AN EXAMINATION OF THE SILPHO DEBRIS
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.