When well-known children’s author Alison Uttley – creator of many well-loved characters, ‘Little Grey Rabbit’ in particular, was asked in 1949 to write about her adopted home county of Buckinghamshire, she did so with a passion. She said, “This county of Buckinghamshire is the epitome of England, and the way of living is that of country people and I have fallen in love with its beauty and changelessness.” (Uttley, A., Buckinghamshire, Robert Hale, London, 1950.p. ix)
Now almost seventy years later, a great deal has changed, but her description of Ellesborough’s church, St Peter & St Paul, remains true. “There is something stark and grand about its outline against the sky,” she said, and indeed there is. (ibid, p.205)
When she approached the church all those years ago, from the Aylesbury road, she conjured up quite a remarkable image. From afar, she likened the view “To a stone ship, riding a green sea, poised on a curving green wave in the distance.” and she saw it also as, “a place of extraordinary life.”(ibid p.205)
Photograph by Rob Farrow: St Peter & St Paul: Ellesborough
She was aware that this fine church had long been thought to be haunted but found this to be of no particular surprise, commenting, “One can well imagine men coming back to that resting place under the Chilterns.
Beacon Hill is behind it, towering over it and on a shoulder of Beacon Hill is Cymbeline’s Mount.” (ibid p.205)
So, is there evidence to support the return of departed souls to this “resting place under the Chilterns”?
Photograph by Mick Finn Cymbeline’s Mount, Ellesborough
At the time of Uttley’s visit, the vicar, the Reverend Norman White, was keen to emphasize that they were standing on the Icknield Way. thought to be the oldest road in Britain and Uttley herself commented, “It compels by a latent vigour from the centuries of the past” (ibid, p.205). In some ways, this echoes Uttley’s literary gem from 1939, ‘A Traveller in Time.’ Such a prehistoric pathway would have seen many lives come and go, but are such ancient travellers (or even more recent) still to be encountered today? The answer appears to be yes.
Certainly there are records up to the 1970’s of a figure in medieval costume walking slowly across the nave towards the far wall of the church. He was first recorded as being seen in the 1940’s by the church organist a few years before Alison Uttley’s visit.
The organist was practicing for a Sunday service when he noticed the heavy church door opening and shutting and then saw an extremely tall man dressed in fourteenth century clothing, walk slowly through the church. The man disappeared behind a corner pillar and failed to re-emerge.
When the organist investigated, there was absolutely no one there. This pattern continued, but always at times when there was only ever one other person in the church. So it could never be corroborated.
Another incident in the 1970’s, in Norman White’s time, was the appearance to the parishioners of a young woman dressed in white, walking ceremoniously through the church only to disappear near a door at the southern end.
The Reverend himself spoke of how he saw her moving slowly away from the alter steps before fading from view. There was a theory that she was a parishioner in love with Robert Wallis, rector of the church in the seventeenth century, but the origins and details of the story is now lost in time.
I spoke with local historian John Vince, who knew Norman White very well, about this sighting of which he had spoken quite openly. John was clear on one thing, “If Norman said he saw it, then he saw it – he was a very rational, objective man,” said Mr. Vince firmly.
I was fortunate to speak with the Revd David Horner who was Norman White’s successor. What he told me, confirmed that there was something supernatural associated with the church – an apparition – possibly of a woman, but in black rather than white. He knows because he experienced it outside the church in the early 1980’s. This is the Revd David Horner’s story as told to me:
“On a pleasant evening in 1980. I set off from the rectory to take evening service at the church of St. Peter and St. Paul, the parish Church of Ellesborough. The rectory was only a couple of hundred yards from the church but the latter half of the walk was a very steep footpath, the church being on the top of a small hill.
I had just got to the steep bit when I saw in front of me – about 30 yards in front – a person dressed in a longish black coat also walking up the path. From the appearance of the person from behind, I thought it was a lady who was always on good time for the service and who sang in the choir, known to everybody as ‘Auntie Nellie’. I though I’d try and catch up with her to greet her but then the unexpected happened. I was within four or five yards behind her when the person simply vanished.”
David was, of course, astonished – this happened on a open pathway on a clear summer’s evening right in front of his eyes – she just disappeared.
“I can remember it today as clearly as I saw it on that evening so long ago,” he told me. But his story does not end there.
“About a week later, my son Stephen said to me, ‘Dad you won’t believe what I’ve just seen up on the path to church.’ I bet I will I answered.”
Stephen had seen what appeared to be a figure in a cloak on the same path who also faded from sight and, until they swapped stories, they did not know of each other’s separate encounters, but as David confirmed to me, “He had seen the same as I had.”
David thought long and hard about this experience and wondered if it is connected with a local story he was told about the ghost of a clergyman who had supposedly committed suicide there. He feels what he and Stephen saw was the picture of a “happening” involving an extremely strong emotion such as that immediately before and leading to a suicide.
” I believe that such an emotion can create an imprint on the atmosphere around where that emotion happened and that emotion can invade the mind or spirit of some people who are receptive to that kind of thing.”
David is right in that there is no doubt that ‘sensitives’ do exist who claim to be able to tune into past events that have such strong emotional ingredients. David and Stephen certainly qualify and perhaps you do too?
Maybe you should visit a certain church at Ellesborough on a summer’s eve!