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The Cumberland Spaceman Mystery

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Burgh Marsh overlooks the Solway Firth, in Northern England, and is just a few miles west of Carlisle. On 23rd May 1964 a fireman, called Jim Templeton, took his family, and a friend who had also been a fireman, out to the marsh. There, being a keen photographer, he hoped to take some good pictures.

Having parked their car they walked out onto the marsh. The sheep and cattle were foraging on the farthest side of the marsh, and later Jim commented that: "...all the animals on that particular day were away on the other end of the marsh, all huddled together, as though they'd been frightened..." He said that he found that strange as usually all these animals would have been spread around the marsh instead of all being in one place. He also noticed two elderly ladies sitting knitting in a car that was parked by the side of the road about 300/400 yards away. With the weather being sunny and warm, and things seeming to be normal, Jim decided to stop and take a photograph of his young daughter, Elizabeth. She was wearing a new dress, and holding a bunch of flowers that she’d picked along the way. Having taken the photograph, using his Kodak SLR, they moved on, and took more photographs as they continued their walk.

A few days later, having taken his photographs to be developed at the local chemist, he went to collect them. The chemist remarked that it was a shame the one of his daughter had been spoiled by somebody passing by as the photograph was being taken. But Jim hadn’t seen anybody else at the time and was perplexed by this comment. However, on looking at the photograph he could see what appeared to be a person wearing a spacesuit, floating in the air and leaning at an angle, just over his daughter’s left shoulder. This was the only picture in which the being was seen, and none of the other people with him at the time remembered seeing anybody else in the vicinity when it was taken.

Jim reported it to the police, and also to Kodak, the film manufacturing company. After running all the tests available, their own experts had no idea how it had happened. At the end of the tests they said that they believed the image to be genuine and not, as the police first thought, the result of a double exposure. Kodak then offered free film for life to anybody who could solve the mystery, but nobody could.

Eventually the news media picked up the story and published it. Jim told reporters that, after thinking about it again, he hadn’t seen any UFOs at the time he had taken it. He added that he wasn’t actually interested in Ufology, although he was aware of UFO activity in that location. He also said: "Many of the fishermen near the marsh have seen UFOs and many interesting things have happened in this area from time to time. Some of the scientist types say the UFOs are interested in the Chapel Cross Atomic Power Station, which you can see on the horizon to the right of my picture." The Chapel Cross facility is situated just across the border with Scotland, about 15 miles North-West of Carlisle. Another explanation for the UFOs is that they could have been caused by earthlights.

It is here in the story that accounts begin to differ very slightly by adding some extra information. Mostly it is said that soon afterwards the family received a visit from two men wearing black suits and driving a black Jaguar car. Jim said that: “They were very strange, asking peculiar questions about the weather and behaviour of animals. Although they claimed to be from the government, they never used names and referred to one another just by numbers. I drove out with them to the marshes but they seemed to get upset when I insisted that I had not seen anybody as I took the photograph. They drove away, stranding me alone to walk five miles home. I never heard from them again.”

Some reports state that the two strange visitors wore bowler hats, and sought him out at the fire station where he was working. When asked who they were they replied that they were from Her Majesty's Government but refused to show any identification. However, having asked to be shown where the photograph had been taken Jim took time off work to take them out to the marsh where he led them directly to the place where he had snapped the picture. Apparently one of them asked: "This is where you saw the man then?" Jim replied: "No, excuse me, I didn't see anybody." At which point they suddenly thanked him and left, leaving him to walk home.

Other versions say that the men claimed to be Government Investigators and did, in fact, show Jim their identification. One or two even maintain that: “A second film that Jim sent to Kodak for processing, some months later, was returned with some of the negatives mysteriously missing. Jim firmly believes that they were confiscated by Government agents because of something secret on the film,” although I could find no attribution for the statement. And some believe that after the story was published Jim received calls from the Government telling him: “not to pursue the matter and to drop it.”

Regardless of which scenario might be true the editor of the Cumberland News, a local newspaper, subsequently contacted Jim. The editor requested that they might borrow the photograph’s negative to send a copy to Australia. It seems that the photograph had already been published in Australia and staff at the Woomera Test Range, in South Australia, had seen it. On the day that Jim had taken the photograph a Blue Streak space rocket had been due to be launched from Woomera. But the countdown had to be delayed after two automatic survey cameras had each registered two large figures in the firing area during the countdown. It transpired that these figures were comparable to the figure in Jim’s photograph.

The person in charge of the Woomera Test Range at that time was Group Captain Tom Dalton-Morgan. He related that before the test firing of an earlier Blue Streak rocket some observers, who were 100 miles down range, phoned to tell him that they could see a light, in restricted air space, heading towards the test range at incredible speed. Together with numerous scientists Dalton-Morgan watched the light circle the facility, shoot away and simply vanish. He said that he: “could not conceive of any plane or missile that was able to perform the manoeuvres seen by my team.” He added that UFOs were often seen in the area, and that another test launch had been stopped in 1964 when a white being was seen on the automatic security cameras.

It would appear that this incident may also have been mentioned in the “Flight trial of F1 - 5th June, 1961 ” report by H.G.R. Robinson, the Officer in Scientific Charge. He stated that: “During the period immediately prior to 25th May outstanding problems concerning range safety and instrumental coverage were resolved with the Range Authorities.” The report then went on to list a long string of different technical events with numerous Blue Streak test launches.

