Monday, 13 September 2021

Vote for Matt Salusbury for a London seat on the NUJ’s National Executive Council (NEC)

Photo: © Hazel Dunlop

As Chair of NUJ London Freelance Branch (LFB), the Union's biggest and most active Branch, I have been providing leadership and pastoral care to members throughout the pandemic, chairing lively online Branch meetings where there are often over 70 members present.

I have been deputy editor of the Freelance, the online and print newsletter and resource for the NUJ's freelances, since 2006, re-elected annually. For the Freelance, I have covered developments in the Union and throughout our industry in detail for many years. This has given me a unique insight into the workings of the NUJ and the issues that affect and engage our members. The role has involved working together with members, officials and staff across the Union.

I also worked part-time as a staff journalist for many years, as a commissioning editor for a business-to-business magazine, so I understand issues that affect staffers as well as freelances - I have in the past called on the services of one of our excellent NUJ Organisers when I was myself facing redundancy.

I am also a former NUJ representative on the Writers' Organisations Advisory Group and a former Freelance Industrial Council representative on the Newspapers and Agencies Industrial Council. I currently sit on the Journalist Editorial Advisory Board.

I have served on the Freelance Industrial Council representing our London members in the sector since the late noughties. COVID and changes in the industry are now leading to increasing numbers of London's staff journalists being made redundant and many are moving to the freelance sector. This will mean the sector will need more representation within the Union.

However, I feel that with my background, experience and insights I can conscientiously represent all of London's NUJ members on the National Executive Council, whether staff or freelance, whatever their employment status.

Please give me your first vote and also give your second vote to London Freelance Branch's Deborah Hobson.

"I can't think of a better candidate for the NEC than Matt Salusbury.

I've known Matt for a great many years – having sat with him on London Freelance Branch Committee and seen him chair meetings over the last year in very difficult circumstances. In the past, I have sat with him on the Freelance Industrial Council, and know well the depth and breadth of his experience across the media – both nationally and internationally – and his commitment to the NUJ and trade unionism.

I've seen first-hand how his work on the Freelance has given him a detailed insight into and understanding of issues that affect freelances, and his experience as a staff member broadens that understanding. As co-editor of the Freelance he has become an invaluable source of information for members about our industry and extremely knowledgeable about the Union in general.

He is never afraid to question and challenge the status quo, while always grasping the complexities of issues as they arise. He is an excellent communicator, always ready to take the time to explain the mysteries of the NUJ to lay members and to give support to colleagues.

The freelance sector is growing throughout the union. Matt's understanding of the sector and how this fits in with and impinges on other sectors will be an invaluable contribution to the executive, while his firm grip on the basics of trade unionism and understanding of how the union as a whole works will mean he can be relied upon to work hard for all sectors and regions."

Jenny Vaughan – Treasurer, NUJ London Freelance Branch, NUJ Gold Badge owner

"For years Matt has been working hard and unshowily for LFB, FIC and the NUJ generally. Lately he's chaired the Branch with great care for firm-fairness in all ways, while sustaining an affable, relaxed atmosphere. Co-editing with Mike Holderness, he's ensured that the Freelance newssheet is always cogent - and there on time. He's a wholly decent, good man."

Phil Sutcliffe, NUJ Member of Honour, LFB membership secretary, ex-NEC/FIC, etc.

See also:

Tuesday, 31 August 2021

Dunwich and climate change

David Sear, Professor of Physical Geography at the University of Southampton and a Trustee of Dunwich Museum, talked to Discover Dunwich editor Matt Salusbury about the impact of climate change on Dunwich throughout its history.

A much shorter version of this article (450 words) appears on issue 3 of Discover Dunwich, Dunwich Museum's newsletter for visitors, volunteers and supporters.

All Saint's Church, Dunwich, not long before it went over the cliff in 1919. From Dunwich Museum's Nicholson Collection of postcards, out of copyright

MS: I always believed that the erosion and storms that gradually destroyed Dunwich was just weather – that the events like the big storms weren't anything to do with climate change. Or were they? Were the big storms like the 1286 one and the two that followed later anything to do with climate change? Or are there other factors involved?

DS: This reminds me of the old adage "Weather is what you get, climate is what you expect" - Climate is the average state of the weather over time – so climate change is an alteration in that mean state.

So for example, right now we are in a world where the mean global temperatures are rising rapidly – so it's referred to as climate change. Back in the 13th century the northern hemisphere was in a period sometimes called the "medieval warm period", when average northern hemisphere temperatures were warmer. Later in the 16th through to the mid half of the 19th century average northern hemisphere temperatures were cooler – this period is the one referred to as the "Little Ice Age".

When the mean state of the climate changes, this results in changes in the larger scale climate systems such as the pattern, strength and extent of high or low pressure systems, the extent of sea ice, and temperature of the North Atlantic. Together these alter the path and strength of storms tracking across the UK.

We have seen this recently with the increased frequency of flooding in Cumbria, for example in 2009 and 2015. Individually these were storms (weather), but collectively we see the last two decades as a storm rich period for the UK and Northwest England in particular.

To go back to Dunwich, the storms of 1250, 1286/7 (beginning on New Year's Eve 1286 and lasting for several days) come during a period of increased storminess in the North sea, when Atlantic pressure systems favoured intense North sea storms with larger waves from the north east. Sediment transport (the movement of sediment caused by the action of the waves) would there have been south along the coastline at Dunwich, and based on what we now know about the conditions that lead to rapid cliff erosion at Dunwich, we can conclude that there was probably no protecting beach for the cliffed sections and that the land on which the town was built towards the northern areas, was probably lower, leading to inundation of the town in those areas.

Was this climate change? Well, by the definition of "change in mean state" of the climate, yes it was. But the difference to today is that 800 years ago, this was the result of natural variability – possibly driven by increased volcanic eruption activity (1258 was the largest eruption in the last 8000 years) and increasing solar activity. Similarly, the Little Ice Age period of increased storminess particularly around the late 17th into early 18th century was a period of natural climatic variability in which storm frequency at Dunwich increased, and cliff erosion rates accelerated resulting in the loss of St Peter's churchand the town goal and market place.

Current climate change is different, and is driven by increased warming resulting from the cumulative build up of carbon emissions in our atmosphere. The difference now is that the rate of change and the magnitude of change are now far faster and larger than those that drive the storminess of the 13th and 17th century - we are if you like in uncharted skies.

What we do know is that such change must alter the strength, path and frequency of storms tracking across the UK, and we must therefore expect changes in wave climate and shingle transport along the coast. What we cannot do with certainty is predict how all these processes will interact at Dunwich on a specific day or year. What past tells us though is that the current period of cliff stability will change at some point, and we do know the signs to look for. This means that there is a really important role for statutory bodies like the Environment Agency, East Suffolk Council and local residents to work together, to identify signs of change in the beaches and cliffs in Sole Bay, and to see things a bit more widely than just the beach and cliffs at Dunwich, because in the end Dunwich is one part of a vast connected system where climate, winds, waves and shingle movement interact with humans to change our exposure to risk. After all, if there was no Dunwich, would we be talking about cliff and beach erosion at all?

MS: I recall there there was a Little Ice Age in Britain’s history, when the port of Aberdeen was iced in and there were regular Frost Fairs on the Thames. Do we know what effect this Little Ice Age had on Dunwich, did it have any effect on the coastline at Dunwich?

During the Little Ice Age (c. 1450-1850) - a period of cooler average northern hemisphere temperatures, there were indeed frost fairs on the Thames. During this period intense storm activity resulted in major cliff erosion at Dunwich – with the loss of St John's church 1540s, St Peter's in 1695-1702, Cock and Hen Hills (the great storm of 1740). Within this period there were also quieter phases when cliff erosion rates were lower, and Dunwich still sent ships to fish the waters of Iceland. There would almost certainly have been impacts on fishing and other parts of the economy due to cooler winters and stormier conditions – in fact a project might be for historians to look through the records for the area during these times to see how the regional and local economy responded.

