The Secret Files»
UFOs in History»
in Fortean Times 196 (2005)
This is an X-file with all the best ingredients: villagers scared by “The Thing”, a “secret inventor” and sinister “Men in Black” silencing witnesses. The “Wardle incident” has become a classic in the UFO literature, but what really happened in this picturesque Lancashire village back in 1957? Dr DAVID CLARKE found some clues in recently released British Government files.
It began at 10 o’clock on the clear, frosty night of 15 February 1957 and 19-year-old Gwynneth Fitton was walking home along an unlit country lane near Wardle, high on the Pennine Moors. Suddenly, her attention was drawn to a bright light moving between two hills near the cottage where she lived with her parents. As she watched it moved towards her and she could see the object was circular with a dome. Suspended below it was a light which switched from white to red at intervals. “The Thing,” stopped dead at rooftop height and Gwynneth ran to alert her mother, Dorothy, who on seeing the object cried out: “Good God, They’re here!” As both women watched it hovered silently and then disappeared swiftly across the moors.
Shortly afterwards the Rochdale Observer published the story, playing up the fright the Fittons had received and asked: “Was Wardle Visited by a Flying Saucer?” More witnesses then came forward to admit they saw the same weird object in the sky. “None of the witnesses were believers in ‘flying saucers’ before,” wrote junior reporter Alan Fitzsimmons, “but after seeing such a strange sight their disbelief has been badly shaken.”
While this was a fairly typical flying saucer sighting, it swiftly became the centre of a national controversy that led all the way to the Government. For when the local MP, Tony Leavey, heard about the sighting he raised it in Parliament, demanding to know if the Air Ministry had been “releasing objects which are normally described as flying saucers.” In reply the minister said the object seen at Wardle “did not emanate from outer space, but from a laundry in Rochdale.” It was, he said, two small balloons lit by a flashlight bulb that had been released by a mechanic, Neil Robinson, as part of an experiment to build a small radio-controlled airship. Mr Robinson, a 35-year-old radio ham, contacted the police after reading about the Fitton’s sighting in the local newspaper. He confessed that he had used hydrogen to fill two five-penny balloons which he had released on four separate occasions in remote locations. “It was just an experiment in tracing air currents,” he said. But he added the only light carried by the contraption came from a small bulb powered by a pen-torch battery.
This confession did not satisfy the Rochdale Observer which claimed Robinson
could not explain how he made the hydrogen used to inflate the balloons.
The paper obtained a similar balloon and found that even when inflated
its maximum diameter was a mere 12 inches. The paper also could not believe
that such a tiny light attached to a balloon could have appeared as a
glow brighter than a car’s headlamp to witnesses scattered around
the town. And the mystery increased when debris was discovered on the
moors near Wardle. One of the finds was a silver cylinder that appeared
to be part of a transmitter from an Air Ministry weather balloon. Then
two boys playing on the moors found other materials including aluminium
rods, wire mesh and a parachute whose description sounds like the debris
This development made the local paper even more suspicious and it stated: “The transmitter was found nearly two weeks after the sighting of the ‘saucer’, during which time there have been considerable snowfalls, yet the cylinder is perfectly dry and unmarked…” Further fuel was added to the fire when it reported how a “commercial-type aircraft” had flown low over Wardle “flashing unusually large coloured lights” the very night before parts of the balloon were discovered. The implication was the debris found on the moors had been delivered planted by the authorities as part of a cover up – but a cover-up of what? »