A unique last-minute stocking-filler: How the Barwell Christmas meteorite put Leicestershire on the galactic map

By Alexander Hodgkins-Jones

Gold, frankincense and…meteorite?

You could gift an unusual piece of Leicestershire history this yule-time, a fragment from a meteor which fell over the unsuspecting village of Barwell on Christmas Eve 55 years ago.

Auction houses, meteorite enthusiast forums and even eBay often offer up pieces from the 44kg space rock which spectacularly exploded before showering the village in 1965.

However, with a typical value of more than six times the cost of gold per gram, perhaps the three wise men had the right idea for stocking fillers.

In 2009 a piece of the Barwell meteorite weighing just under one kilogram sold at Auction for an out-of-this-world £8,000.

A chunk of the Barwell meteorite held at the UoL Provided by Dr Marc K. Reichow

“When you look at the Barwell meteorite it just looks like a lump of rock,” said Dr Marc K. Reichow, a geology lecturer from the University of Leicester.

“But it’s actually something really unique.”

The story behind it is just as extraordinary, beginning at the dawn of the solar system and ending on a chilly December evening.

Shortly after dusk on December 24, 1965, a 4.5-billion-year-old meteor shot across the Leicestershire sky in a blazing fireball before announcing its arrival with a sonic boom.

Dr Reichow said: “People saw it as a big bright star and it was quite a coincidence with it being Christmas Eve.”

Travelling at high speed, friction from the Earth’s atmosphere caused the meteor to reach a temperature of 3,000 degrees Celsius, before fragmenting and showering Barwell and neighbouring Earl Shilton with pieces of various sizes.

“A meteoroid, or asteroid if it is very large, is a space object, when it enters our atmosphere it is a meteor and what is found on the ground is a meteorite,” Dr Reichow explained.

What are meteorites? Provided by Dr Marc K. Reichow

Despite the commotion, many residents were oblivious to the arrival billions of years in the making.

Carol-singer Rosemary Leader remarked at the time about picking up a strange piece of rock before tossing it aside.

“I was out carol singing – I didn’t want to carry a lump of rock around,” she said.

The highly dense space rock was “huge” for a meteor, roughly the size of a traditional Christmas turkey, and the largest meteorite fall recorded in the UK.

“Meteorite falls happen every night. The question is which ones will make it to the surface and the vast majority are really small. The size of the Barwell meteorite makes it very rare,” said Dr Reichow.

It was not until Christmas morning that broken windows and smashed roof slates made it apparent an other-worldly visitor had wreaked havoc upon the small village.

Amazingly no-one was injured, although one Barwell man, Percy England, was left with more than just a broken window, a chunk of the meteorite had struck the bonnet of his brand-new Vauxhall Viva.

His son Trevor, speaking to the BBC in 2015, said: “My dad immediately got on to the insurance, but they came back saying it was an act of God.

“The next thing he did was write a letter to the insurance company which began ‘Dear Mr God’.”

He even visited the local priest, requesting the church pay the damages, but to no avail.

Mr England didn’t get a pay-out, but others were soon cashing in.

“We distinguish between a ‘fall’ and a ‘find’,” said Dr Reichow.

“For science a fall like the one in Barwell is very valuable, because we know it has not been contaminated by our elements and had its composition changed.

“A ‘find’ could have been on Earth for millions of years.”

‘Shooting stars’ are a frequent occurrence. Photograph by Jakub Novacek

With news of the Barwell Christmas meteorite spreading, people from across the country descended on the quiet village hoping to sell or donate any fragments they could find to scientific institutions.

One meteorite hunter, Sir Patrick Moore, graciously donated his discovery to the Natural History Museum.

Dr Reichow’s department at UoL holds a palm-sized piece, which he uses for demonstrations, while the largest fragment, the one found by Sir Patrick, is still housed at the Natural History Museum in London.

The interest was so high because the fragments, particularly the larger pieces, offered scientists an insight into the beginnings of our planet, the solar system and even the universe.

Dr Reichow explained: “We think of meteorites as representing different cross-sections of a planet, the core, the mantle, the crust, they are the building blocks of our solar system, the ‘bread and butter’.

