Clophill shown within Bedfordshire
|OS grid reference|
|Unitary authority||Central Bedfordshire|
|Sovereign state||United Kingdom|
|Fire||Bedfordshire and Luton|
|Ambulance||East of England|
|EU Parliament||East of England|
|UK Parliament||Mid Bedfordshire|
|List of places: UK • England • Bedfordshire|
Clophill, recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086 as Clopelle; meaning tree-stump Hill in old English, is a small village located in the Flit river valley, Bedfordshire, England. The village has a reputation for the supernatural, and its Flying Horse pub forms part of the legend of Dick Turpin; who reputedly stopped there en route to York.
James Hanratty was a professional car thief, convicted of the murder of Michael Gregsten at Deadman's Hill on the A6, near the village of Clophill, Bedfordshire, England, on August 22, 1961. Gregsten's companion Valerie Storie was also raped and shot non-fatally during the incident. Charges on these additional crimes were "kept in reserve", but did not form part of the charges on which James Hanratty was tried and convicted and hanged. In subsequent years there was a concerted campaign to give Hanratty a posthumous pardon, as many believed he was innocent.
The ruined church of St Mary's, Clophill is a scheduled ancient monument. It was built around 1500 on the site of a much older church. The first recorded vicar was Robert, priest of Clophill in 1145. However the village of Clophill is much older and evidence suggests that the site has been considered holy since Celtic times, as evidenced by the fact that the church is situated on a hill to the north east of Clophill village.
In Victorian times it was simply too small to be able to cope with the size of congregation so it was decided to build a new much larger church down in the village. This was consecrated in 1848 and the old church, with its chancel having been removed, was used as a mortuary chapel for the grave yard that remains in use by the village.
In 1956 the lead was stolen from the roof of the old church and the decision was made, with great regret, to remove what could be salvaged to the new St Mary's Church in the village and allow the old church to decay gracefully as a ruin. With the windows and roof removed it was left as a shell.
This has proved unfortunate as it has opened the church to others whose intention has been less reverent. In 1963 one of the stone box graves was opened and the bones of Jenny Humberstone, an apothecary's wife who had died in the 1770s, were scattered about in what is generally considered to be a crude attempt at black magic. Further graves were similarly desecrated in 1969 and 1975.
This, and the proximity of the village to the A6 site of the Hanratty murder of 1961, combined to give the church a sinister reputation for the occult which it has never managed to shake off. Visitors looking for paranormal phenomena have reported faint lights that disappear when they reach the church and so a myth has grown that the church is haunted. However, villagers who visit the church every day to care for it and clear up rubbish left by visitors do not seem to have experienced anything unusual.
Several claims have developed around St Mary's Church in order to explain the supernatural tales. These include a popular claim that the church is orientated incorrectly. Actually, it is orientated due east, towards Jerusalem, as are many other churches. The Christian church does not recognise any orientation to be "incorrect" or "Satanic" and there are many other churches that are not orientated due east. Other myths include that it was built on the site of a leper colony in which villagers infected with the plague during the Black Death were abandoned to die. No evidence has yet come to light to suggest that this may be correct.
In more recent years the church has been used as a gathering point for illegal drug distribution and has suffered substantial vandalism as a result, much to the distress of villagers and residents along Church Path. This has reduced more recently since the installation of CCTV cameras, an increased police presence and a few prosecutions.
Now the old St Mary's church may have a completely new life in front of it. Plans are in progress to convert it into a bothy to provide overnight accommodation for walkers on the Greensand Ridge walk, with a full time warden on site. This would preserve and respect the old structure and would not be visible from the outside, leaving the impression that the building is still a ruin. It would also use micro-generation for power and be an exemplar of eco-friendly best practice. Clophill sits exactly half way along the route of the walk, which passes through the old churchyard by the church, so is ideally placed to offer a resting spot as the number of walkers on the ridge rises.
The Church is only accessible by foot and reached by going up the narrow Church Lane path from Clophill. It sits on the top of the Greensand Ridge and enjoys spectacular views over the surrounding countryside as well as being a haven for flowers and wildlife.
From 1977 to 1983 Clophill was the childhood residence of Alexandria, Virginia politician David Englin. International bowls player, Jon Shaw, also resided in the village until recently.