or our third jaunt into the world of urban exploration we decided to check out Clophill Church just south of Bedford. Now this really is a place with a reputation: hauntings, spirits, devil worship, arson and necromancy to name just a few! At over 400 years old the church was reportedly built upon a leper colony, and was replaced in the Victorian era by a new church in the village itself, replacing our intended urbex site which sits high up on the hill almost half a mile away from the village as the crow flies.
The church itself is up a narrow dark and winding lane just off the road that runs through the village, and it’s location, as much as anything else probably has a great deal to do with it’s reputation as a place that people run screaming from. In the 1960’s the place was the scene of a national scandal as bones were dug up from the graveyard and placed in a circle with feathers, presumably as part of some satanic ritual, again something which local rumour would have people believe to be necromancy. I’m half tempted to believe the legend, as if there were bones dug up and scattered around the building you’d have to admit it’d take a pretty sick bunch of jokers to go quite that far ‘just for a laugh’.
So with all this in mind it was with just a little trepidation that we set off to explore the ruins of St Mary’s Church Clophill. Our pre-exploration pit-stop in the local pub was simply to avoid the rain, (honestly) which was coming in torrential sheets and had nothing to do with a fear of spooks or ghouls. Once the rain had stopped, and just a fine drizzle was falling from the lead-grey late afternoon skies we made our way up the narrow winding tree-lined lane stopping in the clearing at the top to see what was left of this infamous building.
The site is a wreck, the place is definitely structurally unsound with signs dotted about reminding those who venture up there that it’s not a place to play around, and I certainly wouldn’t want to stand in it in a howling gale as the evidence of masonry that’s come crashing down from the tower and the wall-tops is everywhere and obvious. Apparently the church went up in flames following what according to local history was a ‘black mass’ on the site, without a roof the structure has suffered, and while we were looking around it’s clear that some structural surveying has recently been done, with hundreds of survey tags littering the site.
It was extremely sad to see what had, at one point, obviously been a beautiful but tiny country church in such a state; and it was clear that in two places some remedial work has been done. This work seems to have blocked access to what we presumed to be the pulpit stairs at the east end of the church, and the belfry tower stairs at the west end. Gaping blackened doorways on the second and third story of the belfry tower showed where the floors had once been and it appeared that some brave (and/or very stupid) soul had recently managed to secure a climbing strap to something in the bowels of what had once been the staircase.
We gave the strap a gingerly tug, half expecting something to come shooting out, sending brickwork plummeting down on us, but it didn’t budge, and at one point we put at least 14st on the rope and it didn’t move. Now I’m not condoning doing something stupid but the urge to climb the tower was very strong. Common sense, the weather and a realisation that all three of us are perhaps fit enough to get up, but possibly not fit enough to get back down again however put pay to any ideas of scrambling the tower. If anyone with a death wish does fancy letting us know what’s up there though would be interesting.
On the exterior there was further evidence of work to try and shore the building up, with boarding placed around the crumbling buttresses, whether this was to stop the weather from further destroying them, or to stop the local ‘yoof’ clambering up onto the top of the walls we don’t know, I wouldn’t doubt that they’ll go up in flames soon enough, another thing the local ‘yoofs’ seem to be good at is setting anything combustible on the site alight.
The place was without any doubt, trashed, yes. Sombre, yes. But haunted? I’m not sure, in the fading afternoon light under blackening skies the place simply felt peaceful to me, perhaps in the dead of night it would be a different matter, but without any solid evidence as Steve said at the time “it’s probably more a case of psychology than parapsychology” that causes people to get spooked by the place, a sentiment that I’d wholly agree with. The signs of “satanism” and other less than salubrious activities were less obvious than the signs that this place has simply been used as a playground by the local graffiti ‘artists’ and chavs; and I think whoever painted the star of david one the wall ought to read up on the black arts a little bit more before trying a seance again, unless they’re trying to reach Jackie Mason.
As far as an exploration is concerned it’s a quick one, it’s literally nothing more than a shell, with no apparent crypt, no access to the tower (unless you want to trust a rope you didn’t put there or bring a ladder – which is hardly inconspicuous) and the only real points of interest are away from the main building in the graveyard which has an interesting collection of headstones old and new, the original graveyard circles the boundary of the church, with a newer, better kept graveyard to one side, perhaps to supplement the churchyard of the newer church in the village.
So there you go, an allegedly haunted church with a dark history, how much of it true? Who knows, what’s there now is a ruin, peaceful but at the same time atmospheric, I’ll leave you with some more pictures of the site, and maybe; one day we’ll pop up there on a dark night to test our hypothesis that it’s psychology than parapsychology that gives this place such a reputation.