To see all the photos from this event please see here
I was first made aware of a newly published book on the Appley Bridge meteorite fall through a post to the ‘Meteorites’ group on Facebook by Russell Parry. His post was an advert for his new not yet published book and featured a cartoon image showing the fall of the meteorite which later turned out to feature on the front cover. As an avid collector of UK and Irish meteorites I was intrigued. Our community although worldwide in breadth is quite close knit and most within it either know or at least have heard of other folk who share our passion for space rocks. I am also an active member of the British and Irish meteorite Society (BIMS) and I knew Russell was not someone I knew from there. So Russell Parry was a new name to me and I quickly got in touch with him to enquire about his new book. It turns out that Russell lived quite close to me in the village of Appley Bridge which is the location of the nearest meteorite fall to me in the North West. Russell was originally from Shropshire (which funnily enough is also where my family on my dad’s side originate from) but moved to Appley Bridge to set up his food safety consultancy business – Advanced Food Safety Limited. After settling in to this idyllic village location he began researching local history and events. As an amateur astronomer Russell was fascinated when he discovered the story of the Appley Bridge meteorite fall and spent a few years researching more about this local history event. The book was the culmination of that research and Russell informed me that he was also planning to give a talk on the subject at a local museum. The Museum of Wigan Life was where he had conducted much of his research and so was an apt location for his first talk. I subsequently offered the services of the British and Irish Meteorite Society (BIMS) to put on a meteorite display at this event to further enhance and add to his talk and Russell was very glad to have us on board. So plans were made between us and the museum and as a ticket only event we publicised the talk on various mailing lists and on social media. As the date of the talk and official book launch neared I was informed that the event had in fact sold out and the museum were now putting it on in a larger room to be able to accommodate more people. Nearer the time, friend and fellow BIMS member Graham Ensor said he was going to be able to attend the event and help out with our display. Graham was going to be away on a fantastic holiday to Arizona and Utah in the preceding weeks but would hopefully be back in time to attend.
Although the Monday of the talk was also going to be the official book launch, Russell had provided me with a box of books to sell on his behalf when I attended the North West Astronomy Festival (NWAF) on the Saturday before. He also kindly donated a signed copy to give as a prize in the raffle held at the event. Whilst manning our BIMS display at NWAF quite a few visitors commented that they would be attending Russell’s talk on the Monday and come Monday night I was to recognise quite a few faces from the festival. Being a meteorite that fell locally the story of the fall and Russell’s book proved to be a great hit and of course even more so when they could also hold a piece of the actual Appley Bridge meteorite in their hands too.
Graham and I arrived at pretty much the same time at the Museum and began to setup our BIMS display boards and posters and set out our meteorites. We didn’t bring as many specimens as normal as we were limited for space and also wanted to add to and enhance Russell’s talk and not take over as the main event. The aim was for people to be able to see and hold our specimens of Appley Bridge and also a selection of other meteorites to show the variety of other types and classifications. Many visitors were attending the talk as a local history event and so would not necessarily know much if anything about meteorites so we didn’t want to over complicate our display. We had the chance to meet and talk with Russell whilst we were setting up but before we knew it visitors had started to arrive. We managed to speak to a few people and show off some space rocks before they took their seats and the talk began.
Russell was an entertaining and engaging speaker and he brought the fascinating tale of the fall to life approaching the story from different viewpoints and perspectives. He used meticulously researched accounts published in local papers and from local people to add to the story and there were details of the story shown that I had not known about previously.
Graham and myself were able to add a bit of meteoritic mayhem to the proceedings with a bit of friendly heckling too, all taken firmly in his stride by Russell. What follows here is an outline of the Appley Bridge meteorite story:
The Appley Bridge meteorite fell at around 8.45pm on the 13th October, 1914. World war one had only just begun in August and with the air raids at the time and the prevalent ambience of fear of an attack of it was no wonder that locals were convinced that the event was actually a bombing raid by German Zeppelin airships.
The first reports of a fireball in the sky were from Stoke on Trent but there were subsequently hundreds of eye witnesses in the local Wigan area. Some of the locals even reported hearing the buzzing of the Zeppelin engines!
