Monday, 15 December 2014

The Piskies in the Cellar


THE PISKIES IN THE CELLAR

On the Thursday immediately preceding Christmas-tide (year not recorded), were assembled at "The Rising Sun" the captain and men of a stream work in the Couse below. This Couse was a flat, alluvial moor, broken by gigantic mole-hills, the work of many a generation of tinners. One was half inclined, on looking at the turmoiled ground, to believe with them that the tin grew in successive crops, for, after years of turning and searching, there was still enough left to give the landlord his dole, and to furnish wages to some dozen streamers. This night was a festival observed in honour of one Picrous, and intended to celebrate the discovery of tin on this day by a man of that name. The feast is still kept, though the observance has dwindled to a supper and its attendant merrymaking.

Our story has especially to do with the adventures of one of the party, John Sturtridge, who, well primed with ale, started on his homeward way for Luxulyan Church-town. John had got as far as Tregarden Down without any mishap worth recording, when, alas! he happed upon a party of the little people, who were at their sports in the shelter of a huge granite boulder. Assailed by shouts of derisive laughter, he hastened on frightened and bewildered, but the Down, well known from early experience, became like ground untrodden, and after long trial no gate or stile was to be found. He was getting vexed, as well as puzzled, when a chorus of tiny voices shouted, "Ho! and away for Par Beach!" John repeated the shout, and was in an instant caught up, and in a twinkling found himself on the sands of Par. A brief dance, and the cry was given, "Ho! and away for Squire Tremain's cellar!" A repetition of the Piskie cry found John with his elfish companions in the cellars at Heligan, where was beer and wine galore. It need not be said that he availed himself of his opportunities. The mixture of all the good liquors so affected him that, alas! he forgot in time to catch up the next cry of "Ho ! and away for Par Beach!" In the morning John was found by the butler, groping and tumbling among butts and barrels, very much muddled with the squire's good drink. His strange story, very incoherently told, was not credited by the squire, who committed him to jail for the burglary, and in due time he was convicted and sentenced to death.

The morning of his execution arrived; a large crowd had assembled, and John was standing under the gallows-tree, when a commotion was- observed in the crowd, and a little lady of commanding mien made her way through the opening throng to the scaffold. In a shrill, sweet voice, which John recognised, she cried, "Ho! and away for France!" Which being replied to, he was rapt from the officers of justice, leaving them and the multitude mute with wonder and disappointment.

from "Popular Romances" by Robert Hunt, who collected it from Thomas Quiller Couch

Sunday, 12 October 2014

THE SPECTRAL COACH

THE SPECTRAL COACH [a]

THE old vicarage-house at Talland, as seen from the Looe road, its low roof and gray walls peeping prettily from between the dense boughs of ash and elm that environed it, was as picturesque an object as you could desire to see. The' seclusion of its situation was enhanced by the character of the house itself. It was an odd-looking, old-fashioned building, erected apparently in an age when asceticism and self-denial were more in vogue than at present, with a stern disregard of the comfort of the inhabitant, and in utter contempt of received principles of taste. As if not secure enough in its retirement, a high wall, enclosing a courtelage in front, effectually protected its inmates from the prying passenger, and only revealed the upper part of the house, with its small Gothic windows, its slated roof, and heavy chimneys partly hidden by the evergreen shrubs which grew in the enclosure. Such was it until its removal a few years since; and such was it as it lay sweetly in the shadows of an autumnal evening one hundred and thirty years ago, when a stranger in the garb of a country labourer knocked hesitatingly at the wicket-gate which conducted to the court. After a little delay a servant-girl appeared, and finding that the countryman bore a message to the vicar, admitted him within the walls, and conducted him along a paved passage to the little, low, damp parlour where sat the good man. The Rev. Mr Dodge was in many respects a remarkable man.

You would have judged as much of him as he sat before the fire in his high-back chair, in an attitude of thought, arranging, it may have been, the heads of his next Sabbath's discourse. His heavy eyebrows throwing into shade his spacious eyes, and indeed the whole contour of his face, marked him as a man of great firmness of character and of much moral and personal courage. His suit of sober black and full-bottomed periwig also added to his dignity, and gave him an appearance of greater age. He was then verging on sixty. The time and the place gave him abundant exercise for the qualities we have mentioned, for many of his parishioners obtained their livelihood by the contraband trade, and were mostly men of unscrupulous and daring character, little likely to bear with patience reflections on the dishonesty of their calling. Nevertheless, the vicar was fearless in reprehending it, and his frank exhortations were, at least, listened to on account of the simple honesty of the man, and his well-known kindness of heart. The eccentricity of his life, too, had a wonderful effect in procuring him the respect, not to say the awe, of a people superstitious in a more than ordinary degree. Ghosts in those days had more freedom accorded them, or had more business with the visible world, than at present; and the parson was frequently required by his parishioners to- draw from the uneasy spirit the dread secret which troubled it, or by the aid of the solemn prayers of the Church to set it at rest for ever. Mr Dodge had a fame as an exorcist, which was not confined to the bounds of his parish, nor limited to the age in which he lived.
"Well, my good man, what brings you hither?" said the clergyman to the messenger.
"A letter, may it please your reverence, from Mr Mills of Lanreath," said the countryman, handing him a letter.

Mr Dodge opened it and read as follows

"My DEAR BROTHER D0DGE,-- I have ventured to trouble you, at the earnest request of my parishioners, with a matter, of which some particulars have doubtless reached you, and which has caused, and is causing, much terror in my neighbourhood. For its fuller explication, I will be so tedious as to recount to you the whole of this strange story as it has reached my ears, for as yet I have not satisfied my eyes of its truth. It has been told me by men of honest and good report (witnesses of a portion of what they relate), with such strong assurances that it behoves us to look more closely into the matter. There is in the neighbourhood of this village a barren bit of moor which had no owner, or rather more than one, for the lords of the adjoining manors debated its ownership between themselves, and both determined to take it from the poor, who have for many years past regarded it as a common, And truly, it is little to the credit of these gentlemen, that they should strive for a thing so worthless as scarce to bear the cost of law, and yet of no mean value to poor labouring people. The two litigants, however, contested it with as much violence as if it had been a field of great price, and especially one, an old man (whose thoughts should have been less set on earthly possessions, which he was soon to leave), had so set his heart on the success of his suit, that the loss of it, a few years back, is said to have much hastened his death. Nor, indeed, after death, if current reports are worthy of credit, does he quit his claim to it; for at night-time his apparition is seen on the moor, to the great terror of the neighbouring villagers. A public path leads by at no great distance from the spot, and on divers occasions has the labourer, returning from his work, been frightened nigh unto lunacy by sight and sounds of a very dreadful character. The appearance is said to be that of a man habited in black, driving a carriage drawn by headless horses. This is, I avow, very marvellous to believe, but it has had so much credible testimony, and has gained so many believers in my parish, that some steps seem necessary to allay the excitement it causes. I have been applied to for this purpose, and my present business is to ask your assistance in this matter, either to reassure the minds of the country people, if it be only a simple terror; or, if there be truth in it, to set the troubled spirit of the man at rest. My messenger, who is an industrious, trustworthy man, will give you more information if it be needed, for, from report, lie is acquainted with most of the circumstances, and will bring back your advice and promise of assistance.

