Teacher got perplexing emails ‘from future’ sparking ghostly time travel mystery

The quiet Cheshire village of Dodleston, a few miles from the Welsh border, may not be the first place that comes to mind when you think of time travel, or even bizarre ghostly phenomena.

But in the middle of the 1980s, a Cheshire economics teacher named Ken Webster received a series of cryptic messages on his BBC home computer that appeared to have been sent by someone living in the reign of King Henry VIII.

In those days, the Internet was a tiny, almost unknown network operated by a few specialists.

The BBC Micro that Ken had been loaned by his employers had no means of connecting to the outside world, and lacked even a hard drive, relying on small-capacity floppy disks for storage.

But the primitive machine somehow connected to an unknown entity across not just space, but across time.

When Ken left the computer switched on, but unattended, the messages appeared on the Micro’s floppy drive. Apparently sent by a man named Lukas who was living in the 16th Century, the messages were written in an old-fashioned, but still more or less understandable, form of English.

The first of them, in a file apparently addressed to Ken, his girlfriend Debbie, and their housemate Nic, appeared in December 1984. It appeared to be a sort of poem that began: “True are the nightmares of a person that fears, safe are the bodies of the silent world."

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Ken was baffled by the mystery file, but with Christmas coming up soon forgot about it and it wasn’t until the following February that he borrowed the machine from work again.

The next message was more clearly the beginning of a conversation, commenting on Ken’s “strange” modern English. The writer appeared to have been a former occupant of the cottage, who saw electric lights as a thing “the Devil maketh”.

Adding to the mystery, at around the same time there was a spate of paranormal events in the cottage – tins were found inexplicably stacked up in the kitchen, unexplained messages in chalk were found on the walls and Ken and his housemates occasionally heard phantom footsteps.

On one occasion, Debbie says, she came home to be faced with “a six-foot high pile of furniture”.

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As the strange computer conversation progressed, the mysterious presence identified themselves as Lukas Wainman, who claimed to have been living in a house on the site of Meadow Cottage during Henry VIII’s marriage to Catherine Parr – although the messages were oddly inconsistent.

At one point the writer claimed that they were writing in 1521, but gave King Henry VIII’s age as 46 when he would have been 29 or 30.

But Lukas explained his evasiveness as natural caution, because he was afraid of being arrested for witchcraft.

So far, Ken’s tale sounded like a computer age ghost story. But then it got even stranger.

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In one of his replies, Lukas expressed surprise that Ken was writing in 1985: “You said your time is 1985, but I thought you were from 2109 like your friend who brought the Leems Boyste”.

The “Leems Boyste" appears to have been the device – brought by a person named only as “One” that Lukas was using to communicate with the future.

Later, “Lukas” revealed that he had been using an alias to evade witch hunters, and his real name was Tomas Harnden.

Ken’s friend Peter Trinder did some research to track down Harnden, and later spoke to a BBC interviewer to insist that if the story was in fact a hoax, he had nothing to do with it and he didn’t see how Ken or Debbie could either.

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At one point John Bucknall and Dave Welch, investigators from the Society of Psychical Research, visited the cottage to see if they, too could communicate with Lukas. Even with Ken and Debbie out of the room, some messages still got through.

An examination of the events on Carol Vorderman's Out of this World show, could find no explanation for the mystery.

Peter Leigh, who runs the Nostalgia Nerd YouTube channel, suspects that the entire mystery may have been a hoax, which goes some way to explaining the inconsistencies in the messages between past and future.

“The orchestrator of this whole campaign [seems to have become] overwhelmed with the task, leaving too many loose threads,” he says.

Peter points out how often the messages come though after Debbie has been alone with the computer.

Towards the end of the sixteen-month phenomenon, the mysterious future presences from 2109 made an appearance, promising that Harnden was writing a book about his communication with the 1980s, and it would “one day be found”.

Will it? Until then The Dodelston Messages remain an intriguing curiosity from the early days of the Computer Age.

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