Art: Nigel Lowrey
The city of Birmingham is famous throughout the world for its rich industrial heritage, its vast canal network and its large population of supernatural creatures. The following is a brief overview of some of its more popular and enduring myths:
People from Birmingham often call themselves “Brummies”, a word etymologists claim can be traced back to the ancient Midlands art of preserving dead bodies known as “Brummification”. The origin of the word “etymologist,” however, still remains shrouded in mystery.
The original Brummies were dead local aristocrats whose bodies were painstakingly preserved using bandages, motor oil and a secret recipe containing 11 herbs and spices. This, of course, was something only the super-rich could afford due to their innate ability to keep up with monthly repayments over several thousand years.
The practice was introduced to Birmingham by Ancient Egyptian undertakers at a time when the city still had strong commercial links with the Ptolemaic dynasty. Writing in the 1st century AD, the Roman historian Tacitus described a large British settlement “some CXII miles north of Londinium, so long as you leave the M XLII at Junction VIII.” He scornfully referred to it as “The Pyramidlands”, although reluctantly acknowledged that the area “had more camels than Venice.”
Birmingham’s links with ancient Egypt remain visible to this day. Many public spaces still feature ornate statues of sphinxes, obelisks and dog-headed industrialists. The area now known as the Balti Triangle, for instance, once had a third dimension and formed a massive pyramid. In Victorian times, the construction of the city’s famous canal network was only made possible thanks to a generous donation of water by the River Nile.
It was during the Victorian era that ancient Brummie remains first became a regular feature at local museums. Unfortunately, many of these exhibition pieces were accidentally brought back to life by clumsy trainee curators out to impress their bosses. These bandage-wrapped fat-cats would inevitably embark on a violent campaign of destruction, often fuelled by rage, sour grapes and a frustrated sense of entitlement. “I’m no snob, but these days just about anyone can call themselves a Brummie,” said one embittered 19th century Tutan-ka-Hooligan who preferred to remain bandaged.
Its worth remembering, of course, that the 1867 Municipal Titles Act famously abolished the archaic property restrictions that prevented ordinary Birmingham folk from calling themselves ‘Brummies’. Sadly – due to the institutionalised misogyny of the patriarchal ruling elite – the legislation forgot to include women. This situation was only partially alleviated by the 1918 repeal of the Institutionalised Misogyny Act.
A detailed account of a more contemporary resurrection rampage appears in Sarcopha Guy (Rameses House, 2004), the autobiography of revived Brummie bad-boy Ozzy Mandias. Unfortunately, the book has yet to be translated from its original hieroglyphics.
“Boss” TinDuring the 1970s, Birmingham’s motor industry was thrown into disarray by the sudden influx of new car workers who never took a sick day, agreed to double shifts without grumbling and rarely mixed with colleagues in the staff canteen. They were the first wave of assembly-line “robots”, and their arrival gave rise to industrial unrest, crippling strike action and – as is so often the case – elaborate urban myths about mechanical mobsters.
The most famous of these so-called MoBots was known only as “Boss” Tin. Short, stocky and pathologically violent, he was notorious throughout the city for his unbridled ambition, ruthless opportunism and expensive taste in tin-foil Hawaiian shirts. From his modest beginnings as a small-time re-bootlegger, he single-handedly built a vast empire of nightclubs, speakeasies and counterfeit Tandy stores. These were often financed by the proceeds of protection rackets that targeted the city’s beleaguered community of drinks dispensers, pinball machines and Casio digital watches.
“Boss” Tin’s reign of terror finally came to an oil-soaked end in 1982 following a botched attempt at kidnapping seven welding robots from the Mini Metro assembly line at Longbridge. After leaving an adult theatre in the early hours of the morning with Tin-Pan Alison, a tawdry strip-teasmade, he was ambushed by the militant mechanized union leader “Red Robo” and his treacherous Underboss, Al Machino (AKA “Carface”). They shut him down in cold blood on Birmingham’s Victoria Square by forcibly removing his batteries and holding a magnet to his tape spools.
A statue depicting a crude metal figure now marks the spot where he died.
The Abominable Snow Hill ManThe Abominable Snow Hill Man is a legendary creature that belongs to the same cryptozoological family as the Himalayan Yeti, the North American Big Foot and the Belgian Smurf.
Descriptions of the creature are notoriously inconsistent. One early witness spoke of “a giant, fur-covered ape with manic eyes […] wearing nothing but a top hat and a lobster bib”. Another described “a giant, manic bib with ape eyes […] wearing nothing but a top hat and a fur-covered lobster.” A third compared it unfavourably to the American film actor Nick Nolte.