"Not doubting of your help herein, I do, with my very hearty commendation, commit you to God's protection and blessing, and am,

"Your very loving brother,
"ABRAHAM MILLS."

This remarkable note was read and re-read, while the countryman sat watching its effects on the parson's countenance, and was surprised that it changed not from its usual sedate and settled character. Turning at length to the man, Mr Dodge inquired, "Are you, then, acquainted with my good friend Mills?"
"I should know him, sir," replied the messenger "having been sexton to the parish for fourteen years, and being, with my family, much beholden to the kindness of the rector."

"You are also not without some knowledge of the circumstances related in this letter. Have you been an eye-witness to any of those strange sights?"

"For myself, sir, I have been on the road at all hours of the night and day, and never did I see anything which I could call worse than myself. One night my wife and I were awoke by the rattle of wheels, which was also heard by some of our neighbours, and we are all assured that it could have been no other than the black coach. We have every day such stories told in the villages by so many creditable persons, that it would not be proper in a plain, ignorant man like me to doubt it."

"And how far," asked the clergyman, "is the moor from Lanreath?"

"About two miles, and please your reverence. The whole parish is so frightened, that few will venture far after nightfall, font has of late come much nearer the village. A man who is esteemed a sensible and pious man by many, though an Anabaptist in principle, went a few weeks back to the moor ('tis called Blackadon) at midnight, in order to lay the spirit, being requested thereto by his neighbours, and he was so alarmed at what he saw, that he hath been somewhat mazed ever since."

"A fitting punishment for his presumption, if it hath not quite demented him," said the parson. "These persons are like those addressed by St Chrysostom, fitly called the golden-mouthed, who said, 'Miserable wretches that ye be! ye cannot expel a flea, much less a devil!' It will be well if it serves no other purpose but to bring back these stray sheep to the fold of the Church. So this story has gained much belief in the parish"

"Most believe it, sir, as rightly they should, what hath so many witnesses," said the sexton, "though there be some, chiefly young men, who set up for being wiser than their fathers, and refuse to credit it, though it be sworn to on the book."

" If those things are disbelieved, friend," said the parson, "and without inquiry, which your disbeliever is ever the first to shrink from, of what worth is human testimony? That ghosts have returned to the earth, either for the discovery of murder, or to make restitution for other injustice committed in the flesh, or compelled thereto by the incantations of sorcery, or to communicate tidings from another world, has been testified to in all ages, and many are the accounts which have been left us both in sacred and profane authors. Did not Brutus, when in Asia, as is related by Plutarch, see "-- Just at this moment the parson's handmaid announced that a person waited on him in the kitchen,--or the good clergyman would probably have detailed all those cases in history, general and biblical, with which his reading had acquainted him, not much, we fear, to the edification and comfort of the sexton, who had to return to Lanreath, a long and dreary road, after nightfall. So, instead, he directed the girl to take him with her, and give him such refreshment as he needed, and in the meanwhile he prepared a note in answer to Mr Mills, informing him that on the morrow he was to visit some sick persons in his parish, but that on the following evening he should be ready to proceed with him to the moor.

On the night appointed the two clergymen left the Lanreath rectory on horseback, and reached the moor at eleven o'clock. Bleak and dismal did it look by day, but then there was the distant landscape dotted over with pretty homesteads to relieve its desolation. Now, nothing was seen but the black patch of sterile moor on which they stood, nothing heard but the wind as it swept in gusts across the bare hill, and howled dismally through a stunted grove of trees that grew in a glen below them, except the occasional baying of dogs from the farmhouses in the distance. That they felt at ease, is more than could be expected of them; but as it would have shown a lack of faith in the protection of Heaven, which it would have been unseemly in men of their holy calling to exhibit, they managed to conceal from each other their uneasiness. Leading their horses, they trod to and fro through the damp fern and heath with firmness in their steps, and upheld each other by remarks on the power of that Great Being whose ministers they were, and the might of whose name they were there to make manifest. Still slowly and dismally passed the time as they conversed, and anon stopped to look through the darkness for the approach of their ghostly visitor. In vain. Though the night was as dark and murky as ghost could wish, the coach and its driver came not.
After a considerable stay, the two clergymen consulted together, and determined that it was useless to watch any longer for that night, but that they would meet on some other, when perhaps it might please his ghostship to appear. Accordingly, with a few words of leave-taking, they separated, Mr Mills for the rectory, and Mr Dodge, by a short ride across the moor, which shortened his journey by half a mile, for the vicarage at Talland.

The vicar rode on at an ambling pace, which his good mare sustained up bill and down dale without urging. At the bottom of a deep valley, however, about a mile from Blackadon, the animal became very uneasy, pricked up her ears, snorted, and moved from side to side of the road, as if something stood in the path before her. The parson tightened the reins, and applied whip and spur to her sides, but the animal, usually docile, became very unruly, made several attempts to turn, and, when prevented, threw herself upon her haunches. Whip and spur were applied again and again, to no other purpose than to add to the horse's terror. To the rider nothing was apparent which could account for the sudden restiveness of his beast. He dismounted, and attempted in turns to lead or drag her, but both were impracticable, and attended with no small risk of snapping the reins. She was remounted with great difficulty, and another attempt was made to urge her forward, with the like want of success. At length the eccentric clergyman, judging it to be some special signal from Heaven, which it would be dangerous to neglect, threw the reins on the neck of his steed, which, wheeling suddenly round, started backward in a direction towards the moor, at a pace which rendered the parson's seat neither a pleasant nor a safe one. In an astonishingly short space of time they were once more a Blackadon.

By this time the bare outline of the moor was broken by a large black group of objects, which the darkness of the night prevented the parson from defining. On approaching this unaccountable appearance, the mare was seized with fresh fury, and it was with considerable difficulty that she could be brought to face this new cause of fright. In the pauses of the horse's prancing, the vicar discovered to his horror the much-dreaded spectacle of the black coach and the headless steeds, and, terrible to relate, his friend Mr Mills lying prostrate on the ground before the sable driver. Little time was left him to call up his courage for this fearful emergency; for just as the vicar began to give utterance to the earnest prayers which struggled to his lips, the spectre shouted, "Dodge is come! I must begone!" and forthwith leaped into his chariot, and 'disappeared across the moor.

