In the midst of one of Englands middle shires and nestled amongst a ridge of sandy Pine and Chesnut wooded hills, lies the little village of Clophill.
Now blighted by a busy arterial road junction just off the roundabout lies the old high street. Passing the Flying Horse Inn and past the picture postcard cotts to the far end of the village, there is a turn, a green lane that drifts up a low hill and dwindles to a very rough track. Eventually round a few twists and turns and near the summit lies a knoll crowned with a ruined church. In 1979 a young punk rock band from nearby Luton had the idea of taking some cover shots for their forthcoming record release. It was around the time off, but not the day off - Halloween. The photographer was booked for an evening shoot to capture the atmosphere and also to take advantage of when it was (hopefully) quiet.
The Story below is taken from the UK Decay Communities
Punk Gothique Forum.
The ruined Clophill Church of St Marys
This church has had a rich history of myths and legends within the world
of the Paranormal and the Occult, eg. it is down on record as being the
site of the last reported incidence of Necromancy in the UK!
Situated 10 miles north of Luton, Clophill Church lies in ruins some 3/4
of mile north east of Clophill village on a lonely hilltop. God only knows
why they chose to build a Church there or why it was abandoned, but it
can be accsesed via an unmettled lane winding its way through deep
ancient hedgerows slowly up a low hill. The Church is situated on a knoll
of high ground near the summit. One mile to the west lies 'Dead Mans Hill'
infamous for the A6 murders that led to the last instance of the death
penalty being impossed on the convicted perpatrator, James Hanratty
These days the gravestones have been moved and the terrain
surrounding the church, flattened and grassed over, so it has lost some
of its former 'spooky' atmosphere.
The Ruined Church today
At the time of the photo for the 'Black Cat EP' in late 1979, the
graveyard of the church with decaying tombs and crumbling gravestones
was completely overgrown. The path leading up to the entrance to the
church had sunk 3 or 4 feet below the level of the graveyard and with
mist rolling around, it was truly terrifying to walk up alone on a dark night!
Going there in the dark of the night became a 'rights of passage' ritual
for kids living both locally and in the nearby towns. It is on record that
Black Occultists have also used the church for their ungodly rituals.
At the time that the band took the 'Black Cat EP’ photos, there was a
gigantic pentagram engraved into one of the walls and other occult
symbols placed around!
Shortly after the shot that appeared on the front cover was taken, the
band became spooked, they fled back to the car in blind terror and made
of back down the lane towards the main road. Travelling at speed down
the dirt track the car rounded the bend and came to a screeching halt as
the headlights picked up a magnificent white horse strolling down the lane.
The car came to a halt with hearts pounding and a moment’s pause as
the horse disappeared round the bend a few yards in front. With that the
car pulled of again, the band realising that it must have been an escaped
horse had gathered their senses together again and followed the horse
round the bend, not five or six seconds behind!
There was absolutely no sign of the horse, neither any obvious place
whence it could have escaped in the short time it took to round the bend!
The hedgerows were dense and over 10 feet high with no gates! it was if
it had vanished before their very eyes!
The band were said to be really spooked by this and that it was said to have
had a significant influence on their musical approach.
One things for sure with twenty thousand 'Black 45's sold accross the globe, the
ruined church of Clophill St Marys captured the imaginations of many.
The band felt cursed by the above experience! You know that saying
' when you break a mirror, you get seven years bad luck!' well that
was the impression the band got resulting in the following few months
becoming fraught with bad luck!
A number of years later I told the story to an individual who grew up
in the villages of Bedfordshire of the 'incident' with the white horse
whom on hearing it was not surprised. He had been brought up in the
atmosphere's of 'small-time' village 'myths and folklore' surrounding the
mid Beds villages. To my surprise, he told me that the 'ghostly' white
horse was a well-known local legend of Clophill and the surrounding
area and indeed the memory in folklore still exists in the name of the
village public house, 'The Flying Horse'. This I found incredible until I
visited the Pub for myself a few years back.
The Public Houses sign depicted a flying white horse, reminiscent of
Pegasus. This struck me as odd; it got me thinking about the bands
story of that night of the photo session, where the white horse had
apparently disappeared into thin air. Could it not be possible that the
disappearance of the white horse may be explained, by it’s sprouting
of wings and flying away? Incredible nonsense? Maybe, or maybe not!
Indeed, may the band have been privy to a sighting of Pegasus from
ancient Greek legends? It does seem arguably far-fetched but the Greek
writers based their myths and legends on older and more profane
shamanic deities. The Roman's too had a fertility goddess -Epona who
"led the soul in the ride of the afterlife".
The Celtic Mabinogi had Rhiannon, whom some interperate as a Horse
deity. The iconic Uffington White Horse comes to mind with similar
images appearing on celtic coinage. We can only glimps like passing
shadows into the ancient mindset and create reallity that pleases the
contemporary orthodoxy. We can never know for sure.
The 'genus - loci' of the knoll of St Mary would suggest a sense of
continuity from the pagan past, to the present day.
