Saturday, 2 February 2008
This is Jay's Grave on Dartmoor, near Hound Tor. Whenever we go to Dartmoor I make a point of visiting this poor lass's grave, and laying whatever wild flowers I can find in the area, as do many others.
Mary Jay was apparently an orphaned baby taken into the Newton Abbot Poor House in the late 18th century. She remained there until she was old enough to go out to work and was sent to Canna farm, near Manaton, where she looked after young children. It was probably here that she became known as "Kitty" rather than Mary. Sadly, her story is that of many a young girl, at the mercy of the whims and attentions of one of the menfolk where they worked - in this case the farmer's son. Naturally news of her pregnancy resulted in her being thrown off the farm with a bad reputation, and with no prospect of another job and only the workhouse as an alternative, Kitty Jay, in desperation, hung herself in one of the barns at Canna.
In those days suicides could not be buried in consecrated ground and it was the custom to bury them at a crossroads, so that the restless soul of the departed would not return as a ghost. Kitty Jay's resting place is where a trackway from Hayne Down and Cripdon Down crosses the moorland road and continues on to the hut circles at Grimspound via Natsworthy. Fresh flowers began appearing daily on the grave . No-one knew who left them, but even to this day there are always flowers to be seen - even if it is just a sprig of leaves from an evergreen.
But even in her final resting place, poor Kitty Jay was not safe and William Crossing, writing in late Victorian times, said that her grave had been exhumed by a local farmer called James Bryant, who found a human skull and bones, later proved to be that of a young female. The remains were re-interred in a box and now Kitty Jay rests safely, visited almost as a place of pilgrimage by people who have read about her story.
The amazing site "Legendary Dartmoor - Mystery & History", from whence I gleaned these brief details:
will give you a fuller picture, and there is SO much to read about my beloved Dartmoor, that I hope you will spend a while there. If you visit Leanne's site, you can listen to Seth Lakeman singing a song called "Kitty Jay".