The fury of the mare now subsided, and Mr Dodge was enabled to approach his friend, who was lying motionless and speechless, with his face buried in the heather.

Meanwhile the rector's horse, which bad taken fright at the apparition, and had thrown his rider to the ground on or near the spot where we have left him lying, made homeward at a furious speed, and stopped not until he had reached his stable door. The sound of his hoofs as he galloped madly through the village awoke the cottagers, many of whom had been some hours in their beds. Many eager faces, staring with affright, gathered round the rectory, and added, by their various conjectures, to the terror and apprehensions of the family.

The villagers, gathering courage as their numbers increased, agreed to go in search of the missing clergyman, and started off in a compact body, a few on horseback, but the greater number on foot, in the direction of Blackadon. There they discovered their rector, supported in the arms of Parson Dodge, and recovered so far as to be able to speak. Still there was a wildness in his eye, and an incoherency in his speech, that showed that his reason was, at least, temporarily unsettled by the fright. In this condition he was taken to his home, followed by his reverend companion.

Here ended this strange adventure; for Mr Mills soon completely regained his reason, Parson Dodge got safely back to Talland, and from that time to this nothing has been heard or seen of the black ghost or his chariot. [b]

[a] Contributed by T. Q. Couch, Esq.
[b] The Parson Dodge, whose advesture is related, was vicar of Tallaud from 1713 till his death. So that the name as well as the story is true to tradition. Bond (" History of East and west Looe ") says of him: "About a century since the Rev. Richard Dodge was vicar of this parish of Talland, and was, by traditionary account, a very singular man. He had the reputation of being deeply skilled in the black art, and would raise ghosts, or send them into the Dead Sea, at the nod of his head. The common people, not only in his own parish, but throughout the neighbourhood, stood in the greatest awe of him, and to meet him on the highway at midnight produced the utmost horror; he was then driving shout the evil spirits; many of them were seen, in all sorts of shapes, flying and running before him, as he pursuing them with his whip in a most daring manner. Not unfrequently he would be seen in the churchyard at dead of night to the terror of passers by. He was a worthy man, and much respected, but had his eccentricities."

from "Popular Romances of the West of England by Robert Hunt

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Piskeys of Polperro and District

  
J Quiller Couch on the piskeys of Polperro and district..."when not singing and dancing, their chief nightly amusement is riding the colts, or plaiting their manes or tangling them with seed-vessels of the burdock. Of a particular field in this neighbourhood it is reported that the farmer never puts his horses in it, but he finds them in the morning in a great state of terror, panting and covered with foam."




Sunday, 28 September 2014

The Bells of Forrabury

 

TO this day the tower of Forrabury Church, or, as it is called by Mr Hawker, "the silent tower of Bottreaux," remains without bells. "At Forrabury the chimes have never sounded for a marriage, the knell has never been heard for a funeral." --Collins.


In days long ago, the inhabitants of the parish of Forrabury--which does not cover a square mile, but which now includes the chief part of the town of Boscastle and its harbour--resolved to have, a peal of bells which should rival those of the neighbouring church of Tintagel, which are said to have rung merrily at the marriage, and tolled solemnly at the death, of Arthur.

The bells were cast; the bells were blessed; and the bells were shipped for Forrabury. Few voyages were more favourable; and the ship glided, with a fair wind, along the northern shores of Cornwall, waiting for the tide to carry her safely into the harbour of Bottreaux.

The vesper bells rang out at Tintagel; and the pilot, when he heard the blessed sound, devoutly crossed himself, and bending his knee, thanked God for the safe and quick voyage which they had made.

The captain laughed at the superstition of the pilot, as he called it, and swore that they had only to thank themselves for the speedy voyage, and that, with his arm at the helm, and his judgment to guide them, they should soon have a happy landing. The pilot checked this profane speech; but the wicked captain--and he swore more impiously than ever that all was due to himself and his men--laughed to scorn the pilot's prayer. "May God forgive you !" was the pilot's reply.

Those who are familiar with the northern shores of Cornwall will know that sometimes a huge wave, generated by some mysterious power in the wide Atlantic, will roll on, overpowering everything by its weight and force.

'While yet the captain's oaths were heard, and while the inhabitants on the shore were looking out from the cliffs, expecting, within an hour, to see the vessel, charged with their bells, safe in their harbour, one of these vast swellings of the ocean was seen. Onward came the grand billow in all the terror of its might. The ship rose not upon the waters as it came onward. She was overwhelmed, and sank in an instant close to the land.

As the vessel sank, the bells were heard tolling with a muffled sound, as if ringing the death-knell of the ship and sailors, of whom the good pilot alone escaped with life.

When storms are coming, and only then, the bells of Forrabury, with their dull, muffled sound, are heard from beneath the heaving sea, a warning to the wicked; and the tower has remained to this day silent.

From Popular Romances of the West of England by Robert Hunt
 
‘The Silent Tower of Bottreaux.’
 
The pilot heard his native bells
hang on the breeze in fitful swells.
‘Thank God’ with reverent brow he cried,
‘We make the shore on evening’s tide.’
‘Come to thy God in time.’
It was his marriage chime.
Youth, manhood, old age past,
his bells must ring at last.

‘Thank God, thou whining knave, on land
but thank at sea the steersman’s hand’,
the captain’s voice above the gale,
‘Thank the good ship and ready sail.’
‘Come to thy God in time.’
Sad grew the boding chime.
‘Come to thy God at last.’
Boomed on the heavy blast.

Up rose the sea as if it heard
the Mighty Master’s signal word.
What thrills the captain’s whitening lip?
The death groans of his sinking ship.
‘Come to thy God in time.’
Swung deep the funeral chime.
Grace, mercy, kindness past,
‘Come to thy God at last.’

Long did the rescued pilot tell,
when greying hairs o’er his forehead fell,
while those around would hear and weep,
that fearful judgement of the deep.
‘Come to thy God in time.’
Swung the deep funeral chime,
he read his native chime,
youth, manhood, old age past,
his bell rung out at last.

Still when the storm of Bottreau’s waves
is wakening in his weedy caves,
those bells that sudden surges hide
peal their deep notes beneath the tide.
‘Come to thy God in time.’
Thus saith the ocean’s chime.
‘Storm, billow, whirlwind past,
come to thy God at last.


