Sitting behind what seemed an ordinary desk in an ordinary office, Andrew Tristram of Old Bolsover Town Council offered an apparently genial smile and reassured us: “I am not the emissary of Beelzebub. I am not the unholy servant of Satan. I am the town clerk.”
Mr Tristram felt compelled to make this clear because an analysis of census statistics this week showed that Bolsover had the highest concentration of Satanists of any town in Britain: 17 in a population of 75,866 (and those were the ones willing to reveal their religion to the authorities).
But he would say that, wouldn’t he? If Mr Tristram really were running this quiet Derbyshire town for the benefit of the Lord of the Underworld, would he really confess to the first journalist who came knocking?
Outside Mr Tristram’s office, shoppers strolled past stone buildings to the market place. Notices advertised a townswomen’s guild talk “My life in amateur theatre”, and “Knit and natter Tuesdays”. No Satanic Sundays.
But what had Carol Moorhouse, of the Castle Way Café told me? “We’re just a nice, normal quiet town.”
It’s the quiet towns you have to watch.
Even the Satanists have been denying Satanism in Bolsover. The Church of Satan had issued a statement: “That area does not have any exceptional concentration of adherents.” They suggested the stats were the work of pranksters.
But why wasn’t there a question on the census form to clarify exactly what branch of Satanism people followed? What about the Church of Rational Satanism? One of their members, 43-year-old John Wait explained that they offered a less hierarchical, less commercial Satanic experience than that Church of Satan bunch. They had a couple of thousand adherents in the UK, he said, “and none of them are in Bolsover. This was a few kids putting Satanism down on the census form for a laugh. I reckon you’d be better off trying Bristol.”
I would have to brave the front line in the eternal struggle between good and evil: St Mary and St Laurence, the parish church of Bolsover. And there, they were busy – arranging flowers. “We do have barn dances in the parish rooms,” said Pam Johnston, 64, the verger, “But no exorcisms or Satanic masses I’m afraid.”
I left the church. And there I saw him. A ghostly, white-haired figure gliding across the churchyard: Dennis Skinner. Since 1970, Bolsover has been the domain of this ferocious left-winger: the one they call ‘The Beast of Bolsover’.
If had fallen to The Independent to confront The Beast and I was ready. I had the statistics. I had a crucifix, in my sweating, trembling palm. I would find the truth.
“I’m on my way to meet people in the library,” said Mr Skinner. “I’m always in the constituency at the weekends.” He was indignant. He was a supporter of the church, not its mortal enemy. “I was in there last Saturday week, joining their sing-athon to raise money for the church tower. And I didn’t invent this Beast of Bolsover thing. That was you, the Press.”
Mr Skinner shot me a look – one suggesting he thought I was an idiot. He was not alone. Venturing through the streets of Bolsover, I was met only with hilarity. My last resort was The Anchor pub – and the jukebox was playing “Highway to Hell”. But landlord Rob Calderhead, 46, laughed. “The liveliest it gets here,” he said, “is karaoke disco on Saturday and Sunday nights.”
Only on the way home did what Mr Wait, of the Church of Rational Satanism, had said really hit me: “It’s not hoods and candles any more. We wear normal clothes. If you walked past us in the street, you wouldn’t notice us.”
The moon rose over Bolsover, almost full. I kept driving.Reuse content