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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Saturday, 4 September 2010

A DEVIL OF A MYSTERY FROM SMETHWICK

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!

4 comments:

  1. Can't necessarily recall off the top of my head - how close was the canal to the Cannock Chase? If I recall correctly, Nick's stuff said that there was a guy living on the Chase who had some exotic pets years back, but I don't know if that lines up with the timing of the Man-Monkey - as I said, I'm going off my memory here (which is, admittedly, rather bad).

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  2. Guys:

    The Smethwick story is a very intriguing one, and there could indeed be a tie-in with the Man-Monkey legend.

    I was, however, able to confirm that Charlotte Burne chased down the 1879 Man-Monkey story at the time of its occurrence, she personally spoke with the employer of the man, who lived in Lichfield and who confirmed the story, so there does appear to be some evidence (or at least data) suggesting a reality to at least one of the events.

    The fascinating thing about the Man-Monkey story is how so much new data keeps coming through. I may ask Jon one day if he wants an update to the book, as I have at least 20 pages worth of new info since the original edition appeared.

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  3. Who's the "Man-monkey?" Sorry, I'm not a professional cryptozoologist. I'm just a random person at an ordinary house that works at a random school where "Planet of the Apes" is just a movie. I don't know these things. How is this mystery critter related to the man-monkey, and what's the story of the man-monkey? Can someone please tell me?

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  4. Here is the history of the Shropshire Union man-monkey, as documented by me in my book Mysteries of Planet Earth (1999):

    "THE MAN-MONKEY OF STAFFORDSHIRE.
    No less sinister, and certainly no less hostile to horses, than Edinburgh's vampire caterpillar was the Staffordshire man-monkey, which allegedly haunted a stretch of the Birmingham and Liverpool Junction Canal (now part of the Shropshire Union Canal). Several reports are on file, but the most famous was the terrifying encounter that occurred at 10 pm on the evening of 21 January 1879, as a man was about to cross a bridge on the canal while driving his cart home from Woodcote in Shropshire to Ranton in Staffordshire. Only a few weeks after this event, Charlotte S. Burne spoke to the man's employer, and received full details of his shocking experience, which she duly recorded in her book Shropshire Folk-Lore (1883):

    'Just before he [the eyewitness] reached the canal bridge, a strange black creature with great white eyes sprang out of the plantation by the road-side 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 to the ground in his fright. 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. He told his tale in the village of Woodseaves, a mile further on, and so effectually frightened the hearers that one man actually stayed with his friends there all night, rather than cross the terrible bridge which lay between him and his home. The ghost-seer reached home at length, still in a state of excessive terror (but, as his master assured me, perfectly sober), and it was some days before he was able to leave his bed, so much was he prostrated by his fright. The whip was searched for next day, and found just at the place where he said he had dropped it.'

    But the story does not end there. Several days later, the man was visited by a policeman, wishing to take details under the assumption that he had been robbed. When the man told him that he had not been robbed and informed him of his bizarre encounter, however, the policeman was far from surprised:

    'Oh, was that all, sir?' said the disappointed policeman. '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!'

    So now you know. Nothing more mysterious than a phantom man-monkey after all!"

    All the best, Karl

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