Revd R S Hawker





Thursday, 25 September 2014

Legend of the Harlyn Bay treasure


John Piers was a notorious Cornish pirate in the late 16th century. Based in Padstow, his hunting ground stretched around the coastline from the Bristol Channel to the Isle of Wight. His story is made all the more sinister by his mother, and confidante, Anne, to whom it is said “Piers hathe conveyed all such goods and spoiles as he hathe wickedlie gotten at the seas”. In 1581 Anne was accused of being a witch, using her dark crafts to help her son in his activities. In the same year John had just brought in a particularly valuable prize to Studland Bay on the Dorset coast when he and 15 of his crew were discovered, arrested and sentenced to hang. Despite managing a brief escape from Dorchester Gaol Piers was caught and eventually executed in March 1582. His mother, having been acquitted of her own convictions, is said to have hidden her son’s remaining loot in the cliffs at Harlyn Bay.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

St Martin's well, Liskeard




St. Martin's well, in the centre of Liskeard at the back of the market, known as " Pipe Well," from the four iron pipes through which four springs run into it, was formerly not only visited for the healing qualities of its chief spring, but for a lucky stone that stood in it. By standing on this stone and drinking of the well's water, engaged couples would be happy and successful in their married life. It also conferred magical powers on any person who touched it. The stone is still there, but has now been covered over and has lost its virtue. 

from "Cornish Feasts and Folklore by M A Courtney 

















Saturday, 13 September 2014

More about Piskies by Barbara C Spooner



An old man, who would be about eighty if he were living, used to work at Merrymeet Farm, in Merrymeet. He would find the horses with tangled manes, from being piskey-ridden. And he had heard that once  a large quantity of corn on this farm was threshed by the piskies. They were overheard saying "I tweet! You tweet?" - and in the morning the corn was threshed. In this instance there is no more to the story.
     A good fright would cure the piskey-led, said the old man's daughter.

B C Spooner Old Cornwall 12 Winter 1930. Illustration Joseph Blight (from Bottrell's Traditions and Hearthside stories of West Cornwall)

Sunday, 31 August 2014

The Black Bull of Mylor

The following tale was told me by an old lady of Mylor when I was quite a small boy, about thirty years ago. It made such an impression on my mind that I still remember the details quite clearly, and I give it here, if not in her actual words, at least in the way she used to talk.
“When I was a little girl, I use to live down in one of the cottages beside the beach just below Porloe, with my mother and step-father, who was one of the coastguards. In they days there used to be a ship come from over to France every so-often for oysters, and the ship used to lay up in Mylor Creek. There were two coastguards kept, because there used to be a brave bit of smuggling carried on, on the quiet. Mother and me, and my step-father, lived in one of these two cottages, and the other coastguard and his wife lived in the other.
One night the two men were out on their rounds, and were intending to make their way towards Trefusis Point, so as to pass by the Big Zoon, when after they had passed the church stile they were suddenly brought to a stop―Away in the distance, coming towards them, they could hear a fearful roaring noise; then they could hear the gravel flying, and as the sound came nearer they could make out the form of a big black bull, tearing towards them with fire coming from his nostrils, and roaring something terrible!
They took and runned back towards the churchyard and got in behind the wall, and when the bull passed by they both fired their pistols right at him; but they might just so well have spit at him for all the use it was!―anyhow, they took on after the bull, and it kept running over the beach below Lawithick. At last we indoors could hear the noise. We two and the neighbour came out to see what was on, but we went back again pretty quick! The houses were shaking as the bull passed by, and he went away up the road with the men after him till after passing Well Ackett, and there they lost all sight and sound of him, and at last came back again.
The next day they sent round to the different parishes but nobody had lost a black bull, nor heard of one being lost!”
That is the tale as I heard it, and I have wondered many times since whether it did actually occur, or whether the old lady was telling me something that she had heard, and which had been handed down as a tradition. Especially did I wonder about this when I found a few years ago that the real name of the point of land where the bull appeared was "Tarra Point." "Tarra" is quite near enough to tarow, the Cornish word for "bull," to make one think there must be some connection. Then there is the Tarroo Ushtey, "Water Bull," of the Isle of Man, and the roaring "Kelpie" of Scotland. In the Island of Jersey, too, a tale is told of the "Bull of St. Clement's," which comes up out of the sea with fearful roarings. Altogether it appears likely that many generations of children in the Hundred of Kerrier have been terrified by tales of the Tarow Du, the Black Bull of the Parish of Mylor.
 
from: "The Black Bull of Mylor" by W D Watson, Old Cornwall 1:7, pp12-13. 1928

Friday, 4 July 2014

Cornish Bird Lore: The Robin and the Wren


There was a time when the Robin and the Wren were looked upon by Cornish people as sacred birds, and many interesting bits of folklore have gathered about them. If anyone was known to have killed either, or to have robbed its nest, he would become almost an outcast with the villagers, and I have known parents to forbid there children to play with such a boy, hence the little rhyme

"Kill a Robin or a Wran
You'll never grow to be a man"

and undersized children were often accused of having killed a robin or wren, or at least of having destroyed its nest, while if a person happened to be getting a bit of bad luck, it was said "Well, 'tes no wonder, for he was always strubbing robin's and wran's nests when he was a boy".  A commoner version of the rhyme says:

"Strub a Robin or a Wran, you'll never prosper boy or man"
------------

"Robin, St Riddick, take care of your nuddick,
Again, the cold winter comes on
'I care not' said he, 'how cold it may be
I'll creep in some barn and keep myself warm,
And put my bill under my wing' "

It was said that a Robin gained his red breast by plucking out a thorn from the head of the crucified Christ, hence the Robin was referred to as a saint. The rhyme above was collected from Madron around 1860.

The above is from the Old Cornwall journal No.2, Summer 1930, The Robin and the Wren by Jim Thomas.

Art by Paul Atlas-Saunders.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

An Old Charm from Lawhitton


When Edward Lhuyd made his journey into Cornwall in 1700 he kept a note book which is still preserved at the Bodleian Library, Oxford. In it he recorded the following version of a well known charm:

"For ye stinging of a long creple, i.e snake, or any venomous worm:-

Bragg, bragg under ye halse he lay (a halsen stick, i.e, a hazzle), where he lay full nine fold, from nine fold to eight fold, from eight fold to seven fold, from seven fold to six fold, from six fold to five fold, from five fold to four fold, from four fold to three fold, from three fold to two fold, from two fold to one fold, from one fold to never a fold, out with ye spear and away with ye pain. In ye name of ye Father ye Son and ye Holy Ghost. Amen.