MS: I frequently show visitors to the Museum the series of photos of All Saints going over the cliff in the space of about 20 years, ending with just that last buttress left in 1919. And the extract from the Domesday Book in the Museum tells how some landowners has lost half their land in the time since "Kind Edward" (the Confessor) so in the space of less than 20 years between the end of Edward's reign and the Domesday survey. This compares to today, when there is much less erosion of the beach and cliffs at Dunwich. Do we know what factors have slowed down erosion in recent times?

Bits of stonework from Dunwich churches hauled up during the Dunwich Dives. These are thought be be fragments of St Peter's Church, All Saints and the Templar Church. Photo: Matt Salusbury

The slow down in erosion has been marked in the last 20 years but is part of a pattern of slowing down that started around the 1920s, and may be related to the growth of the off shore Dunwich banks. Wave energy and direction at a coast is largely driven by wind strength and fetch – the distance over which the wind can interact with the sea surface to create waves. As waves approach the coastline, shallowing depths increase the friction on the water and this slows down the movement of the water, causing the waves to increase in steepness until unable to support themselves, they break, releasing the energy stored in the wave and driving sand and shingle transport (movement of sand and shingle due to the action of the waves). Off shore bars do the same although not always to the point of wave breaking.

The Dunwich bank (formerly two banks), grew and coalesced into a single bank sometime between 1867 and 1922. At the same time the depth over the banks shallowed by two meters. Wave modelling has demonstrated that the energy of wavs at the coastline at Dunwich is reduced by the Dunwich bank so one part of the story must relate to this natural protection. In the last 20 years the bar depths have deepened from a peak in 1980s as the Dunwich bank has flattened and migrated towards the coastline.

Dunwich cliffs and beach with the remains of All Saints Church still visible, at the turn of the 20th century. Dunwich Museum's Nicholson Collection of postcards, out of copyright.

The other main cause of slow down in cliff erosion is the sustained presence of a protecting beach. To get this you need a supply of sediment to offset the removal of beach shingle by wave action. The slow down since the 1920’s may in part be a result of the period of high rates of cliff erosion, coupled with a reducing wave energy that tipped the balance in favour of net accumulation of sediment at the tow of the cliffs at Dunwich. Subsequently, revegetation of the cliff face, and continual sediment supply from updrift areas has maintained a buffer between the sea and the tow of the cliffs. Recent growth of sea cabbage onto the single at the back of the beach at Dunwich points to the stability of the beach in this area. Cliff erosion over the last 10 years has been mainly caused by saturation and flows resulting from long periods of wet weather and intense rainstorms, coupled with animal burrowing and tree fall. Since these processes are very localised, so too is the cliff collapse.

The challenge in all this is that while the cliffs at Dunwich (by which I mean from the Flora Tearooms behind the beach to the end of Greyfriars monastery wall) are relatively stable now, the accumulation of beach material inevitably means a lack of material to beaches down drift unless there is sufficient supply and transport to supply them. What will be interesting to look out for is a change in the activity of the cliffs from Greyfriars to Minsmere naoture reserve, and to see how the beach elevations change along this section.

MS: At the recent Dunwich Museum talk by Graham Scott of Wessex Archaeology on the Dunwich Bank Wreck earlier this year, he said the wreck was being buried, with a lot of it buried since its discovery in the 1990s by Stuart Bacon. You said in the chat during the talk that there was the prospect of the wreck being uncovered again by some natural processes. (Did I get that right?) Can you explain that?

DS: One thing we know from Stuart Bacon's descriptions of diving at Dunwich is that the sea bed – by which I mean the sand banks, are highly changeable. He writes of ruins visible in one dive, being no longer there by the next time he dived. Overlaying historic bathymetric charts of the sea bed confirms this dynamism over the last 200 years (See Fig 43, pg 106 Sear et al 2012 Report to English Heritage) – documenting the movement of millions of tons of sand and shingle by tides, storms and waves. Over the time since I worked on the Dunwich surveys starting in 2008, the Dunwich bank has moved closer towards and coast and flattened, partly burying the sites of St Peter's church, St Nicholas's church and St Katharine's chapel. At the same time, reducing sand depths in the eastern part of the site may reveal some of the ruins of earlier churches like St John's and St Martin's.

Similarly, shifting sand bank around the Dunwich bank will bury and re-expose the site many times. Since we do not monitor these changes very often – it is only when divers or surveyors work on them that we discover what the conditions are – I've often though it would be fun to have a small buoy anchored over the ruins of St Peter's church, the largest area of ruins so far discovered, measuring the turbidity (the cloudiness or haziness) of the water and taking webcam images during periods when the water was clear during daytime. These could be relayed by an internet link into a screen in the Museum.

MS: Do we know whether the story of Dunwich being lost to the sea is one of constant erosion, or were there periods in history when the erosion reduced or stopped, or even the coastline recovering?

The cruel North Sea has claimed the city of Dunwich over the years. Photo: Matt Salusbury

DS: We do indeed, thanks to extensive research and analysis published in Sear et al. (2012) Dunwich Project Report 5883: Mapping and assessing the inundated medieval town – free to access on the Dunwich - the Search for Britian's Atlantis website or from Historic England Historic England.

Cliff erosion at Dunwich and indeed the whole Suffolk coastline is driven by two processes; the presence or absence of a protective beach at the toe of a cliff which significantly influences the rate of erosion and the height and frequency of large waves relative to beach height. Cliff erosion by the sea can only happen if the toe of the cliff is reached by waves of sufficient power to remove cliff materials. Conversely, the height of a beach is the result of the balance between the volume of sediment being supplied to the beach and the rate at which that sediment is being transported away from that point. Thus, the dynamics of the Suffolk coastline are strongly linked to the processes that generate cliff erosion and the transport of sediment.

Over the last one thousand years, the principal influence on these processes has been storm surges and storm waves, whereas the rise in relative sea level has had less effect locally. (Burningham and French 2017, 84; Sear et al. 2008; 2012, 14; Hamilton et al. 2019, 155; Shennan et al., 2018, 150.) This is because the direction and the magnitude of waves — their power and height — is the main influence on the volume and direction of sediment transport along this coast. The passage of very low pressure systems into the North Sea drives storm surges and creates high sea levels independent of wave height which flood low lying areas, breach shingle barriers, and erode beaches and cliffs: such as occurred in 1953 or the more recent 2013 event.

Intervening periods of lower wave energy tend to reconstruct breaches in barriers and to elevate beaches after normal winter storms. Another feature that can also influence the transport of sediment is the presence or absence, and the growth and decline, of off shore banks, because these alter the amount and direction of wave energy at a given point along the coastline. For example, the northern extension of an off shore bank at Dunwich during the early twentieth century appears to have reduced wave energy at Dunwich cliffs, contributing to the rebuilding of the beach and the reduction in the speed of cliff erosion.

The direction and size of waves, and the elevation and direction of storm surges, are ultimately controlled by the strength and direction of storm tracks from the north Atlantic Ocean. Storms that track over the north of England and Scotland are formed of low pressure systems, which create storm surges that travel south down the North Sea, and which are then followed by gales from the south and south east as the low pressure system heads east. These gales generate large waves from the south east that transport sediment north along the Suffolk coast.

Conversely, storm tracks passing along the English Channel or from the south create large storm waves from the northeast, driving drift south along the coast. The dominance of northerly or southerly storm tracks over the British Isles is caused by variations in the jet stream position over the north Atlantic, and by the spatial patterns and magnitudes of northern Atlantic ocean temperatures. In combination, these create low pressure systems that determine their route of travel over Britain. A measure of the pressure gradients in the North Atlantic, and by extension a measure of whether northern or southern storm tracks are dominant in the North Sea, is the North Atlantic Oscillation or NAO. During periods of positive NAO, the dominant storm tracks are generally from the north and followed by south to south easterly gales, which transport shingle north along the Suffolk coast. During negative NAO, storm tracks from the south generate north easterly gales with large waves, which transport shingle south along the Suffolk coast.

