Wednesday, September 21, 2011

In The Beginning...

People often ask me how I got involved in the weird world of Forteana.

Well, there were a couple of particular reasons: (1) my dad worked on radar while in the British Royal Air Force in the early 1950s and was involved in a couple of UFO incidents which, eventually, he chose to tell me about; and (2) when I was a little kid, my parents took me to Loch Ness for a day, and, as a result, I became fascinated, excited and enthralled by the mystery of the monster.

But, there was another reason too. I grew up literally only about a five-minute drive from the scene of one of the most notorious events in early 20th Century British history - the strange affair of one George Edalji.

A resident of the town of Great Wyrley, Edalji was convicted of slashing and maiming horses in 1903 - events that provoked outrage and fear, and even attracted the attention of none other than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who firmly believed Edalji to be innocent of the attacks.

But, there were a lot of Fortean aspects to the Edalji affair too. Rumors flew around the area at the time that the attacks were the work of a "hypnotized ape;" "a malicious aviator" or huge bird; a pack of trained wild-boar (yeah, I know that's an oxymoron of the highest order!); or diabolical occultists.

The photo above (taken by me in June 2010) shows St. Mark's Church, Great Wyrley, at which George Edalji's father, the Reverend Shapurji Edalji, was the vicar.

Who would have guessed that such a pleasant-looking place would be so tied to such dark secrets and diabolical events?

Whatever the truth of the matter, the story of George Edalji became legendary - and still is to the people of Great Wyrley. And, growing up just down the road from where all the old carnage, killing, and high-strangeness occurred is yet another - little-known - reason why I gravitated to the world of all-things weird...


  1. Did Edalji's story inspired the famous stage play Equus?

    I once saw the movie with Richard Burton, and it was interesting to me because it was one of the first examples that made me become aware of just how blurry the line between sanity and insanity actually is, and how it is more of a social construct than a biological one.

    (Off-topic, but slightly pertinent I Hope)

  2. RPJ:

    As far as I know, Equus WAS prompted by someone involved in horse attacks - but not the Edalji case. I think it was a case somewhere near London and long after Edalji.

  3. It is, perhaps, of interest that Sir Arthur who was the physical embodiment of Watson always claimed that he based Sherlock Holmes on his old mentor, Dr. Joseph Bell. That he was inspired by Bell cannot be argued but Sir Arthur was the REAL Sherlock Holmes. The Edalji Affair was not the only time he would step in and free an innocent man from gaol.

    Oscar Slater had been convicted of convicted of bludgeoning 83 year old Marion Gilchrist to death in 1908. Again, Sir Arthur saw too many inconsistancies in the evidence and took up the case. In 1912 he published the book THE CASE FOR OSCAR SLATER demanding a full pardon for the falsely convicted man. And, such a champion of justice was he that he would eventually pay the expenses of Slater's appeal out of his own pocket.

    The British Criminal Justice System is no different than any other---they hate to admit when they are wrong---but eventually (in 1928...after he had spent 19 years in prison--- Slater's conviction was thrown out and he was set free and given six thousand pounds as "compensation". In today's money that would be about three hundred thousand pounds.

    Sir Arthur always lived up to his code---which you can find on his tombstone:
    "Steel True, Blade Straight,
    Arthur Conan Doyle,
    Knight, Patriot, Physician,
    & Man of Letters."

  4. PS: from

    "Writer Peter Shaffer's inspiration for Equus (the name for the genus of animals to which horses belong) had been the true story of a Norfolk youth who blinded six racing horses who were the only witnesses to his role in a clandestine sexual act performed in a stable."

  5. Good to see an insider writing about the Edalji case! For the full facts see Roger Oldfield, 'Outrage; The Edalji Five and the Shadow of Sherlock Holmes', Vanguard Press, 2010.

  6. Thanks! I'll get a copy of the book!