You must strike your hand upon ye place, saying ye same words three times. Probatum est per Agnetam ffrost, out of an old acct. book of one Mr --Cole, now in ye hands of Mr Shute of Lawhitton"


Robert Morton Nance. Old Cornwall Vol 2 No. 10.
Art by Paul Atlas-Saunders

Sunday, 25 May 2014

The Pirate-Wrecker and the Death Ship

ONE lovely evening in the autumn, a strange ship was seen at a short distance from Cape Cornwall. The little wind there was blew from the land, but she did not avail herself of it. She was evidently permitted to drift with the tide, which was flowing southward, and curving in round Whitesand Bay towards the Land's-End. The vessel, from her peculiar rig, created no small amount of alarm amongst the fishermen, since it told them that she was manned by pirates; and a large body of men and women watched her movements from behind the rocks at Caraglose. At length, when within a couple of pistol-shots off the shore, a boat was lowered and manned. Then a man, whose limited movements show him to be heavily ironed, was brought to the side of the ship and evidently forced--for several pistols were held at his head--into the boat, which then rowed rapidly to the shore in Priest's Cove. The waves of the Atlantic Ocean fell so gently on the strand, that there was no difficulty in beaching the boat. The prisoner was made to stand up, and his ponderous chains were removed from his arms and ankles. In a frenzy of passion he attacked the sailors, but they were too many and too strong for him, and the fight terminated by his being thrown into the water, and left to scramble up on the dry sands. They pushed the boat off with a wild shout, and this man stood uttering fearful imprecations on his former comrades.

It subsequently became known that this man was so monstrously wicked that even the pirates would no longer endure him, and hence they had recourse to this means of ridding themselves of him.

It is not necessary to tell how this wretch settled himself at Tregaseal, and lived by a system of wrecking, pursued with unheard-of cruelties and cunning. "It's too frightful to tell," says my correspondent, "what was said about his doings. We scarcely believed half of the vile things we heard, till we saw what took place at his death. But one can't say he died; because he was taken off bodily. We shall never know the scores, perhaps hundreds, of ships that old sinner has brought on the cliffs, by fastening his lantern to the neck of his horse, with its head tied close to the forefoot. The horse, when driven along the cliff, would, by its motion, cause the lantern to be taken for the stern-light of a ship; then the vessel would come right in on the rocks, since those on board would expect to find plenty of sea-room; and, if any of the poor sailors escaped a watery grave, the old wretch would give them a worse death, by knocking them on the head with his hatchet, or cutting off their hands as they tried to grasp the ledges of the rocks.

A life of extreme wickedness was at length closed with circumstances of unusual terror--so terrible, that the story is told with feelings of awe even at the present day. The old wretch fought lustily with death, but at length the time of his departure came. It was in the time of the barley-harvest. Two men were in a field on the cliff, a little below the house, mowing. A universal calm prevailed, and there was not a breath of wind to stir the corn. Suddenly a breeze passed by them, and they heard the words, "The time is come, but the man isn't come." These words appeared to float in the breeze from the sea, and consequently it attracted their attention. Looking out to sea, they saw a black, heavy, square-rigged ship, with all her sails set, coming in against wind and tide, and not a hand to be seen on board. The sky became black as night around the ship, and as she came under the cliff--and she came so close that the top of the masts could scarcely be perceived--the darkness resolved itself into a lurid storm-cloud, which extended high into the air. The sun shone brilliantly over the country, except on the house of the pirate at Tregaseal--that was wrapt in the deep shadow of the cloud.

The men, in terror, left their work; they found all the neighbours gathered around the door of the pirate's cottage, none of them daring to enter it. Parson--had been sent for by the terrified peasants, this divine being celebrated for his power of driving away evil spirits.

The dying wrecker was in a state of agony, crying out, in tones of the most intense terror, "The devil is tearing at me with nails like the claws of a hawk Put out the sailors with their bloody hands !" and using, in the paroxysms of pain, the most profane imprecations. The parson, the doctor, and two of the bravest of the fishermen, were the only persons in the room. They related that at one moment the room was as dark as the grave, and that at the next it was so light that every hair on the old man's head could be seen standing on end. The parson used all his influence to dispel the evil spirit. His powers were so potent that he reduced the devil to the size of a fly, but he could not put him out of the room. All this time the room appeared as if filled with the sea, with the waves surging violently to and fro, and one could hear the breakers roaring, as if standing on the edge of the cliff in a storm. At last there was a fearful crash of thunder, and a blaze of the intenest lightning. The house appeared on fire, and the ground shook, as if with an earthquake. All rushed in terror from the house, leaving the dying man to his fate.

The storm raged with fearful violence, but appeared to contract its dimensions. The black cloud, which was first seen to come in with the black ship, was moving, with a violent internal motion, over the wrecker's house. The cloud rolled together, smaller ana smaller, and suddenly, with the blast of a whirlwind, it passed from Tregaseal to the ship, and she was impelled, amidst the flashes of lightning and roarings of thunder, away over the sea.
The dead body of the pirate-wrecker lay a ghastly spectacle, with eyes expanded and the mouth partly open, still retaining the aspect of his last mortal terror. As every one hated him, they all desired to remove his corpse as rapidly as possible from the sight of man. A rude coffin was rapidly prepared, and the body was carefully cased in its boards. They tell me the coffin was carried to the churchyard, but that it was too light to have contained the body, and that it was followed by a black pig, which joined the company forming the procession, nobody knew where, and disappeared nobody knew when. When they reached the church stile, a storm, similar in its character to that which heralded the wrecker's death, came on. The bearers of the coffin were obliged to leave it without the churchyard stile, and rush into the church for safety. The storm lasted long and raged with violence, and all was as dark as night. A sudden blaze of light, more vivid than before, was seen, and those who had the hardihood to look out saw that the lightning had set fire to the coffin, and it was being borne away through the air, blazing and whirling wildly in the grasp of such a whirlwind as no man ever witnessed before or since.

 from Popular Romances of the West of England by Robert Hunt

The Wrecker and the Death Ship.

PERSONS of a notoriously wicked character were said to have been frequently taken off bodily by Old Nick when they died. The following is one of many stories to that effect.

More than a hundred years ago a dark strange man appeared in St. Just; no one knew whence he came, but it was supposed, however, that he was put ashore from a pirate ship, by way of marooning him; as the crews of such are wont to do by any wretch that is too bad even to consort, with high sea robbers.

He didn't appear to want for money as he soon rented a small, lone, tenement, near the shore, and married a widow of the neighbourhood.

People wondered, for a long while, how so many vessels got wrecked under the cliff that bordered the stranger's farm.

At length it was discovered that, on dark winter nights—when honest folks were a-bed—he made it his practice to fasten a lantern to the neck of a horse, which he had hobbled, by tying down its head to a fore-leg; then he drove the horse along near the cliff, and the lantern, from its motion, would be taken for a vessel's stern-light.

Consequently those on board ships sailing by, expecting to find plenty of sea room, would come right in and be wrecked on the rocks. Any of their crews that escaped a watery grave the wretch would knock on the head with his axe, or cut off their hand when they tried to grasp the rocks.

