Fortean Times - - Blasts From The Past -

In 1963, CC Stevens, a ufol­o­gist from Es­sex, pre­sented five spec­i­mens from the ‘Silpho Moor Ob­ject’ to the Sci­ence Mu­seum in Lon­don for sci­en­tific ex­am­i­na­tion. A de­tailed list of tech­ni­cal ques­tions “it would be in­ter­est­ing to have an­swered” was at­tached to his cov­er­ing let­ter. The spec­i­mens were en­closed in a pack­age, loosely hid­den in­side flimsy pa­per en­velopes. To­day these are la­belled A-E, with ac­com­pa­ny­ing cap­tions, as fol­lows:

A - ‘Cop­per Slice’, a sec­tion of the outer cas­ing from the Silpho Ob­ject; “ex­ter­nal sur­face lam­i­nated and whitened, in­ner sur­face work-marked”. Stevens claimed the outer sur­face, un­der the white paint, was “cu­ri­ous”.

B – A 4in (10cm) cop­per tube, about 4.76mm in thick­ness, “this was wound he­li­cally round the rolled ‘book­let’ that con­tained 17 thin cop­per sheets, sim­i­lar to foil”.

C – A tiny sam­ple of cop­per foil from the ‘book­let’, just 1.3cm x 0.5cm in size: “if de­sired it might be pos­si­ble to ob­tain more, or all, of the book­let cum mes­sage”.

D – Piece of dark car­bon-like fused ma­te­rial from in­side the Silpho ob­ject: “The ob­long cut was made by an­other ex­am­iner [and] the ‘hatched’ mark­ings ap­pear to re­sem­ble the work-marks on the in­ner sur­face of [the sam­ple] A”.

E – A sam­ple of the “bond­ing ma­te­rial” found in­side the two sec­tions of the ob­ject when it was opened in Scar­bor­ough.

The pack­age was opened by Mu­seum’s Keeper of Pub­lic Re­la­tions, avi­a­tion his­to­rian and poly­math Charles H Gibbs-Smith. He had an un­con­ven­tional hobby – UFOs – and was a con­sul­tant for Fly­ing Saucer Re­view. In 1959 he recorded a short pro­gramme for BBC Ra­dio 4 where he de­fended the study of UFOs and other fringe sub­jects against scep­ti­cal sci­en­tists. This may ex­plain why Stevens de­cided to send the spec­i­mens to him.

Gibbs-Smith passed the de­bris to a col­league at the Nat­u­ral His­tory Mu­seum’s Depart­ment of Min­er­al­ogy. For­mer wartime SOE agent Gor­don Frank Clar­ing­bull (19111990) was an ex­pert on ex­plo­sives and had ex­am­ined al­leged me­te­orite sam­ples that had been donated to the mu­seum. Clar­ing­bull scru­ti­nised the de­bris and showed it to oth­ers at the mu­seum com­plex in South Kens­ing­ton. One piece of fused metal from in­side the ob­ject (la­belled ‘D’), could not be iden­ti­fied but ap­peared to be an amal­gam of metal and plas­tic, pos­si­bly poly­styrene. Clar­ing­bull con­cluded “there ap­pears to be noth­ing un­usual” about any of them, adding: “I am pre­pared to wa­ger any­thing that they are ter­res­trial.” Re­turn­ing the pack­age to Gibbs-Smith, he sug­gested “the most likely peo­ple to iden­tify them are your friends” at the Royal Air­craft Es­tab­lish­ment at Farn­bor­ough.

There is no ev­i­dence in the Sci­ence Mu­seum Group archives that Gibbs-Smith sent the de­bris for fur­ther in­ves­ti­ga­tion af­ter Clar­ing­bull’s re­port landed on his desk. In re­sponse, he wrote: “It is rather what I ex­pected, and there­fore my sus­pi­cions of the ‘col­lec­tors’ will re­main.” Re­spond­ing to Stevens af­ter a lengthy de­lay in 1965, Gibbs-Smith of­fered to “have them [the spec­i­mens] done up care­fully in a box” and posted back to Es­sex. For­tu­nately for us, it seems Stevens never asked for them back. Noth­ing more was heard from the mys­te­ri­ous Es­sex col­lec­tor.

The five pieces of de­bris, in their pa­per wrap­pings, were placed in­side a tin cig­a­rette box be­neath a hand-writ­ten Vic­to­ria and Al­bert Mu­seum la­bel: “al­leged UFO bits”. Af­ter Gibbs-Smith’s death in 1981 the box, along with a col­lec­tion of his pa­pers on UFOs, was donated to the Sci­ence Mu­seum. There the pack­age re­mained for 50 years, un­til I opened the box and found the re­mains of the Silpho Saucer.

ABOVE: The con­tents of the tin cig­a­rette box – five spec­i­mens from the ‘Silpho Moor Ob­ject’. BE­LOW: Or ‘al­leged UFO bits’ as the V&A la­bel has it.

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