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Ghostly secret of Passenham
St Guthlac Church Passenham
The western gallery of the church,
incorporating the Banastre chancel screen
The Tithe Barn at Passenham

Gravel workings excepted, Passenham, with its mill, old rectory, manor house, and tithe barn, is one of the most picturesque of the local villages, and upon such an unspoilt scene the imagination finds little effort in conjuring up the happenings of an eventful past.

Yet hopefully these will only be imaginary, for the village has long been associated with the supernatural, not least with the tale of Nancy Lee, who drowned herself in the mill pond. Indeed, in despair her spirit is still said to haunt the area.

That the area has such a reputation is not surprising, for its history dates back to before the Norman Conquest.

By 876AD the Danes had fought and pillaged their way across much of the English countryside, and it was this rampage that King Edward, the son of Alfred the Great, was determined to stop.

With his intention being to recover all the lands still occupied by the Danes, he began to fortify Towcester and Buckingham, and due to this foresight when the Danes launched an attack against Towcester they were successfully repulsed.

While the Towcester defences underwent repair, Edward then returned with his army to their camp at Passenham, and for a while the local Danes were subdued.

Indeed Edward and his army would eventually leave their Passenham stronghold, although as evidence of their stay a square entrenchment, which had been built to guard the crossing of the river ford, would long remain.

Not surprisingly, for such a military camp the further evidence is particularly gruesome, and with broken bones having been unearthed on many occasions, six skeletons were discovered beneath the rectory floor during restorations of 1874.

Then in 1916 two further skeletons were revealed, entwined within the roots of a tree blown over in a gale, and apart from three more skeletons, found during drainage work of 1947, burials have also been found in the old Tithe Barn.

Yet of all the supernatural tales told of the village the strangest is that of Sir Robert Banastre, a 17th century lord of the manor.

He died in 1649, yet even death could not curtail his dealings with the village.

Even as she prepared his body for the grave, an old woman sensed that all would not be well, and hardly had she finished her task than a ghostly wraith appeared at her bedside, bathed in the stench of brimstone and fire.

In the church at night the altar window blazed with unnatural light, and strange figures were seen to walk the ground. Then on the day of the funeral as the coffin was borne towards the church a ghastly cry was heard from within, 'Steady! Steady! I am not ready.'

But when the coffin was opened, only the corpse was found. The procession hurried on, but no sooner had it entered the church than a raven was seen to settle upon the porch, and once again was heard the eerie cry, 'Steady! Steady! I am not ready.'

In urgent haste the bearers made towards the chancel, but even as they drew near the screen crashed down, and dashed the coffin to the ground.

Without further delay Sir Robert's body was laid to rest, and in the chancel the covering slab may still be seen. Then events began in earnest.

At night, behind locked doors the villagers trembled as a phantom coach thundered past, skeleton footmen to guide the way.

A ghostly form appeared to many. Children screamed, servants fled the rectory, and even the rector would have fled, had not the sanity of his wife prevailed.

By her advice the Bishop was swiftly summoned, and, as the appointed hour drew near, in the darkness he waited with his attendants by the village mill.

Suddenly the Bishop dropped his book in startled fright as Sir Robert's apparition rose up. Mercy, it craved, promising to trouble them no more, and in the name of the Lord the Bishop bade the spirit go, and seek Redemption whilst it might still be found.

So ended the events at Passenham, but for those who venture near, when night or mist enshrouds, beware whose unseen eyes may be upon you!

In the wake of Sir Roberts Banestre's death, his widow, in the aftermath of the supernatural happenings, wisely left the district, and eventually the manor came to Lord Maynard.

However, although his family would hold the estate for many generations, they never chose to actually live at the place!

Nevertheless, their connection is still recalled in the village by the initial 'M', which may be seen on several examples of the estate housing.

In 1911 the Maynard association then came to an end when the interest was purchased by Francis Evelyn, the Countess of Warwick, and her main claim to popular fame is through having been 'Daisy', the well known mistress of Edward VII.

One can only conjecture what the local rector might have thought of such an association, although for the Reverend Loraine Smith, a rector of the village in the early 19th century, he was hardly above scandal himself, for he actively encouraged illegal prizefights.

However, no doubt having found this rather difficult to reconcile with his position as a JP, on one occasion he proved his 'concern' by arranging for an illicit contest to be broken up by the police.

Not that this proved a total success, for one of the contestants took great exception and laid out the constables.

Thereupon it was left to the Reverend to 'apprehend' the villain, and administer a 'stern' talking to!

Of more constructive pursuits was a later rector of the village, the Reverend George Capell. He patented some 30 specifications between 1882 and 1914, mainly for types and designs of mine and tunnel ventilation equipment, and many of the prototypes were made by the local blacksmith at Deanshanger.

In fact several of the Reverend's ideas would gain a worldwide renown, being noted especially for their contributions to safety.

As for one of his earliest inventions, this had been a pedal or hand operated fan 'for exhausting hot air from crops in stack', and since his design involved air being blown through a central column, no doubt to the delight of on looking children 'clouds of steam came out of the top.'