Thursday, August 23, 2012

Creature of the Month - The Beast of Brassknocker Hill by Nick Redfern

The strange saga all began in July 1979, amid wild rumours that a terrifying monster was haunting the dark woods of Brassknocker Hill, situated near the old British city of Bath. Described variously, and in both excited and hysterical tones, as a long-fanged, four foot tall creature resembling a baboon, chimpanzee, spider-monkey, gibbon or lemur, the creature was of far more concern to some than it was to others.

Locals Ron and Betty Harper were hardly in a good mood when they discovered that the mysterious creature had stripped whole sections of their old, mighty oak tree bare of bark. To the kids of Brassknocker Hill, however, the hunt for the beast provided them all the excitement they needed of a jolly adventure of Hardy Boys proportions – particularly so when, only one month later, the number of trees targeted had reached an astonishing fifty, and the woods were plunged into an eerie silence after almost all the local birds summarily fled the area, presumably for far safer and beast-free pastures.

Meanwhile, eighty one year old Brassknocker Hill resident Frank Green, clearly hyped up to the max and desperately trying to live out his Dirty Harry fantasies, took a far more grave and serious view of the strange situation. He took up nothing less than a day and night shotgun vigil, and told the media in loud and worried tones: “I am very fond of some animals, but I reckon this creature could be dangerous and I am taking no chances.”

Fortunately, or unfortunately – depending on one’s personal perspective on the monstrous matter - Green did not have the opportunity to blast the baboon-like beast to kingdom come, or, indeed, to anywhere. It skilfully avoided all of his attempts to track it down, much to the relief of the police, who were hardly enamoured by the idea of a grouchy, old-age pensioner roaming around Brassknocker Hill with a loaded shotgun in search of a marauding, unknown creature.

Nearby Monkton Combe became the next locale terrorized by the Beast of Brassknocker Hill. A small, old village situated approximately three miles from Bath, the main claim to fame of Monkton Combe is that the village’s railway-station appeared in the 1931 film, The Ghost Train, penned by Arnold Ridley (Mr. Godfrey in the BBC’s classic, wartime comedy TV series, Dad’s Army), and also in the 1953 Ealing comedy-movie production, The Titfield Thunderbolt. As for the creature, it was seen by a man who was driving through the area late one night, and who offered the anonymous description to the press that the animal he crossed paths with was of a significant size, seemed somewhat bear-like in appearance, briefly stood on its thick and substantial hind legs, and possessed a pair of large eyes that were surrounded by great white circles of fur or hair.

Getting in on the growing sensationalism, a Dutch newspaper – Het Binnenhof – ran a story that, translated into English, practically suggested an assault on Brassknocker Hill of the type of proportions one would expect to see in a Tokyo-shattering on-screen attack by Godzilla! The title of Het Binnenhof’s eye-catching article, that provided an entertaining summary of the affair, was: Beast of Bath Destroys British Wood! Its title guaranteed not just local and national interest, but now international coverage, too.

By the time the following summer arrived, the mystery seemed to have been solved: A policeman, one Inspector Michael Price, caught sight in the woods of what he thought was nothing less than a large chimpanzee running around; although the identification of the animal was never fully confirmed, thus leaving the cage-door open to the possibility it had been a baboon, after all. The local press quickly sought out comments from the police. And they got them, too: “We were sure this mystery creature would turn out to be a monkey of some sort,” said Inspector Price himself, clearly and happily wallowing in a brief wave of very odd publicity. “After all, men from Mars aren’t hairy, are they?” Quite! But rumours of strange and savage activities at Brassknocker Hill persisted, much to the glee of the local media.

Two years later, the stories returned, only this time – rather curiously - the tales of a baboon, or some other type of monkey, on the loose were replaced by sightings of something very different. A stag, polecat, or even a Japanese deer, were among the many and varied candidates for the new beast of the hill. Then, one morning in the summer of 1984, reports started coming in to the news-desk of the Bath Chronicle newspaper of a strange-looking creature holding up traffic on Brassknocker Hill. Once again, for the press, the game was afoot, to reference a certain famous and fictional detective.

“I grabbed my notebook,” said reporter Roger Green, who later became the editor of the Littlehampton Gazette. “Colin [Shepherd] the photographer grabbed his camera, and we rushed out to the hill. The reports were pretty credible, so we were convinced that there was something there,” Green recalled. “It was with slight trepidation that we entered the woods. After several minutes of stalking, we came across the “beast,” by then calmly grazing in a field. It was an Alpacca, a type of llama, and had escaped from a paddock. It was later reunited with its owner by the police.”

But, quite obviously, this did not explain the earlier sightings of a baboon-like animal, which – under no circumstances, at all - could have been confused with a llama! Needless to say, the mystery was never resolved, and the baboon, if that is what it really was, vanished, died, or moved on to pastures and tree-bark new. But, the legend of the Beast of Brassknocker Hill continues to thrive amongst the residents of the area who still very well remember those monster-filled, crazy days and dark nights of years now long gone.

Nick Redfern is an author, lecturer, and journalist who writes about a wide range of unsolved mysteries, including Bigfoot, UFOs, the Loch Ness monster, alien encounters, and government conspiracies.
His books include The Pyramids and the Pentagon; Keep Out!; The Real Men in Black; The NASA Conspiracies; Contactees; and Memoirs of a Monster Hunter all published by New Page Books. His new book The World's Weirdest Places will be published in October.  He writes for many publications, including UFO Magazine, Fate, and Fortean Times, and has appeared on numerous television shows, including the History Channel’s Ancient Aliens,Monster Quest, and UFO Hunters; National Geographic Channel’s The Truth about UFOs, and Paranatural; and SyFy Channel’s Proof Positive.

Picture credited to Scott A. Andrews

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