Did A Computer Really Communicate With A 16th Century Farmer? | ‘The Dodleston Messages’ Explained

Did a computer from the 1980s really communicate with a farmer in the 16th century? ‘The Dodleston Messages’ is a phenomenon dating back to the mid-eighties in which a household in the quiet British village of Dodleston, Cheshire allegedly received messages on their computer from a farmer in the 16th century.

This seemingly paranormal event has been documented by Ken Webster, one of the occupants of the household at the time, and have been covered in his book ‘The Vertical Plane’ as well as in a 1996 episode of ‘Out of This World’ and the YouTube channel Nostalgia Nerd. But what exactly are ‘The Dodleston Messages’, and how much truth is there to them?

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THE DODLESTON MESSAGES EXPLAINED

It was 1984 and Ken Webster, along with his girlfriend Debbie and their lodger Nic, went out to visit a friend for a couple of hours one evening. Upon their return, Webster decided to check the upstairs BBC Micro computer, which had been left on, to have a nosey at the work Nic was doing. To his surprise upon opening the Edword word processor, he found the following message:

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Ken, Deb, Nic
True are the nightmares of a person that fears.
Safe are the bodies of the silent world.
Turn pretty flower, turn towards the sun for you shall grow and sow.
But the flower reaches too high and withers in the burning light.
Get out your bricks —
Pussy Cat, Pussy Cat went to London to seek fame and fortune.
Faith must not be lost for this shall be your redeemer.

A chilling poem for sure, and one that couldn’t be explained by the three residents at the time. The computer, a BBC Micro, had been borrowed from the school where Ken worked as a teacher. 

Not long after receiving this message, the computer was returned and another wasn’t borrowed until February 1985. It was here that, again, another message was received after an evening where the computer was left turned on. This time, it had a completely different tone and grammar style. The message in the file read as follows:

I wryte on behalf of many. Wot strange wordes thou speake, although, I muste confess that I hath also been ill schooled. Some thymes methinks alterations are somewot barful, for they breake mane a sleep in myne bed.

Thou art goodly man who hath fanciful woman who dwel in myne home, I hath no want to affrey, for onlie syth myne half wyted antic has ripped attwain myne bound hath I beene wrethed a nyte. 

I hath seene manye alterations lasty charge house and thou home, tis a fitting place, with lytes whiche devil maketh, and costly thynges, that onlie myne friend, Edmund Grey can affore, or the king himselve. Twas a greate cryme to hath bribed myne house. – LW

It was by now that Webster and his friends realised something really strange was happening. Who had written these strange words? Who was LW and Edmund Grey? Why did the writer of the messages assume someone had stolen his house?

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And most importantly – how did these messages get onto the computer? Most people that Webster confided in about this had dismissed it as a prank. But the computer wasn’t connected to any sort of network, and this was before the time of the Internet when stuff like this could be easily explained away. 

Peter Trinder, a fellow teacher and friend of Webster’s, had a closer look at the message and deduced it to be Middle English from the 16th century. If you’ve ever read Chaucer, you’d recognise the style. Trinder posited the theory that whoever they were communicating with, they spoke in this same grammatical inflection. 

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And so, the trio replied in that same file. They asked about “LW”. They asked about their life, about “Edmund Grey”, why and how they contacted them, and what the trio should do next. A day passed, and lo and behold, a reply had been sent back.

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Through the next few messages, Webster was able to discern intel on where, when and who this mysterious acquaintance was. “LW” turned out to be named Lukas Wainman, a man from the mid-1540s who seemed to have lived on the same plot of land that Webster’s house now occupied. 

What made the evidence even more compelling was through Peter Trinder’s assessment of the messages, which pinpointed the tone, grammar and lexis fit with 16th century Cheshire. Remember that due to the lack of travel options many centuries ago, dialect and language back then would have differed quite dramatically between different counties in the United Kingdom. Trinder even tried to send messages separate from the rest of the group and then delete them, to ensure that neither of them were the perpetrators of this phenomenon.

The Dodleston Messages
Credit: The National Museum of Computing

IT GETS WEIRDER

However, things took an even stranger turn when Webster wrote a message back to Lukas mentioning he was from 1985. The reply he received complicated matters even further:

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Yow sayd yowr tyme be 1985 methought yow were als from 2109 lyk yowr freend whom  didst bringe leems boyste prey

It turns out that Lukas wasn’t only communicating from the trio from 1985, but also seemed to have contact with a second party in the year 2109. The “leems boyste” mentioned in his message translates to “Box of lights”, or better yet, some kind of computer or communication device.

Curious to discover what would happen, Webster decided to use the BBC Micro to write to the future, with the simple message of “Calling 2109 –

The reply that came back read:

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Try to understand that you three have a purpose that shall in your life time change the face of history, we, 2109, must not affect your thoughts directly but give you some sort of guidance that will allow room for your own destiny. All we can say is that we are all part of the same god, whatever he is (?), is.

So now the story has splintered off into three timelines; 1540s, 1985 and 2109. Not only that, but the individual, or individuals from 2109 (it’s difficult to pinpoint how many are from this era, as they all refer to themselves using the singular they) claim Webster and his friends are involved with a higher purpose.

From here, the story gets even weirder. Lukas’ real name is revealed to be Thomas Harden in subsequent messages. Debbie, Webster’s partner, also claims to have visions of him, and when Trinder decides to interfere with the messages, he is warned by 2109 that he is threatening the mission the trio have.

There’s more to this story, and if you’d like to hear it in full, it’s available either in Webster’s book The Vertical Plane, as well as in Nostalgia Nerd’s video and the Out Of This World episode.

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Credit: Nostalgia Nerd

THE DODLESTON MESSAGES – THEORIES

I like to think of myself as a pretty open-minded person. I’d have no trouble believing in the existence of ghosts or aliens if the right evidence was there. But here, I’m going to be skeptical.

For starters, Lukas’ messages are filled with inconsistencies. Some of the information he provides about the 16th century is incorrect. The grammar he uses is also inaccurate (the Out of this World episode spoke to a scholar who elaborated on this).

If you ask me, when it came to Ken Webster writing his science-fiction novel ‘The Vertical Plane’, he probably thought it’d be great marketing for it to be “based on a true story”. But hey, that’s just me. I think I’d probably have less trouble believing it if he’d left out the plot twist of there being a third party of individuals from 2109 also on the call.

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What’s your theory on The Dodleston Messages? Let us know on our social channels.

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