One things for certain,
It's there in the landscape with a maginficent view of the
northern Chilterns hills. The vista is impressive and it would be
hard to believe that it wouldn't have inspired anyone anywhere in
time and history
Some have reported very peculiar earth energies that emanate from
the area of Clophill Church, people have seen glowing orbs, heard
strange heavy breathing sounds and many have had mind altering
experiences here. Most are probably narcotic based, however
some are unexplainable.
On a visit there some years ago, I met a chap who was meditating on
the newly grassed over graveyard, he told me that he was a member
of an occult society in nearby Bedford. He said the church was built
there deliberately in the fifteenth century to cap a 'negative energy
vortex'. Before that, it had been a leper colony. He went on to say
that the real reason for the church becoming abandoned, was that
the church authorities had given up the fight to cleanse the 'negative'
energies and had built a new church closer to the village instead!
He went on to say that people who do not see or respect the powers
of the ruins will become 'cursed'. He particularly said that it was
extremely unwise to actually touch or 'lay hands' on the stone or
substance of the ruined Church!
Cainho and the barony of Albini
One mile to the south east of Clophill Church on the other side of the
river Flit, lays Cainhoe Castle; today all you will see are ruins in a field
to north of the Shefford road. The hamlet of Cainhoe, is mentioned in
the Domesday Book and William the Conqueror granted this area to
one of his top baron’s. Cainhoe was the center of the Barony of Cainhoe,
held by the d'Aubigny family from the Conquest until the mid thirteenth
century. Nigel d’Albini who probably built the castle, is said to have been
a powerful mover who controlled a huge area and was involved in the
crusades and he was said to have been a member of the order of the
Knights Templar. Around the castle, a small town grew up and for a while
prospered but by 1272 it had vanished! All that’s lefts of Cainhoe today,
are the castle ruins and a large farmhouse that is named Cainhoe Manor,
where legend has it that Queen Anne Boleyn; one of Henry the 8th's six
wives, spent some time.
It is proposed that for some reason that the mysterious disappearance of
Cainhoe may be explained by the relocation of the town, to the higher
ground north of the river. This ‘new’ area was on the hill where the
current ruined church now lies. This did not last long however, as the
village was decimated by the endemic plaques of the Middle Ages.
In the early 16th century, the future site of St. Mary’s Church was said
to have been a leper colony. However, later in that century, the church
of St. Mary’s was built on the site. In Victorian times the village again
relocated from the hillside adjoining the church, to it’s current position;
at the foot of Dead Mans Hill and a new Church built closer to the village
center. Therefore it is probable that the ‘lost’ town of Cainhoe physically
and phonetically mutated into the current village of Clophill.
The Church of St. Mary’s, somehow kept going until the middle of the
last century but sometime during the 1950’s, it fell into disuse.
More info and pictures of Cainho here
A visit to Clophill Church six months later
Spon ( to the left), Hughie Byrne ( on the right, photographic artist ) and
Matt Love ( Scotish Film Director, who took the pic!) made a trek to the
deepest depths of the occult landscape's of Bedfordshire, UK. namelly
Clophill and its mysterious ruined church.
Here is Spon posing the same way he did in that cover shot - he is probablly
wondering what the other three guys in the band are up to!
It was a pleasant afternoon and the guys took some good shots and marvelled
at the combinations of a bright evening light and Urban and Occult graffiti that
carressed the multi structured layers of red sandstone masonary of the ruins.
Of there being a certain resonance to the 'sense of place'.
Well on a nice sunny day with tourists and dogwalkers enjoying the sunshine it
would be difficult to detect the legendry negative or haunted vibes! but as the
evening progressed and the sun made its exit the guys made a 'sharp exit'!
On leaving, a large white owl startled, flew rapidlly out of the bell tower.
The guys gave chase with the cameras cliking but it was too fast for
them! Later the same owl was ducking and diving in the fields next to the
lane, perhaps he was out for his evening meal!.
We all had the impression that the bell tower of the church was its domain and
what a fine Gaurdian spirit providing your not a field mouse or vole!
Our welsh 'seer' told us later that it was a good omen!
..we shall see.
Hughie made a youtube movie of the day, Spon provided a sound backdrop
The original post in the popular UK Decay Communitiy Forums
has achieved 55,000 views and has proved somewhat of a
controversy. Kids and Youth will be Youth! The excitment of
a haunted ruined church is bound to inspire 'adventure' and
I have been there myself on many occasions and for many
reasons including when I was an excitable teenager.
But now all these years later I am standing on the summit of
Noone Hill, which is directly opposite, about five miles to the south.
With my binoculars on a pleasant sunny day I can see the little
knoll on the distant hills and on the summit, lit by a golden sunburst
is the tower of the iconic ruined church of St Marys of Clophill.
A moment later the sun went behind a cloud and so too the church
and knoll it was standing on. It had dissapeared into the gloom of
Dead Mans Hill in the background.......
My youthfull sense of adventure, had evolved into a quest for deeper
What a golden jewel of the Dark Imagination is the ruined church of
St Marys of Clophill within its landscape.
Original Forum posting with comments and more