The history of Clophill, Bedfordshire, UK
Including historical descriptions, maps and statistical analysis.

Old St Mary's Church - post 1848

This page narrates the history of the Old Church after the new church was built.

Church converted for use as a mortuary chapel

In 1849, after the new church on the High Street was finished, the chancel of the old Church was taken down and the galleries removed. The next year the seats were put in order and stained and other alterations made to render it useful as a Chapel for funeral attendances.

It was the old custom to toll the bell at the time of death or soon after, and that before the actual tolling began the bell sounded three times for a man and twice for a woman." Two of the bells were moved to the new church leaving the third bell to be tolled.

The burial ground was still in use and in 1862 a licence was obtained for the new burial ground, east of the churchyard but it was not used until 1896.

In a letter dated June 7, 1904, addressed to his nephew, 'Rollo', who followed him as Rector, Mr. Bosanquet wrote: 'When we examined the ground where the old chancel stood, we found a heap of skulls altogether shewing that the remains had been disturbed and lead coffins probably stolen.'

Old Church

Old Church with chancel removed

Church Path

The condition of the path from the High Street to the Old church has always been a problem.

The Vestry Meeting sent a strongly worded petition to Lord Lucas concerning the road to the old church in 1908. 'This vestry... feels that it has no option but to call his attention to the pressing need of the works being commenced without further delay; the necessity for immediate action is made obvious by the fact that for the purposes of the last funeral which took place on 21st April friends of the deceased person thought themselves obliged at their own charges to effect some repairs lest the hearse should be brought to a standstill.'

This road remained a troublesome subject for many years, some blaming the estate, some the church, and some the parishioners themselves."

Lead stolen from the roof

On the night of August 14, 1956, thieves stripped the lead off the roof of the Old Church; fortunately they were unable to steal the lot. This event marked the beginning of the decay of the Old Church as, without a waterproof roof the walls started to crumble.

Old Church 1976

Old Church 1976 showing the decay

Third bell moved from Old to New Church

On May 19, 1957. the three bells chimed together again from a new position in the new parish church, the first occasion within living memory that the three bells had been heard together. The smallest of the three bells is the one that was left in the old church in 1849. It is 2ft. 8 1/2 in. in diameter, note C, and weighs about 7 cwt.

"Black Magic"

On the 16th March 1963 the Police were called to the ruined church after the bones of a girl had been found in front of the stone altar by two young boys from Leagrave, Luton. The bones had been removed from the stone tomb of Jenny Humberstone, who was buried in 1770. A police spokesman said : " We believe this may be a case of black magic practice. The national press covered the story and so Clophill Old Church became known nationally as the Haunted Church.

Luton News March 21 1963

Luton News March 21 1963

Further trouble

Having now gained a reputation for Ghosts and "Black Magic", many people visited the church at unsociable hours and caused varying degrees of nuisance from disturbing the neighbours to causing damage to the church.

On May 8, 1963 a group of students from Shuttleworth College were found dressed in white sheets at the church. Later the Rector received a letter from the principal apologising for the student's 'high spirits'.

In 1969 ten youths from St Albans and Harpenden were fined £10 for riotous behaviour in the churchyard (but four later acquitted on appeal).

An example of the damage done to the church

An example of the damage done to the church

Graveyard levelled

The Old Church was declared redundant in 1972. Tomb stones in the old graveyard around the church were removed and placed around the perimeter of the site. The ground was filled and levelled.

Old St Mary's was acquired by Bedfordshire County Council in 1977.

The churchyard being levelled

The churchyard being levelled

Vandalism continued

In 1998 the Council Heritage Group urged that a rescue plan be drawn up.

Rescue Plan

This section reproduced from the Clophill Eco Lodges website.

"In 2010 the need for a solution at the site was identified in the local Parish Plan. The Clophill Heritage Trust (CHT) charity was therefore set up by a group of local volunteers to design and deliver a programme of restorative structural works and a sustainable business plan to fund future upkeep.

Eco Lodges

Eco Lodges

The charity has been operating since, with seven core trustees and over 100 volunteers; to date it's raised over £1.1 million to complete the monument consolidation and create the eco lodges and all their off-grid services.

The Clophill Eco Lodges venture will provide revenue and guardianship for the monument as well as myriad additional educational and leisure opportunities - read more about them on our Clophill eco lodges page.

For the consolidation work, Caroe Architecture of Cambridge provided the necessary architectural input with Universal Stone selected as the contractor to complete the skilled stonemasonry work required. Monument consolidation and construction of new viewing platforms in the tower, were completed in July 2014 and are now ready for visitors.

See our Climb the tower page for tour details or proceed straight to our Book & buy page if you already know which day and time you'd like to visit."

The refurbished church, 2016

The refurbished church, 2016