In addition to these natural forces, human interventions also alter the process of sediment transport and the patterns of drift and accretion along the coastline. Attempts to protect beaches and prevent cliff erosion by constructing groynes to alter the rate of longshore drift are well known.

So to answer your question directly, during the late 19th century into the early 20th century, beach levels at Dunwich cliffs were very low, and so it did not take large wave heights to reach the tow of the cliff. The frequency of erosion was higher which, coupled to a period of positive NAO and large storms combined to increase cliff erosion rates to their highest in the last 150 years – for the period 1894 – 1906 cliff retreat at Dunwich average 8.8m per year. Between 1930 and 1970 this fell to less than 0.5 metres a year, before rising to 2.8 m per year in the early to mid 1990’s before again falling to less than 1m a year since 2007. Rates of cliff retreat between 1695 – 1765 when the Church of St Peter’s was lost, were around 2-3m per year.

If we look at these periods of high cliff erosion, we see that they coincide with periods of high storm frequency and severity along the East coast and southern North sea basin, with positive winter NAO, and where we have evidence, these also coincide with periods when beach height were lower. In short, the cliffs at Dunwich are both a source of sediment to down drift beaches, but also a part of w wider natural system involving off shore bar growth and climate that together result in periods of stability and erosion.

MS: I remember being told when my family moved to Dunwich at around the turn of the century that Greyfriars had about 40-50 years left before it was lost to the sea. Do we have any estimate or projection of how long what's left of Dunwich will remain before we lose it to the sea?

Greyfriars monastery has an estimated 50-80 years before it's lost to the sea. Photo: Matt Salusbury

DS: Yes, in the Sear et al (2012) report, Fig 49, pg 114 there is a map showing the projected cliff line in 2050 and 2100. The good news is that based on extrapolations over the past century of cliff retreat, Greyfriars ruins will still be standing in the main although closer to the cliff top of course. The Pales Dyke and south east perimeter wall is likely to disappear over the cliff in the next 50-80 years. There is considerable uncertainty in these predictions and as past analysis shows, there are times when cliff retreat is much more rapid (the later 19th century for example – see above) – it is therefore highly dependent on two connected processes – rate of sediment movement from the beach in front of the cliffs and frequency and magnitude of storms. Currently the beach level if relatively stable at the toe of the cliff and cliff retreat is slow and largely determined by rainfall and slope processes.

Loss of the beach however will expose the toe of the cliff to much more frequent erosion by the sea during storms, and like the Francis Frith photos of the aftermath of the October storm 1911, drastic removal of the beach can expose the cliffs to erosion at high tides. For now, we can be reasonably relaxed about the future of Greyfriars, but residents can help by keeping a careful watch on changes in the beach and cliffs, which alongside regular surveys by the Environment Agency will provide the best early warning that the system is changing.

MS: Are there any questions I’ve forgotten to ask, or anything else you'd like to add?

DS: Enough I think, although a controversial question is the role of local coastal defences like the mesh bags of shingle – the evidence is that the cliffs and beach are stabilised naturally, so the effectiveness of the coastal protection works is uncertain. What they will do – if they are working is reduce the supply of shingle to downdrift areas, which means that these may get starved of sediment and the balance could tip towards beach loss in those areas. If this results in beach lowering then the larger storm waves might start to access the toe of the cliffs in those down drift areas, creating the condition for cliff erosion. In other words – local interference with the natural system has implications elsewhere and knowing that helps people make better informed decisions, one of which might be to accept it, but perhaps do local monitoring to check the health not just of Dunwich cliff beaches where they are protected but also downdrift.

The top a mesh bag containing shingle protrudes from Dunwich Beach - it's not clear whether these coastal defences have had any effect in stabilising the cliffs. Photo: Matt Salusbury

Wednesday, 28 July 2021

West Suffolk bobcat escaped while being transferred to a zoo, FIOA disclosure reveals

Big cat investigators spend a lot of time out in the wild with trail cameras and the like, but we can get a fairly good idea of what's happening by way of British big cat activity via Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, to the police and to local councils, for example. This FOIA disclosure involves a escaped male bobcat shot and injured in Suffolk, after he was apparently rescued by the RSPCA who passed him on to a rescue centre where he was rehomed.

FOIA disclosures in response to my requests have uncovered the circumstances of the escape. They also hint at a former owner of multiple big cats somewhere in West Suffolk transferring a large number of "Dangerous Wild Animals" out of their ownership in the course of 2020.

Bobcat in Fort Worth Zoo by Wikimedia user "Malcolm", Wikimedia Commons Licence

Bobcats (Lynx rufus) are North American wildcats, similar in appearance to Canadian lynxes to which they are closely related (there are known lynx-bobcat hybrids). Bobcats are smaller than lynxes – bobcats can be up to 125cm (49.2 inches) long . They share the lynx’s characteristic of having distinctive tufts on the end of their ears and short tails – the name “bobcat” comes from its short tail, the short tails of rabbits being "bob-tails" in American English.

A Dangerous Wild Animals (DWA) Licence is needed to keep bobcats in the UK – they need an enclosure built to a standard specified in the Act, subject to inspection, which needs to be monitored with CCTV cameras. The owner also needs public liability insurance against damage caused by the animal. Animals have to be microchipped as well.

DWA licences are issued by local authorities, who are also responsible for enforcement of the Dangerous Wild Animals Act is down to local councils. In the case of West Suffolk it’s done through their licensing department. West Suffolk is a recent merger of the two Districts of West Suffolk, which are in turn devolved administrations – Forest Heath and St Edmundsbury – that fall within the boundaries of the county of Suffolk.

Those who keep big cats (in the UK it seems to be overwhelmingly men) are aware that in the UK’s current austerity regime, the ability of cash-strapped local authorities to actually carry out any enforcement. As we will see, West Suffolk took action to seize that bobcat once they’d identified its owner – probably through its microchip which would be linked to his owner’s DWA licence – but once it became clear that the owner was selling or giving away all their big cats (see below), West Suffolk probably decided to let it go, they probably didn’t feel like going through the expense of prosecuting the owner for negligence or for failing to report an escape.

As someone who investigates big cats in Suffolk, I was alerted by one of my many sources to the fact that an injured bobcat had turned up at a vet’s "near Bury" (Bury St Edmunds, West Suffolk). The bobcat had been shot in March 2020 (during full-on Lockdown 1.0) by a farmer who’d lost a lot of chickens to something. They had apparently sought the advice of police, who advised him that the was within his rights to shoot at it to scare it away. I was shown photos of the injured bobcat in his huge pet carrier at the vet’s, also an X-ray showing pellets lodged in his front legs and one of his eyes. (I was shown the photos on the understanding that they were not for publication.)

I was also told that the vet’s assistant had by chance done their internship on a conservation project with Iberian lynxes in Spain, so treating a closely-related bobcat for its injuries was relatively straightforward for the team there. I cannot reveal the identity of the vet, other than to say there are so many vets "near Bury", Suffolk being a very agricultural county, that I can safely use the phrase "vet near Bury" without risk of identifying it.

The story broke shortly after, in an exclusive story in The Sun. This red-top daily is actually getting surprisingly good at covering big cat stories. Under the headline "Big Cat Rampage: Bobcat goes berserk and savages farmer's chickens after escaping owner before being shot and captured", The Sun of 24 March 2020, the story is online here. It revealed that West Suffolk Council had started in an investigation into the circumstances of the bobcat’s escape. On the basis of this information, I made a FOIA request to West Suffolk.

