British Crop Circles: Their Mystery and History

Heart-shaped crop circle appeared in Wiltshire in 2000.  Source
Could the above photo be a love note to us from aliens? Whatever you think of crop circles, signs of love are always appreciated – especially around Valentine’s Day.

Crop circles, those designs that appear in fields overnight, have fascinated us for years. While some people are convinced they are supernaturally constructed, others claim they are all manmade hoaxes.

These curious formations began to make the news in the 1970s, when quite a few of them started springing up in the fields of southwest England. This is the land of Stonehenge and other mysterious ancient formations. It’s also a place where many claim to have seen UFOs or strange balls of light in the sky.

Crop Circle in Wiltshire 2019. Photo © Nick Bull. Source

When they first began to show up in the news, the designs were simple circles which would appear overnight in a field. Inside the circles the plants were bent flat to the ground with all the stalks pointing in the same direction. Everyone agreed that they looked very mysterious and wondered where they came from.

Scientists

As each new crop circle was reported, people flocked to the Wiltshire countryside to see them. Scientists came to try and find the cause of the strange formations. They had a couple of theories: The circles could be formed by small whirlwinds, or possibly by some magnetic field running under the earth’s surface.

Believers

Meanwhile others, whom we’ll call “believers,” were sure they were supernatural. They wanted to try and understand their meaning and to feel the power said to be within them. They formed their theories as well: The simple circles could be where a UFO had landed. The more complicated designs could be messages from a higher intelligence – possibly aliens, or maybe other spiritual beings.

900 foot long crop circle made up of 151 individual circles appeared near Stonehenge in 1996. Source

Hoaxers

The mystery seemed to be resolved in 1991 when two men came forward to claim that it was all a hoax which they had been perpetrating since 1978. They met with reporters to tell their story and explain how they had done it.

Doug Bower and Dave Chorley were friends who often met for a pint and a chat. One evening Chorley recalled a story he had heard when he was in Australia: In the 1960s a flattened circle had been discovered in a reed bed and the locals were sure it had been made by a landing flying saucer.

As the two men gazed out over a wheat field, they thought it might be fun to make a circle in England and see if people would attribute it to a UFO as well. They had a laugh and began planning. In the middle of the night, they took a long metal pole out into a local field and knocked down the stalks into a nice neat circle. But no one noticed. So they made a few more, but still, their circles got no attention for two years.

Crop circles with swallows – Wiltshire 2008. Source

Bower and Chorley decided their locations were the problem. So they made an eighty-foot-wide circle where it could be seen from an elevated spot that was popular with tourists. The next day, their circle was national news. The press showed up to take photos and conduct interviews, scientists came to investigate, and the believers came to marvel at the mystery.

The two men got a kick out of all the attention, especially reading that the crop circle might have been made by a “higher intelligence.” So they made more. And just to be sure they weren’t wasting their time making circles no one would see, they introduced themselves to some of the investigators as nature enthusiasts who knew the area well and volunteered to notify them if they spotted any new formations.

Wiltshire 2001 – Image source

In 1991 Bower and Chorley called it quits and came clean to the papers. They demonstrated how they had made the crop circles by using a simple board with a rope tied to each end to walk out the designs. As further proof, they revealed drawings of all their designs. They claimed to have made all the circles in the area between 1978-1987 and more than 200 during their crop circle making years (1978-1991).

Earlier Crop Circles

The confession seemed to settle the crop circles question. It had all been a big hoax. The designs had simply been made by pranksters going out into the fields under the cover of darkness and flattening crops… Or had it?

As soon as the story appeared in the newspapers, local people began to write in saying they had seen circles in the crops long before 1978 when the two men had begun their little joke. Their parents and grandparents had talked of them too.

It was just that there was no media attention then, and to some of the farmers, it was just a part of farming. Some said their parents had explained the circles as being the result of small whirlwinds.

So, while many circles were definitely manmade and had been explained by the pranksters, it seems that there were others which weren’t.

Are crop circles the work of the Devil? That’s where this 17th century pamphlet puts the blame. See the full document here: Mowing Devil

The Devil Did It

The earliest published record of what might be considered a crop circle is a seventeenth-century pamphlet blaming the Devil. It tells of a farmer who had a field of oats that needed cutting. He was bargaining with a poor mower, but when the mower asked too much, the farmer declared, “I’d rather have the Devil mow it than you.”

That night the field looked to be in flames and was witnessed by many. When the farmer went out the next morning, he expected his crop to be burned. But instead, his oats were so neatly mown that it couldn’t have been done by a human. It was as if the Devil wanted to show off.

They weren’t cut in the usual way, the Devil had “cut them in round circles, and plac’t every straw with that exactness that it would have taken up above an age for any man to perform what he did that one night.” And they were so mysteriously cut that the farmer was afraid to move them… Could this be the seventeenth-century explanation of a crop circle?

Wheat stalks laying down inside a crop circle in a circular pattern. Source

Farmers

While scientists and believers love crop circles and can’t wait to see the next one, some farmers are getting downright angry. As the designs get larger and larger, more of their crops are being destroyed: first within the design of the crop circles, then by those who tramp through the fields to see them.

Certain landowners are demanding that crop circle makers and tourists stop trespassing on their land and destroying their property. But other farmers have decided to go with the flow and cash in on the crop circle craze: They’ve begun to charge an entrance fee to see the designs which appear on their property.

So, whether you are a scientist, a believer, or just curious, if you go to the countryside this summer in search of crop circles, please be respectful of the farmers who are trying to make a living with these crops.

You can visit the Crop Circle Exhibition & Information Centre at Honeystreet Mill Cafe, Honeystreet, PEWSEY, Wiltshire, SN9 5PS. They should have details about which farmers have given permission for access and sometimes you can make a donation at the centre to the ones you visit.

Have you ever seen a crop circle? What do you think about them?


Even though the heart-shaped crop circle at the top isn’t quite a valentine, I’d like to wish you all a Happy Valentine’s Day! If you would like to read about Valentine’s Day have a look at these two articles:

Vinegar Valentines – Instead of the sweet cards we send today, the Victorians sent cards that left a very sour taste in the mouth.

History of Valentine’s Day – Who was Saint Valentine, and why is February 14 so special? Let’s find out…

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2 comments

  1. Thank you Margo, really interesting. I really don’t know what to make of the ‘mystery’. When those ‘pranksters’ came clean I was prepared to believe that there were lots of people just like them with time on their hands – at night. I had no idea the history went back to the 17th century. Then I looked at one of the websites and some of the designs are so complex, I can’t believe supernatural powers would be bothered or humans capable !! So, it’s the Devil I guess !!! I’ve never seen a crop circle live, only photos [but surely they can’t be photo-shopped?]

    1. Haha! Must be the Devil! However they are made, they are really intriguing. I did see one once. I hadn’t planned it, we were just in the right place at the right time. We went to Avebury and when we bought our ticket, the lady said that someone had reported that there was a new crop circle there. So we got to see it. We were on a small hill, so it wasn’t as dramatic as the view from the air would have been – but still very interesting.

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