Friday 6 April 2007

The Brentford Griffin

During the middle of 1984, a Kevin Chippendale was strolling along Braemar Road, when he observed a strange creature in the skies near the Green Dragon apartments, rather coincidentally! He claimed that the beast resembled a dog but with wings and a beak.

Mr Chippendale saw the creature again in the February of 1985 and said that the apparition bore some resemblance to the creature painted on the sign of the Griffin Public House.

A friend of Kevin's, an Angela Keyhoe also claimed to have seen the flying monster. She was on a bus journey when she saw it sitting on the gasometer next to the Waterman's Art Centre. She said it resembled a giant black bird. Several passengers on the bus apparently saw the creature, and so did psychologist John Olssen, one morning whilst he was jogging near to the Thames. Sightings seem to escalate, and the legend was featured in the press and also on The Six O' Clock News.

Although many claimed that the entire 'Griffin' fiasco was a hoax, it has embedded itself into local legend.

A pamphlet on the series of reports was written by Andrew Collins in 1985.

Now, whilst such a creature may well have been nothing more than fanciful rumour, I 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, the details mentioned 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 ?


Alan said...

Thanks for the information. I remember the news reports about the griffin from some 25 years ago now, nd Mr. Olssen in particular, who was quite serious about what he saw, and rather irritated by the giggly attitude of the interviewer. Is it possible that the griffin references in Brentford (close to Ealing where I grew up) are in fact references to heraldic animals on the armorial bearings of the local land owner of old? Given that most animal refernces in pub names come from this source, could this explanation be worth looking into?

redvelvetshoes said...

I remember tales of the griffin when I was a child, in the 70s, dating, so I was told, from hundreds of years before!
I'm not from Brentford, but from Hampton Wick,many miles inland from Brentford!

Unknown said...

I am the one who sent the story of the Brentford Griffins to the Fortian Times (I don't think the Andrew Collins involved in this thread is related to me although I do have a nephew called Andrew.
I learnt the story of Nell Gwyne and Joseph Banks at story sessions in Brentford library.
It is interesting that recent research suggests that dinosours had feathers and looked a lot like Griffins.