Report of body on St Cyres Hill

PUBLISHED: 14:07 13 May 2008 | UPDATED: 21:48 15 June 2010

MORE than 50 residents followed police to a hedgerow on St Cyres Hill, Honiton, following a report of a body being found. But, as Margaret Lewis, of Allhallows Museum, discovered, all they found was a 'bogus corpse'.

MORE than 50 residents followed police to a hedgerow on St Cyres Hill, Honiton, following a report of a body being found. But, as Margaret Lewis, of Allhallows Museum, discovered, all they found was a 'bogus corpse'. The crumpled heap was, in fact, the first recorded scarecrow in Honiton's history.WHEN Honitonian Rose Moore spotted a crumpled heap in a hedge, she feared the worst.The girl, who had been blackberry picking in the hedge, which was a short distance from the town, believed she had seen the body of a man, lying dead.It was Friday, September 14, 1883, and Miss Moore had come across the body on St Cyres Hill.Naturally frightened by the sight, she told some labourers nearby what she had seen.She walked home and told her silversmith employer's son, Mr Dent, of her discovery.He gave no credence to her story and, therefore, took no action.A few days later, however, the police were informed.Sergeant Jeffery and PC Webber were sent to investigate.They proceeded to the spot indicated - to ascertain the truth of the report.A crowd of about 50 people followed them from the town and, when passing the back of Mr G Neumann's premises, at Tracey, they took a donkey cart. On the cart they placed a door - for the purpose of removing the dead man.With no donkey at hand to draw the cart, four or five men got into the shafts and worked hard to get the cart up a steep hill to the spot where it was thought the body lay.An eager crowd stood around while the 'body' was lifted up and turned over.To the great amusement of all, it was noted that the corpse was simply an ingeniously made effigy of a man.It had been used in Robert White's fields - to scare away crows.Mourning cards were circulated around Honiton, as the joke spread.Margaret Lewis, curator at Allhallows Museum, Honiton, says the story provides the first local reference to a scarecrow.The museum contains a growing collection of stories about local people and events in history, collated by Mrs Lewis.ALTHOUGH the ragged outline of a scarecrow has been part of rural history for centuries, little is know of its origin.The word scarecrow had its definition recorded for the first time in 1592 - "to frighten but not to physically harm".In Devon, scarecrows were often referred to as "murmets".The origins of the scarecrow remain shrouded in mystery, which may explain why they have inspired horror stories.

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