“They can help answer the question of what is beyond our planet? How do planets form? The only way to sample other planets is to either travel there or look at meteorites. They give us a glimpse of what is out there.”

Owing to its size, the Barwell Christmas meteorite was able to withstand the scorching heat which typically burns up smaller pieces and destroys the secrets inside.

“Barwell was fairly unique because of its size, that preserves a lot. The bigger it is the less affected its interior is by the heating process,” said Dr Reichow.

“When you cut open and treat these meteorites, they reveal absolutely beautiful features which are very distinct, you have a really nice metal shine, and these are absolutely amazing.”

The Barwell meteorite has helped inform some of the knowledge about how planets form, putting the little Leicestershire village on the galactic map.

Bob Hutchison, a curator at the Natural History Museum, made a startling discovery when he cut a slice from the meteorite 30 years ago.

“Inside, he found a strange stony pebble that had come from an object with igneous textures. He thought it had come from a differentiated parent body [a planet with distinct layers, like Earth], one that had already melted and formed its metal, silicate and crust like a planet but one that was inside a more primitive asteroid,” explained Dr Natasha Almeida, meteorite curator at the Natural History Museum.

Using the Barwell meteorite Hutchison showed that planets were melting and forming large differentiated bodies prior to the formation of primitive asteroids.

Dr Reichow expects more research and discoveries to come from the Barwell meteorite.

“In the 70s and 80s the techniques were very destructive, these are so rare, so you do not want to be cutting into them. But now we have new processes to analyse meteorites so there’s definitely more to come,” he said.

Although significant pieces of meteorite are valuable, the potential for discovery is “priceless”.

The meteorite has put Barwell on the galactic map (red arrow is the approximate location of the primary fall, although pieces were widespread over Barwell and Earl Shilton)

And if you want to make your own discovery, you could hunt for a fragment of Leicestershire and cosmological history yourself.

Dr Reichow said: “Oh, I’m almost certain there are pieces still out there in Barwell after all these years – how many? Who knows?”

“You are beautiful always – but I need you to eat. I’m begging you”

A girl and her weight. A struggle many young teens must come to terms with but, for Charlotte Hugo, it was a battle that nearly killed her. She explains her fight against Anorexia to feature writer Samantha Johnston.

Charlotte Hugo always hated hospitals, and this visit was no different. Sat beside her dying grandad, clenching his tired hand, tears streaming down her face, he turned to her and said something she would never forget. “You are beautiful always, but I need you to eat. I’m begging you.”

Charlotte, now 21, was 11 years old. She lived in a town just south of Lincoln with her parents and older brother. She went to school and was happy and active, even competing in Riverdance competitions. She loved to dance.

All that ended the day she collapsed.

Being rushed into Queens Medical Centre, Nottingham, Charlotte had never been more scared. It was juvenile arthritis and she needed to take steroids. Steroids that caused unwelcome weight gain.

“From dancing five times a week to not being able to move made me hate myself, especially the way I looked,” Charlotte says, running her hand over her stomach.

She made the decision to start going to the gym and dieting, a decision she didn’t realise would put her life at risk. “It became an obsession, I had to be skinny, I just had to be,” she says.

She began eating less, until eventually she would eat nothing at all, sometimes for days. It would make her sick. She would faint. She was losing weight. Rapidly.

“My mum and dad started to panic. They didn’t know what to do. I remember hearing my dad on the phone. He was crying, begging the doctor to help me. It was so sad,” Charlotte began to cry, “I wanted to tell them not to worry, but that’s their job I guess.”

“When I was 15, I hit my lowest point. I was in the shower and fainted after not eating for three days. I hit my head on the bathroom sink and was bleeding badly. I don’t remember much after that, but I woke up in the hospital,” Charlotte says. She was referred to start therapy after the doctor noticed how underweight she was. 

“I hated it. My parents had to take time off work because I couldn’t be left alone, the man I had to speak to was annoying and I didn’t like the activities he made me do.” Charlotte was told to remove all the mirrors in her house and start writing a journal of things she liked about herself.