West Suffolk’s unnamed FOIA Coordinator was kind enough to pass on to me a series of emails, with the names and email addresses redacted in accordance with data protection regulations. Fortunately for me, they’d been a big slack at redacting the job title on some of these emails, a quick look at the RSPCA’s website confirmed that Animal Collection Officer is a job title from within the RSPCA. The injured bobcat had apparently come into the care of the RSPCA who took it to the vet and passed him on to an (unnamed) refuge centre where he was rehomed.

Here is West Suffolk’s correspondence with the RSPCA about the bobcat:

Correspondence between West Suffolk's licensing division and the RSPCA about rehoming a rescued, injured bobcat.
West Suffolk advises the bobcat's owner that they have seized it under the Dangerous Wild Animals Act

If I have understood the correspondence and the Sun story correctly, while waiting to find out if the bobcat would be claimed, either the RSPCA or the vet seems to have called up their contact who they would ring whenever there was a lynx or bobcat that needed fostering.

That’s right, if my information is correct, the RSPCA in West Suffolk has a number for a lynx fosterer that they regularly ring – suggesting that it’s a common enough occurrence that they have a lynx fosterer on standby. Ownership of lynxes and bobcats in West Suffolk – whether licensed or not – may be much more common than anybody thought.

West Suffolk’s Service Manager (Environmental Health) wrote to the bobcat’s owner. They advised the owner that the Council that as of 20 March 2020, they "have today seized... an injured bobcat belonging to you and kept under licence by you." The bobcat’s owner soon replied with an apology regarding this "unfortunate escape". (The disclosure confirmed it was the only DWA escape West Suffolk had on record.)

The bobcat's owner apologises for not having reported the escape earlier and admits that the animal had escaped while being transferred into a vehicle to be rehomed to a zoo.

The owner replied with a rather peremptory apology and the briefest of admissions that they had made an “error of judgement” in not reporting the escape of a bobcat. (As well as an error of judgement, it’s also a breach of the law, owners have a duty to report escapes and local authorities have a duty to record these. West Suffolk confirmed to me the bobcat on the loose was the only recorded DWA escape in their jurisdiction to date.

The owner explained, in a scene reminiscent of the opening of the original 1993 Jurassic Park film, that “the bobcat was being homed to a zoo when the escape happened, on loading the cat, he lurched forward with force and the carrier fell, hit the floor releasing the door, in which he then escaped.” The owner went on the say that "we have been rehoming all DWAL animals and will not be renewing our licence this year."

West Suffolk requests from bobcat's owner details of how many Dangerous Wild Animals Act notifiable animals they still have.
West Suffolk requests from the bobcat's owner an update on the wildcats that were in their possession.

There’s also correspondence between West Suffolk and another entity – possibly the bobcat’s owner – asking for data on their DWAs. From this it seems that whoever it was whose bobcat escaped near Bury was winding down their big cat keeping operation. They confirmed to West Suffolk that in the year up to May 2020 they’d offloaded two caracals, two bobcats, (plus the one that West Suffolk seized and the RSPCA rehomed), one serval and two jungle cats to at least one third party.)

Bobcat's owner provides information on the fate of their wildcats (including the injured bobcat), destinations of these are redacted.
West Suffolk asks the bobcat's owner if the jungle cats have gone to... (redacted).

By June 2020 the owner had confirmed that "all bobcats have been rehomed" (the Council had a list of four bobcats licenced to that individual.) The final email in the FOIA disclosure has the owner anticipating a visit from "licensing" to check that there were no longer being kept on the premises any DWAL animals for which a licence would be needed.

Former owner confirms all bobcats have been rehomed, and confirms that jungle cats have indeed gone to... (redacted).
Former owner confirms they will not be renewing their Dangerous Wild Animals Act licence

I am reminded of other evidence of there being more lynxes and bobcats than anyone realised in West Suffolk. I have heard accounts of strange screams coming from Thetford Forest, as well lynx sightings in West Suffolk, including one in Red Lodge. Around 2005, people regularly heard such screams around Santon Downham, and there was said to be a "lynx man" locally who "everybody knew" kept lynxes. There are legitimate lynx re-introduction programmes in progress in Europe at the moment – parts of Germany and the Czech Republic are re-introducing lynxes. While a plan for the re-introduction of lynxes into an enclosed area of Thetford Forest (Norfolk-Suffolk border) was rejected, a proposed lynx re-introduction in Aberdeenshire is going ahead. The "lynx man", if he existed, could have been breeding lynxes as part of such a programme, he would obviously want to keep such activities very low-key.

The Press Association’s investigation from 2016 showed that at the time there were Dangerous Wild Animals Act licences for seven lynxes and two bobcats in West Suffolk. These two bobcats would now seem to have been accounted for, one male rehomed by the RSPCA, the female rehomed to (redacted).

An RSPCA official has confirmed to me that "this is one of our jobs and the photos are ours" (the photos of the injured bobcats at the vet’s, as seen in the Sun story. I am in negotiations with the RSPCA about the possibility of getting permission to reproduce the photos.

My source in East Anglian animal rescue told me there are a lot of owners of exotic animals (monkeys, exotic reptiles and big cats in particular) who keep them under the radar and don't bother getting a licence for their animals, so unrecorded big cat ownership and escapes in the country may be more common than official data suggests.

Tuesday, 27 October 2020

The Body of a Mighty giant

by Matt Salusbury and Tim-Holt Wilson

This article first appeared in UKGE's Deposits magazine of June 2020 It was updated on 11 07 21 to include new images that do not appear in the article in Deposits.

The Wonder of Our Times: Being the True and Exactly Relation of the Body of a Mighty giant dig'd up at Brockford Bridge neer Ipswich in the county of Suffolk. That's the title of a printed pamphlet from 1651, now in the Thomason Collection of the British Library (Ref 1). It was written in the form of a letter from "I.G." to his brother in London, updating him on "the town of his nativity" (Ipswich).

It describes a skeleton found by workmen digging in the "gravelly way". Brockford is a hamlet in the parish of Wetheringsett, located on the A140 road (grid reference TM117669) about 15 miles north of Ipswich (Figs. 1 and 2). It is not exactly "neer" (near) the town in seventeenth century terms – in those days it would have been the best part of half a day's ride on horseback. It’s unlikely that "I.G." travelled all the way from Ipswich to Brockford to see what the pamphlet called "The Wonder of the Age" for himself; he probably relied on descriptions he received in letters. The pamphlet refers to a John Vice as having found the bones, so the account is second-hand, at least.

Fig. 1. The Brockford area shown on Hodskinson's map of Suffolk, 1783. It is crossed in a north-south direction by a turnpike (the modern A140) and diagonally by a lane between Mendlesham and Thorndon. (Image by kind permission of David Yaxley – Hodsksinson’s Map of Suffolk in 1783; Lark’s Press, East Dereham, 2003).

Fig. 2. Brockford Bridge as it is today. (Image: T Holt-Wilson.)

The pamphlet gives us a fairly detailed description of the bones of the "Mighty giant". Records of local palaeontological finds from the nineteenth century onwards point to similar remains being occasionally found in the area, and allow us to speculate about the likely identification of the "giant". Following a recent geological field trip to Brockford, we attempt to identify the likely geological context of the find, and we attempt to identify the "gravelly way" from which the "Mighty giant" was unearthed.

It's unclear from the text whether the "gravelly way" was an already existing road made from gravel or a feature from which people dug gravel, and there isn't any "Gravelly Way" marked on modern maps. But Brockford Bridge is sited in a shallow valley in the headwaters of the River Dove – a tributary of the River Waveney – and gravels are locally abundant (Fig. 3). They date from the Pleistocene epoch (2.5 million to 11,700 years ago), flooring the valleys and outcropping in patches within glacial deposits.

