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The Devil in Marston Moretaine

Church facing East Z1306-76-1

Marston Moretaine Church facing east c.1910 [Z1306/76/1] 

There are various stories about the Devil in Marston Moretaine. In one it is said that the Devil tried to take the church tower, but it proved too heavy and he dropped it which is why it is separate to the main building. 

An article in the Bedfordshire Magazine in 1951 by George E Glazier, Meditations of the Devil at Marston Moretaine, recounts his version of the story [also available in CRT130MAR/10]. 

South of the village on the eastern side of the Lidlington to Woburn road there is a stone called ‘Devil’s Jumps’. There is a story that a previous owner of the field broke the Sabbath by playing a game similar to leap-frog called ‘jumps’. It is said that the Devil leapt from the church tower to the stone, pounced on the culprit then took another leap into Hell with him. 

The inn ‘The Jumps’ was once located near the stone and Glazier believes it was named after the stone. The origin of the story is unknown, but the author feels it has a medieval ‘flavour’. 

He goes on to look at the church tower to try and explain the story. The Devil would have needed to leap from the south side of the tower. On the south wall, on the second stage, there is a large arched opening with no moulding, window tracery or door rebate. Glazier comments that it is possible that the story was invented to explain this opening as it appears to have no useful purpose so therefore could be supernatural. 

He also believes the story could have been invented to explain the position of the village. It is now located to the north of the church, but there is evidence to suggest that at some point it was to the south. It appears that the south doorway to the church was the one most frequently used in the past. This is supported by the fact that the mural painting of St Christopher was located on the north aisle facing the south entrance and not on the south aisle facing the north entrance. 

The author is unable to say why the village changed position, but supposes that there was a serious calamity, such as an outbreak of plague, and the village moved to the north side which was free of contamination. The story could have been invented to explain why the old location was laid to waste, it was under the Devil’s shadow. 

The theory of plague in the area is backed up as the Black Death was virulent in and around Bedford in 1349 and the masters of the hospitals and priors of Caldwell and Newnham died. Newnham Priory had land in Marston Moretaine.  

The Listed Building Register lists the stone as Grade II, named the Devil’s Toenail and located on Station Road. It states that it is probably the remains of a limestone medieval cross and is approximately 30cm in diameter and 50cm high.