Every week, she would go to therapy and be weighed. Her weight was still decreasing. It came to breaking point five weeks in when my therapist told my parents I was going to die,” Charlotte says. “I was dying, and it was my fault. I can’t eat even though I know I should.”

Charlotte’s father, Gary Hugo, drove her home from that appointment without saying a word. Once at home he became aggressive, throwing plates and glasses at the kitchen wall and screaming. He knew he couldn’t save his daughter. He felt helpless. 

Charlotte noticed a change in her family after that day. They started taking control. “My mum had started meal plans and asking me what foods I would enjoy eating the most,” she says.

“My brother would sit with me at the dining table for hours until I had eaten enough. It was sweet how much effort they were putting in but it wasn’t helping. I had to change on my own.” Charlotte hadn’t spoken to her dad in a week. She couldn’t face him. A lot of Charlotte’s family had stopped talking to her. Her grandparents, her cousins. They were all afraid she would die and didn’t know what to say to her. “I got really lonely, she says.

A visit to her see her grandad is what inspired Charlotte to recover. “He was dying. It was one of the last times I would get to see him, and he spent that time asking me to eat. I realised just how selfish I was being. I knew then that I had to get better because I wanted my life to go back to normal.” 

Charlotte started eating again, small amounts, but it was a start. “It takes away your freedom, I was emotionless and numb for years and it tore my family apart.” She apologised to her family for the pain she had put them through and asked for help getting her calorie count up. They worked together and supervised her eating until she was a stable weight. 

It took six years.

“Recovery was the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to do but it was worth it. I’m alive and at university studying a degree I love,” Charlotte said, “I’ve found an online community of girls all in recovery that I talk to which helps. I’ve made so many new friends and I’m happy. My grandad was right, I am beautiful, and now, I actually believe that.” 

** If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, contact Beat at 0808 801 0677

THREE’S COMPANY: The inside story of a polyamorous relationship

By Thomas Carter

They say ‘two’s company and three’s a crowd’ – but for Hayley, Mike and Ian it’s a real-life relationship. They are a happy polyamorous unit. How does that work? The trio let Thomas Carter into their life of love without limits.

It’s a rainy lunchtime in an East London coffee shop and a half-eaten sandwich lies on the table. The triple all-day breakfast sandwich is too much for one person. This is not the case, however, for the people sat opposite.

They subscribe to the belief that most things in life are better in threes – especially when it comes to love.

Hayley, Mike and Ian are in a polyamorous relationship, having made the decision seven years ago to ditch conventional monogamy in favour of a new domestic arrangement.

Polyamory is the practice of having more than one intimate romantic partner, a way of life built on the ideals of consensual promiscuity, freedom and sexual exploration.

“People think we’re crazy, but they just don’t understand what being poly is like,” says Hayley, 39, a former teacher from Liverpool. 

Hayley is a short woman, naturally warm and intelligent. She looks like a normal, regular person which, she insists, she is – she just has an unconventional love life.

“We walk through town holding hands and see people stare, sometimes even laugh at us. You just have to brush it off,” she says.

This unusual story began when Hayley met Mike at university, and the two were together for nine years before she “came out” as polyamorous – much to the surprise of Mike.

“I was definitely shocked,” laughs Mike, 40, a smartly-dressed yet slightly nervous IT consultant.

“I mean, what do you say when your girlfriend tells you she wants to see another man?”

This is where those outside the world of polyamory tend to take issue with the culture, says Mike.

One could easily make the point that the addition of another person to a couple isn’t a relationship anymore, and romantic activity outside that couple is surely cheating. For this triad, the reality is quite the opposite, they all insist.

Hayley claims she “never fell out of love with Mike”, but instead felt she had “more affection to give and needs to be satisfied.” This is where 42-year old marketing manager Ian entered the relationship.

“I never knew I was poly growing up. It wasn’t something I knew about or even considered until I met Hayley,” he says, holding her hand and smiling.

“It can’t have been easy for Mike to see me arrive, but we all had a long talk and decided we loved her too much to both lose her. He allowed this arrangement to happen, and for that I respect him a lot.”

