Feb 7, 2015

Bolsover: Satan's heartland and one very scary MP

After the Derbyshire mining town was named England's Satanic capital, Joe Shutover: Satan's heartland and one very scary MPe braves the Beast of Bolsover (and 17 satanists, too)

By Joe Shute
February 7, 2015

The Devil, as local legend tells it, has already paid a visit to Bolsover. One day, some centuries past, he appeared before a blacksmith in the town demanding to have his hooves shod in sturdiest Derbyshire iron. But the blacksmith had other ideas. While fitting the shoe he drove a nail deep into the soft part of his hoof. The Devil tore off over the hills, aiming a furious kick at nearby Chesterfield Parish Church along the way – so causing its famously crooked spire.

Satan may have been driven out of Bolsover long ago, but his acolytes remain: 17 of them, to be precise, out of a population of 75,866, who claimed Satanism as their religion in the 2011 census. The findings, which only emerged this week, mark this ancient town on the far fringes of the Peak District out as the Satanic capital of England and Wales.

A total of 1,893 people chose Satanism as their religion in the 2011 census. Bristol, by means of comparison, had the highest actual number of registered Satanists at 34, but that only works out as 0.008 per cent of the population, compared to 0.2 per cent of Bolsover residents.

Those living here, in the shadow of Bolsover Castle, are well-used to ghost stories. But they remain incredulous at the new reputation foisted upon them. None more so than the town’s veteran Labour MP Dennis Skinner,

When I phone to inquire about whether Mr Skinner has encountered any Satanists during his constituency duties, his voice crafted in the pits surrounding the town, rumbles like a tide of grit and coal, gaining in volume by the second.

“I have never even heard the word before and I don’t believe in talking about anything that I am not aware of,” Mr Skinner growls, while a parliamentary aide shouts in the background that the story is a nonsense. “I have represented the area since 1970 and worked in the pits for 21 years when I left school. Underground they talk about every subject under the sun but I have never heard this phrase before.”

It may well be mischief-making. Some 176,632 also referred to themselves in the census as Jedi Knights, and in recent days, Derbyshire Police has ruled out any recent incidents connected to Satanic activity in Bolsover – or elsewhere in the county. Yet there has been prior evidence in the area of the occult.

A decade ago, in the run up to the summer solstice, there were at least12 attacks on horses in fields along the border between Derbyshire and South Yorkshire. One horse had eight litres of blood drained from its stomach, others had their tails removed, and their manes plaited in intricate patterns. Stones arranged in the shape of pentagrams (five-pointed stars) were found in nearby fields. The following year there were several more attacks on horses reported in nearby Aughton, Barnsley and Rotherham.

Such nefarious activities aside, Bolsover is also a God-fearing place. The largest of several churches is the Parish Church of St Mary and St Laurence, originally built in the 12th century. Mr Skinner says he was at a charity “sing-a-thon” here a week previously, personally belting out show tunes from Carousel (If I Loved You) and Oklahoma (People Will Say We’re in Love).

Come nightfall, however, such cheery scenes evaporate. The snow-covered graveyard surrounding the parish church shines luminescent in the light of the full moon. On Hornscroft Road, peals of eerie laughter ring out from the darkness. I take refuge in the nearby Blue Bell, a former coaching inn dating back to 1748, where Cynthia Wilson is propping up the bar.

“I have been here for 25 years and you do get a lot of old witches in Bolsover,” cackles the 67-year-old. “But as for the Satanists, I personally don’t think it’s true. Nobody has ever spoken about it, not even the Sunday afternoon crowd who come here and put the world to rights. That lot are like the G8. If anybody would know about it, they would.”

Some of those working along the town’s small parade of shops are similarly dubious about the existence of the Bolsover 17. “I don’t think there is anything really to it at all,” says Chris Christopher, 29, who runs a newsagents opposite his wife Emma’s fruit and veg shop.

However Mark Wilde, a 28-year-old fryer at Bolsover Fisheries, is somewhat more susceptible to the census results. “It doesn’t surprise me to be honest,” he says, arms folded over the counter while a battered sausage wilts on a hot plate next to him. “Because we have the castle here and because that is known as a scary place, it will bring people into the town. There are all sorts of ghost stories.”

All such stories, it seems, lead to Bolsover Castle; a medieval fortress which was converted into a luxurious pleasure palace of playboy William Cavendish in the 17th century. Its ancient grounds stalked by swirling murders of crows seem ripe for Satanic worship. That is if they get past property manager Gareth Gwilt, first.

“Nobody is allowed to come on site and carry out a religious ceremony, unless they have paid for a wedding,” he says. “But we welcome everybody to the castle, regardless of their religion or faith, so long as they are an English Heritage member or pay the admission price. We don’t discriminate against anybody, particularly against devil worshippers, because nobody is allowed to worship here on the site.”

John McCorvus, a 26-year-old from Hartlepool, is northern organiser for The Rational Church of UK Satanism (an offshoot of the Church of Satan established in 1966) which claims to have hundreds of members across the country. Both churches insist their members do not worship the devil, rather they focus on the “self”.

McCorvus, whose day job is a security guard, says sacrifices, animals or otherwise, are ruled out. Rather than gathering out in the open, many convert a room in their homes into special ritual chambers.

“Our members are people of all backgrounds living all over the country. Lots just wear normal clothes. Often you won’t even know you are talking to a Satanist until they choose to tell you.”

The Satanists themselves are dubious of the Bolsover claims. And indeed the 17 may just be pranksters.

Then again, you could be standing next to one in the queue to buy flowers at Bolsover Fruit and Veg, and be none the wiser. This time, the Devil may be keeping a low profile.


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