The Brentford Griffin and the West London Dragon
In 1984, people began to report seeing a mysterious object flying around the west London suburb of Brentford. Described as a winged dog or a large bird like creature it seemed to match the description of the classical griffin, a flying lion with an eagle's head.
In 1984 a man named Kevin Chippendale twice saw what he described as a large dog with wings flying over the houses of Brentford. He later identified this as a griffin when he saw the sign of the Griffin Arms pub nearby. A psychologist named John Olssen saw the beast when jogging one morning. Tradition says that a griffin was large enough to kill a horse which suggests the object was along way away.
A report in 1985 on London Weekend Television's 6 o'clock show about sightings of a griffin in the air over Brentford prompted psychic investigator and quester Andy Collins to investigate . Few new facts have been unearthed since then and it is a cold case that may make sense if taken together with other cases.
Andy's booklet makes it clear that the Brentford Griffin saga could be considered a leg pull originated by Robert Rankin, author of a number of humorous magical mysteries centred on Brentford, including his eight volume Brentford Trilogy. A few papers who were aware of the griffin story dropped it when they heard Rankin was involved, but at least one ran a piece and the simplest explanation is that it was a leg pull originated by Rankin that led to a short lived flap of griffin sightings. Some ten years later Rankin stated all the facts cited in Andy’s booklet were wrong .
The convenient explanation that Rankin managed to fool a number of people ignores the fact that the first sightings of the Griffin occurred in 1984 well before the program was created. Andy Collins interviewed Mr Chippendale and was impressed by his apparent honesty and lack of guile. Also, for what it is worth, Robert Rankin claimed sightings occurred decades earlier.
A Legendary Colony Of Griffins
An extra twist occurred in 1998 when Martin Collins (coincidences like this keep cropping up) wrote a letter to Fortean Times saying that when at school in the 1950s he had heard that there was a family of griffins living on Brentford Eyot, an island in in the Thames at Brentford. The story is that King Charles II brought a griffin to Brentford 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, fell in and 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 lived 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 is a nice tale that is almost certainly purely hogwash, or at least an urban legend told to children by tongue in cheek adults or made up for storytelling sessions at the local library.. However the Griffin became part of Brentford local lore and one can speculate that talk about the Griffin created something with at least partial reality. More prosaically one can imagine that a large bird flying across the town might be misinterpreted as a griffin and that the witnesses might have been primed to see a griffin by Brentford’s numerous Griffin connections.
Brentford And Its Griffin Connections
Brentford's football team is called the Griffins, possibly because the football ground is on land once owned by Fullers, who had a griffin in their logo and have the Griffin Brewery nearby in Chiswick. The Griffin had previously been the symbol of Meux and Reid’s Brewery – in the aptly-named Liquorpond Street (now Clerkenwell Road) – that went out of business before 1900. A local pub, The Griffin, may have been named after the brewery. The original coat of arms of Brentford, unveiled in 1932 show a griffin, again possibly after the Fuller Smith and Turner Griffin Brewery.
In mythology the Griffin, offspring of an Eagle and a lion, was sacred to the sun and kept guard over hidden treasures. Apart from the tantalising puzzle of The Two Kings of Brentford there seems no reason to think there is a treasure anywhere in Brentford.
Earth Mysteries researcher John Merron told me that in the 60’s and 70’s buildings in the nearby borough of Acton were covered with carvings and statues of dragons. By the time I found out they all seemed to have vanished into skips, though a couple of houses near Ealing Common Station still had dragon figures on their roof. Intriguingly Mr Chippendale twice saw a flying beast pass between himself and a development called Green Dragon Towers.
I would therefore theorise that the Dragon was originally associated with West London and especially Acton and Brentford. There is a TENTATIVE support for this in that West London has a Wormholt Road and Wormwood Scrubs prison, “worm” being an old word for a Dragon. A more likely etymology is that “worm” also meant “snake” and "holt" a wood and that the name refers to a snake infested wood, as does the area known as Wormwood Scrubs.
If the Dragon was associated with West London this archetype, may have been in the back of the minds of the inhabitants possibly generating sightings or influencing the interpretation of sightings. For reasons unknown the treasure guarding dragon was replaced by the treasure guarding griffin in Brentford. Leaving the question: What and where is the treasure, if it exists?
Interestingly, in 1990 in Sutton Coldfield near Birmingham several people saw a bale of straw flying across the sky at a height of 500 feet. It was falling slowly and may have landed about a mile away. Police reckoned it must have fallen of a lorry (!!!!). Would a griffin look like a flying hay bale? Did it migrate?
The Brentford Griffin is a mystery that will never die. No flesh and blood griffin has ever lived on Brentford Eyot. However we cannot rule out the possibility that a virtual Griffin was created from the imaginations and legends of the inhabitants putting this into a more ephemeral relation of Bigfoot and the Thunderbird.
The Brentford Griffin: The truth behind the tales, Andrew Collins, Earthquest books 1985 ISBN 0 950802425
Fortean Times 55 P.13 citing UK Press gazette 6th Aug 1990 which in turn quotes the front page of the Sutton Coldfield News presumably of late July