17. A Letter Supports The Legend
In Episode 7 of The Saturday Strangeness, we briefly covered the Brentford Griffin – the murky yet wondrous tale of a winged creature allegedly sighted over the capital; a legend that was quirky yet fleeting amidst confusion, panic and deception.
Now, whilst such a creature may well have been nothing more than fanciful rumour, we would like to share with you a letter, submitted to Fortean Times magazine, during the May of 1998, from a Mr Martin Collins, who believed that such a monster may well have been more than local hoax. He wrote:
I first encountered the story of the Brentford Griffins while I was at St John’s School in the 1950s [note: some thirty years before the first sightings!]. St John’s in those days sat in the shadow of Brentford’s football ground, Griffin Park. Inquiring why there were so many griffin references in Brentford, I was told that it was due to the family of griffins that lived on Brentford Eyot, an island in the Thames.
The story of how they got there was that the first griffin was brought to Brentford by King Charles II as a gift for his mistress, Nell Gwynn, who had a house in the Butts at Brentford. One day the griffin was playing on the banks of the River Brent, which flows past the Butts, and fell in. The hapless creature was washed down the Brent into the Thames, finally being washed up on Brentford Eyot. As it was assumed to have been killed, it was left alone and was able to live on the Eyot for many years – griffins having a lifespan of centuries.
Then Sir Joseph Banks brought back a griffin from a Pacific island where he had been with Captain Cook. This griffin was originally housed in the Pagoda in Kew Gardens, which is on the opposite bank of the Thames from Brentford Eyot where it found a mate awaiting it.
There was soon a whole colony of griffins and they spread out from the Eyot all over the town of Brentford, where they can still be seen to this day, if you look closely enough.
This story has stayed with me…it is a nice bit of Brentford mythology.
Whilst intriguing, and seemingly in support of the legend, these details simply prove how the creature had become symbolic within a community, just as the dragons, satyrs, centaurs, etc. have the world over. However, sightings of such winged monsters do still persist throughout the world, and whilst many of these reports describe griffin-like beasts, it seems that they could all be replicas of the more universal gargoyle figure seen perched above many a town throughout this weird world. Merely stone guardians, or echoes of what really lurks in the skies?
By Neil Arnold