The Hairy Hands is a ghost story/legend that built up around a stretch of road in Dartmoor in the English county of Devon, which was purported to have seen an unusually high number of motor vehicle accidents during the early 20th century.
According to the story surrounding them, the Hairy Hands are a pair of disembodied hands that appear suddenly, grab at the steering wheel of a moving car or the handlebars of a motorcycle, and then force the victim off the road. In some cases the hands are described as being invisible.
Since around 1910, drivers and cyclists have reported suffering unusual accidents along the road between Postbridge and Two Bridges. In many cases, the victims reported that their vehicle had jolted or swerved violently and steered off the side of the road, as if something had taken hold of the wheels and wrenched it out of their control.
In most instances, the victims ran into a verge and survived. Their experiences remained a local curiosity, until June 1921, when Dr. E.H. Helby, the medical officer for Dartmoor Prison, was killed when he lost control of his motorcycle combination. Two young girls, children of the prison governor, who had been riding in the sidecar, survived. Several weeks after Dr Helby's death, there was another incident in which a coach driver lost control, injuring several passengers who were thrown out of their seats. Then, on 26 August 1921, an army Captain reported that a pair of invisible hands had taken hold of him and forced his motorcycle off the road, after which the story was picked up by newspapers in London and the story became known nationwide.
In Supernatural Dartmoor by Michael Williams, there is a story told by journalist and author Rufus Endle. He claimed that, while driving near Postbridge on an unstated date, "a pair of hands gripped the driving wheel and I had to fight for control." He managed to avoid a crash and the hands disappeared as inexplicably as they had come. He requested that Williams not publish the story until after his death, for fear of ridicule.
Not all reported incidents occurred in moving vehicles. In one incident, in 1924, a woman camping on the moor with her husband reported seeing a hairy hand attempting to gain access to her caravan during the night. She reported that the hand retreated after she made the sign of the Cross.
After the story of the Hairy Hands appeared in the national press, several investigations were carried out into the road. It was eventually determined that the accidents were most likely due to the camber of the road's surface, which reached dangerous levels in places and was duly altered.
According to local sceptics, most of the accidents were caused by people who were unfamiliar with the area driving too fast down narrow country roads with high walled sides, resulting in them either losing control or misjudging the road and running off its edges.
Most variations of the legend of the Hairy Hands do not specify the origins of the hands or attribute to them any specific purpose, other than driving motorists off the road. A few local versions of the story attribute the hands to an unnamed man who died in an accident on the road.
In the media
- "Location of the Hairy hands myth". Google Maps. Retrieved 20 November 2006.
- Fort, Charles Hoy (1932). Wild Talents. ISBN 1-59605-029-2.
- Gifford, T (14 October 1921). "The Unseen Hands". London Daily Mail. p. 5.
- Gifford, T (17 October 1921). "The Unseen Hands". London Daily Mail. p. 9.
- "Discovering Devon Index: Definitely not a helping hand..." BBC - Devon. Retrieved 20 November 2006.
- Gilbert, Jane (May 2006). "Letterboxing on Dartmoor: An Addictive Pastime... for the Brave!". Time Travel-Britain. Retrieved 20 November 2006.
- Blewitt, D. (August 2000). "Folklore On Dartmoor". Walking Dartmoor. Archived from the original on 17 October 2006. Retrieved 20 November 2006.
- "The Hairy Hand of Dartmoor". Genome Beta. Radio Times 1923–2009. BBC. Citing Radio Times issue 3912, 4 February 1999, page 121. Retrieved 9 September 2019.
- St. Ledger-Gordon, R.E. "The Witchcraft and Folklore of Dartmoor" (Peninsula Press, 2001), pp. 120–4.
- Williams, M. "Supernatural Dartmoor" (Bossiney Books, 2003), p. 18.