Mike is also holding Hayley’s hand. He smiles, but says nothing.

“Not many people were supportive of our choice,” says Hayley. This was especially true for her parents. Having grown up in a Catholic home opposed to anything but male-female monogamy, it was clear she found comfort in sharing her story to someone who wanted to listen. The coffee shop today, and this interview, almost acts as her confessional.

“Knowing my family would reject my lifestyle was really difficult. It held me back for so long, but now I have a life filled with love, the way I want to live it, regardless of how my parents feel,” Hayley says.

Of all the factors that make this trio intriguing, their observation of ‘kitchen table poly’ (a system whereby all members of a polyamourous relationship can coexist in the same room) is arguably the most unique.

“Everyone always finds this weird,” chuckles Mike, his partners joining in the laughter.

“I’ll admit it was a little strange at first, but now we have one big bed and we’ve all got our spots. I couldn’t imagine it being another way.”

The three sleep with Hayley in the middle, flanked by her two boyfriends. Perhaps instinctively, they sit at the table in the same position.

“Intimacy was our biggest hurdle,” explains Ian, looking to the group for mutual agreement.

“There were a lot of things to figure out, like how long we’d each get with Hayley. It can be complicated, but we do our best to divide up times that fit everyone’s needs.”

Out of the two men Ian is the ‘meta’, meaning he is the newest addition to the group, which makes Mike the ‘alpha’- a peculiar naming system for a relationship that Hayley maintains is “non-hierarchical.”

“We use the labels when discussing our relationship with others who are poly, but they mean nothing in practice,” she says, as if to reassure the partners beside her.

“I love both of them equally. Neither come above one another, and that’s how it will always be. We’re a team, a family.”

The use of this phrase was particularly thought-provoking.

While this trio is not conventional, the love on show here is clearly boundless, in every sense of the word. At no point during our conversation did they ever stop holding hands.

As the interview came to a close, it was obvious Hayley, Mike and Ian only ask of  “acceptance and respect” for their choice – to show that three can be the perfect number.

They even picked up a triple sandwich as they left.

‘I often feel like I’m being strangled, like I am stuck in my body just watching over myself’

Abby Brookes, 22, suffers from Panic Disorder. In this revealing interview, she shares her story with Sophie Watson on her ongoing battle with the condition – and how the disorder affects her life.

It’s almost 1am on a Saturday morning, and while what sounds like the rest of the students in Abby Brookes’ new built apartment building are having the time of their lives, she is trying desperately to hold onto hers.

“Remember what your therapist told you. Breathe in for three, hold, breathe out for three. Again,” Abby whispers to herself, as she feels her racing heart beat with her right hand.

She would always do that, feel her heart palpitations, knowing it would only make her symptoms worsen in exactly three, two …

“Why is my heart racing? My whole body feels shaky. Surely that’s not normal,” Abby begins to fill with familiar dread.

“I know this is my brain’s natural reaction to danger, but I’m not in danger. I don’t feel anxious. I’m in bed. My bed is my happy place.”

And that is the wearily familiar narrative that takes place, multiple times a week, multiple times a night, until Abby, trembling from every limb, eventually calms herself down and her symptoms subside – her sweaty palm always resting against her chest as she sleeps. If she can sleep.

“It can only be described as a constant, monotonous cycle of distress and panic that never seems to go away,” Abby says.

You can’t help but wonder if the panic hides in the creases of her fingers and sinks into her veins when she’s not looking, slowly suffocating her entire body into paralysis.

The first time Abby had a major panic attack was when she was 12-years-old.

She was at an aquarium with her mum and they had to go in an elevator, despite Abby being claustrophobic.

The elevator was glass, so they could see all the fish and the sharks, which they enjoyed. But then they suddenly came to a stop on the 10th floor. They were stuck there for half an hour.

“I had a full-blown meltdown. I was crying. My heart was racing. I felt like I was going to be sick in front of all these staring strangers,” Abby says.

“All that because I couldn’t get out. My mum was trying desperately to calm me down but when you’re in that state of mind, it’s almost impossible for the brain to take in information.