Climate during the Pleistocene oscillated between warm and cold periods. During warm interglacial periods, the local landscape would have been forested, with swampy valley bottoms. During cold glacial periods, the landscape would have lacked vegetation and bare ground would have gradually slumped into valley bottoms, due to periglacial freeze/thaw processes active in the subsoil. Mammal bones can be deposited in both environments, either stratified in valley muds or incorporated into valley gravels.

At Brockford, the British Geological Survey map represents much of the area's geology as an ocean of pale blue (Ref 2), representing the Lowestoft Formation, a cold-phase till (boulder clay) deposit of the Anglian glaciation, about 440,000 years ago. It forms the gently undulating plateau of High Suffolk, and borehole records show that it underlies the area to a depth of some 21m (70ft) at Brockford (Ref 3) and 11m (36ft) a short distance away down the valley at Wetheringsett (Ref 4).

Overlying this, the valley is floored with a shallow layer of alluvium (silt, sand, clay and patches of peat), dating from the last 11,000 years or so. Any gravels encountered in the "gravelly way" are likely to be scourings from the local clayland plateau, mobilised in periglacial conditions during the last cold period known as the Devensian, which ended some 11,700 years ago. The alluvium then formed a veneer on top and the seventeenth century diggers would have cut through this alluvial layer to reach the useful gravels beneath.

Fig. 3. The River Dove near Brockford, showing coarse gravel in the stream bed and clay-rich loam along its banks. (Image: T Holt-Wilson.)

Gigantic bones have played an important role in the cultural history of humankind. They provoke the imagination, and stretch the reason to provide an explanation for their unfamiliar shapes and uncouth dimensions. There’s even a whole area of study known as cultural palaeontology or ethnopaleontology, which looks at intangible palaeontological heritage, the non-scientific influences that certain fossils have exerted on culture.

The Classical Greek and Roman authors are a particularly rich source of information, allowing us plausibly to match stories of "monsters" and "prodigies" with the remains of known fossil animals. The folklorist Adrienne Mayor has taken an extensive look at stories of bones of monstrous and mythical dimensions recorded by Classical authors, particularly Greek (Ref 5). Several temples had tables displaying what, from their description, are clearly fragmentary fossil mammals, particularly elephants, mammoths and giraffids – smaller prehistoric relatives of the modern giraffe. (See Fig. 11 below.)

The Cyclopses (one-eyed giants) were thought to have been inspired by the skulls of the smaller species of prehistoric elephant that populated the Mediterranean islands in Pleistocene times: the nasal aperture in the centre of the frontal bone suggested a single eye socket (Fig. 4). Mayor notes that many of the animals encountered by Hercules in his twelve labours are identified by the name of the region they came from – the Nemean Lion and the Erymanthian Boar, for example. Mayor discovered that these locations in modern Greece turn out to have fossil-bearing strata, usually yielding Pleistocene megafauna.

Griffins, as described by Herodotus – the "father of history" – were said to live in what's now Central Asia. They were described as having a lion's body with the head and claws of an eagle, having nests where they laid eggs and guarded gold (Ref 6). Mayor believes this is a description of the ceratopsian beaked dinosaur, Protoceratops, whose nests with fossilised eggs have been found in modern times, in strata which are also gold-bearing. (We note – in passing – that there used to be an inn at Brockford named The Griffin.)

Fig. 4. The skull of an African forest elephant, Loxodonta africana cyclotis, in the UCL Grant Zoology Museum, London. (Image: M Salusbury.)

The Greek historian Solinus, writing 1,800 years ago, described how the hero demi-god Hercules – he of the twelve labours – had destroyed a tribe of rogue giants at now long- vanished Greek town of Pellene, now just a village. This was dismissed as credulous folklore until a heavy rainstorm on the site in 1994, after which a local villager found a gigantic tooth. Pellene became a palaeontological dig that uncovered the remains of several mastodons.

Devotees of the Egyptian god, Set (aka Sutekh and Satan), are recorded as bringing large quantities of blackened bone fragments to his shrines at Matmur and Qua, black being a colour associated with the dark, sometimes malevolent character of this god. These have been preserved and unearthed in the shrine – they turn out to be mostly fragments of horned giraffids and fossil relatives of horses. While most Egyptian gods are humanoid or depicted with the heads of known animals, Set's head is that of an unknown animal, with strange, squared-off ears. There is speculation that his head, as shown in Egyptian art, is inspired by the skull of a fossil or more recent, but now locally extinct, animal – possibly a prehistoric aardvark (Ref 7).

Mayor has also turned her attention to fossil finds recorded in the oral traditions of Native Americans, which she examines in Fossil Legends of the First Americans (Ref 8). These traditions include the "Thunder Horse", a legend that fossil hunter Edward Drinker Cope heard from the people of the Lakota Sioux Nation in South Dakota and Nebraska in the 1870s. They described how, after heavy thunderstorms, sometimes a Thunder Horse – an enormous horse, a magical being that lived in the clouds – would be killed during the storm (possibly by lightning, it wasn’t clear) and its bones would fall to the Earth.

While many Americans of European descent derided such Native American traditions as "superstition" at the time, Cope had a hunch there might be something to this legend. He asked the Lakota people to lead him to the remains of a Thunder Horse after a storm. There, he found the fossil bones of the odd-toed ungulate now known as Megacerops – looking like a rhinoceros, but actually more closely related to horses. The Lakota were right about the link between the Thunder Horse and storms – the heavy rains had washed away the banks of sediment that concealed the bones. Megacerops was originally known as Brontotherium, which translates as Thunder Horse, while the family to which the species belongs is still known as the Brontotheriidae. (See Fig. 12 below.)

The Siwalik Hills in India, setting for the epic battle of gods, heroes and monsters in the ancient Indian Sanskrit epic poem – the Mahabharata – are littered with evidence for Plio-Pleistocene fossil animals, including fossil bones, skulls, jaws, and tusks of hippopotamuses (Hexaprotodon), proboscideans (Stegodon, Archidiskodon), four-horned giraffes (Sivatherium, Giraffokeryx), giant tortoises (Geochelone), sabre toothed cats (Paramachairodus) and camels (Camelus). Their role in generating mythic inspiration for the writers of the poem has been explored in an interesting article (Ref 9).

As far as we are aware, there's been no systematic survey yet of "wonders" and "prodigies" from Britain whose identity points to fossil fauna. The chronicler, Ralph of Coggeshall, abbot of the monastery at Coggeshall in Essex, wrote Chronicon Anglicanum (Chronicle of the English) in the early thirteenth century. This has a chapter entitled "On Giant’s Teeth" (Ref 10). This records how Ralph himself had handled two enormous teeth that were found on the Essex seashore at Foulness and taken to his abbey. Ralph took these as evidence of giants, which he claims had been seen alive in Wales, with one such Welsh giant being "a young man of immense stature, whose height was five cubits [7ft 6 inches or 2.3m]". From his description, the teeth were almost certainly those of a proboscidean – a prehistoric elephant or mammoth.

To return to Brockford, the pamphlet describing the discovery of the "Mighty giant" recounted how some people thought the partial skeleton was that of a "Dane" or of "King Arthur", the locals imagining that the Vikings and the legendary Romano-British warlord had been literally larger-than-life heroes or anti-heroes, towering over most men. To illustrate the pamphlet, the publisher used stock woodcuts of Greek heroes and giants dressed in the romanticised costume of the Native Americans, as they were then imagined (Fig. 5). As explained by Adrienne Mayor, the ancient Greeks had a similar view: they believed too that the likes of Achilles and Ajax from Homer's Iliad were heroic giants among men from a bygone "golden age", since when men had "degenerated" in height.

Fig. 5. The frontispiece of the 1651 pamphlet, The Wonder of Our Times: Being a true and exact relation of a Mighty giant dig'd up at Brockford Bridge... R Austin for W. Ley, London, 1651. (Out of copyright, fair dealing under the Copyrights, Designs and Patents Act 1986 – front cover image for the purposes of a critique or review.)

