Monday 16 December 2013

Theo Brown: 16th December, 1914 3rd February, 1993. 

Happy 99th birthday Theo.

Thursday 5 December 2013

Dartmoor Field Trip | 20th - 22nd September 2013 | Part Two


Merripit Hill
The Sow of Merripit.

“This was told me in 1949 by the late Mrs. Elizabeth Warne of Lydgate. She and her son Solomon subsequently wrote it down for me, and I quote it just as they wrote it:- ’At certain times of the year (as long ago as 200 years) an old sow and her litter of young pigs can be seen walking across the moor on Merripit Hill, on a dark and foggy night. The young pigs are very hungry, and the old sow is taking them to Cator Gate, where there is a dead horse.

The pigs are saying to the mother:
‘ “Starvin’, starvin’.”
‘The old pig replies:
‘ “Cator gate, Cator Gate;
Dead Hoss, Dead Hoss, Dead Hoss.’’

‘They travel on through Runnage Bottom, Cator Moor, and at last arrive at Cator Gate. On arrival they find they are too late; only the skin and bones of the dead horse are left. The little pigs all cry:

‘ “Skin an’ Bones, Skin an’ Bones.’’
‘The Old Sow replies:
‘ “ Let ‘en lie, let ‘en LIE.’’

‘And all return again across the moor to Merripit Hill and vanish in the darkness and fog.’

Brown, Tales of a Dartmoor Village, 21-22.

 The Warren House Inn
 Salting Down Fayther.

“The most famous story connected with this building was that of the innkeeper who died there one winter when the inn was cut off by snow for many weeks. Eventually the snow melted, and the little daughter struggled into Widecombe to ask the vicar to arrange for the funeral. ‘I am so sorry to hear this, my dear,’ said the vicar; ‘which day did he die?’ ‘Oh dear,’ said the little girl, thinking hard,’it must be all of six weeks last Sunday.’ ‘Good heavens,’ exclaimed the innocent cleric; ‘how really appalling. We must get on with the funeral.’ ‘Oh, I don’t think there’s any need for haste,’ replied the child calmly. ‘It happened very lucky-like. We’d just killed the pig, and we was saltin’ ‘un down, so mother, ‘er put father in tu.’

Brown, Tales of a Dartmoor Village, 19. See also: Mrs. Bray, Traditions, legends, superstitions, and sketches of Devonshire (London, J. Murray, 1838), 27-33.


A Quarter of a Mile Downstream from Bellever Bridge
The Snaily House.

This, once called White Slade, is now inside a Forestry Commission plantation, about a quarter of a mile downstream from Bellever Bridge, on the east bank. The Forestry Commission has avoided the ruins, but the clitter and brambles make it almost inaccessible. One tall, white, dead trunk marks the place. Here two lonely women once lived. They had no cattle, tended no garden and were never seen to approach the village for stores or company. Yet glimpses of them showed that they were fat and buxom. For years the mystery deepened, and people grew afraid of them and believed they must be witches and possess some horrible resources. Unable at last to bear the suspense, a party of villagers went over to the cottage, waited at a distance till they saw the ladies wander off on the moor and then broke into the house. They found it pitifully bare of any furniture or possessions, save for a number of cloam pots on the floor - filled with pickled snails and the black slugs of the moor. This was the sole diet of these eccentrics. The secret being out, the poor women lost heart and pined away.

Brown, Tales of a Dartmoor Village, 19, 20. See also: Sabine Baring-Gould, Dartmoor Idylls (London: Methuen, 1886) 69-104;  William Crossing, Guide to Dartmoor, Amid Devonia’s Alps (London: Marshall Simpson, 1888) 78-80.


Widecombe Church
The Great Storm: Ball Lightning.

“Upon Sunday the 21. of October last, In the Parish Church of Withycombe in Devonshire neare Dartmoores, there fell in time of Divine Service a strange darkenesse, increasing more and more, so that the people there assembled could not see to reade in any booke, and suddenly in a fearefull and lamentable manner, a mighty thundering was heard, the ratling whereof did answer much like unto the sound and report of many great Cannons, and terrible strange lightening therewith greatly amazing and astonishing those that heard and saw it, the darkenesse increasing yet more, till they could not (in the interim) see one another; the extraordinarie lightning came into the Church so flaming, that the whole Church was presently filled with fire and smoke, the smell whereof was very loathsome, much like unto the sent of brimstone, some said they saw at first a great ball of fire come in at the window and passe thorough the Church, which so much affighted the whole Congregation that the most part of them fell downe into their seates, and some upon their knees, some on their faces, and some one upon another, with a great cry of burning and scalding they all giving themselves up for dead.”