He lived long and became rich by his sin. At length, however, the time came for the fiend to claim his own. When he was dying his awful shrieks were heard far away, as he cried, "Do save me from the devil, and the sailors, there, looking to tear me to pieces." Several parsons and other pious folks were sent for,—all those of the neighbourhood readily came, for the dying sinner was rich.

Though it was in harvest time and high day, the old wrecker's chamber became, at times, as dark as night. The parsons saw the devil in the room, when others could not; by their reading they drove him to take many shapes, but for all that he would not be put out; at last, when he took the form of a fly, and buzzed about the dying wretch, they saw it was in vain for them to try any longer.

During the time the exorcists were engaged, the chamber seemed—by the sound—to be filled with the sea splashing around the bed; waves were heard as if surging and breaking against the house, though it was a good bit inland.

Whilst this was taking place at the dying wrecker's bedside, two men, who were about harvest work in one of his fields near the cliff, heard a hollow voice, as if coming from the sea, which said, "The hour is come but the man is not come."

Looking in the direction whence the words came, they saw no person; but far out to sea, they beheld a black, heavy, square-rigged ship, with all sail set, coming fast in, against wind and tide, and not a hand to be seen aboard her.

She came so close under cliff that only her topmast could be seen; when black clouds—that seemed to rise out of the deep—gathered around her and extended thence straight to the dying man's dwelling.

The harvest-men, terrified at the sight of this ship-of-doom so near them, ran up to the town-place, just as the old sinner died, when his dwelling shook as if about to fall. Everybody, in great fright, rushed out and saw the black clouds roll off towards the death-ship, which, at once, sailed away amidst a blaze of lightning—far over sea, and disappeared.

The weather immediately cleared, and nothing unusual occurred until a few men assembled to put the wrecker's ghastly remains quickly off the face of the earth; then, as the coffin was borne towards the churchyard, a large black pig came—no one knew from whence—and followed the bearers, who all declared the coffin was too light to contain any body. The sky, too, became suddenly overcast, and a tempest raged to that degree, they could scarcely keep on their legs to reach the churchyard stile, where such sheets of blinding lightning flashed around them, that they dropped the coffin and rushed into the church.

The storm having abated, they ventured out, and found nothing of the coffin but its handles and a few nails, for it had been set on fire, and all else consumed, by the lightning.

It does not appear what business the black pig had in the funeral procession; such is the way, however, in which the story is always told.


from Traditions and Hearthside Stories of West Cornwall  by William Bottrell

Friday, 9 May 2014

The Legend of the Padstow Doombar



In a far-away time Tristram Bird of Padstow bought a gun at a little shop in the quaint old market which in those days opened to the quay, the winding river, and the St. Minver sand-hills. When he had bought his gun he began forthwith to shoot birds and other poor little creatures.

After a while he grew more ambitious, and told the fair young maids of Padstow that he wanted to shoot a seal or something more worthy of his gun; and so one bright morning he made his way down to Hawker’s Cove, near the mouth of the harbour. [54]
When Tristram got there he looked about him to see what he could shoot, and the first thing he saw was a young maid sitting all alone on a rock, combing her hair with a sea-green comb.

He was so overcome at such an unexpected sight that he quite forgot what had brought him to the cove, and could do nothing but stare.

The rock on which the maiden sat was covered with seaweed, and surrounded by a big pool, called in that distant time the Mermaid’s Glass.

She was apparently unconscious that a good-looking young man was gazing at her with his bold dark eyes, and as she combed her long and beautiful hair she leaned over the pool and looked at herself in the Mermaid’s Glass, and the face reflected in it was startling in its beauty and charm.

Tristram Bird was very tall—six feet three in his stockings—and being such a tall young man, he could see over the maiden’s head into the pool, and the face in its setting of golden hair reflected in its clear depths entirely bewitched him, and so did her graceful form, which was partly veiled in a golden raiment of her own beautiful hair.

As he stood gazing at the bewitching face looking up from the Mermaid’s Glass, its owner suddenly glanced over her shoulder, and saw Tristram staring at her.

‘Good-morning to you, fair maid,’ he said, still keeping his bold dark eyes fixed upon her, telling himself as he gazed that her face was even more bewitching than was its reflection.