In 1955 the British designed a ballistic missile called Blue Streak. To guard against a pre-emptive strike while the rocket was being fuelled the missiles were placed in underground silos. It was the British who invented this protection, and later exported it to the USA, although the world silo wasn’t used back then, with the term “underground launcher” being used instead. Finding locations for these silos wasn’t easy, and RAF Spadeadam, in Cumbria, was the only place that they were built.

The very first Blue Streak was taken from Derby, where it had been made, to Spadeadam for testing. However, with no site in the UK having enough space to undertake a test firing, it was decided to build a site in South Australia, at Woomera, where such testing could be done. So the rocket was dismantled and shipped to Woomera where it was finally assembled. Here, on three occasions, the Blue Streak first-stage rocket was tested successfully as part of the European Launcher Development Organisation; Australia being a member of the Organisation and offering its launch facility at Woomera.

The project was cancelled in 1972, with the lack of it being a credible deterrent, and it being too susceptible to a first-strike attack, given as the reasons for the abandonment. Although the rocket itself was used as the first-stage of Europa, the European satellite launcher. This was a blow to the British military-industrial efforts, and to Australia who had its own vested interest in the programme.

The first Blue Streak test at Woomera, called Flight Number 1, was carried out on 5th June 1964. It had no second or third stage rocket, and no payload, but it was a successful flight.

As Jim Templeton found out, Blue Streak was being produced in the UK at RAF Spadeadam, a site just a few miles from Burgh Marsh. And in the Public Records Office at Kew, London, UFO researcher Jenny Randles discovered a letter, dated 29th December 1964, written by the Ministry of Defence, which refers to the “Cumberland Spaceman.” The references to it were made by the Department of Scientific and Technical Intelligence, and concerned an investigation into the matter. A further letter, dated 15th June 1964, was from a reporter, concerning enquires they were making about an aborted launch, and the film that shows a strange object hovering nearby. The Ministry of Defence replied that the investigator should contact them if he wanted to actually see the film.

However, very oddly, Jenny Randles found that in the sequence of film containers housing the Blue Streak missile launch archives, not only was one film missing, but there were no stills of it either. And the missing film was of the launches for the week beginning 23rd Mary 1964. The Government’s response to Jim’s picture was also thought to be odd as they could just as easily have dismissed it as a hoax.

A letter from Jim Templeton was published in The Daily Mail on 13th December 2002. It read as follows:

“As an amateur photographer on a day-trip with my family, I took the photograph on Burgh Marsh on May 23, 1964, using an SLR camera loaded with the new Kodacolor film which was processed by Kodak.
I took three pictures of my daughter Elizabeth in a similar pose - and was shocked when the middle picture came back from Kodak displaying what looks like a spaceman in the background.

I took the picture to the police in Carlisle who, after many doubts, examined it and stated there was nothing suspicious about it.

The local newspaper, the Cumberland News, picked up the story and within hours it was all over the world. The picture is certainly not a fake, and I am as bemused as anyone else as to how this image appeared in the background.

Over the four decades the photograph has been in the public domain, I have had many thousands of letters from all over the world with various ideas or possibilities - most of which make little sense to me. It should also be noted that I have received no payment for taking this picture.

The only suggestion that struck a chord with me was a letter from Woomera in Australia which came a month after the picture was shown around the world. The people there were keen to see a good colour copy of the photograph, as they had stopped a countdown of the Blue Streak rocket within hours of my photograph being taken. Apparently, two similar looking 'spacemen' had been seen close to the rocket.
Only later did I find out that part of the Blue Streak rocket was made and tested within sight of Burgh Marsh.

James Templeton.

There are, of course, many suggestions and oddities that have been pointed out about the photograph, with opinions both for and against it being a hoax. One that I came across was from somebody who says they knew the family well. In it they state that: “Fortunately, one of his daughters (who is well known to me), kept the original photograph and copies. I was quite shocked when I saw it. The area is a wild and windy salt marsh on the Solway Firth. In the direction the camera faces, there is nothing but mud, sea grass, and sea.” Of course there is no way of knowing if that assertion is true.

Another suggestion was that it could be a mirage of the Chapel Cross Nuclear plant across the estuary. Apparently these sometimes happen on the marsh, but the writer adds that nobody had been working in the plant wearing radiation suits that day.

Jim was a keen photographer, and it seems very unlikely that he would have taken the picture while such a figure was included in the image. It is also worth remembering that the photograph was taken before the days of the PhotoShop software program, when it would have been far more difficult to edit by including the figure of the spaceman.

Nevertheless, there are UFO believers who have dismissed it as a hoax, and there are perhaps some doubtful elements in it. So maybe it is a fraud after all. But Jim’s spaceman photograph remains unexplained. And it is strange how the only two places such similar figures were seen were on Jim’s film and at the Blue Streak test range in Australia.

Whatever the truth might be, the story has been made into documentary programmes; one by the BBC and the other by the Discovery Channel. So if they should ever be re-shown I’m sure they’d make good viewing.

Special thanks to Kithra's Krystal Kave.

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