Tall tales of wicked witches and pixies

PUBLISHED: 02:01 06 August 2008 | UPDATED: 22:09 15 June 2010

WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 6: STORIES of wicked witches, ghostly black dogs and even pixies were brought to life in Honiton when historian John Stuart held an audience captive with Devon folklore. Myths and Tall Stories of Dartmoor was the subject of his illustrated talk, given to mem

STORIES of wicked witches, ghostly black dogs and even pixies were brought to life in Honiton when historian John Stuart held an audience captive with Devon folklore.Myths and Tall Stories of Dartmoor was the subject of his illustrated talk, given to members of Honiton History Society in the Methodist Church last Thursday night.Torrential rain failed to put a dampener on the turnout, with Mr Stuart attracting a full house.Dennis Cooper, the society's chairman, opened the meeting by thanking Stephen Fortescue, the society's president, for hosting a cream tea on July 12. Mr Cooper also thanked those who had supported Market Charter Day events.The spellbinding expanse that is Dartmoor is steeped in myths and legends, and Mr Stuart wasted no time in sharing a good number of them with his audience. He had visited all the locations he referred to and illustrated his stories with a stunning collection of photographs, strung together in a Powerpoint presentation. He spoke of Crockern Tor, a desolate place dotted with rocks.For 300 years tin miners, who formed stanneries (guilds), made their own laws and meted out justice from this unlikely spot.Vixana, a wicked witch who is fabled to have lived in a cave under Vixen Tor, was said to climb to the top of the tor every morning.Mr Stuart said she would watch for strangers and then summon up a mist so they would lose their way on the moor.One day a young man, who had been given two magic powers by pixies, came along. Legend says he could see through mist and also make himself invisible. He is alleged to have climbed up the tor, now private land, and pushed the witch to her death.In an especially remote part of the moor lies Childe's Tomb, slabs of granite with a stone cross on top.It is said that the eldest son of a local ruler (known as a Childe), who was known to be alive in 1066, got lost after becoming separated from a hunting party. He killed his horse, disembowelled it and climbed inside the carcass in a bid to survive the night. However, he died. But, before the night passed, he wrote his will in blood.He left his estate, in Plymstock, to whoever found his body and gave him a decent burial. It is believed that the tomb lies on the spot where he was found and not necessarily where he was buried.Perhaps the saddest story re-told by Mr Stuart was that of an orphan girl called Jay. After being brought up in an orphanage she was forced into a life of slavery. While working for a squire she fell foul of his son's attentions and was cast out, pregnant. The shame of her circumstances led her to commit suicide. She was found hanged in a barn.Because she could not be buried in consecrated ground, her remains were laid to rest on a patch of grass at a crossroads on Dartmoor. It is said that her grave is, to this day, never without flowers. The spot is known as Jay's Grave.Honiton History Society was founded in 1995 and has 50 members.It meets once a month at Honiton Methodist Church, but will meet from October for a temporary period at the Age Concern Centre in King Street. The change of venue is due to refurbishment work at the church.Later this month, society members will visit Poltimore House and Clyston Mill.The society's next meeting is on September 25 at 7.30pm and the subject of a talk will be Dairies of Honiton.To find out more about Honiton History Society call (01404) 45051 or (01404) 45386.n YOUR Midweek Herald intends to visit every club in Honiton over the coming year. Call (01392) 888488 to request a visit to your club.

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