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The Vertical Plane, by Ken Webster

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  • iDigitalMedium Research Team

As recounted in his 1989 book, in late 1984 Ken Webster was renovating a run-down eighteenth-century property, Meadow Cottage, in the village of Dodleston in Cheshire, five miles from Chester and close to the border with Wales.  He was living with his nineteen-year old girlfriend Debbie and working as an economics teacher in a local school while dabbling with music on the side.  The story began with minor poltergeist activity in the cottage.  On various occasions tins and other items were moved around and stacked, six-toed footprint-like marks on the wall faded and then returned in a different position, there were chalk marks, a sudden temperature drop and an air current strong enough to lift a newspaper into the air, the sense of a presence, and later on sounds of footsteps.  Webster initially suspected a friend of playing pranks, but soon the poltergeist aspect, although it continued at a low level and would in any other situation have warranted an investigation in its own right, became submerged in a dramatic new development.

A witness to many of these events was their houseguest, Nicola Bagguley, who was staying for an extended period.  She wanted to write performance sketches to obtain an Equity card, so Webster borrowed a BBC Micro model B computer from school, an early machine using five-and-a-quarter inch floppy diskettes for storage, and a very basic word processing program, EDWORD, installed.  This machine was left switched on in the kitchen and to their amazement messages began appearing from ‘L W’, an individual who seemed to be writing from the sixteenth century.  He had lived in a house on the same site and demanded to know why they were in ‘his’ house and what this ‘leems boyste’ (box of lights) was.

Naturally astonished, Webster wrote back, but there were discrepancies and historical errors in L W’s replies suggesting a hoax.  However, after the initial suspicions were allayed, a voluminous correspondence, a sort of trans-historical email system, developed. The scripts are given as allegedly received, with translations by Webster.  L W eventually said his name was Lukas Wainman, who had lived in the 1540s, during Henry VIII’s reign.  The correspondence resulted in a deep mutual affection between Lukas and the twentieth-century residents of ‘his’ house.  The communication was asymmetric because Lukas had direct access to the 1980s cottage, being able to see what was going on to a limited extent, in a way that Webster et al did not have the other way.

Lukas told Debbie and Ken about his life and they reciprocated, to his wonder.  The trio discussed the implications of being able to traverse time.  To test Webster’s veracity, Lukas initially claimed to have been at Jesus College, Oxford, which was not founded until the 1570s (though he did not explain how he would have known about it in the 1540s).  Lukas later said he had actually studied at Brasenose College, where he had met Erasmus several times, but had been forced to leave for failing to expunge the Pope’s name from documents; this was despite stating in one of his earliest messages he had been badly educated.  Pictures, including one of Erasmus, that Webster left out for Lukas disappeared, taken back to his own time.  One of a similar type of car to his reeturrned scorched at the edges.  Sadly, no Tudor artefacts in pristine condition made the opposite journey.  Webster found Lukas to be not always reliable in conveying information, and sometimes vague, so he considered the hoax theory not completely quashed.

Adding to the complexity of the situation, after she had experienced tapping sounds, hair pulling, physical pressure and a marked sense of presence while alone in the cottage, Debbie began dreaming of Lukas.  These were well-structured events, feeling more concrete than dreams, in which she appeared to travel back and interact with him, and hinted at a growing intimacy, the joint candle making episode being particularly suggestive.  Matters took a further soap-opera turn when Webster and Debbie heard from a friend of Lukas’s who told them Lukas was in trouble with the authorities because of the leems boyste, which naturally had devilish connotations.  Accusations of witchcraft had resulted in imprisonment.  They also learned that Lukas was not his real name, which turned out to be Tomas Harden or Hawarden.  Thomas Fowleshurst (one is reminded of Hilary Mantel’s ‘half the world is called Thomas’), the sheriff who was prosecuting Lukas, sent a message, but after pressure was put on Fowleshurst Lukas returned home and resumed contact with Webster.  However, he was under a cloud and apprehensive about what might befall him.

