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Today is St David's Day, the national day of Wales, and it seems an appropriate moment to post what remains my very favourite story among all the thousands of strange tales that have featured in Fortean Times over the years.
The first of these stamps was reported shortly after the disappearance of Rhys Evans, 71, a well-known Welsh book collector and expert. Coincidentally, a report from Llandegley, near Radnor Forest, stated that three children saw a huge beast in the woods, and that one, bolder than the rest, attempted to follow it. Mike DashMike Dash was partway through a history degree when he joined Fortean Times in 1983. That is a large claim – the complete set of FT must run to several million words by now – but even after all these years I still find what follows so surreal and so magical, in its combination of the gentle, the mundane and the extraordinary, that for me each reading is like immersing myself in a warm bath. Evans left home in Sketty, Swansea, on the afternoon of 4 April 1928 to show his friend, Professor Jenkins of University College, a very old Welsh book of stories and legends, which he carried in a waterproof wrapper.


Two days later, his wife received a letter from Cardiff, bearing a pair of penny ha'penny stamps, one of which had the dragon overprint. Since then he's clocked up six years in the archives as a postgrad studying for a PhD, and eight more in his current career as a full-time author of historical blockbusters such as Batavia's Graveyard and Thug.
Apparently, collectors had been mystified over the previous months by the appearance of certain small denomination British stamps overprinted with a red dragon. It included an account of a secret sect or clan responsible for the guardianship of five sacred dragons, and a crude plan which Evans hoped his friend would decypher. The message, in Welsh, told her not to worry, as her husband was quite well, and it bore what was undoubtedly his signature.
The ancient book was missing, and he seemed unconcerned about its loss, which was quite out of character. Mike's subjects have ranged from the seventeenth century Netherlands to twentieth century New York, and he nurtures an unhealthy desire to have his ashes scattered in one of the less frequented corners of the place he lists as his favourite in the entire world: Cambridge University Library.


The Fortean Times version of the story is by Paul Sieveking, and it was published in FT48:32 (Spring 1987). Some 20 letters and postcards were known to exist, all having pairs of stamps, the left one of which bore the overprint. The names of the characters involved are so common that it would be extremely difficult to check if they were actually real or not; Radnor Forest, though, is real – and is, according to local legend, the place where the last Welsh dragon still lies sleeping (Daniel Parry-Jones, A Country Parson. Various people subsequently received letters from the group, all bearing dragon stamps and all referring to old Welsh articles. The postmarks were from Cardiff, Cardigan, Wrexham and various towns on the sites of old Roman camps.




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