A True Relation Of Those Sad And Lamentable Accidents, Which Happened In And About The Parish Church of Withycombe in the Dartmoores on Sunday the 21. of October last 1638 (London: R. Harford; 1638) reprinted in Brooking Rowe ed., The Two Widecombe Tracts, 1638 giving a Contemporary Account of the great Storm, reprinted with an Introduction (Exeter: James G Commin, 1905).


Monday 18 November 2013

Dartmoor Field Trip | 20th - 22nd September 2013 | Part One


The River
The Call of the Dart.

“Most Westcountry folk have heard the old couplet:

‘River of Dart, River of Dart,
Every year thou claimest a heart’

I have no statistics at hand to confirm this legend, but it is quite certain that, lovely and gentle as this wonderful little river looks in the summer, it is much swifter and deadlier than one would think, and people do get drowned in it. As far back as I can remember, when I have visited the moor each year, I have heard folk say that the Dart has had its victim for the year; as though to say, thank goodness that’s over and we can all breath again for the next twelve months!

The Dart has a distinct ‘call’ at certain times when the moormen say it is howling for its victim. Usually this seems to coincide with a spate. I myself have never heard the call, but I have met those that have, and they say it is quite unmistakeable and can be heard from a great distance, borne on the wind.”

Theo Brown, ‘Dartmoor Folklore IV,’ cited from typescript in Theo Brown Archive, EUL MS 105/8.


The Forest Inn
The Publican’s Wife.

“The publican’s wife at the Forest Inn, Hexworthy, was a noted charmer. ‘Captain’ Jack Warne was there one night when a girl’s nose started to bleed badly. The innkeeper’s wife went over to Captain Warne and asked him to hand a piece of paper to the girl. On it was written the verse Ezekiel vi.6. When the girl read the verse, the bleeding stopped instantly. This charm has to be administered by someone of the opposite sex.”

Theo Brown, Tales of a Dartmoor Village: Some preliminary notes on the folklore of Postbridge (St. Peter Port: Toucan Press, 1973), 31.


Along the Banks of the Dart
Dolly Copplestone.

“Also at Brimpts, on the bank of the Dart, are the ruins of Dolly’s Cot, - the home of that ravishing beauty of Dartmoor in the early nineteenth-century - Dolly Copplestone, who married a moor man, Tom Trebble. He had to hide her away in this remote cottage to save her from the unwelcome attentions of Regency gentlemen at their bachelor house-parties at Tor Royal, near Princetown.”

Author unknown, 'Dartmoor Folklore in the Making', cited from typescript of an address given to the Devonshire Association Folklore Section, 16th January, 1961, found in Theo Brown Archive, EUL MS 105/8.


 Wistman’s Wood
Old Dewer and the Whisht Hounds.

“Wistman’s Wood was said to be the home of the ‘whisht hounds’, according to the guide books, and romantic nineteenth century writers used to say that it was once the site of bloody druidic sacrifices. While there is no proof that the Druids ever practiced their rites on Dartmoor, it is evident that when the Saxon’s penetrated this spot they felt here something numinous, perhaps heard of a strange tradition. In their Christianised character Odin became the god of their darkness, i.e., the devil, or just an unpleasant spook. One of his names-Wisc-in Devon became corrupted to ‘whisht’ (uncanny)-hence ‘wistness’ (a ghost)-and similarly we may assume that ‘wistman’ means the same thing.”

Brown, Tales of a Dartmoor Village, 11, 21. 

Crockern Tor
Old Crockern.

“Another skeleton horse, which would appear to be a first cousin of the Grey Mare’s, is that of Old Crockern, the spirit of the moor. According to the Rev. Hugh Breton in The Heart of Dartmoor, this grotesque horseman clatters over the rocks of Crockern Tor, but I cannot, so far, discover the origin of this mysterious, wind-swept figure. Crockern Tor, described by Risdon as “lying in the force of all weather”, was of course the scene of the Stannery Parliaments until 1749; perhaps Old Crockern was the presiding spirit of the old gatherings. If this was so, it is possible that he may have started his career as one of the underground pixies that Mrs. Bray described in her Traditions of Devonshire. Most ancient mining communities know of spirits in the rocks, who will reveal the richest seams to their favourites. But this is a big jump from the Old Crockern on a bony horse, and is perhaps quite another matter altogether.”

Theo Brown, ‘Dartmoor Folklore II: Ghostly Horses,’ Westcountryman, date unknown, cited from typescript in Theo Brown Archive, EUL MS 105/8.