We think the story of the Mighty giant dig'd up is another instance of an historic palaeontological find, and the account is clear enough to allow us to make a tentative identification. There's quite a detailed description of the "giant" in the pamphlet. The body had a skull that was "half a bushel" in size – half a bushel is a measurement of grain, about four gallons (just over 18 litres). Eleven "huge teeth" were found. The leg bone (presumably a thigh) was "about the width of a middling woman's waist" and when the skeleton was laid out it was ten feet (3m) long.

From the description, it seems the workmen who found the skeleton had laid it out on the ground as you might a human skeleton. They assumed whatever they had found was a biped, and laid out the bones with the arms as if they were hanging from the shoulders in life position, with the legs descending from the pelvis and the skull rising from the neck. The enormous size of the bones and teeth suggests to us that they were dealing with proboscidean remains. If we accept this identification, what kind of beast might they have found.

The order Proboscidea includes elephants, mastodons and mammoths, and the remains of at least three different proboscidean genera have been found in Suffolk. Over two million years ago in the early Pleistocene, we find evidence of southern elephant, Mammuthus meridionalis, and mastodon, Anancus arvernensis. About half a million years ago, in the middle Pleistocene, we find the steppe mammoth, Mammuthus trogontherii, which later evolved into the woolly mammoth. The straight-tusked elephant, Elephas (Palaeoloxodon) antiquus, (Fig. 6), is typical of warm phases in the later Pleistocene, while the woolly mammoth, Mammuthus primigenius, is typical of cold phases.

Fossil evidence for Suffolk's Proboscidea typically turns up in gravel quarries, along the eroding coastline and sometimes in river beds. For example, in 1995, a woolly mammoth jawbone was found in the bed of the River Glem at Hawkedon, presumably derived from cold-phase sands and gravels exposed in the river bank (Ref 11).

Elephants and mammoths are well represented in the county of Suffolk's museum displays. Ipswich Museum has a life-size woolly mammoth reconstruction near the entrance and some impressive mammoth remains including a femur of the straight-tusked elephant on display in its excellent geology gallery. West Stow Museum's tiny palaeontology display includes a fragment of mammoth tusk and a piece of elephant's shoulder blade. Halesworth Museum likewise has a tusk fragment. Southwold Museum has a whole chest of drawers of proboscidean bits from local cliffs and beaches, many of them from the Crag strata at Easton Bavents. Another significant collection is housed at the UKGE headquarters at nearby Reydon.

A lucky dachshund dog named Daisy made the national newspapers a few years back after it found a mammoth femur on the beach at Dunwich Heath, and fragments of proboscidean teeth and bones are occasionally handed in at Dunwich Museum by holidaymakers. Suffolk's beachcombing community tell us that if you go to Felixstowe Beach after a heavy storm, you’ve a good chance of finding fragmentary mammoth teeth.

Brockford lies in the valley of the River Dove and there are several records of proboscidean remains found within its catchment. The most famous site is at Hoxne, some 7 miles (11.4km) away, where the brick-pits have yielded fossil mammal remains since the late eighteenth century, including straight-tusked elephant (Ref 12). This site is worth a whole article in itself, but the interesting thing from our point of view is that these finds have been dated to a warm interglacial period about 400,000 years ago, known as the Hoxnian. Other local sites of Hoxnian age have been identified in tributary valleys at Athelington and St Cross, in both cases, from borehole evidence taken from deposits several metres down.

Fig. 6. A straight-tusked elephant skeleton in the Natural History Museum, Rome. (Image courtesy Dr Georgios Lyras.)

Thorndon lies two and a half miles (4km) downstream from Brockford. There is an old record of a section of elephant tusk 27 inches (68cm) long recovered from river gravel at a depth of 8ft (2.4m) (Ref 13). Harold Spencer wrote that: "Incomplete bones and elephant and other large animals from an unrecorded site at Thorndon are, to judge from the elevation, and the position in the Dove valley system, in all probability of Hoxnian age"(Ref 14).

There is an unverified report of an elephant tooth found by a farmer in this parish, probably in the 1970s (Ref 15). A short distance away, Claud Ticehurst records a straight-tusked elephant tusk "from glacial gravel close to Braiseworth church" (Ref 16) – he is most likely referring to the old St Mary's church. Hoxnian sites in the Waveney catchment are typically developed in former lakes or hollows in the Lowestoft Till plateau. Down-cutting by river erosion over the past 430,000 years or so has since isolated them at heights of between 16ft and 33ft (5m to 10m) above valley floors (Ref 17).

We note that at Braiseworth, St Mary's is located on the valley side near the site of an old gravel pit, lying at about 118 ft (36m) above sea level. The adjacent valley floor lies at about 95ft (29m), so the difference in height between them is no more than 23ft (7m). Ticehurst's site is thus plausibly a Hoxnian one.

Remains of straight-tusked elephant are also known from a later interglacial period known as the Ipswichian, about 120,000 years ago. Bones have been recovered from Ipswichian deposits beneath the Waveney valley side at Wortwell (Ref 18), some 15 miles (24km) away. They were found at roughly the same height above sea level as the present river floodplain (Ref 17).

Remains of woolly mammoth have not so far been recorded from the River Dove catchment, but bones and teeth have been found in gravel pits in the Waveney valley at sites, such as Weybread and Homersfield. Here, they are typically found in the cold-phase river gravels of post-Hoxnian age that fill the valley floor or outcropin isolated terrace remnants along the valley sides (Ref 17).

Although we cannot determine whether the bones of the "Mighty giant" were those of a warm-period interglacial, straight-tusked elephant or a cold-period glacial woolly mammoth, the geology of the Brockford site suggests we are dealing with cold-phase valley gravels, most likely of Devensian age.

The landscape situation, on the valley floor in the shallow headwaters of a Waveney tributary rather than on the valley sides, suggests we are dealing with post-Hoxnian remains. The fact that a range of skeletal elements were found lying together provides some useful taphonomic detail – we may infer that the bones come from a carcass, which is unlikely to have been moved far from its place of first deposition, otherwise the bones would have been scattered. However, this scenario might fit either species: a straight-tusked elephant from the Ipswichian buried beneath Devensian gravels on the valley floor; or a woolly mammoth buried within Devensian gravels.

The gravel diggers evidently struggled to comprehend what they had found. We found a reference in the Ipswich Journal to a "stupendous elephant" in a menagerie of “foreign animals” visiting Ipswich in 1800, which claims to be first live elephant ever exhibited in the County Town. So, it's unlikely anyone locally would have actually seen an elephant or even recognised its skeleton, in 1651.

To the Brockford diggers, the skull with its big, domed cranium might have looked like a giant human's, particularly if it had its tusks detached and, while living elephants' feet are pillars of flesh designed to support several tonnes, the actual bones end in long, thin toes. The forearms could have been mistaken for a human arm ending in fingers, while the shoulder blades and ribs might have reminded them of a human's. (See Fig. 13 below.) The tusk sockets might resemble nostrils to someone with little knowledge of human anatomy.

Fig. 7. A plastic mammoth skeleton configured as a "biped". (Image: M Salusbury.)

Taking a scale model of a mammoth skeleton, we can arrange its elements as if it were a biped (Fig. 7). According to the seventeenth century pamphlet, the “shin bones” were partly damaged or missing, so they have been partly left out of our reconstruction. It also says the teeth in the upper jaw were missing, so the tusks presumably would have been too (the tusks being incisor teeth from the upper jaw). Minus its tusks, doesn’t it look a bit like a human skeleton? As to the fate of the Brockford bones, the pamphlet says the locals “broke up” the skeleton – everyone wanted a piece of it, it seems.

