Warminster and The Thing
IN the mid-1960s a sleepy Wiltshire town became the unlikely epicentre of a UFO phenomenon. Warminster, in West Wiltshire, became known globally for what was enigmatically called “The Thing”. We take a look back at the event and some of the people involved at that time. This article was originally published at Weird Wiltshire between 2001 and 2003.
However it was not so much what witnesses saw, as what they heard. The phenomenon started on Christmas Eve 1964, when a loud high-pitched whine was heard. Many people were struck to the ground by the unbearable noise, and the sound was soon replaced by visual sightings.
Not only were the familiar shapes of flying saucers seen, but cigar-shaped objects, amber gamblers, crimson balls of fire, mother ships and scout ships. It was assumed by many and in particular by local journalist Arthur Shuttlewood that these sightings were of Unidentified Flying Objects (UFOs). Arthur took to the cause with revolutionary zeal, expressing passionate belief in the alien manifestations of Warminster and coining the phrase “The Thing”.
From the descriptions provided of The Thing in Warminster, outsiders could have assumed the town sky was a veritable firework display. Cley Hill and Cradle Hill soon became the key places to sit and wait for UFOs. Satellites were regularly spotted from these useful vantage points, and UFO spotters coming to the sites claimed they too saw UFOs.
The strange sightings were reported in the Warminster Journal. Local journalist Arthur Shuttlewood was instrumental in making the phenomenon national news and in one year more than 1000 sightings of unidentified flying objects were recorded.
They continued to be seen on a regular basis between 1965 and 1977, and in many ways formed a key chapter of the 1960s . Although there have been few sightings in recent years, Warminster is still seen by many as synonymous with UFOs.
With the army based on nearby Salisbury Plain, Warminster is well known as a military town. This gave rise to the theory that visitors from outer space could very well have been mistaken military aircraft.
But believers shrugged off this theory believing that the military were one of the reasons Warminster had been chosen for visitations. Whatever the reason for the coming of The Thing, it certainly put Warminster on the map.
What became known as the Warminster UFO Flap took place in the middle of the 1960′s. The decade of peace and love was in full swing, Beatlemania had started to take hold, and satellites that could be seen with the naked eye were roaming the globe. More importantly, the infinite possibilities of space and the cosmos were beginning to take hold of people across the globe.
For the first time, people were beginning to believe that there might be someone out there, and rapidly advancing space travel ignited the imagination of millions. In the sleepy town of Warminster, things were changing too. Indeed for many years after the UFO Flap, things took a long time to get back to normality.
In his book the Warminster Mystery, Arthur Shuttlewood, described in great detail the unprecedented flurry of sightings in the town.
Furthermore, he had no doubt that the objects were of alien origin. In another of his books, Warnings From Flying Friends, he states: “I have conclude that these machines are not of this earth.” Woven into the tapestry of the decade, perhaps the developments in Warminster were not so weird after all.
Local journalist Arthur Shuttlewood made sure national press knew about the strange sightings and Warminster soon became a Mecca for UFO spotters from all over the world. Stories of the Thing appeared in the national press, as did a picture of it taken by Gordon Faulkner, apparently in the town centre.
In 1994, a man named Richard Hooton claimed that he and Faulkner had faked the photograph using a cotton reel and a button. Deepening the mystery of the picture, Gordon Faulkner denied the claim, saying he did not even know a Richard Hooton.
On August 27, 1965, a town meeting was held by councillors in an attempt to clear up the mystery that had been troubling Warminster for the past eight months. The meeting took place just before an August bank holiday and was attended by reporters from national newspapers and television stations. Soon Warminster found itself under the spotlight with national attention focused on its strange phenomenon.
During the meeting, said to be the first of its kind in the country, townspeople stood up and claimed to have seen UFOs like “twin red hot pokers” and “huge cats eyes” which crackled and buzzed. One person even likened the noise to that of a refrigerator.
Meanwhile, Dr Cleary Baker of the British Unidentified Flying Objects Association (BUFORA) claimed that the alien beings responsible were using large hills outside the town as a homing beacon, while observing the military activity on nearby Salisbury plain.
It is thought some 10,000 people visited Warminster over that August bank holiday weekend – a defining moment for the town, with pubs running dry for the first time since World War II.
From that point on, people keen to spot a UFO flocked Warminster, but by the early 1970s some enthusiasts were claiming the magic had gone and so had the UFOs.
In the October 1971 edition of The Merseyside UFO Bulletin, the editor describes some writing he spotted on one of the bins at the entrance to the hallowed Cradle Hill, a Mecca for UFO spotters. He says: “On it were painted the following embarrassing legends: ‘Litter. We leave no sign we’ve been here, why must you?’, ‘Space junk only’ and ‘This bin was donated to commemorate the invention of time travel, 2026 AS’.”
