Widecombe Stories


Many stories are told about Widecombe (true and apocryphal) and some of the more interesting will be told on this page.

Uncle Tom Cobley

Lightning Strikes the Church and Satan Visits!

Jay's Grave

Some extracts from John Webber's Poems.

Uncle Tom Cobley

This Widecombe Fair Poem and Folk Song describes the 'adventures' of Uncle Tom Cobley and his friends and the fate that befell the poor old grey mare that they borrowed from Tom Pearce.

It is based on a supposedly true happening and you can visit Tom Cobley's grave at Spreyton, just north of Dartmoor.

"Tom Pearce, Tom Pearce, lend me your grey mare,

All along, down along, out along, lee,

For I want for to go to Widecombe Fair,

With Bill Brewer, Jan Stewer, Peter Gurney,

Peter Davy, Dan'l Whiddon, Harry Hawke,

Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all,

Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all."

 

"And when shall I see again my grey mare?"

All along, down along, out along, lee,

"By Friday soon, or Saturday noon,

With Bill Brewer, Jan Stewer, Peter Gurney,

Peter Davy, Dan'l Whiddon, Harry Hawke,

Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all,

Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all."

 

So they harnessed and bridled the old grey mare

All along, down along, out along, lee,

And off they drove to Widecombe fair,

With Bill Brewer, Jan Stewer, Peter Gurney,

Peter Davy, Dan'l Whiddon, Harry Hawke,

Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all,

Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all."

 

Then Friday came, and Saturday noon,

All along, down along, out along, lee,

But Tom Pearces old mare hath not trotted home,

With Bill Brewer, Jan Stewer, Peter Gurney,

Peter Davy, Dan'l Whiddon, Harry Hawke,

Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all,

Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all."

 

So Tom Pearce he got up to the top o' the hill

All along, down along, out along, lee,

And he seed his old mare down a-making her will,

With Bill Brewer, Jan Stewer, Peter Gurney,

Peter Davy, Dan'l Whiddon, Harry Hawke,

Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all,

Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all."

 

So Tom Pearce's old mare, her took sick and died,

All along, down along, out along, lee,

And Tom he sat down on a stone, and he cried

With Bill Brewer, Jan Stewer, Peter Gurney,

Peter Davy, Dan'l Whiddon, Harry Hawke,

Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all,

Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all."

 

But this isn't the end o' this shocking affair,

All along, down along, out along, lee,

Nor, though they be dead, of the horrid career

Of Bill Brewer, Jan Stewer, Peter Gurney,

Peter Davy, Dan'l Whiddon, Harry Hawke,

Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all,

Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all."

 

When the wind whistles cold on the moor of the night

All along, down along, out along, lee,

Tom Pearce's old mare doth appear gashly white,

With Bill Brewer, Jan Stewer, Peter Gurney,

Peter Davy, Dan'l Whiddon, Harry Hawke,

Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all,

Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all."

 

And all the long night he heard skirling and groans,

All along, down along, out along, lee,

From Tom Pearce's old mare in her rattling bones,

With Bill Brewer, Jan Stewer, Peter Gurney,

Peter Davy, Dan'l Whiddon, Harry Hawke,

Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all,

Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all."

These words came from Devon Cattell's Site

There are several other versions.

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Lightning Strikes the Church!

(Taken from An Exploration of Dartmoor by J L W Page, 1895)

On 21st October 1638, lightning struck St Pancras Church and severely damaged the Church, especially the tower, and several people lost their lives.

The schoolmaster, Richard Hill, wrote some verses commemorating this storm. This story attributes the disaster to Satanic agency. A woman who kept the inn at nearby Poundsgate avers that a rider mounted on a coal-black steed called at her house on the day in question, and inquired the road to the village. Unwittingly she told him, and was immediately after horrified at the liquor which he drank hissing as it passed down his throat. Seeing that he was discovered, the fiend galloped off for Widecombe, and entering the church, espied a youth who was indulging  in a nap. In compliance with the terms of a compact that if he found him sleeping he should become his, body and soul, and probably irritated at his discovery by the woman, Satan, who on his way through the churchyard had already kicked some boys at play into a grave, seized the unhappy wight, and flew with him, amid thunder and lightning, through the roof to the top of the tower, where his horse was fastened to a pinnacle. What with the struggles of the youth, the horse and the devil, the pinnacle crashed down upon the congregation, while horse, rider and burden vanished in the sulphurous gloom.

It is strange to read that such men as Joseph Hall, Bishop of Exeter, and Prince, another divine, who wrote of the event nearly a century later, had more than a shadowy belief that the devil was at the bottom of the visitation. We cannot, therefore, be surprised at the answer returned by the son of a Devonshire peasant. To the question of his teacher, 'What do you know of your ghostly enemy?' he replied: 'If you please, ma'am, he lives to Widdecombe.'

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Jay's Grave

Today, if you walk between Heatree Cross and Hound Tor, you will come across an unmarked grave by the roadside....and there will be flowers on it. There are many versions of the story of this grave. Below are extracts from the version by Beatrice Chase recounted in 'The Heart of the Moor'.

Yesterday I left the tor, and walked along the road for a time till, near a plantation a little off the roadside, upon a tufty bank, I found the semblance of a rude grave....Going nearer I found that unknown hands had placed upon it a rough cross of ducky flowers, which lay limp and dying in the sunshine.

I searched, but there was no inscription. Yet it was unmistakably a human grave.

With a sense of tragedy I turned away at last, came home and peppered everyone with questions.

"Yes, miss, it be a grave sure 'nough,"....." J's grave 'tis called. No, I can't tell 'ee how 'tis spelt for I never couldn't spell. Mary Jay was the poor maid's name. I heard my mother tell of it, when I was a li'l maid. It happened when her was a l'il maid herself. Her could just mind hearing tell of it."

...." 'Tis a suicide's grave, miss."

"Not really? I didn't know there was such a thing to be seen in England.  Who was it?"

"A poor maid, miss. Her was an orphan from the workhouse, 'prenticed to Barracott Farm between Manaton and Heatree. One day, when her was quite young, her took a rope and went to the barn there on the Manaton Road, and hanged herself from a beam."

"Oh, how too sad! Poor girl! Why did she do it?"

...."Us  reckoned 'twas the same old story, miss - a young man, who hadn't no gude to her, poor maid.

There is another version on this website, which also provides some interesting historical background (well worth a  detour): http://www.stir.ac.uk/celt/staff/higdox/stephen/grave.htm

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