As if all that was not convoluted enough, another entity calling itself 2109 contacted them.  Lukas had thought Webster and Debbie came from the year 2109 because it (whatever ‘it’ was) had given him his box of lights, so naturally Lukas assumed Webster and 2109 were friends; one wonders why this had not come out earlier in conversations with him.  There followed a three-way conversation, in some messages to Webster Lukas utilising charcoal on paper and chalk, methods he he was able to use in addition to the computer.  2109’s messages indicated a meddling high-handed desire to control the process of communication with Lukas for some unspecified purpose, making Webster distrustful of its motives, especially when he realised 2109 had been altering some of Lukas’s messages to him.  For an individual or individuals transmitting from the future, disappointingly the communications tended to be uninformative about life in that time.  Rosemary Dinnage’s review in the Journal of the Society for Research categorised the book as a novel, and made the point that 2109’s poor spelling circumvented the problem of trying to take into account orthographic changes bound to occur during the intervening decades

Ken and Debbie researched Lukas’s messages, of which about 300 were received (not all were saved unfortunately).  About a third are represented in The Vertical Plane.  They recruited sympathetic friends to help, including fellow teacher Peter Trinder, who did much analysis of Lukas’s messages using the OED.  He found that the checkable vocabulary was authentic to or before the 1540s, though the grammar was sometimes idiosyncratic, and he considered the messages to be genuine.  He supplied an appendix to the book with his findings, and also contacted Robin Peedell, an assistant librarian at Brasenose, who could not find Lukas Wainman in the college records but did find Harden.

Webster and company thought they should ask reputable independent researchers to investigate, not least to ensure they were cleared of suspicion of hoaxing.  They turned to the Society for Psychical Research.  John Stiles, its research liaison officer, sent down member John Bucknall who came with a colleague named Dave Welch, and later with Nick-Sowerby-Johnson.  They were clearly sceptical of the story and less interested in Lukas than in 2109, which Webster found frustrating, and the investigation fizzled out.  No report was filed and when Webster contacted Stiles to find out what was going on he was told Bucknall had left the SPR in 1986, and Welch and Sowerby-Johnson were not actually members.

An idiosyncratic investigation by local UFO researcher Gary Rowe, whose details were supplied by 2109, was equally unfruitful.  By the time Instrumental Transcommunication researchers Ernst Senkowski and Jules and Maggy Harsch-Fishbach become interested, Webster did not want to drag it all up again and declined their offers to investigate.  Just as it looked like Webster, with a new and more demanding job in Manchester, was tiring of the business, Lukas said he was off to Oxford, having sold up in Dodleston.  He mused on the possibility of writing a book about their correspondence, to be left in a place where it would eventually be found, and communication ceased.  To date the promised volume has failed to materialise.  2109’s messages likewise petered out.

Of the competing explanations, a hoax on Webster and Debbie can be easily dismissed, as they themselves pointed out.  While security at the cottage was not stringent, there was never any evidence of a break-in; anyway, messages were often received while they were in the house.  Webster borrowed computers from a pool and it would have been impossible to rig them all, and nothing could be retained once turned off, making it impossible to plant information to be seen once it was switched back on.  There was no way of sending the messages remotely as the computers did not have modems.  Webster said that occasionally replies were received quite quickly, and if true it would have been difficult to compose messages with sixteenth-century-style wording in the interval.  Crucially, why would anyone want to bother?

It could all be true.  Perhaps it was possible for the two centuries to come close enough for communications to be able to pass between them in some way, facilitated by Debbie acting as a medium, she and Lukas sensitives who became synchronised across the centuries.  Apart from this book, Webster and friends did not get much out of the exercise.  A hoax would most likely have stayed with the 16th/20 centuries and left out the yet further credibility-stretching 22nd century and the poltergeist elements.  Webster speculated that 2109 might be explained in terms of advanced physics, notably tachyons, raising the possibility 2109 did not exist on Earth in the future, but was communicating from some other reality.

However, if such contact could happen using a BBC Micro as a channel, why has it not happened more frequently given the proliferation of computers since the 1980s?  Another possibility, briefly raised but dismissed, was that the living twentieth-century occupants were responsible but unconsciously, using psychokinesis to both create the poltergeist effects and carry on a fantasy communication with Lukas and 2019.  Their assertions that the communications were genuine were therefore sincere, though wrong.  This is probably the least plausible of any explanation offered because of the complexity of the phenomena and the number of people involved.

