Sunday, 30 October 2011

The Evil Sir Roland Alstons of Odel, Bedfordshire

The church of All Saints lies just outside the Bedfordshire village of Odell where a steep slope rises up from the road. It is an easy church to find, standing so prominently above the little valley in which Odell lies. Some centuries ago, however, it was not the finding of the church that was causing Sir Roland Alstons trouble, it was getting there. 

Sir Roland was the local squire who owned most of the fertile acres around the village, renting out the farms to tenants and living very well on the proceeds. He was not, however, a particularly nice man. Indeed, with his drunken rages, wild gambling and taste for loose women he might have been the achetypal wicked squire of English folklore. Unlike so many others of his type, however, Sir Roland had the most extraordinary luck. Despite his gambling, he never lost his estates and although his temper got him into numerous fights he never suffered serious harm. It was, locals whispered behind his back, as if he had the luck of the devil.

And on one terrible day, it turned out that that was exactly what he had.

It was, as might be guessed, a dark and stormy night when a stranger came calling at the home of Sir Roland. The new arrival was tall, dressed in the most magnificently tailored outfit and mounted on a great black stallion. He knocked peremptorily on the door and demanded admittance from the maid who answered. Sweeping in as if he knew the house well, though the girl had never before seen him, the stranger strode into Sir Roland’s private rooms.

Somewhat nervously, the butler entered to see if any food or drink should be prepared to make the stranger welcome. He found Sir Roland sitting bolt upright in his chair staring at the visitor with evident terror. The stranger, however, was all suave politeness as he turned down the butler’s offer on the grounds that he would not be staying long. The butler withdrew.

A few silent, tense minutes passed while the servants gathered in the hall. Then the doors to Sir Roland’s room flew open and out burst Sir Roland. He ran past his servants, dashed out through the front doorway  and sprang on to the stranger’s black stallion. The stranger sauntered out in his wake, laughing. “You can’t out run me,” the man shouted. Then he set off in pursuit, sprinting faster than the servants had ever seen mortal man run. 

A few minutes later, a villager saw Sir Roland galloping at high speed down the lane towards the church, pursued by the stranger. Then the pair were gone.

Next morning, when Sir Roland had not returned home, the servants set out to search for him. Hearing he had been riding for the church, they made their way there. The door was locked and bolted from the inside, while the outside was marked by five burn marks which had not been there the day before. A window was prised open and a boy pushed in through the narrow gap. He found Sir Roland dead just inside the door with a look of abject terror on his face.

It was never entirely certain what had happened, but one theory quickly took hold and became accepted as truth. Sir Roland, it was believed, had sold his soul to the Devil. This would explain his wild ways and incredible luck over the years. And the mysterious stranger can have been none other than the Evil One himself come to collect the debt. Sir Roland must have realised his only chance was to get on to holy ground. Had he made it in time? Nobody knew. They gave him a decent Christian burial, just in case.

The story of Sir Roland was the talk of the county for months, but then it faded from people’s thoughts as these things do. Much later, ten years to the day since that fatal night, the ghost of Sir Roland returned. Mounted on the strange black stallion, Sir Roland tore through the night. Galloping as if hell itself were at his heels, the phantom squire raced through the village, rode up to the church doors and ran into the building. And then the Devil really did appear. No smartly dressed stranger this, but the apparition of a demon with horns, tail and cloven hooves. Laughing loudly, the demon sauntered to the church doors, paused and then vanished.

This terrifying phantom drama was played out regularly every ten years for more than a century. Then the hauntings became rather less regular. Sometimes the ghosts returned twice in a year, then decades would pass before they were seen again. They do not seem to have disturbed the peace of Odell for some 24 years now. Perhaps Sir Roland has found peace at last.

Or perhaps he will some day be back to terrify the good folk of Odell and once again bring hell to earth in his wake.

from "Haunted Places of Bedfordshire and Buckhinghamshire" by Rupert Matthews

1 comment:

  1. Cool tale, perhaps a feature in a Bedford paper or online? Do it!