Dubbed ‘Britain’s answer to Roswell’, the Pennines-based market town of Todmorden has become both the spiritual home and physical meeting place for Britain’s ‘ufoists’. Drawn in by Todmorden’s well-above-average incidences of reported UFO sightings and unexplained events that many chalk up to meddlings from extraterrestrial life, these enthusiasts find much to pore over in the West Yorkshire spot.
There’s Todmorden’s ominous standing stones, and its innumerable local folklore tales, ranging from reports of an infestation of vampires at Robin Hood’s grave, which lays near Brighouse in Todmorden; to the 16th century Todmorden Priest whose side hustle was ghostbusting. In more gruesome, explainable and recent news, Todmorden was also where Harold Shipman took up his first GP position.
Todmorden’s most famous story, however, came about in 1980 thanks to policeman Alan Godfrey. The longtime resident of Todmorden was investigating the mysterious death of Zigmund Adamski, a 56-year-old miner.
Adamski’s body had been found resting on a ten-foot-high pile of coal in a Todmorden yard, with no visible injuries except for a mark – perhaps a burn – on the back of his neck and head. The coroner’s report cited a heart attack as the cause of death, but recorded an open verdict, later describing it as “quite the most mysterious death I have investigated in 12 years as a coroner”.
While strange in itself, that’s nothing compared to what is claimed to have happened to Godfrey just six months later. When out investigating reports of cattle roaming round an estate, he is said to have seen a large dome-shaped object that blinded him with a flash of light. The next thing he knew, he was coming to his senses 100 yards away – 25 minutes later, with no idea what had happened during those ‘lost’ minutes. Echoing the blemish found on Adamski’s body, Godfrey realised his left boot was split and he had an itchy red mark, like a burn, on his foot. He reckoned he’d been abducted by aliens.
While this story has been told and retold countless times over the years, it’s rarely been told visually – until now. A new book from photographer Rik Moran, titled Chance Encounters in the Valley of Lights, tells Godfrey’s as yet unsolved story through original photographic imagery shot around Todmorden and never-before-seen archival material including Ministry of Defence letters, archive photographs, newspaper clippings, hypnosis transcripts, Adamski’s death certificate, hand-drawn maps and more.
Now based in New York, Moran grew up just a few miles from Todmorden, and first read about Godfrey’s claims of extraterrestrial fraternisation in his father’s newspaper. Alongside his work as a photographer shooting for the likes of the Guardian and Port magazine, Moran heads up his eponymous graphic design and art direction studio, working across branding, brand campaigns, music videos, record sleeve design and more.
As well as taking the images for the book, Moran also designed it; though the cover design was created by Patrick Fry Studio, whose founder helms the book’s publisher, Centre Centre. The simple page layouts and caption-less images work beautifully to create a sense of non-linear time throughout the book, uniting the present-day quotidian reality of otherwise-unremarkable Todmorden with its eerie undercurrents and extraordinary history. Likewise, the cover design is both smartly subtle and eye-catching, using sci-fi-esque type for the title in a bewitching colour gradient over a deliciously grainy image of Todmorden’s beautiful, but ever-uncanny rolling hills.
Chance Encounters in the Valley of Lights by Rik Moran is published by Centre Centre; centrecentre.co.uk