Category: Ghosts, Hauntings & Supernatural
Table of Contents
Where is Ongar Station?
What is the story behind the Ongar Scorpions?
Have you heard the one about the Scorpion colony living in Ongar, Essex? The rumours date back almost forty years. The BBC reported on the scorpions in 1994, and in 2018, a comment from a man named Ian Luck claimed to have seen them with his very own eyes. But what’s the truth behind this strange tail?
Did scorpions really live at Ongar Station?
Ongar Station was opened in 1865 by the Great Eastern Railway in Chipping Ongar, Essex. This was, of course, during the railway boom of the 19th century. At first, Ongar Station was primarily used to transport goods from the nearby farms into central London. Over the course of the next century, the London Underground network grew as a passenger service, and in 1949, the Underground was extended from Loughton to Ongar. Although the track was fully integrated, the power supply running the trains was not, and so a shuttle service ran between Epping and Ongar stations until Ongar was finally closed in 1994.
This wasn’t a surprise. This end of the Central Line was already under used and had been under threat of closure for many years. Passenger numbers peaked in 1971, and had been declining ever since. In 1981, Blake Hall Station, sited between North Weald and Ongar and at this time the least used station on the entire network, was closed.
So it should be no surprise that those who believed in the railway would try to drum up business any way they can.
Enter the Ongar scorpions.
Allegedly, the station foreman was a fan of exotic pets and, according to this article in the Independent in 1995, he bought five harmless scorpions from a pet shop in Camden and released them onto the tracks to get publicity for the line. This was the story that brought the BBC and David Attenborough (yes, he’s been doing it a while) to the station to film.
According to this comment on districtdavesforum, the foreman’s name was Fred, and he was a former Revenue Control Inspector from Leyton (eleven stops along the line from Ongar). Concerned the line was closing, he secretly released the scorpions on to the platform. Then, when passengers arrived, he would make a fuss to draw their attention.
This story about the scorpions at Ongar Station was soon picked up by a local paper and eventually found its way to Wildlife on One at the BBC.
When the BBC arrived, Fred told them the scorpions had since died. Apparently not wanting to miss their story (Ongar is a long way from White City, after all), the Wildlife on One crew brought out their own scorpions to make sure they could get the shots they needed. (Nothing like being prepared, right?)
The counterpoint to this story is from the same page, and comes from the Ongar Wildlife Society’s Keith Snow, who wrote in their 16th newsletter that although there were indeed populations of yellow-tailed scorpions around the country,
“The finding… must not be confused with past reports of scorpions inOngar Wildlife Society
And around Ongar railway station. Regrettably, the story of these scorpions was a hoax!”
However, the counterpoint to that counterpoint is other eyewitness testimony to the contrary. On a post titled Underground Myths (which does not reference any scorpions per se) a commentator named Ian Luck claims he has seen them first hand. Sadly, he doesn’t provide a date or any further details.
The Epping Ongar Railway’s own site references the story dating from the early 1970s, which puts it much earlier than Fred’s antics, and would place the sighting close to the peak passenger traffic. If the scorpions were a publicity hoax, this would seem like the wrong time to do it.
Truth about Scorpions in the UK
On the other hand, it’s a fact that scorpion colonies do live wild in the UK. They have been documented for over 150 years around the South East.
The Natural History Museum has in its collection a Yellow-Tailed Scorpion collected from Sheerness Docs in 1870, so it’s likely there was an established population prior. In fact, this same population is still thriving in 2022.
(Strange side note: This scorpion colony is so old, it predates the introduction of the Grey Squirrel to England by at least twenty years.)
According to jason-steel.co.uk, it seems likely that this scorpion colony was the result of multiple stowaways over the years, thanks to the trade in Italian masonry.
Evidence for Scorpions at Ongar Station
Let’s recap the evidence we have so far.
- 1870: The Natural History Museum finds a Yellow-tailed scorpion at Sheerness Docks in Kent.
- Early 1970s: BBC nationwide show
- 1979: the BBC show Wildlife on One, article ‘Rare Breed’ broadcast a story about the scorpions.
- 1990s: I saw something on TV myself back in the early 1990s, but I can’t remember any specific details. I think it was on the news. It’s possible that I saw clips of the 1979 broadcast repeated around the time Ongar Station closed in 1994.
- 2010: The Ongar Wildlife Society claims they found a wild scorpion living ten miles away from Ongar Station. Unfortunately, the Wikipedia link to their pdf newsletter is broken, so I can’t verify this any further. For completeness’ sake, I’ve included the link below.
- 2011: Unknown member posts a story about the scorpions
- 2014: Scorpion found on London Underground passenger
- 2018: Ian Luck posts on the website christoperfowler.co.uk that he saw scorpions at Ongar years earlier, but doesn’t provide a date. His comment is dated December 2018.
We know scorpions have lived in the UK for 150 years (or 110 years at the time of the original Ongar scorpion story). We also know that a live scorpion has been found in Essex only a few miles from Ongar. And we also have more than one eyewitness claim, although these can’t be verified.
Most importantly, we apparently have the confession of the man who released them on to the track at Ongar Station.
While there might not be any scorpions living in Ongar today, all the details we can find suggest that yes, scorpions really did live at Ongar station. Even if they were deliberately introduced for a hoax or a publicity stunt, they still lived there.
Do Scorpions still live at Ongar Station today? That’s something I can’t answer, but it looks like they did in the past, at least for a while.
The claim was that scorpions lived in Ongar, not that they moved in without help.
I don’t think there is any sting in this tail after all (sorry).