The Merseyside UFO Bulletin
This article on Warminster was published in Merseyside UFO Bulletin, Vol. 4, No. 4, September/October 1971
by John Harney
It has always been a tacitly agreed policy of this Bulletin to try to keep in touch with developments at Warminster. We occasionally visit the place, time and funds permitting.
The latest visit took place on 9 October (1971), when your Editor and his companion, Mr Brian J. Hall, arrived by train in the afternoon. Mr Hall had never visited Warminster before, so a conducted tour was undertaken. Our first visit was to Cradle Hill. There was nothing doing up there that Saturday afternoon, apart from desultory Army activity. Someone had provided a litter bin which was placed by the hallowed gates. On it were painted the following embarrassing legends: “LITTER. WE leave no sign we’ve been here, why must YOU?”, “Space junk only”, and “This bin was donated to commemmerate (sic) the invention of time travel, 2026 AD”.
A litter bin, obviously unofficial, but surely the first sign that the UFO aspect of Warminster is becoming popular? By this I mean that holiday visitors to the Lions of Longleat will soon be fitting Cradle Hill into their itineraries as a matter of course.
You see, the Warminster “Thing” is now history. Arthur Shuttlewood has completed his trilogy with publication of “UFOs – Key to the New Age” and has retired from active participation in local ufological activities.
That evening, suitably fortified, we ascended Cradle Hill again in order to witness the traditional Saturday night skywatch. There was nobody there when we arrived at about 2150. A few minutes later a convoy of cars arrived. Arthur Shuttlewood was conspicuous by his absence. However, the watchers did their best. They seemed hesitant at first and just sat in their cars, or loitered by the gates. We decided to set an example. We scrambled over the gate and strolled up to the Field Barn copse. On the way back we found that the other watchers were emulating our example to such an extent that when we got back to the gate we found ourselves alone.
Eventually we were asked had we noticed a light over there in the sky. Yes, we had. We pointed out to the enthusiasts that if they continued to look in the same direction they would see similar lights again and again in exactly the same position. This was because they were not UFOs, but simply car headlights on a distant hill which was itself invisible in the haze and darkness. This evaluation of the sighting was rapidly confirmed: the watchers were plainly disappointed.
However, they were still working on it – still trying to conjure up the old Shuttlewood magic. Back at the gates, looking at the altocumulus clouds illuminated by the moon, one ufologist declared: “It’s just like the Northern Lights, only the other way round,” (whatever that means). “I know about the Northern Lights”, he added, “I’ve been to Alaska”. This not being strong enough meat for the enthusiasts, there followed talk about the clouds “revolving about a central point”, (they were plainly not) and all the usual nonsense was talked.
It was a good try, but it did not come off. It can never be the same again at Warminster. Shuttlewood has published his findings and wrapped it all up. Sightings still occur and are now being faithfully recorded by Ken Rogers in his Warminster UFO Newsletter. But to no avail. Most copies are sold to the tourists – just another souvenir.
Nothing can bring back the old magic. There are changes every time we visit Warminster and never for the better. It is becoming a town for tourists. Remember the “Farmer Giles Guest House”, for example? In the good old days it catered for lorry drivers and filled up with ufologists at £1 a night. On our last visit it had been tarted up, and so had its prices. And this time it was even more tarted up and calls itself “The Farmers’ Hotel”.
On Sunday morning we went for a walk down to Boreham and passed the famous telephone box in Boreham Field. It was occupied by an ordinary earthman. Either that or the Aenstrians are well disguised these days.
“Great Truths Forming in the Void?” was the title of one of Arthur Shuttlewood’s last articles submitted to the UFO magazines. Well the “truths” have been presented to us. Take them or leave them. UFO sightings continue at Warminster, but they are no longer vested with the old significance. Cradle Hill is now a national monument, just another stop on a conducted tour. Unlike the Longleat Lions, there is no charge for a visit. But for how long?
Sightings during the 1960′s were not confined to Warminster. A sample below of the UFO reports that are known about at the time. If you when reading this list know more about the event on that date please get in touch with us.
02/12/65: An unidentified object, described as ‘a glowing ball of fire which lit up the whole sky’, was seen near Faringdon on Tuesday by two milk roundswomen.
23/12/65: While people at Warminster search the skies for The Thing, a Chippenham woman yesterday reported seeing an unusual object over Chippenham.
02/11/66: Two female workers at the Westinghouse factory at Chippenham are puzzled about two strange objects they saw in the sky on Wednesday night.
