The True Story of the British Premonitions Bureau

The British Premonitions Bureau was a curious institution that functioned for barely two years. While it was active, it produced what some called accurate predictions and others put down to chance. What was the truth?
The True Story of the British Premonitions Bureau
Sergio De Dios González

Reviewed and approved by the psychologist Sergio De Dios González.

Written by Edith Sánchez

Last update: 17 April, 2023

Clairvoyance has been present in different cultures since antiquity. In fact, it seems that human beings have always believed in the possibility of seeing the future and in the existence of people who possess this gift. The psychiatrist, John Barker, wanted to examine the phenomenon more closely. For this reason, he created the British Premonitions Bureau.

Barker was a prestigious psychiatrist, which makes this story even more interesting. He wasn’t a tarot reader, astrologer, or fortune teller. Indeed, he was a man of science who graduated as a doctor from Cambridge in 1948. He specialized in aversive therapy. In fact, a famous article of his published in The Lancet was instrumental in improving conditions for psychiatric inmates in Britain.

For much of his career, Barker worked with David Enoch, another well-known psychiatrist, on psychiatric orchids, or rare cases in the discipline. Among these were Othello syndrome, Couvade syndrome, and a rather special one: dying of fear. The latter eventually led Barker to found the British Premonitions Bureau.

“No matter how rational you are, DO NOT underestimate instinct, premonition or presentiment, remember they were around before any kind of logic” .

-Luis Gabriel Carrillo Navas-

A catastrophe in Aberfan

Aberfan was a small Welsh town that almost no one had heard about until October 21, 1966. On the morning of that fateful day, a slag heap on the side of a mountain collapsed. This led to 50,000 tons of mud falling on several houses and a school where children attended class every day. In total, 144 people died, including 116 children.

The whole country turned its eyes to the small town. What caught John Barker’s attention, however, was a boy who was unharmed in the tragedy, but died soon after, without explanation, apparently of fear. The psychiatrist visited the village and heard some extremely strange stories.

In fact, he learned that an eight-year-old boy named Paul Davis had drawn a mass of figures digging in the hillside under the words ‘The End’. Another girl, Eryl Mai Jones, told her mother a week earlier that she wasn’t afraid of dying. And the night before the tragedy, she told her mother about a dream she’d had: “I dreamt that I went to school and there was no school there. Something black had come down all over it”.

The Aberfan graveyard, the tragedy that prompted the opening of the British Premonitions Bureau
116 students died in the Aberfan tragedy, which an 8-year-old boy predicted in a drawing.

The British Premonitions Bureau

Barker was certainly given to interest in strange phenomena. In fact, he was a member of the British Society for Psychical Research, which studied paranormal events. The events at Aberfan led him to become interested in clairvoyance. It occurred to him that it might be a good idea to collect the testimonies of premonitions of a tragedy.

To achieve this, he asked Peter Fairley, the science correspondent for The Evening Standard to run an ad requesting stories about premonitions. He received a total of 76 responses. Several of them included details that the press didn’t publish. Among the messages were those of Kathleen Lorna Middleton and Alan Hencher, two of the people who become the pillars of his studies.

This was the beginning of the British Premonition Bureau, an institution that studied the predictions of catastrophes. Barker believed that clairvoyance was probably more common than previously thought. Moreover, he believed that many people were capable of predicting disasters. In effect, he saw them as human sensors.

The Agency of Premonitions tried to anticipate catastrophes
Two of the members of the curious British Premonitions Bureau supposedly anticipated the death of John Barker.

A strange ending

Over the next few months, there were some truly startling predictions, especially from Middleton and Hencher. In fact, 18 premonitions appeared to have come true, and 12 of them were from these two people. Among the most notable cases were those of a plane crash and a train tragedy. Extremely striking was Middleton’s prediction about the death of Robert Kennedy. In fact, she warned of it almost a month before it occurred.

However, the agency faced a contradiction. If a catastrophe was foreseen and announced, it would then be difficult for it to occur, since efforts would be redoubled to prevent it from happening.

Early in 1968, two years after inaugurating the British Premonitions Bureau, John Barker received a disturbing announcement from Alan Hencher. He warned him to be careful because his life was in danger. Amazingly, Middleton, unaware of this fact, also called him to warn him of something similar. On August 18, 1968, Barker suffered a stroke and died. He’d been stressed for a few days beforehand due to the premonitions. So, did he die of fear? We’ll never know.

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