The Brentford Griffin

brentford griffin
John Baraldi, collecting witness reports

In 1985, one of the strangest tales to grip London was the alleged sightings of the legendary Brentford Griffin.

Brentford is a district in West London where one can find many references to the Griffin. The Griffin Brewery, with its griffin trademark, is located in nearby Chiswick. The Brentford Football Club plays at Griffin Park, and the coat of arms for Brentford and Chiswick consists of two griffins holding a shield.

The Griffin connection however is a vague one, only the brewery has any link pre-dating the 20th Century. To find earlier references one has to delve in to local folklore.

King Charles II gave his mistress Nell Gwyn, a resident of Brentford, a griffin as a gift. One day the unfortunate creature fell into the River Brent and was swept away into the Thames. The griffin, assumed drowned, was actually found alive on the banks of Brentford Eyot, where it continued to live undisturbed.

Many years later, Joseph Banks, a scientist who accompanied Captain Cook on his pacific voyages brought back a griffin from an exotic island. The griffin later escaped and met up with the griffin from Brentford Eyot. Soon after a whole colony of griffins were alleged to live there. Then the griffins disappear into history.

In mid-1984, Kevin Chippendale, while walking along Braemar Road, spotted a creature flying near the roof of the Green Dragon apartment building.

“He described it as resembling a dog with wings, having a long muzzle [beak?] and four legs with what looked like paws.”

He saw the thing again in February 1985, on the same street, and he realized it resembled the griffin painted on the sign over the Griffin pub.

“Mr. Chippendale then described his sightings to his colleagues, one of whom, Angela Keyhoe, said that she had seen, from a bus, a big, black, bird-like creature, perched on the top of the gasometer next to the Watermans Arts Centre. Other passengers also saw the creature.”

Chippendale’s and Keyhoe’s sightings sparked interest in the media.

“Enthusiastic reporter, Danny Baker was sent hotfoot down to Brentford to investigate these amazing claims. The creature was described as looking like a “dog with wings” wrote Ade Dimmick who visited Brentford during the sightings.

“I visited Brentford on ten occasions. As a folklorist and Fortean researcher, I just had to be there soaking up the atmosphere and chatting with locals. Some people I spoke with told of previous sightings over the years. Nearly all believed that the griffin once existed.”

When discussing the Brentford Griffin, two important factors must be taken in to consideration, the involvement of Robert Rankin and Andrew Collins.

Rankin is the author of a number of fiction novels based upon events and happenings in the Brentford area. In the Spring of 1985, Robert attached himself to the Brentford Griffin and its attendant publicity. In an interview ten years later Rankin said: “I didn’t think for a minute that there was a griffin on the island in Brentford, but I thought it was a fine idea and did my best to help it along.” According to Rankin, “When the TV crew came down, they brought people with them who didn’t live in Brentford. They stood there and talked about the griffin they’d seen. It was priceless!” The locals, too, came up with griffin sightings – when the cameras were pointed their way.”

The griffin sightings coincided with a UFO conference that Rankin was organising at the time.

Robert also wrote and performed at a local school a play about the griffin “The Golden Griffin”. It is also alleged that Rankin first informed the press about the sightings.

Andrew Collins, initially sceptical, interviewed Kevin Chippendale and came to believe in some of the reports. Collins wrote a booklet entitled “The Brentford Griffin: The Truth Behind the Tales.” (Wickford: Earthquest Books, 1985) This is still the only comprehensive report of the 1985 Brentford Griffin affair. The booklet examines the eyewitness accounts, media coverage, as well as cataloguing events in an attempt to put the sightings in to a perspective.

In an interview ten years later Rankin said of the booklet, “Nearly every sentence in his pamphlet is totally inaccurate — people, locations, times all wrong.”

Collins’ retort in a letter to the Fortean Times writes: “The information and data used in the text was obtained directly from the people concerned and everything was carefully checked before publication” Also: “Rankin had no problems with The Brentford Griffin at the time, so his flippant, dismissive attitude 10 years later is difficult to understand.”

There are no definite explanations or answers to the strange events of the Spring of 1985, but we cannot discount that at least part of the answer lies with Robert Rankin. Andrew Collins’ explanation for the griffin is little more interesting, “I invoked a ‘cosmic joker’ turning myth into reality” which [or who] had “simply re-activated an archetype that had been in Brentford’s popular consciousness (such as Fuller’s Griffin brewery, the Griffin pub and the Griffin football ground) for centuries.”

Maybe one day the whole truth will be revealed?

References:
The Brentford Griffin by Ade Dimmick from “Silver Arrow” July 1997

Mystery Animals of Britain and Ireland, Graham J McEwan pp 153-154

To Brentford and Back by S.Coolie from Fortean Times #80

The Brentford Griffin [letter] from Andrew Collins Fortean Times #81
Tags: brentford griffin, cryptozoology