The Warminster “Thing”
In the early days of 1965, rumors began to spread through a small English town. Bizarre sounds had been heard on the morning of Christmas 1964, which would be followed by a long period of odd sightings. Soon, Warminster was swarmed by UFO enthusiasts, who wanted to learn all about “The Thing.”
Warminster is a small town in western Wiltshore - down in southwestern England.
Located roughly two hours west of London, Warminster is about an hour southeast of Bristol; approximately fifteen or so miles away from Stonehenge - the prehistoric collection of large stones that many have tried to tie to religious, paranormal, and even extraterrestrial phenomena.
Warminster was ultimately settled by Anglo Saxons more than a thousand years ago, but the land had been previously used by the Romans. History has shown that - in addition to King Arthur himself once reigning over this land, in addition to a countless number of other British royals - it has a long and storied history dating back to the Iron Age.
Over time, Warminster evolved into a quaint, small town. Following World War Two, the town had a population just shy of 10,000, which has continued to slowly grow. Since the 1960's, the population has nearly doubled, but the region remains quiet and unassuming - with an estimated 18,000 residents calling Warminster "home."
Here, not much seems to really stand out. Warminster is just like most other English suburbs: featuring a regular run of local festivals, numerous church bells that break the country silence on Sunday mornings, and a cute little downtown area. Kids in the region share a single middle school, before heading off to one of Warminster's two secondary schools. There's also a local football club - Warminster Town F.C. - which plays in the Western League Division One.
However, if you drive into Warminster, you'll be greeted by a long stone wall, which features an... interesting mural. Parts of it resemble the night sky, while you'll eventually notice a couple of black triangles set against a black backdrop. Next to these black triangles - which appear to be floating in the sky - are a couple of thin, bizarre-looking creatures. Extraterrestrials, you can call them.
You see, despite seeming like a completely normal small town, Warminster features a history of UFO sightings, which date back nearly a century, but really took off in the early 1960's. In particular, on Christmas Day of 1964. These sightings have now become what Warminster is most well-known for, and the town is often flocked by enthusiasts and skeptics, who have wanted to get to the bottom of these rumors - which remain intrinsically linked to the town, more than 50 years later.
This is the story of the Warminster Thing.
Odd sightings and sounds were reported irregularly in Warminster, dating back to as early as the 1930's - incidents that predate the second World War, as well as the advent of the modern science fiction genre. However few and far in-between, bizarre encounters around Warminster seem to pre-date the rest of the world's UFO craze by several decades.
A made-for-TV documentary about this story - which happens to be older than I am - stated that a majority of these reports were odd sounds: sounds that were reported to be "stark" and "cracking" by residents of the region.
These unusual incidents would be reported sporadically through the 1930's and 1940's - as World War Two came and went. It wasn't until the latter half of the 1950's that the events in Warminster began to really escalate and attract the attention of the rest of the world.
The Warminster craze really took off in the early days of 1965 - due in no small part to a local named Arthur Shuttlewood.
Shuttlewood worked as an editor and reporter for the local newspaper, The Warminster Journal. He had been working as a journalist for more than two decades, and would eventually write a couple of pulpy books about his experiences. If there was ever to be a movie made about the Warminster Thing, then Arthur Shuttlewood would most likely be the main character.
In the first half of January, Shuttlewood penned a small article that was hidden away in the middle of the Warminster Journal. Titled "Bell Hill Mystery: Weird Noises On Christmas Morning," the article detailed a story given to Shuttlewood from a local housewife.
That housewife, Marjorie Bye, had woken up early on Christmas morning. At around 6:00 AM, she began walking along the street to a nearby church for Christmas mass, and - along the way - began to hear some unsettling noises in the region of Bell Hill.
These noises, she described, were very odd: like crackling. One online report would later state they sounded "like branches being pulled over gravel."
This story would be written up by Shuttlewood several days later, but wouldn't make it into the paper until the new year: 1965. Then, the story was shoved to a back-page where it served as filler, mostly. However, it would ultimately end up becoming the Warminster Journal's most popular story ever.
Residents of the region began to correspond with the paper, with more than 30 people writing in the following days and weeks. Many claimed to have heard similar sounds that Christmas morning, and verified that the original housewife - Marjorie Bye - was telling the truth.
Arthur Shuttlewood began compiling a dossier of the various reports over the next year or so. With every passing day, the offices of the Warminster Journal became flooded with alleged encounters of the third kind.