‘Good-morning, sir,’ said she.
 ‘Doing your toilet out in the open,’ he said.
 ‘Yes,’ quoth she, wondering who the handsome youth could be and how he came to be there.
 ‘Your hair is worth combing,’ he said.
‘Is it?’ said she.
 ‘It is, my dear,’ he said. ‘’Tis the colour of oats waiting for the sickle.’
‘Is it?’ quoth she.
‘Yes; and no prettier face ever looked into the Mermaid’s Glass.’
‘How do you know?’ asked she.
‘My heart told me so,’ he said, coming a step or two nearer the pool, ‘and so did my eyes when I saw its reflection looking up from the water. It bewitched me, sweet.’
‘Did it?’ laughed she, with a tilt of her round young chin.
‘Yes,’ he said, with an answering laugh, drawing another step nearer the pool.
‘It does not take a man of your breed long to fall in love,’ said the beautiful maid, with a toss of her golden head and a curl of her sweet red lips.
‘Who told you that?’ asked the love-sick young man, going red as a poppy.
‘Faces carry tales as well as little birds,’ quoth she.
‘If my face is a tale-bearer, it will tell you that I love you more than heart can say and tongue can tell,’ he said, drawing yet nearer the pool.
‘Will it?’ said she, combing her golden hair with her sea-green comb.
‘Indeed it will, and must,’ he said; ‘for I love you with all my soul, and I want you to give me a lock of your golden hair to wear over my heart.’
‘I do not give locks of my hair to landlubbers!’ cried she, with another toss of her proud young head and a scornful curl of her bright red lips.
‘A landlubber forsooth!’ he said, with an angry flash in his bold black eyes. ‘Who are you to speak so scornfully of a man of the land? One would think you were a maid of the sea.’
‘I am,’ quoth she, twining the tress of her hair she had combed round her shell-pink arm.
‘No seamaid is half as beautiful as you,’ said Tristram Bird, incredulous of what the maid said. ‘But, maid of the sea or maid of the land, I love you, sweet, and I want to have you to wife.’
‘Want must be your master, sir,’ said she, with an angry flash in her sea-blue eyes.
‘Love is my master, sweet maid,’ he said. ‘You are my love, and you have mastered me.’
‘Have I?’ said she, with a little toss of her golden head.
‘Yes,’ he said; ‘and now that I have told you you are my love, and I want you to marry me, you will give me a lock of your golden hair, won’t you, sweet?’
‘I cannot,’ said she.
‘Give me one little golden wire of your hair, if you won’t give me a lock,’ he pleaded, coming close to the edge of the pool. ‘I will make a golden ring of it,’ he said, ‘and wear it in the eye of the world.’
‘Will you?’ said she.
‘I will, my dear,’ he said.
‘But I will not give you a hair of my head even to make a ring with,’ said she.
‘Then give me one for a leading-string,’ he said. ‘If you will, my charmer, you shall take the end of it and lead me whithersoever you will.’
‘Even to the whipping-post?’ said she.
‘Even to the whipping-post,’ he said. ‘So you will be my fair bride, won’t ’ee, sweet? If you will consent to love me, I’ll make you as happy as the day is long.’
‘Will you?’ cried she, with a warning look in her sea-blue eyes and a strange little laugh.
‘Yes,’ he said, thinking her answer meant consent. ‘And I’ve got a dear little house at Higher St. Saviour’s, overlooking the river and Padstow Town low in the valley.’
‘Have you?’ said she.
‘I have,’ he said. ‘And the little house is full of handsome things—a chestful of linen which my own mother wove for me on her loom against the time I should be wed to a pretty maid like you, an oaken dresser with every shelf full of cloam,1 and a cosy [60]settle where we can sit hand in hand talking of our love. You will marry me soon, won’t you, sweet? The little house, and all that’s in it, is waiting for my charmer.’
‘Is it?’ cried the beautiful maid, taking up another tress of her golden hair, and slowly combing its silken length with her sea-green comb. ‘But let me tell you once and for ever, I would not marry you if you were decked in diamonds and your house a golden house, and everything in it made of jewels and set in gold.’
‘Wouldn’t you?’ cried Tristram Bird, in great amazement.
‘I wouldn’t,’ said she.
‘You are a strange young maid to refuse an upstanding young man like me,’ he said, ‘who has a house of his own, to say nothing of what is inside it. Why, dozens of fair young maidens up to Padstow would have me to-morrow if I was only to ax them.’
‘Then ax them,’ cried the beautiful maid, turning her proud young head, and looking out towards Pentire, gorgeous in its spring colouring.
‘But I can’t ask any of them to marry me when I love you,’ cried the infatuated youth. ‘You have bewitched me, sweet, and no other man shall have you. If I can’t have you living, I’ll have you dead. I came down to Hawker’s Cove to shoot something to startle the natives of Padstow Town, and they will be startled, shure ’nough, if I shoot a beautiful little vixen like you and take home to them.’
‘Shoot me if you will, but marry you I will not,’ said the beautiful maiden, with a scornful laugh. ‘But I give you fair warning that if you shoot me, as you say you will, you will rue the day you did your wicked deed. I will curse you and this beautiful haven, which has ever been a refuge for ships from the time that ships sailed upon the seas;’ and her sea-blue eyes looked up and down the estuary from the headlands that guarded its mouth to the farthest point of the blue, winding river.
‘I will shoot you in spite of the curse if you won’t consent to be mine,’ cried the bewitched young man.
‘I will never consent,’ said she.
‘Then I will shoot you now,’ he said, and Tristram Bird lifted his gun and fired, and the ball entered the poor young maiden’s soft pink side.
She put her hand to her side to cover the gaping wound the shot had made, and as she did so she pulled herself out of the water, and where the feet should have been was the glittering tail of a fish!
‘I have shot a poor young Mermaid,’ Tristram cried, ‘and woe is me!’ and he shivered like one when somebody is passing over his grave.
‘Yes, you have shot a poor Mermaid,’ said the maid of the sea, ‘and I am dying, and with my dying breath I curse this safe harbour, which was large enough to hold all the fighting ships of the Spanish Armada and your own, and it shall be cursed with a bar of sand which shall be a bar of doom to many a stately ship and many a noble life, and it shall stretch from the Mermaid’s Glass to Trebetherick Bay on the opposite shore, and prevent this haven of deep water from ever again becoming a floating harbour save at full tide. The Mermaid’s wraith will haunt the bar of doom her dying curse shall bring until your wicked deed has been fully avenged;’ and looking round the great bay of shining waters, laughing and rippling in the eye of the sun, she raised her arms and cursed the harbour of Padstow with a bitter curse, and Tristram shuddered as he listened, and as she cursed she uttered a wailing cry and fell back dead into the pool, and the water where she sank was dyed with her blood.'

‘I have committed a wicked deed,’ said Tristram Bird, gazing into the blood-stained pool, ‘and verily all be punished for my sin;’ and he turned away with the fear of coming doom in his heart.

As he went up the cove and along the top of the cliffs the distressful, wailing cry of the Mermaid seemed to follow him, and the sky gloomed all around as he went, and the sea moaned a dreadful moan as it came up the bay.

When he reached Tregirls, overlooking the Cove, he stood by the gate for a minute and gazed out over the beautiful harbour. The sea, which only half an hour ago was as blue as the eyes of the seamaid he had shot, and full of smiles and laughter, was now black as ash-buds, save where a golden streak lay across the water from Hawker’s Cove to Trebetherick Bay.

‘The Mermaid’s curse is already working,’ moaned Tristram Bird, and he fled through the lane leading to Padstow as if a death-hound was after him.

When he reached Place House he met a little crowd of Padstow maids going out flower-gathering.

‘Whither away so fast, Tristram Bird?’ asked a little maid. ‘You aren’t driving a teem of snails this time, ’tis plain to see. Where hast thou been?’
‘Need you ask?’ said a pert young girl. ‘He has been away shooting something to startle the maids of Padstow with! What strange new creature did you shoot, Tristram Bird?’
‘A wonderful creature with eyes like blue fire,’ returned the unhappy youth, looking away over St. Minver dunes towards the Tors—’a sweet, soft creature with beautiful hair, every wire of which was a sunbeam of gold, and her face was the loveliest I ever beheld. It clean bewitched me.’
‘A beautiful maid like that, and yet you shot her?’ cried all the young maids of Padstow Town.
‘Yes, I shot her, to my undoing and the undoing of our fair haven,’ groaned Tristram Bird; and he told them all about it—where he had seen the beautiful Mermaid, of his bewitchment from the moment he saw her face of haunting charm looking up at him from the Mermaid’s Glass, and of the curse she uttered ere she fell back dead into the pool.
All the smiles went out of the bright faces of the Padstow maids, as he told his tale.
‘What a pity, Tristram Bird, you should have been so foolish as to shoot a Mermaid!’ they said; and they did not go and pick flowers as they had intended, but went back to their homes instead, and Tristram Bird went on to Higher St. Saviour’s, where he lived in a little house overlooking Padstow Town nestling like a bird in its nest.
A fearful gale blew on the night of the day Tristram Bird shot the Mermaid, and all the next day, too, and the next night; and through the awful howling of the gale was heard the bellowing of the wind-tormented sea.
Such a terrible storm had never been known at Padstow Town within the memory of man, so the old Granfer men said, and never a gale lasted so long.
When the wind went down the natives of Padstow ventured out to see what the gale had wrought, and sad was the havoc it had made; and some went out to Chapel Stile, where a small chapel stood overlooking the haven, and what should meet their horrified gaze but a terrible bar of sand which the Mermaid’s curse had brought there; and it stretched from Hawker’s Cove to the opposite shore, and what was worse, the great sand-bar was covered with wrecks of ships and bodies of drowned men.

