Located at the very edge of Calderdale, the crossroads where the A58 between Hipperholme and Wyke bisects the A641 between Bailiff Bridge and Odsal has been known locally for many years as Hell Fire Corner. There is much speculation amongst researchers as to how exactly this name arose. Some claim that it may purely be a result of the number of fatal motor accidents at the junction in recent years, but others have argued that the name has a much older and sinister provenance. Diabolic names are often associated with sites which have a history of strange phenomena and it has also been suggested that such phenomena and the profusion of car crashes are causally linked.
The first documented use of the term “Hell Fire Corner” to denote the crossroads seems to have occurred in the local press in the 1940s when a motorist lost control of his vehicle and slammed into a nearby wall, causing at least one death. The most interesting part of the story is that the driver subsequently claimed he’d been distracted by the appearance of a bright light climbing out of nearby woodland into the sky. In the 1940s, UFO mythology was not as prominent in the public consciousness as it is today and it certainly would not have been regarded as a UFO at the time. However, in subsequent years this incident has come be viewed as the first in a long line of UFO sightings at the location.
In 1977 one Mrs. Fowler was walking in the area and claims to have perceived “a flying saucer hovering just one foot above the ground”, which she describes as being a silvery “hat” shape with white light or windows in a circle around the middle and a red cone of flame connecting it to the earth. She claims it floated next to a rocky outcrop for a time before it slowly began to rotate and suddenly shot straight into the air with a flash and then vanished altogether. Mrs. Fowler described this in terms of a craft taking off, but it is equally possible that it represented some misperceived and scarcely understood electrical phenomenon dubbed “earthlights” by fortean researchers.
The 1977 sighting was merely a prelude to a spate of reports of such activity in the area between Wyke and Lightcliffe in October and November 1981 which has since become known to the ufological community as the Wyke Woods Flap. These accounts tended to involve several balls of light which often split into a greater number and often seemed to repel each other, causing them to dance around the sky accompanied by a faint humming noise, before either disappearing in a single blinding flash or sinking to the ground. It all culminated in disaster when a bus driver crashed his vehicle at Hell Fire Corner on November 1st and sustained serious injury, claiming he had seen a smoky white light over the woods.
The woods closest to Hell Fire Corner are known as Judy Woods and have been a favoured local recreational area since the 19th Century when Judy North (after whom the woods are now named) used to tend the pleasure gardens at a now demolished cottage near Horse Clough Bridge, selling sticks of spice, parkin and ginger beer to visitors. Yet despite its popularity, researchers at the time of the 1981 flap talked to children who allegedly refused to play in the woods on account of the white glowing shapes floating between the trees, which they believed to be ghosts. However, in the context of the mysterious light activity, they were interpreted as further connected evidence.
The sightings of such strange light phenomena in the region of Hell Fire Corner and Judy Woods seems to be an archetypal example of what veteran fortean researcher Paul Deveraux has called “earthlights.” He theorised that they are the product of the capacity of certain rock types to generate electrical energy in response to stresses such as friction and pressure in a process known as triboluminescence or the piezoelectric effect. Typically, this can be caused by natural factors such as the movement of geological fault-lines or human activity such as quarrying. It is pertinent to note that the landscape around Judy Woods is extensively scarred from small-scale mining activity in the 18th and 19th Century.
Areas which have common incidences of earthlights are often rich in folklore (Longdendale in Derbyshire is a prime example) and some commentators suggest that a great deal of paranormal experiences can be attributed to them. In less enlightened ages and indeed in more superstitious areas of the world today, such sightings are perceived as spirits or fairies, whilst in technologically advanced societies meanwhile they are interpreted as UFOs, all according to the dominant cultural frame of reference. Thus, if the name Hell Fire Corner is older than the original 1940s newspaper report, it may represent evidence of a continuity of sightings of such phenomena over many generations.