1963: Year of Magick

by MJ Wayland

“I uncover evidence that the Black Alchemist could have made his first forays into the Black Arts 20 years before the famous Black Alchemist books of Andrew Collins….” As I wrote ten years ago. It’s doubtful the Black Alchemist was responsible for all or if any of the cases mentioned, however, it shows that 1963 was a year for the occult.

Who was The Black Alchemist?

The premise of the Black Alchemist books (Black Alchemist, Seventh Sword and The Second Coming) is that an educated lecturer or teacher based in the South of England was creating a series of rituals in various locations with particular significance. Andrew Collins and a psychic called Bernard stumbled across the Alchemist’s nefarious deeds and were pursued by the Black Alchemist and later a female assistant who could have had links with a Sussex based fraction called “The Friends of Hecate”.

If all that Andrew Collins wrote was true, then we believe that the following research could imply that the Black Alchemist (BA) was either instrumental or part of occult activity taking place in 1963 when there was a large explosion of interest.

The start of the BA’s meddlings within the Black Arts could have begun in 1963 when he would have almost certainly been in his early twenties and possibly at one of the major universities in Southern England.

Interestingly the first strike began at a location that many regard be one of the most haunted and strangest places in England – St Mary’s Church at Clophill, Bedfordshire.

The Legend of Clophill Begins

black alchemist clophill church

March 1963: Two young boys went to play in the ruins of St Mary’s Church, built in the tenth century and standing over the village of Clophill in Bedfordshire, it was something they did most days, although today they would discover something that would put Clophill on the map within the occult community.

That day they discovered a human skull on a spike surrounded by other human bones. When the police arrived they found a breastbone, pelvis and leg bones. These were arranged in a peculiar pattern on a stone slab placed on the former site of the altar. Feathers were also found; they were bloodstained feathers of a cock. On the wall was a neatly cut circle with a cross inside it. At first, no one saw anything odd about this item. It seemed at first glance to be the Celtic cross although later it was discovered that it was recently carved and that it had further hidden meaning.

Six of the graves had been badly chipped by the use of a crowbar but on the seventh, that of the grave of Jenny Humberstone, they had been successful in desecrating the grave.

The Cross had more profound meaning, it was freshly carved and there was no record of the cross belonging to the church. After careful examination the structure of the cross had unusual traits, It had curved interlocking lines and its bright red colouring made it resemble Aleister Crowley’s Mark of the Beast, although the report does not confirm exactly who this identification was made.

At first, it was believed it was the work of a solitary practitioner however during the investigation it became apparent that it would have taken at least seven people to lift the stone slab off Jenny’s tomb.

Another interesting fact regarding the desecration of the graves was that out of the seven graves attacked that night, not one was a man’s, could this be an indication of a female worshipping cult?

Since this attack, the site was attacked again six years later and still to this day holds interest for both the occult and paranormal community. Many paranormal groups still visit with the hope to discover paranormal activity, not realising the site’s occult history.

The Tainting of Bayham Abbey

May 1963: One of the most extensive ruins in Sussex, Bayham Abbey was built between 1208 and 1211 and is set in picturesque surroundings. As with many Abbeys, it is haunted by the ghosts of monks who have been heard chanting in Latin just before dusk, accompanied by the sound of chiming bells. On several occasions, ghostly monks have been witnessed walking in procession through the abbey ruins in the moonlight, sometimes for several minutes, before vanishing into the dark shadows. A strong smell of incense is said to accompany these manifestations.

Our interest in Bayham Abbey is that with the activities of the Black Alchemist. In mid-May, a number of sources claim that a fire was found kindled on the high altar. Once again, the feathers and bones of a cock was found. The ritual had taken place on the day after the European witching celebration, Walpurgis Night. No further details were released.

Bluebell Wood and The Garston Attacks

Summer 1963: Just as two schoolboys discovered the bones of Jenny Humberstone, it was an expedition by two boys that brought to light a strange affair in Bluebell Wood, Luton. While walking through this local beauty spot they discovered a pile of severed animal heads – six belonging to cows and one to a horse.

When the RSPCA inspector arrived at the scene he was surprised that there was no sign of the animal’s carcases and how much the heads had been mutilated. The jaws had been wrenched apart and two of the jawbones had been extracted. The eyeballs had been completely severed, very neatly as if by a surgeon’s knife. One of them had been suspended by a branch overlooking two circles of trampled undergrowth.

The inspector also told an investigative reporter,

“I was horrified by the agony that these creatures must have experienced. They had been shot by a humane killer but whoever had done it was a complete amateur. Or else they wanted to intensify their torture, the heads were horribly battered and some of the cows had been shot twice.”

One theory behind the attacks was that the animals were slaughtered elsewhere and their heads were then transported to the edge of the woods by car. However it would have definitely taken two men to carry the heads. Enquiries within a 50-mile radius of the incident proved a waste of time with not one farmer reporting the loss of livestock – so where did they come from?

About the same time Father Albert Davey reported that he had received a series of black magic threats. At the start of 1963 a disturbing chain of events occurred that seriously distressed him. On one occasion four carloads of strange people surround him in the street and threatened him. On another bundles of twigs entwined with red-strained rags had been found on the church’s lawn.

Within the early months of 1963, Clophill, Bluebell Woods and Garston had been the scene of occult related attacks and yet they are less than 15 miles apart.

