Guest writer KEVIN GATES tells us the dark secrets behind film and book, The Paranormal Diaries: Clophill, the true story of Clophill Church’s Black Magic and Scandals
Mention the village of Clophill to Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire locals of all ages and you will receive a nod of recognition.
That recognition is more often than not to do with the old ruined church on the hill than the picturesque village of Clophill itself.
The Old Church of St Mary has been ingrained in the psyches of locals for more than 50 years following an incident of black magic at the church one freezing evening in March 1963.
An incident, it must be said, that led to decades of intrigue, copycats, far-fetched stories and something approaching a rite of passage for local teenagers paying nightly visits to the site.
Sinister events at Clophill Church from 1956
The church’s history is well documented, but sinister events kicked off in 1956 with the theft of the lead from the roof, that transformed the former site of worship to something approaching an occult landmark several years later.
Now exposed to the elements, this led to the rapid deterioration of the structure of the building.
During the big freeze of 1962-63, the church – half a mile up a dirt track from the nearest habitation – was cut off from the village, with thick snow carpeting much of the UK well into the early months of 1963.
One night in March (that romanticists believe to be the night of the full moon, 10 March 1963) a group descended on Clophill and made their way up to the ruin on foot across fields.
What actually happened on that night was described in the press and even in such notable works as Richard Cavendish’s The Black Arts (1966) as a ‘Black Mass’, however the term had become commonplace in the 1960s to describe what amounted to little more than graveyard desecration.
Necromancy at Clophill Church
What happened at Clophill was closer to necromancy.
The tomb of Jenny Humberstone – who had died in 1770 aged 22 – was opened up and her skull and bones taken into the nave of the church.
The bones were laid out in a symmetrical circular pattern on a makeshift stone altar and the skull impaled on a metal spike jammed into the ground.
Symbols were scrawled onto the walls and a cockerel was sacrificed in a bloody culmination to the ceremony.
No witnesses came forward to the incident itself, save for an unconvincing expose in The News of the World from a supposed member of the coven, but the aftermath was discovered by two young boys, Duncan Stein and Calvin Smith, who were first on the scene.
Minutes later, the village rector, Reverend Lewis Barker was alerted and for many years felt cursed by the events that followed.
Reverend Barker endured a torrid time at Clophill following his appointment in 1962.
The UK press descended on the village in the aftermath of the incident and he became the focus of their reports. This led to a huge influx of visitors and a number of copycat incidents up at the ruin.
Tragedies surround Clophill Church
Barker was also hit by tragedies in his personal life during these years, when his young daughter was hit by a car in nearby Shefford and sadly died.
His health was suffering as he became convinced the dark witches had put a curse on him. Another incident was reported on Midsummer’s Eve, 1969, but truth be told, there were events happening at Clophill on a regular basis between 1963 and 1969.
The rector had attempted to rebury the bones of Jenny Humberstone, but was thwarted each time. Eventually he hid them away and this led to him believing the witches were watching him.
Barker fled Clophill rectory on Hallowe’en, 1969 and retreated to an isolated cottage on the outskirts of nearby Hitchin.
Thinking he had put the past behind him, he was horrified one morning near Christmas when he discovered the aftermath of a ceremony on the dirt track leading up to the cottage.
Ceremonial stones and effigies had been burned and Barker confessed to a young couple who were living with him that the witches were trying to kill him.
The reason was revealed to the couple, for Reverend Barker still had the bones of Jenny Humberstone in his possession some six years later.
He had kept them safely locked away in the boot of his car.
You can buy The Paranormal Diaries: Clophill, The True Story of Clophill’s Black Magic Church, by Kevin Gates, from Amazon.