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High above the bottle kilns which littered the Potteries skyline and the crimson glow from the furnaces at Shelton Bar – dozens of strange objects were spotted hovering over North Staffordshire.
Summer was coming to an end in 1967 and the truth was certainly out there. But as to what that truth was has still not been explained some 50 years later.
That was the time when dozens of people reported seeing ‘flying saucers’ in the North Staffordshire skies. The first sighting was reported in The Evening Sentinel on August 28, 1967, but the UFO epidemic continued well into September.
It was seen by an 18-year-old man who told the newspaper in a letter: “I was crossing the canal bridge at Howard Place, Shelton, on the right hand side of the road, when I happened to glance up to my right along the direction of the canal, and to my astonishment I saw two bright orange lights hanging motionless in the sky.
“The two lights were the same size and elliptical (oval) in shape, and were somewhat separated by a distance somewhat less than the length of one of them. There was no noise.
“Living in Shelton, no-one can have failed to see the sky lit by the furnaces at Shelton Bar, but the lights I saw were unlike anything I have ever seen in my life.”
That was the first of many UFO sightings over the next few days and weeks. In fact the investigators Roger Stanway and Anthony Pace later logged more than 70 separate incidents of UFO activity over Stoke-on-Trent in their report, UFOs: Unidentified, Undeniable.
The day after the first letter appeared in The Sentinel, two more UFOs were witnessed over Newcastle, by a 17-year-old girl and three of her friends. She told The Sentinel: “We were motoring from Newcastle towards Nantwich and we had got outside Newcastle when we suddenly spotted two red lights which appeared to be travelling at a great speed across the country.
“We tried to follow them in the car but they gradually got smaller and smaller and then disappeared. I was quite frightened at first.”
She added that one of the lights appeared to be longer in shape than the other and both were very bright.
“At first we thought they might have been car lights, but when they disappeared suddenly, we realised they were not. We were going to report the matter to the police but thought better of it. They would probably have thought we had been drinking,” she said.
On August 31, under the headline, “saucers galore”, The Sentinel reported on a number of other sightings. A Smallthorne woman saw a “bright orange light” hovering over some nearby houses.
“I am positive it was a flying saucer,” she said, “the light seemed to be revolving and there was absolutely no noise. After a few minutes the light moved off in the direction of Norton, but it stayed as bright as ever.”
A girl from Bentilee saw a UFO coming towards Hanley High School from Shelton. When her parents, and brother came out to look, they saw two more. Eventually, all three flying saucers disappeared in the direction of Longton.
More sightings were made each day, of flying saucers, domes shining red and orange, luminous cigar shapes and other UFOs. Experts at Jodrell Bank, however, were sceptical, suggesting that what had really been seen could have been a weather balloon, a satellite low on the horizon, the glance of the sun on a delta-winged bomber, or a, “more local reflection”.
But still more reports of flying saucers arrived at The Sentinel’s offices in Foundry Street, Hanley.
The tale took a new twist on September 1, 1967, when a housewife reported three more saucers – which had landed in a field near Hanley High School. She told The Sentinel: “I saw the same objects in the same place the night before, but I waited until I could check again.
“Last night I saw one large, bright orange light and two smaller ones further away. The bright one was flashing and throwing out vertically a shower of green sparks. The objects rose slowly and disappeared.”
RAF Ternhill attempted to end the mystery by explaining that some of the sightings could have been helicopters or flares dropped by aircraft.
“On Monday and Tuesday (September 4 and 5) we were dropping flares by parachute to assist the pilots landing at night. These are bright red in colour and on a clear night they can be seen from miles around. We occasionally get calls from people saying they have spotted unidentified flying objects and it usually turns out to be the flares,” said a spokesman for the Air Traffic Control Centre.
He added that another explanation could be helicopters: “Group Captain E.W. Deacon has been flying over the Newcastle area this week and people might have seen his helicopter which has flashing red navigation lights.”
So that explains the mystery of the flying saucers.
Except that the RAF had no idea what it was that people had seen a week earlier, when the bulk of the reports had been made.
“We had no night flights at all last week,” added the spokesman, “many of the UFO sightings are probably genuine.”