NOTES TO "PIXY GATHON; OR, THE TAILOR'S NEEDLE."
Ill-wishing in the West of England is to this day an expression used to denote the mischievous and wicked designs of witchcraft. To be ill-wished by an old woman, signifies neither more nor less than to be bewitched by her. Sometimes persons who fancy that their children, themselves, or their cattle, are so, go to the White Witch, who pretends to the power of curing or removing the evil brought about by the wicked one.
Concerning Anastatia Steer, etc., I beg leave to subjoin, for the amusement of my readers, the following extracts from that curious work--"A View of Devonshire in 1630, with a Pedigree of most of its Gentry, by Thonas Westcote, Gentleman," which, though written so long ago, was only very lately published by subscription. Speaking of the great age of many persons in the county of Devon, the worthy author quaintly says--
"To add somewhat more concerning long life, it is to be proved, that Anastatia Steer, late of Roborough, lived full one hundred and forty years, double the age the prophet David allowed for old men in his time, when he said--
"Our time is three score years and ten
That we do live on mould;
If one see four score, surely then
We count him wondrous old."
And speaking of Crediton, he says--
"Their market for kersies hath been very great, especially of the finer sort; (and before the prepetuanos were wrought) for the aptness and diligent industry of the inhabitants (for making such cloth), did purchase it a super-eminent name above all other towns, whereby grew this common proverb, as fine as Kerton spinning; (for we briefly call it Kerton) which spinning was indeed very fine: which to express, the better to gain your belief, it is very true, that one hundred and forty threads of woollen yarn spun in that town were drawn together through the eye of a tailor's needle; which needle and which threads were for many years together to be seen in Watling Street in London, in the shop of one Mr. Dunscombe, at the sign of the Golden Bottle."
NOTES TO "THE THREE TRIALS; OR, THE STORY OF CRABBY CROSS."
Tintagel.--The ruins of this once magnificent old castle, traditionally said to have been built by Prince Arthur, stand to this day much as they are described in the tale.
The Rev. Mr. Hawker, in his little volume of elegant poetry, called "Records of the Western Shore," says of the Chough, "This wild bird chiefly haunts the coasts of Devon and Cornwall. The common people believe that the soul of King Arthur inhabits one of these birds, and no entreaty or bribe would induce an old Tintagel quarry-man to kill one of them."
Black cats, black hens, and ravens, I believe, from time immemorial, have been considered as the peculiar property of witches: and the evil spirit, who becomes the familiar of any such wicked persons, is said to take up his abode in the body of one of the above named black creatures, or, in some cases, to assume the appearance of any one of them. Some time since, I saw it stated, I think in Prince's "Worthies of Devon" (but have lost the reference to the page), that a certain learned divine, deeply versed in magic, had an attendant spirit in the shape of a black hen, which, on some one reading in a great magical hook that lay on the table in the absence of the owner, suddenly became a monstrous and dangerous bird.
NOTES TO "THE SEVEN CROSSES OF TIVERTON; OR, THE STORY OF PIXY PICKETT."
The quaint old author, Westcote, above mentioned, gives the following account of the Seven Crosses of Tiverton. He begins by stating, that a poor labouring man of that town had, by his wife, seven sons at a birth, "which being so secretly kept, as but known to himself and his wife; he, despairing of Divine Providence (which never deceiveth them that depend thereon, but giveth meat to every mouth, and filleth with his blessing every living thing), resolveth to let them swim in our river, and to that purpose puts them all into a large basket, and takes his way towards the river. The Countess (of Devon) having been somewhere abroad to take the air, or doing rather some pious work, meets him with his basket, and by some, no doubt Divine, inspiration, demands what he carried in his basket. The silly man, stricken dead well near with that question, answers, they were whelps. 'Let me see them,' quoth the lady. 'They are puppies,' replied he again, 'not worth the rearing.' 'I will see,' quoth the good Countess; and the loather he was to show them, the more earnest was she to see them: which he perceiving, fell on his knees and discovered his purpose, with all former circumstances; which understood, she hasteth home with them, provides nurses and all things else necessary. They all live, are bred in learning, and, being come to man's estate, gives each a prebend in this parish. which I think are vanished not to he seen, but the Seven Crosses near Tiverton, set up by this occasion, keeps it yet in memory."
NOTES TO "FONTINA; OR, THE PIXIES' BATH."
Sir Henry de Bath, a native of Devon and a most worthy man, and a judge in the reign of Henry III, in consequence of tile king's mind having been prejudiced against him by an artful and designing enemy, was summoned before the Parliament on the charges of corruption and treason. Conscious of his innocence, be came forward in the most fearless manner, supported by his friends, who entered the house armed. Those who were to sit in judgment upon him, feared so much the consequences to themselves did they condemn him, that not one present would lead the way; whereupon the king, in a fit of passion, denounced him, and promised to pardon any one who should put to death Sir Henry de Bath. He, however, escaped the present danger, and was afterwards reconciled to his sovereign.
In the court before Bath House (the ancient family residence near North Tawton, Devon) there was formerly a deep pit. Prince says, "so deep in the centre as the height of a man well mounted on horseback, generally dry, where would sometimes in the dryest season a spring break out, which filled the pit so full it would overflow Its banks." This overflowing of the waters became a fatal sign of death or calamity to the family of De Bath; and Westcote says in the work already cited, "That in those latter days, it had been seen to do so three times in a little more than thirty years."
NOTES TO "THE LADY OF THE SILVER BELL."
For the wild Pixy incidents which suggested this tale, I am indebted to my husband, the Rev. E. A. Bray, who many years since commenced a little poem on the subject, which is lost.
NOTES TO "THE BELFRY ROCK; OR, THE PIXIES' REVENGE."
The Belfry Rock, commonly called the Church Rock, on Dartmoor, on account of its resemblance to a church. I know not if it is still in being, as great havoc of late years has taken place on the moor; many rocks have been blasted with gunpowder, broken up for the roads, and otherwise destroyed. But the Church Rock was long remembered; and many old persons have declared, that they could recollect the time when, if you placed your ear close to it on a Sunday, you could hear a low tinkling sound like the bells of Tavistock Church, and always at the time of warning for service; and they also said, that the chimes, at the regular hours of the day for chiming, could be so heard at the rock. All this was duly ascribed to the Pixies, who, it was believed, loved bell-ringing, and went to church. Hence the rock in question received the name of the Pixies' Church. It is not at all improbable, that, when the wind was in the right quarter, the sounds heard at the rock were the faint echoes of the Tavistock bells.
For a knowledge of the local tradition, on which the tale of the Belfry Rock is founded, I am indebted to Mr. Merrifield, a barrister, and a man of talent in more things than the law, a native of the town of Tavistock, and the husband of a lady well known for her literary merits.