Kitty Jay’s Grave

Kitty Jay's Grave

Dartmoor abounds with tales and legends, and none more so than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s book, The Hound of the Baskervilles. It is said that the inspiration for the book was his spooky experience of the area around Hound Tor, and anybody who has been on Dartmoor on a dark foggy night will understand exactly how he felt.

Less than a mile away from the tor is Kitty Jay’s Grave which has a tale of its own, and although it has been embellished by some over the years, this is not a fictional story, but one that still evokes the spirit of Dartmoor in a way that is every bit as mysterious as Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous book.

Hound Tor

It is said that Kitty Jay was a young baby girl when she was taken in as an orphan at the poor house in Newton Abbot. When she reached her teens, she was sent to Canna Farm near Manaton where she was employed as a housemaid and farm worker.

The farmer’s son, not unnaturally, took a bit of a shine to her. Whether she fell in love with him or not I wouldn’t know, but at least he would have been able to provide her with a family and a permanent roof over her head, which no doubt would have been an attractive proposition in itself.

When she fell pregnant, the farmer’s son showed what his real intentions were, and Kitty Jay was unceremoniously kicked out of the farm with nowhere to go. With her reputation in tatters, she realised that she was now unemployable and the only practical option left open to her was to go back to the poor house – a prospect that she didn’t relish. The only other option in her mind was to end her life once and for all, and a short while later she was found hanging in a farm outbuilding.

In those days people who committed suicide could not be buried in consecrated ground: They were often buried at crossroads (sometimes with a stake through the heart) where the spirit couldn’t easily find its way back to where the incident took place and haunt the locals – and this is what happened to Kitty Jay.

Odd things started to happen around her grave. It’s said that a figure in a black hooded cloak could often be seen kneeling at her graveside under a moonlit sky. Several explanations have been put forward as to who the person might have been, one of which was supposed to have been the soul of the farmer’s son who was sent to look after the grave of his victim and unborn child.

Whether these ghostly apparitions had anything to with it or not who knows, but later on a Mr James Bryan dug the body up and re-interred it at the present location in a more suitable resting place.

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The story doesn’t quite end there because somebody, nobody knows who, regularly puts fresh flowers on the grave. It doesn’t matter what time of the day or night, day of the week, or week of the year, fresh flowers can always be seen on Kitty Jay’s grave – and it’s been going on for more years than anyone can remember. These days, the grave also attracts other votive offerings such as small crosses, toys and coins.

The grave can be located at 50.60509°N 3.79269°W, but if you’re of a nervous disposition I suggest you visit during daylight hours – after all this is hairy hand country.

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19 thoughts on “Kitty Jay’s Grave

    1. Easymalc Post author

      Thanks. I’m glad you enjoyed reading about it, even though it’s not a happy story.

      Reply
  1. Toonsarah

    Fascinating tale Malcolm, and you tell it very well. I love that someone still leaves flowers for her. It reminds me of a statue in our local cemetery that always has a flower in the lady’s hand although the grave is from way back when. I have no idea if the person leaving the flowers is a descendent, just a thoughtful local or maybe is a number of random people? When did Kitty Jay die?

    Reply
    1. Easymalc Post author

      I don’t think anybody knows the exact date that she died, but it seems as though she entered the poor house at the end of the 18th century, possibly around 1790, so from that you could say it was maybe around the end of the first decade or so of the 19th century.

      It’s surprising how many people still leave offerings to the people they didn’t know isn’t it? Greyfriars’s Bobby is famous example even though he was a dog. Thanks again for the compliment Sarah.

      Reply
  2. Fergy.

    Another brilliant post about a subject I knew nothing of Malc.

    Obviously I knew about the Hound and Conan Doyle etc. but I had never heard of the poor Kitty Jay.

    I have been on Dartmoor on a dark night, not foggy but tipping with rain in August and it is indeed an other-worldly sort of place.

    In another one of the slightly odd pieces of synchronicity that follow me around I was listening to Seth Lakeman no later than this morning (before I read this) which is something I have not done for a while. Now that is spooky!

    Good on Mr. Bryan for doing the decent thing and on the mystery florist(s). There is a very similar suicide grave story near me at the junction of Cable Street and Cannon Street Road E1, even though the junction is in a slightly different location form where it originally was. I don’t know if you have heard of the rather grisly Ratcliffe Highway murders of 1811 but the man accused of the seven killings (on the flimsiest of evidence) was a John Williams who cheated the hangman by doing the job himself in prison.

    Declared guilty post-mortem, his remains were taken to the crossroads, with the carter stopping en-route to attack the corpse with a horsewhip and buried at night. The stake was duly employed and he was tumbled into the grave, some reports say in a standing position, some say upside down but all are agreed the pit was too small to allow the corpse no “rest” even in death. They even displayed the alleged murder weapons on the cart and I used to walk past the site every day on the way to work, it always felt a little odd.

    Some years later workmen found an inverted corpse on the site whilst laying gas mains. Nasty business.

    Keep up the good work my friend.

    Reply
    1. Easymalc Post author

      One to write up about then I would say. I know Cable Street but not the intersection with Cannon Street Road. Thanks again for taking a look Fergy and your over-generous comments.

      Reply
    1. Easymalc Post author

      Thank you for taking a look Luisa. I’m sure your words would do the tale justice because you write from the heart.

      I don’t know what sort of music you like, but a local folk singer called Seth Lakeman sang a song about her on an album of the same name. Below is a link to his performance at the Minack Theatre in Cornwall.

      Reply
  3. Francisco Bravo Cabrera

    Always loved ghost stories, mysteries and tales of the strange and unknown and this post was smashing good Malc, really loved it and as always fantastic photographs. Great research work and information. All the best to you,
    Cheers mate!
    FBC.

    Reply
    1. Easymalc Post author

      Thanks, as always, for your comments Francesc. I’m glad that you enjoy some of these snippets from my part of the world. Have a great Monday 🙂

      Reply
    1. Easymalc Post author

      I’ve known about it for a long time John. It’s quite well known and Seth Lakeman even sang about it.

      Reply

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