Haunted Devon: Postbridge and the Hairy Hands
I lived in Devon for three years while in junior school and I remember telling and being told gory tales of the Hairy Hands. It wasn’t until I started doing serious paranormal research did I come to realise that the stories we told as kids had some basis in proper accounts. Here is a condensed version of the tales of the Hairy Hands…
The first reports seem to come from 1910 and were focused around the road now known as the B3212 running from Postbridge to Two Bridges across a part of Dartmoor. They were vague stories of disembodied hands grabbing at car steering wheels or bike handlebars and trying to cause accidents with their preternatural strength.
In 1921, a medical officer from Dartmoor Prison, Dr EH Helby lost control of his motorcycle on the road, being thrown from the bike and breaking his neck. His two children were in the sidecar and survived. In August that year, a British Army captain also was thrown off his bike but luckily survived. He gave a statement to say that something drove him off the road, a pair of large, muscular hands which grabbed the handlebars. They were too strong for him and he was thrown off the bike.
In 1924 Theo Brown was the victim of another hands attack. She was a famous Devonshire folklorist who was staying in a caravan only half a mile from the locations of the previous attacks. She was in the caravan one evening and became aware of something ‘menacing’ and looked up to see the fingers and the palm of a large hairy hand reaching towards an open window. She sensed ill-intent and began praying. The hand retreated and Theo saw no more of it during her stay.
Further incidents were reported to Michael Williams and detailed in his Supernatural Dartmoor book. He was driving near Postbridge when the hands gripped the steering wheel and he fought it for control. He managed to avoid a crash and the hands vanished.
A report from 1961 given to Theo Brown by a Mrs Battiscombe also told of a young man who had tried to ride him motorbike to Postbridge and had returned shaken. He had struggled with two hairy hands which had tried to force him off the road.
Florence Warwick was holidaying in the area on the 1960s and was driving along the B3212 when she pulled over to read her guide map and found the car would not start again. She had the sense of being watched and realised a huge pair of hands were resting on the windscreen. They began to crawl across the window and Florence was frozen with fear. She finally found her voice, cried out and the hands disappeared. She continued to Torbay where she had friends, at best speed.
As recently as 2008 there have been fresh reports of the Hairy Hands. Michael Anthony recounted his story to author Nick Redfern about a return trip home to Bristol. It was around 11pm and he had been to Postbridge in connection with his job supplying photocopier equipment. As he left the village, a strange feeling came over him, a sense of dread. His hands became numb and he feared he was having a stroke. But the cause was external to Michael. Disembodied hands abruptly appeared and attempted to force him to drive off the road. He fought them with all his strength and, as the lights of a passing car illuminated the hands, they vanished as sharply as they had appeared. Michael continued on his trip, shaken and but alive. He did remark on the smell of sulphur which filled the car as the hands vanished.
Theories as to what the hands are and where they came from are plenty. One of the more popular comes from the 1800s when the area had a number of powder mills used to make gunpowder for use in local quarries. Workers used rope-soled shoes instead of the normal steel studded ones for fear of the sparks that could ignite the powder.
Among the workers was a local blacksmith, a well-respected and liked chap who was described as a big man with hairy hands. One night after a few drinks, he called at the mill but forgot he was wearing steel studded boots. The explosion was heard for miles around and the only thing that was found of the blacksmith was his disembodied hands, which roam the moors still, searching for the rest of his body.
Though why this would lead a good-natured man killed in an accident to try and murder drivers on the road is a mystery and perhaps makes the story a bad fit by way of an explanation. Another potential explanation is that the hands are some type of goblin or gremlin, creatures often blamed for interfering with machinery during World War II such as planes. Perhaps the hands are something akin to the will o’the wisp, an eerie light that lured travellers off the road and caused them hurt or even killed them.
Quoting the sulphur smell reported by some witnesses, other researchers have theorised that the hairy hands are some type of demonic manifestation. This would tie in with Theo Brown’s use of prayer to avoid their attention. Or maybe they are just a ghostly manifestation from someone who has died along the road at some time in the past and now seeks revenge against others.
Whatever the origin, it makes a great story to tell each other on a dark and lonely night camped out on the moors. As long as you seal the tent up first…