By John Macklin
Joan Ridley was a small freckle-faced girl with a weakness for chocolate bars and the ‘Kung Fu’ TV series. In the summer of 1965, she was a hard-working pupil at the junior school in her north-of-England town, had a small brother, a cat and a hamster and was hoping for a bicycle for her tenth birthday.
No one would have guessed that there appeared to be apparently convincing evidence that little Joan was in fact 400 years old!
As far as John and Cynthia Ridley were concerned, their daughter had been born nine years earlier in a Manchester nursing home and they were as bemused as everyone else when she talked matter-of-factly about happenings four centuries earlier.
Indeed, only the girl herself seemed to regard her memories as nothing out of the ordinary.
But whether she knew it or not, Joan Ridley was to become a classic example of an alleged reincarnation. Supporters of the theory asked in what other way could the girl have acquired such amazing knowledge of the distant past?
Some psychical authorities are coming to believe that these alleged backward glances are not completely inconsistent with modern theories of time and space.
They claim that time possibly has a fourth dimension in which we are travelling with our attention focused on the little segment we call the present.
But none of this would have had much relevance in the gritty Yorkshire hill-town in which Joan Ridley and her parents lived. John and Cynthia Ridley were hard-working people with no interest in the paranormal – a situation which was to change dramatically in July 1965, when Joan and her brother Terry were taken to London by their parents for a three-day coach holiday.
Neither child had been to London before and they were thrilled by the experience. On the morning of the second day they visited the Tower of London, queuing in the sunshine to see the Crown Jewels and the collection of weapons and armour in the White Tower.
Then they joined a group of tourists being taken around the ancient building by a Yeoman Warder, eventually arriving at Tower Green, the scene of numerous executions.
When the guide recited a list of victims, Including Henry the Eighth’s queen, Anne Boleyn, Joan whispered to her mother, “He’s not telling the truth. They didn’t chop her head off with an axe. They did it with a sword.”
When asked how she could possibly have known that, the girl replied, “I think I must have been there…”
Joan was not a studious girl. In fact she had a complete lack of interest in history and tradition, which made her revelations even more inexplicable.
Later, Joan, who knew nothing about Henry or his other wives, apparently described in extraordinary detail the scene in 1536 when the headsman, too compassionate to execute the terrified queen in cold blood, took off his shoes, crept behind her, and killed her with his sword.
Joan’s father later explained, “I knew she had never read about it or watched it on television – she simply isn’t interested in that sort of thing. She insists she saw it for her herself when she was a little girl.
“Normally she is just a normal straightforward child. We just can’t understand how she knows all these things about the past.”
Experts, he consulted, advised John Ridley that the best plan was not to make a fuss about the matter and avoid making Joan feel there was anything strange about her revelations. After all, the feeling that “we’ve been here before” is apparently experienced by most people at some point in their lives.
John Ridley took their advice and the incident was largely forgotten. Then three months later Joan began to talk to her class teacher, Margaret Bryce about “things I seem to remember from a long time ago”.
She said she remembered being taken by her father – “not the one I have now – the one I had before” – to see the execution of two men.
“One called Moore and I think the other was called Fisher. I was told they had been very wicked and deserved to die.
“This was before they killed the frightened queen – and I was taken to see that, too.”
Joan then began to talk about going to Wapping to see a captured Spanish boat and to cheer the king as he went by barge down to Greenwich with a new queen.
It didn’t take Margaret Bryce long to find historical facts to fit Joan Ridley’s reminiscences – Thomas Moore and John Fisher were executed in 1535. The memories of the death of Anne Boleyn were also uncannily accurate and rarely mentioned in standard school history books.
Detractors were quick to point out that the child could easily have been fed the information but investigators who met Joan and her parents at the height of the controversy found that hard to believe. If anything the family resented the publicity surrounding the incidents rather than welcomed it.
Today, approaching 60, Joan lives in Australia after marrying a New South Wales farmer. She has two children and four grandchildren.
Since her own childhood she had had no further backwards looks into the past, and doesn’t want any.
“It could have been proof of reincarnation – I don’t know,” she said recently. “I prefer to forget it. All I do know is that it makes the phrase ‘You only live once’ a very suspect one indeed!”