A teacher received confusing emails ‘from the future’, sparking a ghostly time travel mystery
The sleepy Cheshire village of Dodleston, a few miles from the Welsh border, might not be the first place that comes to mind when you think of time travel, or even strange ghostly phenomena. .
But in the mid-1980s, a Cheshire economics professor named Ken Webster received a series of encrypted messages on his home computer from the BBC that appeared to have been sent by someone living during the reign of King Henry VIII.
At that time, the Internet was a tiny, almost unknown network operated by a few specialists.
The BBC Micro that Ken had been loaned by his employers had no way of connecting to the outside world and didn’t even have a hard drive, relying on small-capacity floppy disks for storage.
But the primitive machine somehow connected to an unknown entity through not just space, but through time.
When Ken left the computer on, but unattended, the messages appeared on the Micro’s floppy drive. Apparently sent by a man named Lukas who lived in the 16th century, the messages were written in an old-fashioned, but still more or less understandable, form of English.
The first of these, in a folder apparently addressed to Ken, his girlfriend Debbie and their roommate Nic, appeared in December 1984. It was a kind of poem that began: “True are the nightmares of a person who fears, are the bodies of the silent world.”
Ken was baffled by the mysterious file, but as Christmas approached he soon forgot about it and it was not until the following February that he borrowed the machine again from work.
The next post was more clearly the start of a conversation, commenting on Ken’s “strange” Modern English. The writer appears to have been a former occupant of the cottage, who considered electric lights to be something “the devil makes”.
Adding to the mystery, around the same time there were a series of paranormal events in the cottage – tin cans were found inexplicably stacked in the kitchen, unexplained chalk messages were found on the walls and Ken and his housemates occasionally heard phantom footsteps.
On one occasion, Debbie says she came home and found herself facing “a pile of furniture six feet high.”
As the strange computer conversation progressed, the mysterious presence identified himself as Lukas Wainman, who claimed to have lived in a house on the site of Meadow Cottage during Henry VIII’s marriage to Catherine Parr – although the messages are strangely inconsistent.
At one point the writer claimed they were writing in 1521, but gave King Henry VIII’s age as 46 when he would have been 29 or 30.
But Lukas explained his escape as a natural precaution, as he was afraid of being arrested for witchcraft.
Until now, Ken’s story has sounded like a computer-age ghost story. But then it got even weirder.
In one of his answers, Lukas is surprised that Ken writes in 1985: “You said you were in 1985, but I thought you were from 2109 like your friend who brought the Leems Boyste”.
The “Leems Boyste” seems to have been the device – brought by a person named only “One” that Lukas used to communicate with the future.
Later, “Lukas” revealed that he used an alias to evade witch hunters, and his real name was Tomas Harnden.
Ken’s friend Peter Trinder did some research to find Harnden, and later spoke to a BBC interviewer to insist that if the story was in fact a hoax it had nothing to do with it. with that and he couldn’t see how either Ken or Debbie could.
At some point John Bucknall and Dave Welch, investigators from the Society of Psychical Research, visited the cabin to see if they too could communicate with Lukas. Even with Ken and Debbie out of the room, some messages still got through.
A review of the events of Carol Vorderman’s Out of this World show could find no explanation for the mystery.
Peter Leigh, who runs YouTube channel Nostalgia Nerd, suspects the whole mystery may have been a hoax, which partly explains the inconsistencies in posts between past and future.
“The orchestrator of this whole campaign [seems to have become] overwhelmed with the task, leaving too many loose threads,” he says.
Peter points out how often the messages come in after Debbie has been alone with the computer. But, he told the Daily Star, years later Ken is still convinced: ‘I spoke to Ken briefly,’ he said, ‘and he is unwavering in his account of those events “.
While the BBC Micro was capable of basic networking, it seems highly unlikely to Peter that the messages were somehow transmitted from another machine: “Even if the BBC Micro was connected to the Internet,” he says, “it always implies that there is a box connected somewhere that has a connection to the past.”
Near the end of the sixteen-month phenomenon, the mysterious future presences of 2109 made an appearance, promising that Harnden was writing a book about his communication with the 1980s, and that he would “one day be found.”
Is that okay? Until then, Dodelston’s messages remain an intriguing curiosity from the early days of the computer age.