Solway Spaceman mystery is 50 years old

It is 50 years since Jim Templeton took the famous image of a figure in a space-suit hovering behind his daughter on the Solway Marshes in the English Lake District.

The Solway Spaceman photograph, taken from a print supplied by Jim Templeton in 2001

The Solway Spaceman photograph, taken from a print supplied by Jim Templeton in 2001

Since that family outing in May 1964 when the figure – dubbed the ‘Solway Spaceman‘ – was captured on Jim’s Zeiss Pentacon camera the image has resisted all attempts to explain it.

Jim, who died in 2011, saw nothing unusual when he took the photo of his 5-year-old daughter Elizabeth, as she sat on grass holding a bunch of sea pinks.

But when he took the photo for development at his local chemist the assistant told him it was shame the best image had been ‘spoiled by the man in the background wearing a space suit’.

Jim worked for Cumbria’s fire service and immediately sent the photo for analysis at Kodak and by Carlisle CID. Soon after it appeared on pg 1 of the Cumberland News the image made headlines across the world. Jim’s family were inundated with letters from people who identified the ‘figure’ as a angel, an alien and a ‘spirit form’.

The mystery grew because the photo was taken from a position looking towards the Chapelcross nuclear power station, across the Solway Estuary.  At the time MoD manufactured Blue Streak rockets at RAF Spadeadam, near Carlisle, and of course the NASA Apollo programme was in full swing across the Atlantic.

In the summer of 1964 Jim said he was visited by two mysterious ‘men from the Ministry’ who claimed they worked for the government. In a scene that could have been taken from the film Men In Black the men referred to each other by numbers and drove a black Jaguar car.

The full story – and the police and MoD investigations that followed – will be told in my new book Britain’s X-traordinary Files published by Bloomsbury in September. A summary can be followed in my case files pages here and BBC Cumbria have published a 50th anniversary feature on the mystery here.

Since 1964 there have been many attempts to explain the photograph as a hoax but none have succeeded and the most recent study, published by Rational Wiki, suggests the ‘spaceman’ is actually Jim’s wife, Anne.

This theory says the model of camera used by Jim only revealed 70% of what the lens actually captured.

That being the case, he failed to notice his wife – who was standing behind him at the time – walk into the shot and take her place in history. Another photograph from the outing shows Mrs Templeton wearing a blue dress which has overexposed to white. When manipulated in photoshop it resembles the colour of the ‘spaceman’.

A photograph showing Mrs Templeton and her daughter on the Solway Marshes - is she the 'spaceman'? (Credit: RationalWiki)

A photograph showing Mrs Templeton and her daughter on the Solway Marshes – is she the ‘spaceman’? (Credit: RationalWiki)

But Jim and his wife remained adamant that she could not have been the figure in the photograph.

Whatever the explanation the image remains one of the most puzzling examples from the gallery of anomalous photography.


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8 Responses to Solway Spaceman mystery is 50 years old

  1. The second to last paragraph sounds like you’re saying Jim was told of his camera viewfinder’s blind spot but was “adamant that (his wife) could not have been the figure in the photograph”. But that can’t be right, because the discussion about the viewfinder did not start until after Jim’s death.

    • Not quite right…the theory about someone having accidentally walked into the viewfinder’s blind spot was first proposed by Chief Supt Tom Oldcorn of Carlisle CID and was reported in the Cumberland News back in 1964. He was reported as having dismissed that theory. But I’m persuaded it was the right one because a) experience has taught me the simplest explanation is often the best one and b) because a similar theory emerged independently after Jim’s death on the Rational Wiki site.

  2. Amanda says:

    I’ve taken pictures before and thought nobody was in them only to find someone striding across when I’ve had them developed.
    People don’t realise sometimes how inattentive they can be especially when they are concentrating on something.

    • gari says:

      @Amanda, agreed!!

      I often shake my head when looking at photos of the supposed paranormal, I’ve been a shutterbug for decades, and sometimes find something that ‘wasn’t there’ when I took the picture, classic one is my breath, it can’t be seen with the naked eye but when a flash goes off in poor light conditions you can see the ‘breath’ hovering around like the ectoplasm many paranormal types think it is.

      I find photography {video too} gives a different perspective to the world, the framed scene is removed from the real world -possibly why so many cameramen {and women lol} don’t realize how close to danger they were when a shutter opened and closed; it’s like me when I go to weddings etc, I don’t take a camera as I find I miss what is going on all around me -the camera is only viewing a few degrees of 360 degree horizon after all.

  3. Siani Thomas says:

    To me, the ‘spaceman’ looks like someone very human standing with their back to the camera, hand on hip, and wearing a cap. Below the cap, I can see what seems to be the hair on the back of that person’s head. If you look at the enlarged image, it even appears that the person is wearing a cardigan or jacket with a hood on it. No-one would love the figure to be an extraterrestrial visitor more than I would, but all I’m seeing is a human with their back to the camera.

    • gari says:

      I think that seems the most likely explanation, the simplest possible explanation should be considered before leaping to aliens and pixies…

      Your last sentence is something that psychotic believers do not understand, pretty much all of the detractors of the alien hypothesis aren’t just naysayers, we would love there to be 100% absolute proof for alien folks visiting this rock, it is just that our threshold of evidence is higher, they are the reason some fool in Vancouver a few years ago wanted $30k Canadian for a picture of a seagull….

  4. Mike Lloyd says:

    Looking carefully at the enlarged version,You can clearly see her bare arm up to near her shoulder,The back of her dress across her shoulders is pushed out looking almost like a scarf.Standing with her right hand on hip and the left one pointing to something that she wants to call their attention to I would say that it is 100% his wife in the picture.The sun shining on her hair obscures any sharp details of her head.I am amazed the experts could not explain this.

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