“I just felt like something awful was going to happen.”

Despite multiple attempts for a formal diagnosis, Abby was assured she was just experiencing anxiety. It was only when she turned 18 that she was diagnosed with Panic Disorder after being rushed into hospital with crippling chest pains.

During her first year at university, she visited the hospital complaining of chest pains more than 10 times. It was a relief to finally understand what she was experiencing, and why.

“I actually researched Panic Disorder months beforehand and realised it best explained how I felt,” Abby nods firmly.

It’s easy for Panic Disorder to be mistreated as anxiety because it is a form of Anxiety Disorder. They have similar symptoms, such as heart palpitations, worry, and feeling a sense of impending danger. But, for Abby, there is one clear difference.

“Anxiety comes and goes but panic consumes me. I often feel like I’m being strangled, like I am stuck in my body just watching over myself. It’s such a strange and uncomfortable feeling, especially when the attacks are so regular. It’s almost like they become your life,” Abby admits, timidly.

“They come from anywhere. At any time, often without an ounce of warning. One minute I’m out with my friends having a brilliant time, the next I feel overwhelmed with panic and I’m in an Uber back home.”

Certain things can trigger her panic attacks, such as being in small places, around lots of people and insomnia.

“Sometimes I can sense a panic attack coming on because I start getting pins and needles in my legs, and I quickly become to feel quite dizzy and overwhelmed. Before you know it, my coat has come off and I’m burning up,” Abby says, as she rolls up her sleeves.

She would often to this to ensure she didn’t get too warm.

“It can actually be very lonely when your friend rings you up for a catch up and you feel like you can’t tell them how you’re actually feeling,” Abby says, as she looks towards the wall covered in photographs of her best memories with her friends.

“How do you explain to someone that you feel like you’re going to die, when they just saw you laughing yesterday?”

After her diagnosis, Abby decided to seek professional help and referred herself for therapy.
Although she had to wait four months for the initial phone call, she had 10 sessions with an experienced therapist who taught her not only the science behind the panic attacks, but how-to best cope with them.

“Accepting I have Panic Disorder has been the best thing I have done to help me live with it. Not being mad at myself all the time, or confused. Just allowing myself to feel what I feel. It allows the symptoms to subside faster,” Abby says.

“Controlled breathing is also the biggest way to not only prevent an attack, but also to stop it. Meditation is also very useful to me, such as listening to the sound of waterfalls before bed. It’s so relaxing.”

Although Abby has been prescribed traditional medication for her Panic Disorder, she believes CBD products should be prescribed to treat anxiety disorders.

“Prescribed meds didn’t really help me at all. I felt like I was sinking into the floor until I found CBD (cannabidiol) products such as oil and gummies. These are the products that have helped to change my life,” says Abby.

“I feel a lot calmer when I use them. They actually treat my anxiety and reduce stress, in ways which my prescribed meds don’t,” Abby adds.

“My advice for anyone suffering with any of these symptoms, who believe they could have Panic Disorder or something similar, is to seek help. Talk to your doctor, refer yourself for therapy.

“But just as importantly, live your life and enjoy every bit of it. Every second is precious,” says Abby, as her smile spreads across her face, clenching tightly onto the photograph of her and her best friend.

It’s almost 1am on a Saturday morning, and while what sounds like the rest of the students in Abby’s apartment building are having the time of their lives, Abby knows she is doing the best she can to enjoy hers, too.

“He was sitting on his chair at the pub and keeled over. Everyone thought he was just drunk, as usual. Then he didn’t get up”

Hector Pearson talks to Nanci Rawsthorne about losing a family friend to alcoholism, the impact it has had on his life, and his desperation to be different.

Hector looks sullen as he sits down on the sofa, preparing himself to remember his dad’s best friend, an important figure from his childhood. He wants to remember the man who taught him how to play pub games and took him out shooting – but all that sticks in his head is the yellow-skinned, sunken-eyed man who died alone in his hospital bed.

