Aylesbury’s spooky past gets a makeover

Gessi, played by Kevin Connett
Gessi, played by Kevin Connett

Aylesbury’s biggest ever ghouls and villains tour takes place this weekend – aiming to show the town has a history and is ‘not like Milton Keynes’.

The annual Halloween tour has more than doubled in size for 2012 to feature 10 actors who recount the true tales of the town’s most infamous residents.

A11 Week 43'MCBH'DP'Promo for Ghouls and Villains, a 'walking play' around Aylesbury's haunted past - Pictured is Gessi, the 'Protector of Aylesbury' - In St Marys Churchyard

A11 Week 43'MCBH'DP'Promo for Ghouls and Villains, a 'walking play' around Aylesbury's haunted past - Pictured is Gessi, the 'Protector of Aylesbury' - In St Marys Churchyard

Highlights include the story of John Tawell, who poisoned his mistress in 1858 and was hanged in Market Square.

Highwayman Richard Ferguson was said to have terrorised the area in the late 18th century, until he was captured and tried at Aylesbury.

And Robert Ceeley was the man who founded the Royal Bucks Hospital after seeing a cholera epidemic sweep through the Vale in 1832.

Playwright Hayley Sinclair, 36, of Aylesbury, said: “I am passionate about history and I think the history of Aylesbury is absolutely fantastic. But for some reason or other it doesn’t get passed down through the town.

“My friends from Aylesbury were quite shocked when I told them about it.

“I think because of the development that happened in Aylesbury in the 1960s, people put it in with Milton Keynes and think it doesn’t have much history. But it does.”

The tours have been going for eight years, but Hayley was invited to take over in 2011 by the town council, which was impressed with her ideas when she approached it.

“The idea was to create a proper play, rather than say ‘Here we are and look what happened here’,” she said.

“We want to make it a theatre experience.”

The former Quarrendon School pupil stresses that her tours are factual and the actors do not speculate about locations of ghost sightings.

She said: “It’s not a ghost tour, it’s a Halloween play.”

During the performance, which last year had two actors and this year boasts 10, the audience are led through the streets of the old town while the cast perform scenes in front of historic buildings.

Fright-hunters will discover that two of the windows in the Market Square grade II listed courts building are larger than the others because that is where criminals were hanged from.

The tour is led by Aylesbury-based actor Kevin Connett, who plays the narrator Gessi (pronounced Jessy).

The character is based on the Cassai tribe, who Hayley describes as the original inhabitants of the area before 500 A.D.

The name Gessi is the title of the tribe’s warriors.

Alan Norchi, of Aylesbury Town Council which commissioned the performance, said: “We are especially glad to say that the entire production is performed and supported by volunteers from across the Aylesbury community.

“In addition to the director and actors who perform without fees, we are very grateful to the students of Aylesbury College who provide the make-up and the Aylesbury Youth Café who will be helping with props. There are in fact a number of local experts who are drawn in for their expertise and equipment and without them the ghouls and villains tour would not haunt our streets at this time each year.”

There are four tours in total, which take place on Friday and Saturday at 6pm and 8pm.

Each tour can cater for up to 50 people at a time and lasts for one hour.

The earlier tour is more suitable for children – the later one is essentially the same but features more gruesome descriptions.

The tour starts from the offices of the town council in Church Street.

Tickets are £4.50 each and available from the Tourist Information Centre in Aylesbury’s King’s Head pub courtyard.

For more information call the council on 01296 425 678 or visit www.aylesburytowncouncil.gov.uk