In the weeks and months after the original newspaper article in the Warminster Journal, letters continued to pour in from readers and other residents of the region. Dozens claimed to have had odd experiences of their own - many of which emanated from similar sounds, but others began reporting odd sightings, as well. Bright and bizarre figures in the sky were beginning to appear regularly to locals and others that were drawn to the craze.
Descriptions of these odd figures varied from metallic orbs - similar to the U.F.O.'s depicted in popular culture - to cigar-shaped crafts. Pairing up with most of these sightings were reports of odd sounds, which varied from booms to other kinds of bizarre droning or whizzing.
Some witnesses described their cars failing after viewing one of these figures in the sky - while others reported their animals responding oddly. In particular, dogs seemed to be heavily effected by these U.F.O.'s
A handful of residents attempted to take photos of the flying objects, but - as you can imagine - this was easier said than done. Many would try and fail to capture a convicing photograph for several months, but... more on that in a bit.
Most of the sightings in Warminster happened in the region around Cradle Hill and Cley Hill, next to Salisbury Plain. Cley Hill, in particular, became a popular attraction for U.F.O. enthusiasts, because of its own unique history. An old Iron Age hillfort sits at the top of Cley Hill, and ancient Anglo Saxon folklore claimed that the hill had been formed by the devil himself. Paired with the region's proximity to Stonehenge, it's easy to see why many were drawn to Cley Hill.
Of course, both Cradle and Cley Hills also happen to be located nearby a military base, which offers up the most plausible explanation for the sightings. But... where's the fun in that?
Through 1965, Warminster became a hub of U.F.O. activity.
On June 3rd, 1965, several people reported seeing a large cigar-shaped craft in the sky. The sighting was reported by a family in Heytesbury - a town near Warminster - and their account was later verified by more than a dozen people in Shearwate.
On August 17th, 1965, a loud boom - similar to that of a large detonation - shook houses in the neighborhood of Boreham Fields. Residents recalled the noise making them all collectively look outside, where one resident described a:
"... monstrous orange flame was seen in the sky, crackling and hissing."
As the year wore on, the countryside was full of enthusiasts and skeptics alike, who were hoping to either prove or rebut their belief in the extraterrestrial. And with them, came the expected procession of witnesses, who described seeing a "Thing" in the sky.
As you just heard, the witness accounts of the odd happenings started off with pretty tame origins: bright lights and odd shapes in the sky, stuff like that. However, as time went on, the sightings began to be proliferated alongside odd rumors, which seemed more erratic - more dangerous.
These rumors included reports of entire flocks of pigeons being killed at once; as if they had been snuffed out in midair, and then dropped to the ground. There were also rumors that rodents had been found in the region, having been mutilated prior to their death. According to local gossip, these rodents had been found with large puncture wounds, which were totally unexplained.
Most of these reports were perpetuated by a local man named David Halton, who had a bit of a reputation for being a crank. So we can assume that most of these rumors were completely unfounded, but they seemed to stick. And, for what it's worth, these rumors seemed to really get at the area's residents, who had become fully immersed in the craze surrounding their town. This was unlike anything that small-town Warminster had ever seen.
By August of 1965, the population of Warminster had soared to nearly 18,000 - essentially doubling it in a very short period of time. Many of these short-term residents were packing the town's hotels and motels, simply wanting to get a taste of the U.F.O. craze.
On August 27th, 1965, a town hall meeting was called in Warminster, so that the residents of this town could meet with authorities to discuss the ongoing phenomenon - which had been nicknamed "The Thing" by local press. This town hall was actually recorded for national coverage, since the story had been making waves across England.
Despite authorities planning to make a statement, their plans were changed at the last minute, and this town hall meeting ended up turning into an hour-long session for residents to voice their concerns and describe what they had personally seen.
Gordon Faulkner was a local factory worker that enjoyed photography, who claimed to take a photo of a flying saucer-like craft in the summer of 1965.
Faulkner would eventually give this photo to Warminster Journal editor Arthur Shuttlewood, telling him to "do as he seemed fit with it." In return, Shuttlewood would attach this image to an article he was writing for the Daily Mirror - a very popular British tabloid. This article would appear in the September 10th issue of the Daily Mirror, bringing further attention to the small town of Warminster and those involved.
Gordon Faulker himself was interviewed by eager reporters, who wanted to learn how he had gotten his already-iconic, blurry photograph. Faulkner seemed to enjoy his time in the limelight, and was eager to answer any questions - including questions about the validity of his photograph. In the September 10th article published in the paper, Daily Mirror editors noted that the photograph of the mysterious "Thing" might well be a fake.
