Without out a doubt, in the following account the three 15-year-old British teens experienced a classic Back to the Past TWIDDER. (Original post at http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/history/2011/07/when-three-british-boys-traveled-to-medieval-england/.)
Looking back, the really strange thing was the silence. The way the church bells stopped ringing as the little group of naval cadets neared the village. The way even the ducks stood quiet and motionless by the shallow stream that ran across the road where the main street began.
And, when the boys thought about it afterward, they recalled that even the autumn birdsong faded as they neared the first houses. The wind had dropped to nothing, too.
Not a leaf stirred on the trees they passed. And the trees appeared to cast no shadows.
The street itself was quite deserted—not so odd, perhaps, for a Sunday morning in 1957, especially in the rural heart of England. But even the remotest British hamlets displayed some signs of modernity by then—cars parked by the roadside, phone wires strung along the roads, aerials on roofs—and there was nothing of that sort in this village. In fact, the houses on the high street all looked ancient; they were ragged, hand-built, timber-framed: “almost medieval in appearance,” one boy thought.
The three, all Royal Navy cadets, walked up to the nearest building and pressed their faces to its grimy windows. They could see that it was some sort of butcher’s shop, but what they glimpsed in the interior was even more unsettling. As one of them recalled for the author Andrew MacKenzie:
There were no tables or counters, just two or three whole oxen carcasses which had been skinned and in places were quite green with age. There was a green-painted door and windows with smallish glass panes, one at the front and one at the side, rather dirty-looking. I remember that as we three looked through that window in disbelief at the green and mouldy green carcasses… the general feeling certainly was one of disbelief and unreality… Who would believe that in 1957 that the health authorities would allow such conditions?
They peered into another house. It, too, had greenish, smeary windows. And it, too, appeared uninhabited. The walls had been crudely whitewashed, but the rooms were empty; the boys could see no possessions, no furniture, and they thought the rooms themselves appeared to be “not of modern day quality.” Spooked now, the cadets turned back and hurried out of the strange village. The track climbed a small hill, and they did not turn back until they had reached the top. Then, one of the three remembered, “suddenly we could hear the bells once more and saw the smoke rising from chimneys, [though] none of the chimneys was smoking when we were in the village… We ran for a few hundred yards as if to shake off the weird feeling.” [MacKenzie pp.6-9]
What happened to those three boys on that October morning more than 50 years ago remains something of a mystery. They were taking part in a map-reading exercise that ought to have been straightforward; the idea was to navigate their way across four or five miles of countryside to a designated point, then return to base and report what they had seen—which, if all went to plan, should have been the picturesque Suffolk village of Kersey. But the more they thought about it, the more the cadets wondered whether something very strange had occurred to them. Years later, William Laing, the Scottish boy who led the group, put it this way: “It was a ghost village, so to speak. It was almost as if we had walked back in time… I experienced an overwhelming feeling of sadness and depression in Kersey, but also a feeling of unfriendliness and unseen watchers which sent shivers up one’s back… I wondered if we’d knocked at a door to ask a question who might have answered it? It doesn’t bear thinking about.”
Laing, who came from Perthshire in the Highlands of Scotland, was a stranger to this part of the east of England. So were his friends Michael Crowley (from Worcestershire) and Ray Baker (a Cockney). That was the point. All three were 15 years old, and had only recently signed up to join the Royal Navy. That made it easy for the petty officers in charge of their training to confirm that they had reached the village they were supposed to find just by checking their descriptions. As it was, their superiors, Laing recalled, were “rather skeptical” when they told them of their odd experience, but they “laughed it off and agreed that we’d seen Kersey all right.”