Phantom Cannons of Hull

by MJ Wayland

While researching unrelated books and articles, I often uncovered strange articles or incidents buried within old literature. During one of many visits to the Bradford Central Library I came across the following passage in the “Yorkshire Folklore Journal Vol.1”.

Charles Fort wrote about the “Guns of Barisal” – a series of phantom sounds during the 1890s that were thought to be cannon fire, strangely the piece I found discusses a similar incident in 1658 – the Phantom Cannons of Hull.

The article was originally found in “Chamber’s Papers for the People”, a chapter “relating to Yorkshire”.

“The true relation of a strange and very wonderful thing that was heard in the air October 12th, 1658, by hundreds of people:

Now I come to relate the matter, the which was thus:

Upon the 12th day of October, in the afternoon, there was heard by some hundreds of people in Holderness, Hedon, and about Hull, and several other places in Yorkshire first, three great pieces of ordnance or cannons discharged in the air one after another, very terrible to hear, and afterwards immediately followed a peal of muskets. This shooting off of muskets continued about an half-quarter of an hour, drums beating all the while in the manner just as if two armies had been engaged. Such as heard the aforesaid cannons, muskets, and drums, do report that the sound was from the north-east quarter, and, to their thinking not far from the place where they stood.

Two men being together about six miles from Hull in Holderness, near Humber-side, supposed it was directly over Hull; whereupon one said to the other, “It being the sheriff’s riding-day at Hull, this peal of muskets must be there; and see (quoth he) how the smoke riseth !” Now the reason why he mentioned the smoke was, because no sooner was this noise finished over Hull, but (as it happeneth after the discharge of guns) there arose a very great smoke or thick mist round about the town, although immediately before (the day being very clear day, and the sun shining all the while bright) he saw the town very perfectly.

One thing more was observed by him who saw the smoke over Hull; that all the while this prodigious noise continued (which was as he supposed, about the eighth part of an hour), the face of the sky (as in the eclipse of the sun) waxed very dim; yea, such tremble and quake under him.

A certain gentleman, who had been some time a major in the war, as he was riding with a friend between the towns of Patterington and Ottringham, was so persuaded that some encounter by soldiers was on the other side of a small hill where they were riding, as that they could not but mount the hill to try the truth, so plainly did the drums beat and the muskets go off, and, to their thinking, so near them, as either it must be a sign from heaven or a real battle hard by.

The country people were struck with such strange wonder and deep terror, that they gave over their labour, and ran home with fear; yea, some poor people gathering coals by the seaside were so frightened that they ran away leaving their sacks behind them. In conclusion: for the space of forty miles this fearful noise of cannons, muskets, and drums was heard all the country over.”

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