A final point. We can only speculate where the “Mighty giant” was dug up. It may have been from gravels in the valley floor near Brockford Bridge over which the busy A140 passes. Alternatively – and more attractively – we have discovered a nearby “gravelly way” in the form of footpath immediately to the northeast of Brockford Bridge. It is the ancient lane from Mendlesham to Thorndon (Fig. 8).

It is certainly very gravelly, no doubt made up with locally sourced material (Fig. 9), although we could find no evidence of a nearby gravel pit of any depth. It flanks the River Dove, which is a feeble trickle compared to what it would have been in late Devensian times, with seasonal snow-melt streaming off land in the headwaters of the river catchment, sweeping sand and gravel with it – and perhaps the carcass of a mammoth.

Update (11 07 21, from Matt Salusbury): Since this article appeared in Deposits, I discovered an account of a similar phenomenon 54 years later, from turn-of-the-18th-century America. Cotton Mather (1663-1728) was a Massachusetts Puritan preacher and a prolific author, influential in the Salem witch trials.

Mather was shown bones and teeth that had been found in Claverack near Albany, New York in 1705. He identified them as the bones of the Nephilim, the race of giants and "fallen angels" who interbred with humans and who were destroyed in Noah's flood, described in The Old Testament's Book of Genesis and in more detail in the Book of Enoch. Centuries later the bones examined by Mather were identified as the bones of a mastodon (elephant or mastodon in some accounts.

Fig. 8. The old road to Thorndon as it is today, northeast of Brockford Street. (Image: T Holt-Wilson.)

Fig. 9. Gravel in the floor of the old lane at Brockford. (Image: M Salusbury.)

Fig. 10. A leg bone of a local specimen of a straight-tusked elephant Elephas antiquus, aka Paleoloxodon antiquus, found in Ipswich, Suffolk, on display in Ipswich Museum. (Image: M Salusbury.)

Fig. 11. Skull of Samotherium, from the island of Samos in Greece, a Miocene giraffid at the Natural History Museum, London. Descriptions from Classical Greek sources indicate prehistoric giraffid remains were in the collections of "monsters" and "prodigies" in temples. Giraffid remains were also among the fossil fragments given as offerings to the god Set in ancient Egyptian shrines. (Image: M Salusbury.)

Fig. 12: Skull and front foot of a Brontothere, a family of prehistoric odd-toed ungulates that take their name from the "Thunder Horse" tradition of the Lakota Sioux Nation of the American West. This specimen's in the Natural History Museum, London. (Image: M Salusbury.)

Fig 13: These toes and front legs on the skeleton of a mammoth could be mistaken for the fingers and arms of a giant human, to an observer in 1651 with little knowledge of anatomy. This mammoth is in the Geological Museum of the Polish Geological Institute, Warsaw. (Image: M Salusbury.)

Fig 14: The more pointy-headed skull of a mammoth looks less like a giant human skull than the more domed skull of a prehistoric elephant, although it could still fool an observer from 1651 who didn't know their anatomy, especially with its tusks missing. This one's from the Geological Museum of the Polish Geological Institute, Warsaw. (Image: M Salusbury.)



Thanks to Richard Muirhead for his librarianship skills in pointing us in the direction of The Body of a Mighty giant pamphlet. This article is adapted from a chapter on Suffolk giants from Matt Salusbury's forthcoming book Mystery Animals of the British Isles: Suffolk (CFZ Press, in production).

Any other examples of accounts of prodigies, wonders, marvels and monsters from British or Irish chronicles, pamphlets or broadsheets that apparently describe fossils finds would be greatly appreciated, via

About the authors

Matt Salusbury is a freelance journalist and editor, author of Pygmy Elephants (CFZ Press, Wolfardisworthy, 2013) and Chair of the National Union of Journalists London Freelance Branch. He is a regular contributor on zoology, archaeology and the history of science to Fortean Times magazine and chair of the trustees and volunteer of Dunwich Museum, Suffolk, as well as editor of its newsletter, Discover Dunwich

Tim Holt-Wilson is active in geoconservation in East Anglia: a member of the Geological Society of Norfolk (President, 2015) and Quaternary Research Association; and a founder member of the GeoSuffolk Group; a former Co-ordinator of Geo-East. He is author of Norfolk’s Earth Heritage (2010) and Tides of Change - Two million years on the Suffolk Coast (2014), and a past contributor to Deposits.



1.I.G. The Wonder of Our Times: Being a True and Exact Relation of the Body of a Mighty Giant dig’d up at Brockford Bridge near Ipswich in Suffolk, Printed by R. Austin for W. Ley at Paul's Chain, London, 1651. British Library digital resources catalogue: Thomason Collection E.646(3). Most of the text online on the Foxearth and District Historical Society blog. [Accessed April 2020]

2. British Geological Survey. Eye. England and Wales Sheet 190. Solid and drift Geology, 1:50,000 Provisional Series. Keyworth, Nottingham, 1995. Online here. [Accessed March 2020]

3. British Geological Survey, undated 1. BGS Borehole Report TM16NW23 — Brockford Engineering Co., Thwaite. Online here. [Accessed March 2020]

4. British Geological Survey, undated 2. BGS Borehole Report TM16NW2 — Wetheringsett (Anglian Water Authority), Online here. [Accessed March 2020]

5. Mayor, Adrienne. The First Fossil Hunters: Dinosaurs, Mammoths, and Myth in Greek and Roman Times. Princeton University Press, 2011.

6. Herodotus. The Histories. Penguin Books, 1972. Book 3.113.

7. Mayor, Adrienne, undated. Ancient Egyptians Collected Fossils. Online at Wonders and Marvels website – [Accessed March 2020]

8. Mayor, Adrienne, Fossil Legends of the First Americans, Princeton University Press, 2005.

9. Van der Geer, A., Dermitzakis, M., & De Vos, J., ”Fossil Folklore from India: The Siwalik Hills and the Mahabharata”. Folklore 119, April 2008, pp.71–92. [Accessed March 2020]

10. Ralph of Coggeshall, Chronicon Anglicorum, Folio 89, with English translation. [Accessed March 2020]

"In the time of King Richard there were found, at a village called Edolfuesnesse [Foulness], on the sea shore in Essex, two teeth of a certain giant, of such a size, that two hundred teeth which men now have might be cut out of them. These teeth we saw at Coggeshall, and we handled them with plenty of admiration. A rib of this giant was also discovered in the same place, of astonishing size and breadth."

11. Latham, J. Discovery of Mammoth remains from a river bed in Eastern Suffolk, Quaternary Research Association Newsletter No. 83, Oct. 1997. [NB the Hawkedon site is in West Suffolk.]

12. Singer, Ronald, Gladfelter, Bruce, and Wymer, John. The Lower Palaeolithic Site at Hoxne, England. University of Chicago Press, 1993.

13. [Harris, Rev. H.A.]. "Finds", Proceedings of the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology, vol.18, part 3, 1924.

14. Spencer, Harold. A Contribution to the Geological History of Suffolk, Suffolk Naturalists’ Society, 1972, p.89.

15. Wymer, John. Palaeolithic Sites of East Anglia, Geobooks, Norwich, 1985.

16. Ticehurst, Claud. The Mammals of Suffolk, Transactions of the Suffolk Naturalists' Society, vol.2, 1932.

17. Coxon, P. Pleistocene Environmental History in Central East Anglia, PhD Thesis, University of Cambridge, 1979.

18. Sparks, B.W. and West, R.G. Interglacial Deposits at Wortwell, Norfolk, Geological Magazine, 105, 196

Thursday, 24 September 2020

The bells! The bells!

MATT SALUSBURY listens out for the sounds of underwater tintinnabulation as he goes in search of Britain's sunken bell legends...

