'Our answer to Bigfoot!' The seriously creepy Victorian folklore surrounding the region's canals

A Bigfoot-esque creature stalking the canals of the West Midlands and leaping out to spook travellers? You'd be surprised how often it's been reported.

Some of the folklore surrounding stretches of the Shropshire Union Canal is seriously creepy.
Some of the folklore surrounding stretches of the Shropshire Union Canal is seriously creepy.

The Shropshire Man Monkey is a cryptid - that is, an animal not believed to exist by mainstream science but that inspires legends nonetheless and captures the attention of hopeful cryptozoologists.

Some of the most famous examples include the Abominable Snowman, the Loch Ness Monster and Bigfoot.

And it transpires that the waterways of the West Midlands may have their own counterpart to the Sasquatch said to stalk northwest America, with persistent reports of a hairy attacker from the undergrowth.

Shropshire folklore expert and enthusiast for all things paranormal Amy Boucher takes up the story: "The Shropshire Man Monkey, or Old Ned’s Devil is a Cryptid zooform primate that has been sighted along the Shropshire Union Canal.

"This canal was built by Thomas Telford in 1828 and covers several canal systems including Shropshire, Staffordshire, Birmingham, and parts of Cheshire.

"The most famous sighting occurred at 10pm on the evening of January 21, 1879 and was investigated by Folklorist Charlotte S. Burne. She recounted that just before the eyewitness reached the canal bridge, a strange, hairy black creature ‘with great white eyes’ sprang out of the plantation by the roadside and attached itself onto his horse’s back.

"In desperation he tried to push it off with his whip, but to his horror, the whip went through the creature, and he dropped it to the ground with fright. The horse then broke into a canter, and ran at full speed, with the creature still clinging to his back.

"The man returned to a village called Woodseaves [in Staffordshire] and recounted his tale, with the listeners being so terrified that they stayed in the area rather than risking an encounter. The witness was so terrified by his encounter that he took to his bed for several days afterwards.

"The canal was searched the next day, and the whip was found in the exact place he’d dropped it.

"Apparently, the police visited the witness a few days later, upon reports he’d been robbed.

"When he explained in horror what he saw, the policeman was rather disappointed, and replied: ‘Oh, was that it, sir? I know what that was. That was the Man Monkey, sure as does come again at that bridge ever since a man was drowned in the cut’.

"I’m sure the witness was very disheartened to know such an experience was a regular occurrence.

"A creature akin to the Man Monkey was also reported near the end of the 19th century by a man named Ned. Whilst driving a pony and trap on Rolfe Street in Smethwick, outside Birmingham, he heard a strange noise behind him, and was leapt at by an unusual-looking animal, which he fought off and killed with his horsewhip.

"The animal was placed on display in a glass case in the Blue Gate pub on Rolfe Street and was dubbed 'Old Ned's Devil' by the locals.

"Old Ned’s Devil was probably a separate creature to the one experienced in January 1879, as this was a creature of flesh and blood, and killed. However, it provides further discussion in the narrative of the Ape Man.

"Further Monkey Man sightings have been reported since this instance, all with astonishing commonalities. The most recent one I could find was one reported in 2002 to British Waterways (now the Canal & River Trust).

"The man contacted the trust and said that during a holiday on the ‘Shroppie’ in the 1980s, he passed under a bridge and upon looking up saw ‘a huge, hairy black figure’ staring back at him with large eyes. He called for his family, however the creature disappeared.

"Interestingly, there are further reports of a similar ape-like creature from the Madeley Wood area in the 1870s - are these Shropshire’s answer to Bigfoot?"

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