Friday, 17 February 2012

Bishop Bergherst at Fingest

The ghost that lurks in the churchyard at Fingest, and wanders the road leading to the manor, is a harmless soul. Dressed as a forester or gamekeeper from centuries gone by, he is reported to walk quietly if he does not realise he is seen, but once he catches sight of somebody he bustles up to them as if to ask a favour, only to vanish abruptly.

The ghost might be almost anyone, but local legend has it that this is no humble gamekeeper. This is the ghost of Bishop Henry Berghersh of Lincoln who did much wrong hereabouts in his lifetime.

Back in 1321 the manor of Fingest belonged to the Bishopric of Lincoln, providing a comfortable stopping place when the bishops were travelling the country. Bishop Berghersh wished to enclose the open valley lands between Hanger Wood, and possibly also Mill Hanging Wood and take it into his estates. This would have linked the divided lands and made a useful area for hunting deer when the good bishop was entertaining nobility or royalty.

The problem was that the valley floor was common land on which the villagers of Fingest grazed their cattle and sheep. They did not much like having 300 acres taken away from them, leaving just 100 acres on which to graze their livestock. Dislike turned to great discontent when a series of poor harvests led to hunger. While neighbouring villages had livestock, milk and cheese, the folk of Fingest had nothing. There were fights, riots and the boundaries of the bishop’s new lands were broken down.

In 1343 Bishop Berghersh finally decided that the villagers had a case, and decided to allow them once again to graze their livestock on the old common lands. But he then promptly died before his orders could be put into effect. In the confusion of electing a new bishop, the instructions concerning Fingest were forgotten and the enclosing bank and ditch left intact.

It seems that Bishop Berghersh died with a troubled conscience for only days later his ghost was met by his squire. The ghost, the squire reported, was clad in green and carried the tools of the forester. The phantom bishop announced that he had been condemned to act as the ghostly forester of Fingest until his orders were been carried out and the villagers again allowed to use their common land. The squire hurried off to the church authorities at Lincoln, who promptly ignored his story as being too far fetched to consider.

Back in Fingest, events moved on. The Black Death struck England, killing a third of the population and causing disruption across the land. While the disputed lands remained enclosed, the villagers quietly dug breaches in the bank to allow their livestock through. The clergy of Lincoln were too busy with their own affairs to pay much attention to what happened in distant Buckinghamshire. The good folk of Fingest regained access to their lands, but poor Bishop Berghersh was not freed from his penance.

The ghost of a man dressed in sturdy green clothes has been reported walking from the manor to the church, and in the churchyard itself. If this is Bishop Berghersh, he might be expected to spend more time patrolling the disputed lands. But perhaps his penance has been lifted enough so that he can visit the church to pray for forgiveness. It has, after all, been a long time and his sins were not really that bad.


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