02/06/66: CLAIMS that an Unidentifed Flying Object – perhaps from outer space – was seen over Swindon on Thursday night, were dispelled by the RAF.
01/06/66: DESPITE a check with the Meteorological Office, Mr C Spencer, of Great Bedwyn, can still not find a rational explanation of the bright spherical flying object seen by his wife and him at midnight on Sunday.
23/11/67: A MYSTERY object which came down at Minety, near Malmesbury, on Monday, turned out to have come from a Goverment establishment at Larkhill.
07/09/67:HALF a dozen people in a Wiltshire village may have the last laugh over the people who hoaxed everyone in North Wiltshire by leaving a fake ‘flying saucer’ in a field near Chippenham. A spokesman for the police at Bromley (Kent) said today that it was unlikely that any one concerned in the flying saucer hoax would be prosecuted.
04/09/67: MINISTRY of Defence (RAF) experts scratched their heads in complete bewilderment and were stumped for an explanation as they examined three ‘flying saucers’ which landed in the West Country today.
10/04/68: REPORTS from other eye-witnesses say that flying object seen by two Park South girls in Swindon was glider.
21/12/70: FOUR members of the Wall family of Susan Crescent, Wantage, saw a mystery light passing over a part of Wantage on Saturday evening.
17/12/70: THE second report within a week of an unidentified flying object in the Wantage area came on Tuesday, from a Wantage man and his 16-year-old schoolboy son.
10/12/70: REPORTS of an unidentified flying object were received by Wantage police and RAF Station, Abingdon, on Monday
08/07/70:A CIRENCESTER woman is convinced that a cigar-shaped object she saw in the sky over her home last night was a spaceship from another planet.
23/10/71: ANOTHER tale was added to the Great Flying Saucer Mystery today when a Gloucestershire man claimed to have seen beings from another planet.
08/09/71: A CORSHAM amateur meteorologist, Mr Keith Mortimore, of Dicketts Avenue, spent a quarter of an hour last night watching an unidentified flying object move across the northern horizon. Reports of sightings have been made by people throughout the length of the country.
10/05/71: ONE Unidentified Flying Object, a mysterious red flashing light and a couple of satellites were the total bag achieved by members of the Chippenham and Corsham Eighteen Plus clubs in their UFO hunt at Warminster on Saturday night.
25/06/74: AN ‘anniversary sighting’ of a UFO has been made at Warminster, 24 years after the first flying saucer was spotted.
28/07/76: A MYSTERY of three red lights seen above East Challow on Monday night remain unsolved.
09/11/77: TWO Wiltshire men followed a ‘flying saucer’ for two hours last night.
17/06/77: SWINDON skywatchers will be joining the pilgrimage to Warminster next week to mark the 30th anniversary of the first ever flying saucer sighting
23/04/77: A MYSTERIOUS object has been spotted in the night skies by a young Swindon man.
21/04/77: HAVE you seen a brilliant white light which changes to orange, hovers in the sky and then suddenly rushes off at a great speed?
04/03/77: A HEADMASTER apologised to some of his Swindon pupils today, because he did not take seriously a mystery light in the sky.
03/04/77: WEIRD things were going on in the sky over Swindon late last night.
02/11/78: A SNAP-HAPPY UFO watcher reckons he’s caught a flying saucer on film.
31/07/78: SWINDON’S latest UFO society has been having some close encounters.
10/06/78: CHILDREN in Chippenham claim to have had a close encounter with a UFO at lunchtime today.
03/02/78: SECOND man claims to have seen UFO in Marlborough area last night.
03/02/78: AN un-identified flying object as reported to have been sighted by a dozen people near Marlborough at 7.15 last night.
18/11/79: A MYSTERY orange ball of fire seen in the sky over the Lechlade, Fairford area on Tuesday night was caused by two fighter jets, claim the Ministry of Defence.
18/10/79: MRS SUSAN Benning claims she had an early morning close encounter with an unidentified flying object today.
18/04/79: A PLAGUE of hoax UFOs got hundreds of Swindon people out in the streets waiting for a close encounter.
17/04/79: SEVERAL Swindon families were held spellbound as UFO’s hovered over them, in two separate incidents.
20/03/79: THAT mysterious blue streak at Marlborough proved a heart-stopping scare for at least one man…
19/03/79: SOME five hours after Marlborough’s mystery blast, hundreds of people throughout Britain reported seeing a strange object hurtling across the sky.
15/02/79: A WOMAN and three children claim to have had a terrifying close encounter of the third kind.
08/01/79: THREE children and a retired air force officer have sparked off a flying saucer hunt in the West Country
More sightings from 1980 to 2003 will be posted soon.