Through the end of the year, many continued to report sightings and sounds around the region of Warminster. In particular, people reported a number of sightings almost one year to the day after the rumors had started: on Christmas Day, 1965, when many people reported seeing odd flying objects, accompanied by strange sounds and lights in the sky.
Among them, surprisingly, was none other than Arthur Shuttlewood - the editor and journalist that had almost single-handedly kicked off the area's U.F.O. craze earlier that year. A staunch non-believer of the rumors plaguing the region, Shuttlewood's skepticism had totally faded away from that September... when he claims to have experienced a close encounter of his own.
The unexplained phenomenon nicknamed the "Warminster Thing" continued to attract many curious onlookers and U.F.O. enthusiasts over the coming months. Among them were members of B.U.F.O.R.A. - the British U.F.O. Research Association - which had officially launched just a couple of years prior, in 1964.
The total number of sightings began to wane towards the end of 1966, but the area of Warminster had seemed to embrace it's reputation as Britain's top hot-spot for unidentified flying objects, with shop-owners beginning to sell specialized alien merchandise, and one resident even opening up a U.F.O.-themed bed-and-breakfast.
However, despite the total number of sightings beginning to dwindle over the next several years, there were still a number of reputable reports made by reputable people.
In October of 1967 - more than two years after the peak of the Warminster Thing's popularity - two police officer had claimed to have seen an aircraft over the town of Devon - just a couple of hours away from Warminster. Speaking to reporters afterwards, PC Roger Willie and PC Clifford Waycott seemed convinced that they had seen something out-of-this-world.
In the decade or so after the craze of the mysterious "Thing" had taken over Warminster, the area remained a hot-spot for odd sights and sounds. People continued to report seeing odd shapes and lights in the sky - often accompanied by strange sounds - but it all seemed like more of the same. People just didn't care that much anymore.
A brief resurgence in popularity happened about a decade later, in the mid-1970's, when crop circles began to appear in the region. Many attributed this not only to the mysterious "Thing" from 1965, but the region's proximity to Stonehenge.
By the time the new millennium rolled around, many of those that had lived through the Warminster craze had long since passed away or moved on. This included Arthur Shuttlewood, the reporter that had introduced the world to "The Thing" back in January of 1965. He had passed away in 1996, having published several books about his experiences in the interim three decades.
Despite claiming to be a staunch skeptic during most of his reporting on "The Thing," Shuttlewood would remain a believer until the end.
In 2015, a conference was held in Warminster to mark the 50-year anniversary of the original sightings. It had been half-a-century, but several U.F.O. enthusiasts and so-called "experts" were in-attendance, proclaiming Warminster as the "British UFO capital" - making it, in essence, the U.K.'s version of Roswell, New Mexico.
That same year - 2015 - a large concrete wall was given a colorful mural in the middle of Warminster itself. A mysterious graffiti artists memorialized the UFO history of the town in large, sprawling work of art, which pays homage to the stories that have now become local folklore.
Warminster remains a place of mystery, with sightings happening as recently as last year. In June of 2017, a video was recorded by a resident that lives near Cley Hill, which shows an odd light in the sky circling repeatedly. The video made international headlines, and brought attention back to the region of the original sightings.
Many wonder what it is that makes the region a hotbed of U.F.O. activity. Many factor in the nearby military base, the Battlesbury Barracks, as the most likely culprit... but even that remains slightly inconvincing. The Barracks serve as an Army infantry base, and it is unlikely that they would be experimenting with any aircraft.
Others theorize - perhaps jokingly - that the mysterious "Thing" had a proclivity for disturbing the peace around Christmas-time. Perhaps this is where Santa Clause would experiment with his newest sled designs? With how the last couple of years have unfolded, that would honestly not be the most shocking thing in the world.
Nonetheless, odd sightings and weird incidents continue to occur in and around Warminster, albeit irregularly. Because there is no legitimate answer to explain why hundreds - if not thousands - of people all saw odd things in a very short period of time, I consider the story of the Warminster Thing to be unresolved.
Written, hosted, and produced by Micheal Whelan
Published on December 23rd, 2018
ROZKOL - "Go Then There Are Other Worlds Than These"
Borrtex - "Creeping"
Pulse Emitter - "Moonlit Valley"
ROZKOL - "Golden Sphere"
Marcos H. Bolanos - "Radioheart"
Percival Pembroke - "Untitled Nude No. 7"
Other original music created and composed by Ailsa Traves