The first reported sighting of the Abominable Snow Hill Man was in 1912, in the part of Birmingham where Snow Hill Railway Station now stands (at the time, of course, it was a popular skiing resort). During the qualifying rounds of a regional competition, the notorious Edwardian mystic, occultist and downhill slalom champion B.L. “The Eagle” Beelzebub caught a glimpse of the beast whilst negotiating tricky set of gates. His attempt at opening a dialogue proved unsuccessful, however, due to the fact he forgot to stop skiing first.
The Abominable Snow Hill Man was recently in the news following its surprise marriage to the Big Foot’s estranged sister, Muriel. This has led to a bitter and highly-publicised cryptozoological family feud.
Wump-TayThe Wump-Tay (pronounced ‘wump-tay’) is a large, ectoplasmic spirit-form with shapeshifting powers that enable it to take the form of any object it desires, so long as it’s a noun. It can grow to the size of a double-decker bus and usually assumes the style, shape and mannerisms of a double-decker bus.
A notoriously mischievous spirit, the Wump-Tay will often lie in wait at bus stops preying on rush-hour commuters and other gullible types. Typically, a would-be passenger will glimpse the diabolical double-decker parked some distance ahead and make a frantic dash for it. The creature will watch the hapless victim approach, and – at the very last moment – slam its doors shut in the poor schmuck’s face and drive off at great speed, often without signaling.
A similar tactic occurs late at night. Shrouded in mist, the Wump-Tay will slowly and seductively approach a desperate-looking soul waiting for the last bus home. As the victim clumsily fumbles for the right change, the mist will clear – revealing an ominous text scrawled on the Wump-Tay’s destination blind: “Sorry – Not in Service”.
For a number of years the Wump-Tay was absent from Birmingham’s streets after the local council sold it for an undisclosed fee to the Toho Film Company of Japan. It went on to star in several popular “monster movies” of the period including Godzilla vs. Wumpt-Tay the Ghost Bus (1973) and Destroy All Buses! (1974). The Wump-Tay eventually returned to the West Midlands after being fired from the set of 1977s Mecha-Bus vs. Omni-Bus ’77 (1977) for allegedly “slamming its doors shut in the face of a studio head”.
The origin of the Wump-Tay remains a mystery. One popular legend claims it was the vengeful ghost of a classic 1965 Daimler Fleetline double-decker whose life was, quite literally, cut short following a surprise altercation with a low-bridge.
The WrekinThe Wrekin is Birmingham’s legendary 200 foot tall sea-monster. Her origins can be traced all the way back to days when the city had a thriving coastline
The Wrekin has often been compared to the famous Scandinavian sea-monster known as the Kraken, despite the fact that Scandinavian sea-monsters are notoriously egotistical and like to think of themselves as unique. Both creatures, though, share many similar attributes, including one giant eye, eight massive tentacles and three of the same consonants. However, while the Kraken has commonly been described as resembling “a giant, ill-mannered squid”, the Wrekin is said to bear a closer similarity to “an immense serving of fried calamari.” This is due, in no small part, to her distinctive outer coating of crispy batter.
For many years, the Wrekin was believed to live in Birmingham’s Edgbaston Reservoir. Would-be monster-spotters from as far afield as the United States, Japan and parts of Dudley would flock to this man-made lake hoping to catch a glimpse of this famous creature and possibly validate their meaningless lives. This later turned out to be an elaborate hoax concocted by a cynical employee of the nearby Tower Ballroom, which – at the time – relied heavily on foreign monster-spotters for business.
Though known primarily as a sea-monster, the Wrekin is actually an amphibious creature who’s not averse to the occasional stroll on dry land. Unfortunately, like many other all-terrain leviathans, she suffers from an acute strain of narcolepsy. This has earned her the enmity of the region’s motorists as these “impromptu power-naps” invariably take place during mid-morning rush hour at inconvenient locations such as major motorway junctions or busy interchanges.
As a result, motorists are forced to drive, quite literally, “around The Wrekin.”
Due to space constraints this article has focused mainly on creatures from the Birmingham area. For an in-depth analysis of supernatural creatures from areas surrounding Birmingham, we strongly recommend Professor Zeppo Connery’s classic text Black Country Beasts (Aynuk & Ayli Press, 1991) which features frank and revealing interviews with Yampires, West Brombies and even Werewolverhamptons.