Why is it called “Deadmans Hill”?

Deadman’s Hill

On the evening of August 22, 1961, lovers Michael Gregsten and Valerie Storie were parked by a field near Slough. A man threatened the couple with a gun. After climbing into the car’s back seat, he ordered Gregsten to drive. They covered about 30 miles before the gunman ordered Gregsten to pull into a lay-by on the A6 at Clophill at around 01:30am. (See BBC News Article on the Hanratty Case) where a murder and near fatal shooting of Michael and Valerie took place

Following over nine hours’ deliberation, the jury convicted Hanratty of the capital murder of Gregsten. Hanratty was sentenced to death and was subsequently hanged at Bedford Prison on April 4, 1962.

Hanratty’s case was controversial in that – after he was found guilty and hanged – new evidence came to light that cast some doubt on the original findings. The case came to the attention of the appeal court, and in 2002, thanks to advances in forensic science and DNA testing, the guilty verdict was upheld.

That lay-by is known as Deadman’s Hill

Or is it?

Other references call Clophill’s Ruined St Mary’s Church the proper site of Deadmans Hill (or for those with apostrophes: Deadman’s Hill) because of some minor acts of grave robbing and vandalism that occurred there in the 1960s. Associated in lurid headlines with “black magic“, the truth is more likely to be that of idle teenage vandalism, possibly associated with other local rumours of minor criminals using Clophill woods for dog fights and badger baiting. (The local pub being called “The Dog and Badger”)

Certainly, St Mary’s Church is mentioned in Wiccan websites, but with little real enthusiasm.

Yes, it is the lay-by really

So, on balance we are tempted to go with the view of our Clophill Neighbours, and give the title to the lay-by itself, while allowing them to debunk the local mythology. They say:

This is not correct: Deadman’s Hill is on the A6 road about a mile from Clophill Village.  The hill on which Old St Mary’s Church is situated is called “Clophill”; from the Danish meaning “tree stump hill”.”

The A6 – not just a by-pass

Originally a  track, and then a Turnpike (tolled) road, the A6 has a history almost as long as it has a road surface. Running from London via Luton to Carlise, the A6 Passes (or has passed through) the following counties:- Greater London, Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, Northamptonshire, Leicestershire, Derbyshire,CheshireGreater Manchester, Lancashire and Cumbria. Through nine cities:- London, St Albans, Leicester, Derby, Manchester, Salford, Preston, Lancaster & Carlisle. And through 18 towns:-  Harpenden, Luton, Bedford, Kettering, Market Harborough, Loughborough, Belper, Matlock, Bakewell, Buxton, Stockport, Swindon, Walkden, Westhoughton, Chorley, Carnforth, Kendal & Penrith.

The A6 road from London to Bedford was repaired with a new surface around 1731, as was happening to roads all over Britain at that time.  In 1726 a Bill was passed regulating the maintenance of the road “from Luton to Westgate” (Bedford).  This was the age of the mail coaches and toll gates when new roads allowed rapid movement around the country.  Turnpike roads were introduced to England in 1706.  The A6 was generally given parliamentary priority because it was part of the route to the port of Hollyhead used by the Irish MPs, so it was a more important route then than present, having been superseded by the M1.  The name “Flying Horse” most probably relates to its role as a coaching inn on the new road.

In more modern times, it has seen a lot of changes, some lovingly recorded by a UK Road History Group. Yes, even the A6 also has people who like it. At classification, the A6 was made Britain’s second longest road and therefore England’s longest. Its start was at Barnet at London and then moved to Bignell’s Corner with the opening of the Barnet Bypass. In 1986, the M25 opened and the road was shortened by 17 miles. That made the A38 and A30 roads longer and relegated the A6 down to fourth place.

BUT WAIT: It was called Deadman’s Hill Long Before that!

Indeed, many census and survey’s record the location as “Deadman’s Hill” years before the Stone/Gregsten shooting.
In 1925, local records show it using that name for a farm owned by Bedfordshire County Council.  The name is quite ancient, and applies to the whole hill and cut into the Greensand Ridge. There may be a loose association with the nearby “Dead Man’s Cross” at Haynes as well. In any case, the Deadman’s Hill lay-by already had that name prior to the 1961 crime.

So, what is your story of Deadman’s Hill?

Any relevant local stories, history, or important events associated with the A6 or Deadman’s Hill that you can share?

(this is a public and family friendly site – please remember that with your stories.)