SELENE PAXTON-BROOKS goes for a paranormal ramble with some pals in Buckinghamshire
“What shall we do this weekend?”
“I know, let’s go Ghost Hunting…”
Great Missendon is a large village in Buckinghamshire, not far from Aylesbury, in the Chiltern Hills.
Originally named in Old English as ‘mysee’ & ‘denu’ meaning ‘a valley where water or marsh plants grow’ and mentioned in the Domesday survey of 1086 as Missedene, this picturesque typically English village seemed a perfect opportunity to make the best of a sunny Sunday, so we set out with cameras at the ready to explore the area and hopefully catch sight of something that would make our spines tingle and validate our belief in the paranormal.
Great Missenden is actually famous for two things; firstly it was the home of the famous children’s author Roald Dahl, and secondly it was one of the film locations for the ‘Hammer House of Horrors’ TV series first transmitted in Britain in 1980. (You can read about the series here.) In fact the creepy house in the opening credits is Hampden House, situated in Great Hampden not far from Great Missenden itself.
To be honest it was the Hammer connection rather than the Roald Dahl one that clinched it for me as a place to explore, but we couldn’t resist popping into ‘Cafe Twit’ to enjoy lunch before moving on to visit the graveyard at the church of St Peter and St Paul to see Dahl’s grave. Although Dahl never actually wrote ghost stories, his tales are very dark. For children such stories as ‘The Witches’, ‘Matilda’ and ‘George’s Marvellous Medicine’, can be seen as introducing them to the world of horror and magic in an acceptable form. The museum’s ‘Village Trail’ tells us that “Roald Dahl always wanted to write a ghost story but never managed it. Instead he told spooky stories to his children under the railway bridge in Whitefield Lane at night.” For adults Dahl wrote tales of mystery and suspense in the form of short stories, which were also adapted for British television as ‘Tales of the Unexpected’ between 1979 and 1988. I remember very vividly the theme tune and images of a dancing naked woman and flickering flames gracing our family TV on a Saturday night!
He also wrote the script for a little known 1971 British thriller with a macabre twist, ‘The Road Builder’, which stared his wife, Patricia Neal and a host of other British actors, such as Yootha Joyce (George and Mildred) and Peter Sallis (Last of the Summer Wine).
After lunch we began our ‘Ghost Walk’, walking up the High Street we turned left up to the 15th century church of St Peter and St Paul to find Dahl’s grave. The church has two graveyards – the one to the left being quite new and containing Dahl’s resting place, and an older overgrown part where the earliest gravestone seemed to be from around 1876. This is actually a beautiful Victorian graveyard that felt very calm and tranquil, albeit very overgrown. However, once Jo had viewed her photographs she realised that there was something very strange in one of them; it seems that there is a mist and the image of a soft toy, maybe a mouse rising to the right of the end of the grave. When I viewed my own photograph though, the image is clearer and it is actually a flower and the end of the next grave! So we managed to debunk the idea of a ghostly manifestation here.
On our way back to the village we turned off left down the steps of the public footpath, which lead us across the meadows to lakes behind Great Missenden Abbey where it has been reported that a ‘Black Monk’ has been seen with his head down, walking slowly and carrying either a sword or a staff. The exciting thing was that this apparition has been seen both during the day and at night! So we were hoping that there was a chance that we could also see him, perhaps skirting the water meadows in the shadows between the lake edge in bright sunshine and the canopy of dark trees. From here you get a beautiful view of Great Missenden Abbey.
Originally an Augustinian monastery, founded by Benedictine Monks in 1133, there are many tales of ghostly sightings here. History tells us that monks at the abbey lived a life of luxury and debauchery, so much so that the brothers would slip out through underground tunnels in normal clothes to enjoy themselves in the village and further afield in London. The ‘Black Monk’ could have been one of these wayward priests as he has not only been seen in the grounds of the abbey, but also in the streets of the village close by to the George Inn. In fact the streets around the 15th century George Inn have been a favourite haunt of the ghost, and in the 1970s a glazier working on one of the buildings in the High Street claims to have seen a figure dressed in black enter the room he was working on, even though the house was locked and empty!
