ENGLAND'S MOST HAUNTED CHURCH
St Mary, Avenbury, Herefordshire
IMPORTANT - THE CHURCH IS PRIVATE PROPERTY
Although a public footpath passes right by the ruins of St Mary's, the church itself is private property and is currently undergoing structural repairs. Please respect the owners privacy and only admire the ruins from the public footpath without entering them.
Hidden away from the outside world by dense woodland, the ruinous church of St Mary, Avenbury is both lovely and creepy.
Come here on a bright spring or summer’s day or even on a crisp winter’s morning and you can honestly believe you’ve discovered a little slice of rural heaven in Herefordshire.
But visit the church in the closing light of day, or when the night’s shadows have wrapped themselves around its toppled walls and solitary tower, and feelings of trepidation and fear take hold the moment you lay eyes on it.
Indeed, this picturesque ruin, which stands in a woodland clearing close to the picturesque banks of the River Frome, has long held the reputation for being one of the most haunted churches in the county, if not the country, and many of those who visit the site leave it having experienced varying degrees of paranormal activity.
The church dates from the 12th century and for nigh on seven hundred years it served the, now disappeared, village of Avenbury.
But by the late 19th century the church had fallen into a state of decay and, despite several attempts to repair it, the situation worsened and, in 1931, St Mary’s was closed.
By the time of its closure, however, reports were rife that the old church was haunted.
The phantom organist was a frequently reported phenomenon throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
One couple even reported hearing the sound of a joyous celebration coming from inside the empty and dark church at midnight one Christmas night.
The church had three bells the largest of which, "Andrew", was said to ring out of its own accord whenever danger threatened the parish.
It was reputed to have been heard in 1931 on the night that the last vicar of the church, The Reverend E.H. Archer Shepherd, died.
Apparently his death was unexpected and the bell had started tolling before it occurred.
His daughter, Marion, later said that they should have known he was dying because "everyone knows that bell never tolls for nothing."
She also recalled how one of the parishioners, Sarah Walton, had been kept awake all night by the tolling of the bell on the night of her father’s death and told how her mother, who was entitled to stay on at the vicarage for three months after his death, had to "...hurry her departure because she continually complained of sleepless nights on account of "that bell"."
Following the churches closure the bells were moved to the church of St Andrew-by-the-Wardrobe in London where, true to form, it was heard ringing out shortly after its arrival when a vicar of that parish died.
In recent years the forlorn ruin of St Mary’s Avenbury has become something of a Mecca for local ghost hunters and many strange things continue to happen. Indeed, in the course of researching for this book I paid a visit to the site on a snowy January day in 2010.
I was photographing one section of the church when, just before I took one picture, the cameras viewer filled with mist. I looked at the picture and, sure enough, there was a white mist over one of the trees to the right. This wasn't on the photographs I took immediately before and after this one, and I was at a loss to explain it.
Then it dawned on me that I may have breathed out as I took some of the pictures and I wondered if it could have been my breath against the cold air. So I took another photo and deliberately breathed out as I pressed the button. No mist. So I'm still at a loss to explain it.
The mist appeared on five of the photos I took and two of those were taken when I made sure I didn't breathe out as I took the picture.