When you think about a giant meteorite hurtling towards the earth then you are probably thinking about another predictable plot from the latest Hollywood movie. But on Christmas Eve in 1965, a meteorite the size of a Christmas turkey broke up over the Leicestershire villages of Barwell and Earl Shilton. It remains the largest meteorite fall observed in Britain.
Barwell is a civil parish and large village in Leicestershire, England, with a population of around 8,750 people, Increasing to 9,022 at the 2011 census, the name literally translates as “Stream of the Boar” and is said to originate from a boar that used to drink from the well near a brook in Barwell. It was originally known as Borewell, but later became “Barwell”, the name in use today.
Despite the media predictions of a possible “Armageddon”, an impact large enough to cause any real threat to the earth is thankfully hundreds of years away. The earth may not be facing a devastating cosmic impact in the near future but that doesn’t stop around 500 pieces of space debris known as meteorites falling to earth each year.
The largest meteorite recorded in British history landed in the quiet and unsuspecting village of Barwell.
Largest Meteorite to hit Briton
On Christmas Eve 1965, what may have been mistaken for the bright star in the east, was in fact a fireball sweeping across England, announcing the arrival of what was to become Britain’s largest meteorite.
“When it first entered the atmosphere it would have been something like the size of a desk,” explains Kevin Yates from the National Space Centre. He continues “Most of that would have been burnt up on its way through the atmosphere, but a sizeable chunk would still have made it through to the surface though – probably about the size of a Christmas turkey.”
The sight of this flaming “Christmas turkey” was followed by a sonic boom as the 4.5bn-year-old rock exploded into thousands of pieces.
The village of Barwell was showered in thousands of pieces of what became known as the Christmas meteorite.
Thankfully the meteorite didn’t come down in any large cities, Barwell was the target, and was hit with small fragments to large chunks of the meteorite, yet amazingly no-one was injured.
Had the meteorite landed elsewhere, it could easily have been a different story. If it had hit a few seconds later and gone into Leicester at 4.15pm Christmas eve, it would have been a disaster.
One part of the meteorite went though a front of a car, destroying the engine. When the owner of the car attempted to claim on his insurance company, they replied that it was an “Act of God” and would not pay. Outraged, the owner went to the priest of the local church and asked for the money, saying “If it was an Act of God, the Church should pay for his car.” The owner never received any money to repair his car.
As soon as the news broke, Barwell was hit with a tidal wave of meteorite hunters from around the world.
With museums offering money for every piece, the search was on – although not everyone was cashing in.
Astronomer Patrick Moore arrived in Barwell as soon as he heard the news and on finding a lump of the meteorite took it promptly to the local museum.
Whilst some kept the meteorite fragments as a memento or to display, others like Harold Platt took a holiday from the proceeds of his find.
Harold was lucky enough to uncover one of the largest pieces of the meteorite which was given pride of place on top of his piano for over a week.
“We got £39.50 for the piece of the meteorite,” recalls Harold’s wife.
“We sold it to Leicester museum and went on holiday with the money.”
Although there have been several meteorite hits in Britain since 1965, the Barwell meteorite remains the biggest and for the safety of the earth – let’s hope it stays that way.
Green plaque unveiled in Barwell
In 2016 a green plaque was unveiled by county councillor Peter Lewis and was assisted by Barry Granger, chairman of Barwell Parish Council, who made the nomination. The plaque is at the junction of Chapel Street and Dawson’s Lane – close to the site of the meteorite fall.
This green plaque is one of six awarded by Leicestershire County Council this year. These includes the site of Coalville toy manufacturer Palitoy, who were behind the popular Action Man and Star Wars figures.