Or it could have been a hoax perpetrated by Webster and Debbie, who had ample opportunity.  That seems the most likely explanation, frankly, a project by someone bored with work, bored with the chaos of doing up a house, living in a dingy part of the world, who thought up a stunt to make life a little more interesting, and perhaps see if he could put one over on the SPR (not a unique aspiration).  From the further reading it is clear Webster had read up extensively on psychical research though he would argue this was a result of the messages, not to prepare for them (for example reading Colin Wilson’s Poltergeist to try to understand what was happening).  The messages would be tedious to compose, certainly, though to assist Lukas in understanding what they were writing Webster and Debbie became quite adept at the olde worlde pastiche.

Had Webster received a more positive reception from the psychical research community, we may have heard more about the vertical plane; however, it is probable the cool reception, plus landing a more fulfilling job, killed his enthusiasm and led him to terminate the project.  The book’s ending sounds as though he might have been a little bored, despite the momentous implications of his breakthrough.  The style is accomplished enough to show he would have had the creativity to carry out a hoax.  As for motive, one possible clue is a remark when contemplating Lukas’s Oxford background: ‘An unnecessary red-brick-university kind of inferiority complex arose in me when faced with these Oxford “old boys”.’  Perhaps he was trying to demonstrate, to them and himself, that he was as good as they were.

In August 1996, Out of this World, presented by Carol Vorderman, covered the case in two parts.  She said Ken and Debbie (not giving Webster’s surname for some reason) had helped in the making of the programme but had chosen not to appear in a reconstruction.  Instead actors were used to dramatise the events in greatly simplified form.  The segment concluded with Richard Wiseman interviewing Ken and Debbie, though they were not shown clearly: Wiseman said they had made new lives and did not wish to be identified (presumably then, ‘Ken Webster’ is a pseudonym).  He talked to Peter Trinder, their friend who analysed the messages from Lukas and pronounced them genuine, but he also spoke to Dr Laura Wright of Cambridge University who analysed the texts.  She said of the verb structure that Lukas made statements in a way people would not have at the time (reinforcing the pastiche likelihood).

Asked whether it could be a hoax, Wright stated unequivocally: ‘if it’s meant to look like early modern English writing, it doesn’t even look close.’  Webster’s feeble riposte was that any academic wanting to keep his or her position would not say ‘this is real.’  However, more damningly Wright carried out an analysis of the incidence of adjectives in front of nouns, and found an almost identical frequency between Lukas’s messages and Webster’s descriptive passages (26%, and 26.6% respectively, whereas the frequency of a sample of other writing from the period Webster was writing the book was 32-35%.  Webster unsurprisingly denied authorship, claiming he was not present for about four-fifths of the occasions the messages were received (he would according to his testimony often go for a drive while waiting for them to appear).  Vordeman finished by saying that Wiseman had spoken to the ‘two’ SPR investigators, not specifying the second.  She said they had chosen not to appear, but thought it was a hoax, though adding they ‘had no idea how it was done,’ a curious declaration presumably intended to avoid a direct accusation.  Webster sounded grumpy at being challenged by Wiseman, and said he was happy to wait for Lukas’s manuscript to come to light.  One suspects he will have a long wait.

A final thought about that manuscript.  While reading The Vertical Plane I was also reading Jack Finney’s time travel novel Time and Again (1970).  The narrator, Si Morley, talks about returning to 1882 (which he does) with the manuscript we are reading, and leaving it among obscure religious tracts in the New York Public Library for a friend to find in the future.  This is very similar to Lukas’s idea of writing a book and leaving it in Oxford where it could be retrieved one day.  One has to wonder if Webster had read Time and Again and borrowed the idea of hiding papers where they would be discovered – only pretending it was real rather than fiction.

Text: https://tomruffles.wordpress.com/2020/08/14/the-vertical-plane-by-ken-webster/

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The above reminds me of the couples over decades who have experienced phenomena and subsequently were inspected, criticized and often  accused of tomfoolery or witchcraft.

It is not a popular undertaking...educating our species as to other dimensional realities.

The reason I would assume for more communications having not been forthcoming with the advent of computers is that certain individuals may be targeted...perhaps those whom are courageous enough to share the messages received or experiences given.

On the other hand, verifying and validating information can be confusing, leading down rabbit holes that do nothing but create a veil overshadowing the reality that for a moment was clear.

Our own perceptional reality for our own purpose in personal growth will always be of value nevertheless.


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