The Devil Went Down to Dunstable?
In 2018 YouGov poll of 42,000 people found this small county in eastern England to be the least popular of the 47 counties – in fact, the most boring of them all.
But, after moving to the county 5 years ago, I gradually began to realize how much supernatural – and especially satanic activity there is in the area, a ‘nexus’ of sorts. With deconsecrated churches, strange ancient rocks, rumored demonic visitations, past witch trials and Wicker Man-style festivals, Bedfordshire is an enchanting place. Just not in a particularly good way.
My Pet Theory
Bedfordshire was part of the Viking-ruled Danelaw and had a longer pagan history than Anglo-Saxon Wessex.
Also, a small kingdom of Celts (‘Cynwidion’) held out in the Chilterns long after the Germanic influx and may have reverted to the old Druidic religion.
During the English Civil War, the county was staunchly Puritan/Parliamentarian, and the home of John Bunyan (The Pilgrim's Progress) whose 'Delectable Mountains,' were supposedly the Sundon and Barton Hills north of Luton.
Luton (according to comedian Diane Morgan), is chiefly known for hat-making and Satanism:
But…this may well have provoked a counter-reaction, especially after the witch trials in eastern England; Bedfordshire boasting one as late as 1737 in the village of Oakley, as well as post-Civil War duckings in Silsoe and Dunstable.
On 12 July 1737, ‘’The Monthly Chronologer’ reported the following ducking from Bedfordshire:
‘The people here [in Oakley Bedfordshire] are so prejudiced in the belief of witches, that you would think yourself in Lapland, was [sic] you to hear their ridiculous stories. There is not a village in the neighborhood but has two or three [witches].’
Some cynics would say little has changed, at least in the county’s more remote hamlets.
In the village of Silsoe dwelt Mr Saunders, an evil wizard, who featured in the British Mercury/Annals of History, Politics, Manner, Literature and the Arts 1788:
‘A few months since some extraordinary particulars were given in this paper relating to the daughter of Mr. Capon, a considerable farmer at Silsoe, in Bedfordshire, discharging from her stomach 52 brass pins, a pincushion stuck with pins and needles, a pair of small scissors, with an iron chain etc.
The strange propensity of this child to swallow the above and various other indigestible substances, was by the ignorant attributed to the power of witchcraft and a man named Saunders, a gardener at Silsoe, was reprobated as a wizard and was accused of having exerted his diabolical influence over Mr. Capon’s daughter.’
A County Abounding in Devilish Sites
The county abounds with sites associated with The Devil and witchcraft, and recent rumours of Black Masses at the abandoned Clophill Church appear to confirm followers of the dark ways may still exist; the thousand year old May Festivals of Elstow and Ickwell give off a distinct Wicker Man vibe, as does the presence of Holy Springs/Wells adorned with keepsakes and the bizarre Pancake Day 'Witch Listening' at Conger Hill.
"And did Cthulhu in ancient time
Walk upon Bedfordshire's mountains green"
(After William Blake's And did those feet in ancient time, 1804, Milton, A Poem in Two Books)
Confirming the essential otherness of Bedfordshire is the presence of the Lovecraftian Innsmouth Festival which took place on 30th September 2023.
Specific Satanic Sites
At this point, I suggest we look at some of the specifically Satanic sites connected with the county including:
Parish Church, Marston Mortaine Bedfordshire – The tower of the church is not connected to the main building, because, according to legend, the Devil tried to nick (sic) it, but couldn’t carry it outside the church grounds.
Nearby is ‘The Devil's Toenail’ – legend states one Sunday, Satan joined some local youngsters who were desecrating the Sabbath by enjoying a cheeky game of leapfrog. The Prince of Darkness enthusiastically joined in and all were having a jolly time until he opened a hole in the ground, into which they leapt and were never seen again, in the vein of the Pied Piper. The stone is said to indicate the place where they vanished.
All Saints Church, Odell, Bedfordshire; when the Devil shook the building in such a rage he left his fingerprints on the church porch – but these were recently removed during church renovations.
What happened to cause this physical manifestation of Satan’s ire? From Fantastic Britain’s The Ghost of Sir Rowland Alston And The Devil's Mark (July 2018):
‘The Odell family had their ancestral home on the site of Odell Castle – where they had lived for over 300 years – and the majority of the family members were pillars of community and well respected. Sir Rowland was the exception. Apparently a depraved and wicked man – his crimes included brawling, gambling, drunkenness and cavorting will ladies of ill repute – who had sold his soul to the devil, so the story goes. Rowland's notoriety was such that even after death his presence still cast a black shroud over the village. His ghost was seen to walk through walls and tree trunks in broad daylight; he further terrified the villagers by riding his ghostly steed inside his ancestral home, an act that would leave demonic hoof marks on the floor. Such examples of supernatural terror eventually led the people of Odell to raise a mob and exorcise the foul spectre. His spirit was relegated to the murky depths of a pond on Odell Wold where he remained for a time, only to emerge from the pond a hundred years later ready to begin anew his tyranny.
The devil hadn't forgotten the pact Alston had made when he was alive and thus was waiting for Sir Rowland when he escaped. According to folklore, the devil chased Alston to Odell's All Saints Church and, fearing his prey had escaped, shook the church in a fit of rage and left five giant finger marks on the porch. It is believed that since that day Alston's ghost has restricted its appearances to every 100 years, the next visitation is scheduled for 2044.’
The Odell Family:
The petrified cloven hoof of Satan at Soulbury on the Buckinghamshire/Bedfordshire border:
Current Satanic appearances by Lucifer Morningstar?
Bedfordshire’s abandoned St Mary the Virgin Church, Clophill, is 'one of the county's most haunted buildings', a haven for Devil worshippers and 'faces the wrong way'.
A close encounter?
Although not Satanic, Bedfordshire Pagans continue to organise regular moots in Bedford and Newport Pagnell:
In the market town of Leighton Buzzard, medieval All Saints Church ('the cathedral of South Bedfordshire') has a distinctly MR Jamesian atmosphere, with ancient graffiti of a basilisk/cockatrice, and a demon carved into the stonework.
You have been warned…