On September 3rd, 1939, London was in turmoil. That morning, Prime Minister Chamberlain had taken to the airwaves to declare that Britain was at war with Hitler’s Germany. The evacuation of children was already underway, and many Londoners were responding to the first sirens and retreating to their Anderson shelters.
But in Honor Oak, a retired milkman named Albert Evans was heading outside. In unused audio from a radio programme examining that day, Evans recalls that he took a stroll up nearby One Tree Hill. What he saw from there was unxpected.
Gazing out at the barrage balloons that swayed above London, he watched as “a rent opened up in the sky, as if it were made of cloth”. Through this vast opening, torn vertically into the sky from a location roughly above the rooftops of Bermondsey, there emanated “heavenly light. Beautiful, really. And the light at the edges of it sort of leaked out of it, so that for a moment there was this sort of great mist of light, drifting over the city”. This light dissipated quickly, and – after no more than 15 seconds – the rent closed again, as abruptly as it had opened.
Given the timing, you might have forgiven Evans for thinking of the Luftwaffe. But, “I saw right away that this wasn’t the work of any military engineer. Plainly speaking, it looked more like a message from God”
He wasn’t the only one to read religious meaning into the vision. A senior civil servant – in a fit of Churchillian machismo – had taken to the roof of the foreign office to survey his expectant city. He seems to have witnessed the rift, writing in his journal that it was “nothing less than the Aureola of the Resurrected Christ”.
He, too, appears to have been unconcerned by the event. But others in London weren’t so sanguine. A minor panic in the streets around Primrose Hill made it into the pages of the Daily Express – one resident claimed that “dark shapes” could be seen disseminating from the opening.
The event would not have been visible to the majority of Londoners. Even in elevated locations, it seems to have gone unnoticed by most.
Perhaps witnesses would have made more of it had they known that the phenomena wasn’t new – indeed, it had long borne a name: The Eye of Bermondsey.
It’s unknown when or how this term originated, but written records go back at least as far as 1552. In February of that year, Henry Machyn, the diarist and fabric merchant, writes that a vision of the rupture momentarily delayed a beheading on Tower Hill. He refers to it as the “grett suthwarke & barmes ye” (‘great Southwark and Bermondsey eye’).
Since then, there have been a handful of sightings. In 1708, an assistant to Christopher Wren seems to have seen a manifestation of the Eye from the roof of the newly built St Paul’s Cathedral. And as recently as 1997, online message boards were alight with speculation surrounding a possible visitation – alongside elaborate theories as to why this news had been suppressed by the media.
Sightings are too rare – and too fleeting – for there to be much by way of scholarly enquiry into the matter. It is hard to discern a pattern. The date of the 1939 manifestation seems too significant to be coincidence, but other sightings fall on comparatively nondescript days.
In the absence of answers, the evocation of religious imagery will continue to resonate for many.
However, some have found a curious correlation with a recent, more Earthly, occurrence – the flame of light that appears when the Shard reflects the setting sun at certain times of year. Several photos have appeared on social media, and both the location and appearance have drawn comparisons with the Eye of Bermondsey. One amateur portologist – not, presumably, a fan of London’s rapidly vaulting skyline – claimed that the historic manifestations were a prophesy: ‘a corpse candle for the death of London architecture’.
- Candidate: The Eye of Bermondsey
- Type: Celestial rift
- Status: Monitored