‘It is the bar of doom brought there by the fearful curse of the maid of the sea whom I shot with my brand-new gun,’ cried Tristram Bird, who was one of the first to reach the stile when the wind had gone drown; and he told them all, as he had told the Padstow maids, of what the Mermaid had said before and after he had shot her. ‘And because of the wicked deed I did,’ he said, ‘I have brought a curse on my native town, and Padstow will never be blessed with a safe and beautiful harbour till the poor Mermaid’s death be avenged.’

There was a dreadful silence after Tristram Bird had spoken, and the men and women of Padstow Town gazed at each other, troubled and sad, knowing that what the youth, who had been bewitched by the Mermaid’s face, had said was true, for there below them was the great bar of sand dividing the outer harbour from the inner, and on it lay the masts and spars of broken ships and the lifeless bodies of the drowned. The wind was quiet, but the sea was still breaking and roaring on the back of the Doombar, and as the waves thundered and broke, a wailing cry sounded forth, like the wail that Tristram heard when the Mermaid disappeared under the water; it sounded like the distressful cry of a woman bewailing her dead, and all who heard shivered and shook, and both old and young looked down on the Doombar with dread in their eyes, but they saw nothing but the dead bodies of the sailors and their broken ships.

‘It is the Mermaid’s wraith,’ cried an old Granfer man.
‘It is the Mermaid’s wraith,’ cried an old Granfer man, leaning against the grey walls of the ancient chapel, ‘and she is wailing the wail of the drowned; and, mark my words, everyone,’ letting his eyes wander from one face to another, ‘each time a ship is caught on this dreadful bar and lives are lost—as lost they will be—the Mermaid’s wraith will bewail the drowned.’

And it came to pass as the old man said, and whenever vessels are wrecked on that fateful bar of sand lying across the mouth of Padstow Harbour and men are drowned, it is told that the Mermaid’s distressful cry is still heard bewailing the poor dead sailors.


From: North Cornwall Faries and Legends by Enys Tregarthen

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

East Cornwall Maypole Battles



Many villages, hamlets and farms surrounding Bodmin Moor had a peculiar Mayday tradition of the Maypole Battles. At the end of April, each village would choose a stripped fir tree between 30 to 50 foot high and would fasten it to the highest chimney stack at midnight on May eve. Alternatively it would be attached to the highest tree in the vicinity. In the early hours of May Day it was trimmed with streamers of flags made of coloured scraps of material and with flowers and vegetables taken from neighbours gardens. The moment the pole was up and decorated, each village became a fortress, with other rival villages setting off on raids to try to steal the Maypole of the next village. Some villages, such as Merrymeet the pole was cemented in and tarred so it could not be climbed, but the men of St Cleer simply sawed the pole at the base and carried it away! At Trekernal a pole was fastened to the highest tree and decorated in the traditional manner. However it was quickly taken, before dawn,  by a man from North Hill, who climbed the tree with a rope and lowered the pole to the ground.
           
The May Poles were generally left in position throughout the month of May, and were guarded each night by the men of the village through the entire month. They were then taken down and stored safely until the following year.
            
Around 150 years ago the biggest Maypole battle  to have been recorded, took place between Altarnun and Trewen.  The folk of Altarnun managed to steal the Trewen pole and this resulted in a fight where it is reported that the villagers “fought like Dragons”. Other villages recorded as having these poles include, Berriow, Middlewood, Menheniot and North Hill.



For a more detailed look at this tradition, watch out for the brand new book 'From Granite to Sea: the Folklore of Bodmin Moor and East Cornwall' by Alex Langstone. Available soon....

Sunday, 27 April 2014

The Hound of St Blazey

Artwork copyright Paul Atlas-Saunders

Samuel Drew (1765-1833) was a self taught man of letters; his special interest was metaphysics, which is perhaps why he is little known now. He was apprenticed to a shoemaker, and gave the following account of a childhood experience.

'There were several of us, boys and men, out about twelve o'clock on a bright moonlit night. I think we were poaching. The party were in a field adjoining the road leading from my master's to St Austell, and I was stationed outside the hedge to watch and give the alarm if any intruder should appear. While thus occupied I heard what appeared to be the sound of a horse approaching from the town, and I gave a signal. My companions paused and came to the hedge where I was, to see the passenger [passer-by]. They looked through the bushes, and I drew myself close to the hedge, that I might not be observed. The sound increased and the supposed horseman seemed drawing near. The clatter of the hoofs became more and more distinct.

'We all looked to see who and what it was, and I was seized with a strange, indefinable feeling of dread; when, instead of a horse, there appeared, coming towards us, at an easy pace, but with the same sound that first caught my ear, a creature about the height of a large dog. It went close by me, and as it passed, it turned upon me and my companions huge fiery eyes that struck terror to all our hearts. The road where I stood branched off in two directions, in one of which there was a gate across. Towards the gate it moved, and, without any apparent obstruction, went on at its regular trot, which we heard several minutes after it had disappeared. Whatever it was, it put an end to our occupation, and we made the best of our way home.

'I have often endeavoured in later years, but without success, to account on natural principles for what I then heard and saw. As to the facts, I am sure there was no deception. It was a night of unusual brightness, occasioned by a cloudless full moon. The creature was unlike any animal I had then seen, but from my present recollections it had much the appearance of a bear, with a dark shaggy coat. Had it not been for the unearthly lustre of its eyes, and its passing through the gate as it did, there would be no reason to suppose it anything more than an animal escaped perhaps from some menagerie. That it did pass through the gate without pause or hesitation I am perfectly clear. Indeed, we all saw it, and saw that the gate was shut, from which we were not distant more than twenty or thirty yards. The bars were too close to admit the passage of an animal of half its apparent bulk; yet this creature went through with out effort or variation of its pace"

NOTES

Source:  http://homepages.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~marcie/kernow/hound.html

The road referred to is in all likelihood that known as Trenowah Road which runs between Tregrehan Mills and St Austell. Samuel Drew was born in 1765 so the incident probably occurred towards the end of the 1770s.

Drew, Jacob Halls, 1834. The Life, Character and Literary Labours of Samuel Drew, Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown, Green and Longman, pp36-8.

Source: http://fortean.wikidot.com/the-black-dogs-of-cornwall#toc5