also in his pages in the weekly Sandwell Chronicle from the same week. He requested anyone with information concerning the Smethwick Devil to write in, but as yet there has been no reply. Nevertheless, at least the information has now been 'brought home', with its details having been made public in the very area where the events originally took place all those many years ago. After all, if there is indeed anyone out there who does know something, the Black Country is most likely where they will be.
Having said that, however, if there is any ShukerNature reader anywhere who can contribute ideas, information, etc, please do get in touch!