If we look at the attack on Father Davey, could this be an earlier clue to just how far this group could go? And was it the same group that allegedly kidnapped and sacrificed a Sussex based vicar?

Leigh on Sea and Appleton Attacked

November 1963: From August to November we have no record of any attacks at the moment but if the Black Alchemist was quiet during this time, he certainly would make his move in the next three amazing ‘attacks’.

The first reprisal was at Andrew Collins’ hometown of Leigh on Sea, maybe it was this attack and its infamy that inspired Andrew’s future books 21 years later.

St Clement’s Church is an old parish church standing high above the village. The west tower and north aisle are 15th century, the south porch is of Tudor brick and the chancel is 19th century. The east window features a dramatically coloured crucifixion scene. It was underneath this crucifixion scene that a sinister discovery was made. A sheep’s heart, stuck with thirteen thorn twigs had been laid on the top of a tomb and neatly framed inside a stone marked letter “A”. This sounds similar to many charms that are well known within the occult community. At least one source claims that this ritual would certainly have been a revenge charm within the intent to kill.

The letter “A” obviously stands for the initial of the potential victim’s Christian name.

Days later at the Berkshire village of Appleton, the gravestone of a former rector and church bell ringer had been overturned. A solid stone cross was snapped in half above the grave of a twelve-year-old boy nearby police found a “black symbol” traced in the grass with stone chipping. Another site had been turned black.

The final outrages where to come when the Black Alchemist and his cohorts were discovered in mid ritual.

The Sussex Rituals

December 1963: Standing in the grey shadow of Pevensey Castle and in the county now known as being the hub of Black Magic activity and societies, Westham had a sleepy calm and isolation about itself.

In December it would find itself in a clash of possible negative power and it would leave the village reeling. It was December 7th, and the village was busy preparing for the annual parish Christmas Bazaar. Many of the villagers were outside preparing their homes and streets for the celebrations that were to take place that night.

black alchemist at pevensey castle
Satanic Pevensey Castle

Walter Binstead, the chief bell ringer was preparing for his moment of glory when his team would begin the bazaar with a glorious tune. In the evening he would meet a group of visiting confreres and ring with them the joyful seasonal changes. As he closed the door behind him, there was little doubt he wouldn’t be expecting what was going to happen next.

As he wandered up the street he noticed the doors opened and crowds on every street. About 600 yards up the road, a blue and grey ford coming from the direction of Hastings slowly stopped near the wall of Pevensey Castle.

He witnessed four men get out, carefully lock the doors and start to walk very casually towards the hall. It seemed a normal day and nobody really took much notice of them, that was until Walter Binstead glanced out of the window at the village hall later that night. Across the lawn, he noticed a light in the church belfry.

He realised that the visiting bell ringers hadn’t arrived yet, and decided to see who was in the church.

As he entered the church he noticed flickering candles and dark shadows moving around. The candles were placed on the chancel floor and arranged in the shape of a cross. As Walter looked closer he saw the four men standing before the altar. One of them – who seemed the leader – was placed slightly ahead of the rest, and was uttering a form of chant.

The figures bowed and then began to dance, slow at first then it changed into a rapid frenzy. Binstead raised his arm and switched on the light, as he did so the strangers swung towards him. He ran to get help.

Outside he called a small group of helpers to come quickly but it was too late, the strangers were on the run. The helpers ran towards the church and met the men full-on, one helper was pushed to the ground after receiving a blow on the forehead. Binstead was pushed to the side, while another two was shoved away. The strangers continued to run down the street, pushing through a group of school children before jumping into their car and heading east.

Within minutes the police had arrived and examined the church. In the church the candles were still burning, two of them taken from the altar, on the altar itself was spittle dripping from the cross.

It took almost a year for the parishioners to worship at the church again and it was only until the rector performed a special service of dedication that they came back.

Some claimed it was black magic and cannot believe they dared to do such a deed during such a public event. It seems on the face of it that this group of black practitioners wanted to openly demonstrate their power and strength.

Just as the dying embers of 1963 were about to be extinguished another attack would take place, this time in a location that would certainly play part in the Black Alchemist’s dealings twenty years later – Bramber, Sussex.

The Church of St Nicholas was built in 1073 by William de Braose and is one of the oldest Norman Churches (if not the oldest) in Sussex. Its features include rare early Norman figured carvings, a Royal Coat of Arms and a small number of attractive stained glass windows.

It was just after Christmas that year, a stone cross weighing 5cwt was wrenched from a grave and all the figures of angels in the graveyard were smashed. On the church doors, strange symbols were inscribed, thought to be that of the Black Arts. This case would have gone totally unnoticed if for one detail, the rector of the church decided to curse the vandals!

And so we have it. Is this article purely stringing together a few unrelated incidents that occurred in the early 60’s or does it really point to the activities of a group similar to that of the “People of Hexe” or “Friends of Hecate?”

I suppose we will never know for sure but I still stand by my original ideas, could this have been the Black Alchemist’s first (public) forays into the occult? Why did he return to many of the locations mentioned in this article twenty years later to commit equally disturbing acts? What is so special about Sussex that it draws and harbours negative energy and users of black arts?

I am sure that these questions will become more apparent the more researchers delve into the mystery behind the attacks of 1963.

Photo credit:

Ruined church of St Mary’s, Clophill, Beds (Rodney Burton) / CC BY-SA 2.0
West Gate, Pevensey Castle (Simon Carey) / CC BY-SA 2.0

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