Did a Man-Monkey stalk the Shropshire Union Canal? Matthew from Ghoul Britannia Podcast tells us the story!

Man Monkey of Shropshire Union Canal

Canals were once the lifeblood of the UK. Now their time in the spotlight has passed, but they quietly endure, snaking through the hearts of our towns and cities. What strange and terrible things still stalk the water’s edge, away from the watchful eyes of the modern world?  

Many of Britain’s canals are home to strange, unearthly terrors. None, though, can match the reputation of Shropshire Union Canal, particularly when you come to Bridge 39. This is where the unlucky or the unwary may find themselves face to face with an enormous, inhuman creature; The Man-Monkey of Shropshire Union Canal.

The name may sound innocuous. It might even be a little amusing, but those who have encountered this strange creature have found nothing about the experience to be funny.

There are two explanations for the man-monkey. The first is that it is a wild animal, which broke free of captivity and roams along the water. The other is thoroughly supernatural. The man-monkey is a ghost, the spirit of an unlucky worker who drowned in the canal sometime in the 19th century and whose confused shade is now trapped in this bestial form.  

The man-monkey was first reported on the 8 December 1878. Late in the evening, a woman went to visit her neighbour in Madley Wood. Meaning only to visit briefly, the woman left the door to her home open a crack, with the fire still burning in the living room. That proved to be a mistake. When the woman returned home, she found the door wide open.

Her nerves jangling, she crept into the living room. She recoiled in terror. There, crouching over the dying fire, was a huge, hairy creature, dark grey in colour. The woman was too terrified to cry out. She fled. Soon she returned with her neighbours, all armed with pitchforks and pokers, but the creature was gone.

At the time, the encounter was explained away rationally. It was a gorilla, locals said, which had escaped from a travelling menagerie near Bridgnorth six weeks previously. This, however, was not the last time the man-monkey was to be encountered. The explanation that this was a flesh-and-blood animal was about to be thrown into doubt.

The following year, a travelling labourer was passing by Bridge 39 on horseback. Just before he reached the canal, he was attacked. A huge, strange, black creature, with enormous white eyes, leapt out from the bushes and landed on the back of his horse. The labourer swiped at the creature with his whip, but the weapon passed straight through.

The man fell from his horse and dropped his whip. His terrified mount bolted, with the creature still clinging to its back. Frightened half to death, the labourer ran to a nearby town, taking refuge in the inn for the next few days. Once his courage built back up, he continued his journey. When he reached the bridge again, he found his whip exactly where he had dropped it.  

Sightings continued for years. Unfortunately, none were recorded, but the creature or ghost was well-known enough that, in 2002, British Waterways asked the public for their stories of the man-monkey. They received a response from a tourist who had visited the canal in the 1980s.

The man was travelling along the canal with his family. He took the tiller, leaving his wife and children to prepare lunch inside the boat. Glancing up at the bridge, he froze. He saw a huge, black monkey, staring down at him. The boat passed under the bridge. Once it emerged on the other side, the creature was gone. 

The man-monkey remains a mystery. If it is simply a gorilla, how did the whip pass through it? And how did it appear again, more than a century after its first appearance? Perhaps it really is a ghost, trapped in the form of a huge, hairy beast?

Whatever the truth is, it’s certainly best to give the man-monkey a wide berth.

Listen to Ghoul Britannia: The Man Monkey of Shropshire Union Canal

Ghoul Britannia podcast explores the darker side of British lore and legends. Whether it’s a ghost, a curse, or something even more unusual, we’ll be taking a closer look at the spookiest, strangest corners of the UK and Ireland.

You can listen to Episode 2: The Man-Monkey of Shropshire Union Canal here.

MATTHEW ROBINSON is the creator and host of the podcast Ghoul Britannia, a twisted tour of British lore. Based at Ghoul HQ, in rural Wiltshire, Matthew is an eager student of local history and folklore, with a particular love of ghost stories and comically-large mugs of tea.

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