posted on Feb, 4 2017 @ 06:10 PM
In Volume 1 of the Western Antiquary, dated October 1881, one F. B. Doveton asked for further details of a grave that he had noted by the side of the
road to Hey Tor. Doveton's guide had told him that it was called "Jay's Grave" and was that of a young woman who had hanged herself years ago in a
barn in Manaton, the bones being subsequently buried here.( Doveton’s guide would likely have been a local person relating a verbatim version of the
In a reply to Doveton's enquiry that was published later the same month, P. F. S. Amery quoted the above passage from Dymond and added the following
extra information. This one is about a quarter of a mile from the Swallaton Gate, on the road leading from Ashburton to Chagford. It is not now a
crossroad, but a path strikes across the main road, and leads between the farms of Hedge Barton and Heytree into the valley of Widecombe. The grave is
known as Betty Kay's, and about twenty years ago, the late Mr. James Bryant, the owner of the property, opened the little mound to verify the local
tradition, and discovered the bones, which he placed in a coffin, and reinterred in the same grave with a head and foot stone properly set up. This
is the form the grave can be seen in today.
Twenty years later, in the first volume of Devon Notes and Queries (1900–01), W. H. Thornton, who identified himself as the rector of North Bovey,
What were the circumstances which attended the death of the poor girl who occupies, or occupied, Jay's grave, at the point where the Heatree Common
lane joins the Chagford and Ashburton road. Local tradition declares that she was a maidservant at Manaton Ford farmhouse, and that she hanged
herself, and was buried at night on the down above the house. It is also asserted that the grave has been opened and no remains found. They had either
been previously removed by friends, or the burial must have taken place long ago. The grave is still distinct, and the mound of earth over it is
decently kept. The Rector also asked, Can anyone assign a date to the tragedy?
In reply to this enquiry P. F. S. Amery, who was by now one of the editors of Devon Notes and Queries, wrote “Jay’s Grave, which is by the side
of the Ashburton and Chagford road, where the Heytree and Hedge Barton Estates meet. A workman of mine, aged 74, informs us that about forty years ago
he was in the employ of Mr. James Bryant, of Hedge Barton, Manaton, when he remembers Jay’s Grave being opened, in which a young unmarried woman who
had hung herself in Cannon Farm outbuildings, which is situated between Forder and Torhill, was said to have been buried, but no one then living at
Manaton could remember the occurrence”. He is not known to have revealed his source for this reply.
The grave was opened by order of Mr. James Bryant in the presence of his son-in-law, Mr. J. W. Sparrow, M.R.C.S. (Master of the Royal College of
Surgeons; A trained medical professional) Bones were found, examined, and declared to be those of a female. The skull was taken to Hedge Barton, but
was afterwards placed with the bones in a box and re-interred in the old grave, a small mound raised with head and foot stones erected at either end.
Such is the present appearance of the grave. Medial science of the time would have been able to identify the sex quite easily. The fact that Mr
Sparrow does not describe the bones as belonging to a child does suggest that he, at least, considered the remains to be those of a full grown
In 1909, William Crossing, in his Guide to Dartmoor repeated Amery's report, though he named the suicide as "Kitty Jay, as she used to be spoken of",
and amended the location of the incident to "Canna, a farm not far from the foot of East Down"
The Dartmoor author Beatrice Chase wrote about the legend in her 1914 novel The Heart of the Moor, and claimed in a prefixed publisher's note that the
events it describes are true. In the novel she says: Near a plantation a little off the roadside, upon a turfy bank, I found the semblance of a rude
(rough) grave. It was a narrow ridge, raised above the surrounding turf, with irregular stones along its edges, and at the head an upright hunk of
granite. Going nearer I found that unknown hands had placed upon it a rough cross of ducky (charming or delightful) flowers, which lay limp and dying
in the sunshine(which would seem to give the lie to the folklore that says fresh flowers are placed on the grave by an unknown hand each morning).
Because there is no inscription on the grave she sets out to discover whose it might be. After asking several locals and searching maps and guidebooks
without success, she eventually finds that "Granny Caunter" knows the story:
"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 li'l maid herself. Her could just mind (remember)
hearing tell of it. 'Tis a suicide's grave, miss. Her was an orphan from the workhouse, 'prenticed to Barracott Farm between Manaton and Heatree.
One day, when her was quite young, her tooked a rope and went to the barn there on the Manaton Road, and hanged herself from a beam. Her was quite
dead when the farmer found her. Us reckoned 'twas the same old story, miss—a young man, who wadn't no gude to her (Edit; pregnancy outside of
wedlock) poor maid." Reading between the dialect what we see here is that the grave has been incorporated into local verbal tradition and was used to
serve as a warning to those who might deviate from the morality of the time. So in its own sad way this particular crossroad burial continued to
serve its intended purpose. Patricia Milton, writing in 2006, points out that Chase was being disingenuous in her novel, because as early as 1905 the
grave was being mentioned in guidebooks, and coach drivers (of the horse drawn type) were already pointing it out to tourists.
By Nineteen Sixty Five Jay's Grave had become a major Dartmoor attraction, with tourist coaches (The motorised types that our US Friends call buses)
stopping there while the driver/guide related his own version of the story. The mysterious appearance of fresh flowers upon the grave was always
mentioned. Recent versions of the legend include embellishments such as the orphaned baby being taken into the Poor House in Newton Abbot or
Wolborough where she was given the name Mary Jay. She now sometimes acquires the name Kitty after being sent to Canna Farm as a teenage apprentice. In
one version of the tale she is raped by a local farmhand. In another version she finds romance with the farmer's son. Either way she becomes pregnant
which results in her being thrown out of the farm and left with a reputation as a 'slut'. Such is her shame and despair that she hangs herself in a
barn, or perhaps from the great kitchen fireplace lintel,or else she drowns herself in a shallow pool. It is now said that the three local parishes of
Widecombe-in-the-Moor, North Bovey and Manaton all refused to bury her body within consecrated ground, so she was buried at a crossroads, which was
standard practice for suicide victims at the time. It is also often said that this crossroads is at the point where the three parishes met, though the
Ordnance Survey map confirms that this is not the case.