Fragments of Dunwich churches - All Saints, St Peter's and (probably) the Templar Church, mostly hauled up from the North Sea in the Dunwich Dives, throughout the 1970s and 1980s

This article first appeared in Fortean Times, FT 396, September 2020

Is it true about the bells tolling beneath the waves? It's a question frequently asked by visitors to Dunwich Museum. The nocturnal phantom bells at Dunwich, though obvious nonsense, are actually among the more plausible of Britain’s ghost bell traditions. At least churches actually once stood in Dunwich - more than can be said for the locations of many phantom bell legends!

The city of Dunwich on the Suffolk coast, once medieval England's sixth biggest town, was a major port with its own royal shipyard, trading with the Hanseatic League before a millennia's worth of coastal erosion and three really big storms did for the town. It’s now a village of just over a hundred souls. Stonework from several of the sunken city’s dozen churches was hauled up from the bed of the North Sea in dives throughout the 1970s and 1980s.

Late 18th century engraving of All Saint's Church, Dunwich, now lost to the sea. Out of copyright

Postcards from the Nicholson Collection in the Dunwich Museum archive, showing All Saints at the turn of the 20th century. The last section of the church fell of the cliff and into the sea in 1919.

Rowland Parker, author of the definitive history Men of Dunwich, said he'd "never heard any local talk of bells tolling out to sea" as of 1979. The oldest documentation for the legend dates from 1859, when Master Mariner John Day claimed to have known his position when sailing to Sizewell Bank to the south by the tolling of a submerged bell heard while passing Dunwich.

Perhaps Master Day heard a bell on a wreck or wreck buoy. Some of the churches could have been suddenly inundated, as in the Great Storm of 1286. The antiquarian John Stow visited Dunwich in 1573, describing "remnants of ramparts, downfallen edifices and tottering noble structures" at the water's edge. But could these church bells have still been intact underwater in their derelict belfries, rung by the action of the tides 300 years later? Unlikely. As Nigel Pennick points out in Lost Lands and Sunken Cities, "every church lost to the sea was destroyed by wave action."

Some Dunwich bells are accounted for. Medieval parish records include a receipt for the sale of the bells of Dunwich's St Nicholas Church to build a pier to protect another town church as the sea advanced. Other Dunwich churches were demolished as no longer viable, faced with an encroaching sea.

The last surviving butress of All Saint's Church now stands in the churchyard of the modern St James's Church, Dunwich

The last surviving tomb of All Saints burial ground, on the Dunwich Cliff Path. Human bones and teeth from the burial ground regularly fall out of the eroding cliff

This slab from a tomb hauled up in the Dunwich Dives is believed to be from the Templar Church.

The still standing 19th century church of St James's, Dunwich, has a single automated bell that only tolls the hour. But a recent anonymous entry to Dunwich Museum visitors' book, though, records a local man hearing twice "a peel of six chimes" at about 2am on the "very stormy" night of 29 December 2017.

Some other well-documented sunken churches off Britain's coasts have phantom bell legends attached. St-Annes-on-the-Sea, Lancashire has the sunken remains of a medieval church off the coast, its bells allegedly heard before storms. Also said to warn of storms are phantom bells at Walton-on-the-Naze, Essex, whose church - taken by the sea in the 1790s - is now three miles offshore. Shipden near Cromer in Norfolk once had a church, on the submerged remains of whose tower the tug Victoria was wrecked in 1888. And yes, its bells sometimes sound at night.

Not all verifiable lost churches succumbed to the waves. Between Southwell and Oxton in Nottinghamshire there once stood the settlement of Raleigh - flattened by the East Midlands Earthquake of 1185, although not "swallowed up" as legends tell. Local tradition has church bells heard on Christmas Day.

But evidence for an actual church behind phantom bell legends is usually scarce. Some more plausible phantom bell stories come from Cornwall, where bells on sunken ships rather than vanished churches are supposed to ring, such as the bell of the long lost ship Neptuneoff St Ives.

Welsh phantom bell legends include one from Llangorse Lake, Powys, in which bells of a cathedral that once stood there before it was flooded now sound on "holy days". Since the lake was formed by the last Ice Age 10,000 years ago, this is a credibility-stretcher. A similar legend is attached to Lake Bala, 86 miles due south in the Brecon Beacons.

Numerous Welsh legends feature the Devil or his disguised imps stealing bells then dumping them at sea. They then toll from their new location, warning fishermen as storms approach – as do the bells heard from Whitesand Bay near St David's, Pembrokeshire. The provenance of the phantom bells of Aberdovey, Gwynedd cannot be traced beyond the Victorian music hall song The Bells of Aberdovey.

Phantom bells said to have been stolen and lost in transit are a common motif. A tale from Bosham on the Sussex coast has a bell stolen by Viking raiders then loaded it on to a longship which sailed away. When locals rang the "all clear" from other churches, the stolen bell vibrated in unison, capsizing the vessel. The story's probably a 19th century explanation of why Bosham's church has no tenor bell.

In Llanwonno, Glamorgan, the bell was said to have be stolen by "big-eared men of Taff", who dragged it away on a sledge only to lose it in a river. The story may be an invention explaining odd local place names like Rhyd-y-gloch, ford of the bell.

Divine retribution swallowing up churches whose parishioners blaspheme or "mock God" is a recurring theme. Or bells are lost in transit when a "workman" leading oxen pulling the bells utters a profane oath. One such phantom church bell sounds on Christmas Eve from Bomere Pool in Shrewsbury, although there's no evidence there was ever a church there. Nor is there evidence of a church ever existing at Bell Hole, in marshes at Tunstall, Norfolk, whose phantom bells send up bubbles as the church sinks towards Hell. Bells transported by ship from Forrabury, Cornwall were allegedly sunk by the hand of God after a captain ridiculed a priest who crossed himself, they are now said to ring beneath the waves.

The mighty North Sea at Dunwich has claimed at least 11 of the town's churches and some satellite chapels as well.

An especially tenuous church-destroyed-by-God's-wrath tale comes from Coningsby, Lincolnshire, whose bells supposedly peal on the anniversary of its destruction. A natural rock formation there slightly resembles the rubble of a church.

Mermaids also appear in phantom bell traditions. Every Easter Sunday a mermaid rings a bell underwater at Rostherne Mere, Cheshire. A near-identical tale has a mermaid ringing a church bell beneath the River Lugg near Marden, Herefordshire.

Bells sound from an allegedly submerged village church at Kenfig Pool near Bridgend, South Wales. While the sea has claimed a nearby castle, there's no proof there was ever a village there. Nor is there any record of a church having stood at Nigg Bay in the Scottish Highlands, from whose waters a bell is said to gently peal.

Recent research into Very Long Period signals detected underwater with a resonance that can sound like "a large bell" suggests these tales may have something to do with underwater earthquakes, (FT391;17) so a rational explanation may yet be forthcoming.

Thanks to Darren Mann of Paranormal Database which has many excellent examples of British phantom bell legends

A similar article appeared in Discover Dunwich, newsletter of Dunwich Museum.


Dunwich, Suffolk, Jean and Stewart Bacon, Segment publications, Marks Tey, 1975, 1988

Lost Lands and Sunken Cities Nigel Pennick, Fortean Tomes, London 1987

The Search for Dunwich: City under the sea, Jan and Stuart Bacon, Segment, 1979, 2008

Shipden Shipden

Welsh Folklore and Legends, L.A. Simmonds, James Pike Ltd, St Ives 1975

Campanology Wales

The bells of Aberdovey

Sunken Bells – Legends of Christiansen Type 7070, ed. D L Ashliman, 2013

Dunwich Museum, Dunwich, Suffolk, was closed due to COVID-19 at the time of writing, but now reopen! Monday-Sunday 11.30-4.30 until the end of October, entry by donation, for opening hours Twitter: @DiscoverDunwich

Matt Salusbury is a regular contributor to Fortean Times and a Trustee and volunteer of Dunwich Museum