This beech wood near old Amersham may look innocent enough, but its past holds a grizzly tale.
In the 16th Century, it was the execution site of a group of Lollards - a religious branch with beliefs that were similar to current Protestant doctrine - who wished for the Bible to be translated into English, were opposed to a wealthy church, and who clashed with the Catholic church over the sacrament. At the time, this heresy was a capital offence and the group were sentenced to burn at the stake within the woods.
Whilst most of the group were given a death by fire, the ringleader is said to have met a more gruesome end, being rolled down the hill in a barrel full of tent pegs and stakes, into the river Misbourne.
These religious martyrs are now remembered on the Martyr's memorial, near the entrance to the woods. The inscription names the executed as William Tylsworth, Thomas Barnard, James Morden, John Scrivener, Robert Rave, Thomas Holmes and Joan Norman. It also records the cruel nature of these executions - the pyres that killed William and John were lit by their own children, who were forced to cooperate.
Local legend has it that these martyrs also make their presence felt in a more sinister way.
The executed are said to have spent the night before their deaths in the nearby Chequers Inn, which is now reputed to be haunted by their spirits, keeping the landlord awake with their groaning in the night. The Inn also houses a spectre dressed in white, thought to be the ghost of Joan Clark, the daughter forced to light the fire that killed William. And the ringleader is sometimes seen to rise out of the river Misbourne where he eventually drowned.
As to Parsonage Wood, project volunteers Russell and Chris Read have tried to establish its probable age; how close it then was to the execution site - in fact whether it actually existed as a wood in the 16th Century! Several quite detailed but later maps show the wood, varying in shape and extent; but one does not. Many areas of open common in the Chilterns only became wooded once they ceased being grazed by livestock. We shall probably never know.