The Abbey was closed down by Henry VIII in the 1530s, was bought by Buckinghamshire County Council in 1946 and was subsequently converted into a college. It seems that the conversion may have caused another phantasm to join the ‘Black Monk’, as students began to report sightings of a woman wearing Victorian clothes, drifting down a staircase. In 1972 one explained that they had seen a female wearing light grey clothes near the ladies cloakroom, and a similar report ten years earlier told of her wearing black or white crinoline. Could this be the same ghost? Maybe there is more than one Victorian lady haunting the abbey? Several cases of poltergeist activity and an eerie wailing have also been reported, and a security guard recounted that one snowy winter’s day he followed a set of footprints that disappeared into nowhere. Unfortunately today the building is used as a conference centre and it wasn’t open to the public for us to scrutinize!
Disappointed but not about to give up, we crossed the bridge and returned to the High Street via a metal kissing-gate. Our next port of call was The George Inn, once a coaching inn for the village. Whilst very old it didn’t feel particularly scary, so I decided to ask the bar staff if they had experienced anything paranormal on the premises. Alas he explained that he had never felt or noticed anything strange in the pub and that he had worked there for over a year. He said he thought people had made up stories up just for a laugh, so we drunk our drinks and left none the wiser. Once home however, Jo searched through her pictures and came across one of the pub. We had joked that we might get a photo of the ‘Black Monk’ – but take a look in the window on the top floor! We see a young boy or girl’s face with blonde hair staring out, definitely not a real child and not seen at the time the photograph was taken. I thought I would check my own similar photograph, taken within a few seconds of Jo’s (note the car has driven further up the road) just in case we could debunk this one too, only to find… what looks like a skull staring out in exactly the same position! So much for NOT being haunted!
After this we retraced our steps along the high street wishing that the weather would change, a storm would brew, dark clouds appear and lightning would fork its way through the sky so that we would see one of the three phantoms that have terrified passersby on the haunted roads around the village late at night. Interestingly there are three reports of hauntings here!
Sir John du Plessis – 8th Earl of Warwick died 25th February 1262. Sir John made a very strange request of his executors, he asked to be buried upright sitting on his horse at Great Missenden Abbey. It is said that he can be seen riding around the Chiltern hillside.
Hugh de Plesseter – Lord of Missenden died 1292. Hugh was either John’s brother or son, it is unclear, but he is also said to have made a request to be buried at the abbey seated on his white horse, Principal. The monks were apparently unhappy about this but were too scared to refuse the wish. He is also reputed to charge through the valley on dark stormy nights.
Captain Backhouse – lived in the 19th century, he asked to be buried in his back garden at his house, Havenfields, standing upright holding his sword. His wish was complied with, but locals found that his ghostly figure began to ride through the village on horseback, baring a sword and terrifying all around. As a last resort the villagers applied to exhume his body and it was laid to rest at the abbey. His ghost hasn’t been seen since!
The last building we wanted to explore was, believe it or not, Somerfield supermarket, where in the 1980s the manager caught a ghost on the CCTV camera during the night. Unfortunately, he refused to show the footage, saying that it would show where the cameras were placed in the shop, therefore compromising the security of the property. However, staff had reported being touched or having their hair pulled by something they couldn’t see, and that displays had been interfered with. Excited by the prospect of entering a haunted building at last, we were disappointed as we couldn’t find it!
By now we were ready to hit the road ourselves. Tired but not down hearted we returned to the car, vowing to return to the abbey and to take a trip a little further South-East towards Little Missenden to see The Chiltern Hospital, originally a convent linked to the abbey by underground tunnels. Here another monk is said to haunt the building, allegedly taking his own life by slitting his throat after he was caught with a nun in 1297.
All of us agreed that we had enjoyed our afternoon ghost hunt. Great Missenden is a beautiful place to spend a lazy summer afternoon, never thinking that we may have caught something on camera that would both frighten and amaze us!
SELENE PAXTON-BROOKS is The Spooky Isles’ South East England Correspondent. She is particularly interested in folklore and historical hauntings, “I’ve been intrigued by the paranormal from an early age. I am also an avid fan of British horror, particularly Hammer and Amicus productions, and I love all things strange and macabre. ”
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