Weird Suffolk: Strange things in the sky over Brandon

The team behind the Breaking New Ground Landscape Partnerships at Brandon Country Park.Rebekah O'Dri

The team behind the Breaking New Ground Landscape Partnerships at Brandon Country Park.Rebekah O'Driscoll, project officer and Nick Dickson, a Project Manager Picture by: Sonya Duncan - Credit: Sonya Duncan

Long before ufologists had descended on Rendlesham, mystery had filled the skies of Suffolk and left locals pondering their place in the universe.

In 1646, on the afternoon of May 21, “several apparitions” were “seene and hearde in the ayre” above Suffolk and Cambridgeshire. A pamphlet written at the time (when Brandon was still part of Norfolk) describes the strange spectacle which greeted those who saw it. “Also at Brandon, in the County of Norfolke, the inhabitants were forced to come out of their houses to behold so strange a spectacle of a spire steeple ascending to earth, an a pike or lance descending downwards from heaven,” it says.“In Brandon, in the county aforesaid, was seen at the same time a naïve or fleet of ships in the ayre, swiftly passing under sayle, with flags and streamers hanged out, as if they were ready to give an encounter.

“In Marshland, in the county of Norfolke aforesaid, within three miles of Kings Linne, a captain and a lieutenant, with divers other persons of credit, did heare, in the time of thunder, a sound as of a whole regiment of drums beating a call, with perfect notes and stops, much admired by all who heard it.”

In the summer edition of The Lantern in 1975, the journal notes that earlier in the year, a hunt has been made for a meteorite which might have fallen in Breckland three centuries ago. The search, by the Norwich Astronomical Society, was based on the information above, from the 1646 pamphlet. Cyril Blount, the secretary of the NAS, was convinced the pamphlet described a meteorite shower, a suspicion shared by Dr David Dewhurst of the Cambridge University observatory and Dr Keith Hindley of the Meteorite Section of the British Astronomical Society.

One possible point of impact suggested was the ‘Devil’s Punchbowl’, a large almost perfectly circular water-filled depression in the forest about four miles north of Thetford. Neat as the meteorite theory was, it did not explain some of the more fantastical elements of the 1646 account, which included fleets of ships, men fighting with swords in their hands and a beating of drums in the air.

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“Upon the one and twentieth day of May in the afternoone, in this year 1646 there were very strange sights and unwonted sounds heard in the Ayre, in severall places as followeth,” wrote a T Forcett. “About New-Market in the county of Cambridge, there were seen by diverse honest, sober, and civill persons and men of good credit, three men in the Ayre striving, struggling and tugging together, one of them having a drawn sword in his hand, from which Judgement God in mercy preserve these three Kingdomes, England, Scotland and Ireland, from further conflicts and effusions of blood.”

The author continued to recount tales of fireballs destroying fields of grain and leaving behind the smell of sulphur in Cambridgeshire and the vessels spotted over Brandon.“In all these places there was very great thunder, with raine and haile-stones of extraordinary bignesse and round, and some hollow within like rings,” the account continued.

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“The Lord grant that all the people of this Kingdome may take heed to every warning Trumpet of his, that we may speedily awaken from our sins, and truly turne to the Lord, fight his battles against our spirituall enemies, and get thouse inward riches of which we cannot be plundered of, and so to seek an inward kingdome of righteousness and peace.”

Later theories have included that eyewitnesses may have seen weather phenomena such as a sun pillar or a sun dog.

Both phenomena are optical illusions which are caused by the reflection of tiny ice crystals suspended in the atmosphere which create the impression of multiple suns or vertical bands of light.

Or, of course, the East really was visited by 17th century space pirates throwing sulphurous fireballs and hail of extraordinary bigness at Earth. The truth is out there.

For more Weird Suffolk stories click here.

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