Saturday Strangeness 15 – Dragons Over London?
Dragons are probably the most celebrated yet misunderstood mythical creature across Britain, yet several sightings of such leathery legends have been recorded, and such monsters feature heavily in the lore of the British countryside (remember St George?). During modern times such leviathans have been relegated to the league of fantasy, where they only exist alongside unicorns and fairies.
However, dragon-like 'sky serpents', which have also been connected to sightings of weird-shaped craft throughout history, have been occasionally seen over the capital. The Brentford Griffin, if genuine, was the last of the ‘dragon’ sightings, but a similar beast was spotted during the 1700s, and was mentioned in The Gentleman’s Magazine:
"In the beginning of the month of August, 1776, a phenomenon was seen in a parish a few miles west of London, which much excited the curiosity of the few persons that were so fortunate to behold it. The strange object was of the serpent kind; its size that of the largest common snake and as well as could be discovered from so transient a view of it, resembled by its grey, mottled skin. The head of this extraordinary animal appeared about the same size as a small woman's hand. It had a pair of short wings very forward on the body, near its head; and the length of the whole body was about two feet. Its flight was very gentle; it seemed too heavy to fly either fast or high, and its manner of flying was not in a horizontal attitude, but with its head considerably higher than the tail, so that it seemed continually labouring to ascend without ever being able to raise itself much higher than seven or eight feet from the ground.”
Not the easiest thing to picture flying over London. Here's what we think they could have looked like:
Was such an extraordinary creature merely hallucination, some form of unknown insect or indeed something akin to a real-life dragon?
Even more amazing was the fact that the magazine recorded, in 1797, another flying serpent account, this time between Hyde Park Corner and Hammersmith, on 15th June late one evening. The witness, merely known as ‘J.R.’, wrote a letter describing the weird encounter, stating “…the body was of a dark colour, and about the thickness of the lower part of a man’s arm, about two-feet long.”
The beast was already beginning to resemble the first encounter.
The witness continued, “…the wings were very short and placed near the head. The head was raised above the body. It was not seven or eight-feet above the ground.”
Whilst the creature seemed very life-like, and indeed almost like a flying snake, the letter ended in morose fashion, concluding, “…being an animal of such uncommon description, I was particular in noticing the day of the month, and likewise being the day preceding a most dreadful storm of thunder and lightning.”
By Neil Arnold.
Fleet Street dragon image from Mickelodeon's flickr stream. Serpent drawing by Neil Arnold himself.