Hector Pearson, 20, is an Audio and Recording Technology student at DMU. Originally from Essex, he grew up with his parents, his younger brother and his father’s best friend Charlie.

He was only 13 when Charlie died from alcoholism.

“His parents died and he just spiralled,” Hector says. “He was riddled with guilt that he’d been a burden on them and had killed them off early. So, he turned to drinking.”

For most people, constant drinking is unsustainable. To be able to fund this, you would need a full-time job, a place to stay, independence. But Charlie was 30. He was already retired and had a small fortune inherited from his parents burning a hole in his pocket.

Hector says he used to see Charlie all the time. He was always coming over to their house to spend time with them. He was almost a permanent fixture in the Pearson family home.

Charlie and his unapologetic love for music is what encouraged Hector to take it up as a career. He cites Charlie as the inspiration behind his choice to study audio engineering at university.

“He would play all his favourite bands for me. The Cure, The Clash, AC/DC. He could talk for hours about the intricacies of melody and harmony, and his eyes would be so bright and full of life,” Hector says.

And then, one day, Charlie stopped coming over.

Charlie lost all his family and friends, as he refused to get help for his excessive drinking. The only person who stayed by his side through it all was Hector’s dad.

Hector sits up from where he is laying, slouched, across his chair. His voice cracks.

“He was my dad’s best friend,” he says. “He was my best friend too.”

Hector and his younger brother were not allowed to see Charlie when his drinking got bad. Hector remembers seeing him only a few times during those difficult times.

“His skin was yellow, his eyes were sunken, he stumbled around and shouted a lot,” he says. “I remember being scared of him. This man that I’d known and loved and trusted my whole life. I was scared of him.”

Before Charlie started drinking, he would take Hector and his brother Dougal out shooting at his farm.

“One time, he dressed my little brother up in this huge trench coat and flat cap, and sent him running into the woods with a big stick to hit the bushes and trees,” Hector smiles, his eyes crinkling in happy remembrance. “Me and Charlie just shot the hell out of everything that flew out.”

Recounting a singular enjoyable time at the pub, before Charlie’s excessive drinking consumed him, Hector smiles.

“He taught me how to play the pub game ‘Shut the Box’,” Hector says. “Still mentally astute, he would win against me every time.”

“These were the times Charlie would stop after three or four beers,” Hector sighs.  

Sadly, these are the only truly good memories of Charlie that Hector has left, as most other things are tainted by his drinking.

Hector reminisces about his other memories with Charlie. Now he is older, Hector recognises that sometimes Charlie was only fun because he was drunk and often these fun memories would soon turn dark, with Charlie getting angry or crying hysterically.

“Often, when he would drink, he would cry at the same time because he thought, if his parents could see him, they would be disappointed,” Hector says.

It was in the pub, drinking and crying, where Charlie collapsed and ended up in hospital. Hector’s dad recounted the event to his sons when they were a little older, and they were more able to understand.

“My dad sat us down to say Charlie was in hospital,” Hector’s voice cracks. “He was sitting in his chair at the pub, he keeled over and fell off. Everyone thought he was just drunk, as usual. Then he didn’t get up.”

Charlie spent two months in hospital, with regular visits from the Pearson family until Hector’s dad was too grief-stricken to see his best friend in such a state. He was being kept alive by machines until they couldn’t do anymore, and he passed away.

Hector’s life was changed drastically with the passing of Charlie. He misses him greatly, to this day.

Neither Hector nor his brother are allowed to drink until the age of 21. Not even a glass of wine with dinner or a WKD at a sleepover with friends. Due to the trauma of losing their best friend to the vicious grip of alcoholism, his parents were so anxiety-ridden with the thought he would follow the same route as Charlie, they did everything in their power to try to deter Hector.

 “Seeing Charlie in this heart-breaking state was enough of a strong deterrent to stop me from drinking,” says Hector. “He looked awful; gaunt and yellow. It was tragic. I never wanted to end up the way he did: in the hospital with no family or friends left, just wasting away.”

Charlie Willis was barely 40 when he died, laying in a hospital bed waiting for a liver transplant he never got, wishing he could have made his parents proud.