The meteorite was found by two locals walking in the field the following morning. They were surprised to discover a hole in the ground two feet across and 2 feet deep in the ploughed field. They went and got the farmer, Eric Lyon who helped dig out the meteorite which had broken into two pieces and was subsequently taken back to his farmhouse.
The local doctor, a Dr. Wilson visited Mr. Lyon at the farmhouse and wrote the following for a local newspaper “The mass is just like a large stone, irregular in shape, and externally of a reddish colour similar to the appearance of rusty iron, or of iron drawn from a fire. It is also very friable, pieces can be broken from it by the fingers alone. Internally the prevailing colour is that of French grey, the material is of varying hardness, and some parts having the resemblance of lead. It is about 30 inches in circumference and weighs about 30 llbs”
The police were also informed and after attending the farm officers promptly took the meteorite away to Lancashire Police headquarters in Preston to be investigated by a senior Police officer. The subsequent reports from Superintendent Kelly dispelled the rumours of a German airship attack and he stated that “There is no doubt, that it is a genuine meteorite”
After being released from Police custody the meteorite was delivered to Professor Jenkins at the Godlee Observatory in Manchester. On arrival at Godlee the pieces had a total weight of 28 llbs and 13 oz. compared to over 30 llbs on initial discovery so some of it had obviously been removed in the interim. Whilst at the observatory it was examined by Dr. George Prior from the British Museum of Natural History and also chemically analysed by researchers from the Manchester School of Technology. See here for that report.
A small fragment of the larger mass went on to be displayed in James Rigby’s grocers shop window in Appley Bridge to show locals that it was in fact a rock from space that had caused the ominous thunder like noise and not a German army bombing raid.
The main mass was subsequently back to Mr. Lyons and he retained custody of it until 24th January 1920 when he sold it to the British Museum of Natural History for £252.
And that is the tale of the Appley Bridge meteorite, for a more complete and in depth version I highly recommend Russell’s excellent and comprehensive book.
In the run up to the talk, Russell was interviewed on the local news and the news segments that were broadcast can be seen below:
Everyone thoroughly enjoyed the talk and there was a queue straight afterwards for people to get their books signed by Russell. It was now that we had a crowd building up around our display as intrigued visitors pored over our meteorites. The talk had set off some serious thinking too as we had many questions asked to us obviously prompted by details disclosed during the preceding hour. Many people wanted a photo opportunity with a piece of the Appley Bridge meteorite and so mine and Graham’s specimens were passed from person to person and bombarded with camera flashes. It was great to meet locals, many of whom were from Appley bridge itself and had never seen a piece of the meteorite up close. We also met up again with fellow BIMS member Keith Mahood who had attended the talk but unfortunately as is often the case with these events we didn’t really have much time to catch up. We were constantly aware of the visitors who were queued up at our display behind those we were talking to at that moment and didn’t want anyone to miss out. Russell’s parents were in attendance and I had a great chat with his mum and dad. Russell had earlier told me that his dad was a big fan of real ale and so he was intrigued to hear about the Rowton iron meteorite that fell nearby to them in Shropshire on 20th April, 1876. They had never heard of this event and Russell’s dad left on a mission to sample the real ale ‘Rowton Bitter’ that is brewed to commemorate that fall by local brewer Jim Preston of the Rowton brewery. The brewery uses a ‘barrel fireball’ as their logo and they also brew similarly themed beers such as ‘Rowton Galaxy’ and ‘Dark Side Stout’
As the visitors slowly left we were aware that the time had passed quickly and the museum staff were beginning to close up. Not wanting to outstay our welcome we rushed to pack up and load up our cars and before long we were the last ones left. The staff helped us load up and after asking their advice for a suitable pub myself and Graham moved location for a much needed drink and catch up. Unfortunately Russell was unable to stay for a drink with us as he had his family with him and a prior engagement to attend.
This talk was sold out so the Museum organised another which also sold out and Russell has since been invited to give his presentation at various Museums and Astronomy societies with similar results. Russell is also always happy to provide talks on the Appley Bridge meteorite to museums, libraries, clubs and schools, just contact him via his website.
For anyone wanting to read more about this historic UK meteorite and the circumstances of its fall then I can’t recommend Russell’s book highly enough. Signed copies are available to buy securely online and direct from Russell here. Copies are also available from Amazon and Waterstones.
To see all the photos from this event please see here
Further reading and links