Dartmoor is an area rife with legends. One of the most enduring and influential is the tale of Kitty Jay. It has inspired stories and songs alike and is one of the most fascinating and enduring local legends.
The story of Kitty Jay
The Story of Kitty Jay has it that sometime in the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century in the village of Manaton a girl was born and abandoned. The orphanage allegedly named her Mary Jay. This part of the story is debatable as orphanages tend to give people surnames based on their location (This is actually where my own surname originated!)
She grew up in a poor house in nearby Newton Abbot but eventually became a servant to a local farming family back in Manaton. While there she fell in love with the farmer’s son. The two had a relationship and she fell pregnant.
Kitty Jay (as she is now known) was rejected following her pregnancy. Presumably down the fact she was a mere servant. Of course, the farm boy denied that he had even had a relationship with her and she was tossed out in shame.
Unable to deal with her intense feelings and rejection, Kitty Jay tragically took her life. Hanging herself from the rafters of a barn.
Suicide was considered a sin in those days and as a consequence, Kitty was not allowed to be buried in consecrated ground. As was the custom at the time those who took their own life were buried at a crossroads. The thought process being that they would be forced to wonder the spirit world looking for directions. Or some nonsense like that.
Being that the story is mainly folklore there are variations on it. Some of the stories suggest that it wasn’t the farmer’s son, but the farmer himself having the affair with Kitty Jay. Some claim that she was raped. Other versions claim that she lost her baby and that is why she committed suicide.
Another theory is the location of the burial site was chosen because the three local parishes refused to bury her and the site was equidistant between the three. However, when you look at the map there is seemingly no truth to this myth.
The legend of Kitt Jay grows
Kitty Jay’s remains were discovered in 1851 as detailed in a copy of the local paper, The North Devon Journal. Estimates at the time suggested that the remains were between 60 and 90 years old. The decision was taken to place the remains in a more suitable container and rebury them in the same location. A plane granite headstone was placed there as a mark of respect.
Thereafter it was reported that there were always fresh flowers on the grave. For a long time, this was thought to be due to local eccentric author Beatrice Chase, however, when she died in 1955 the trend continued.
Of course, mankind is a curious bunch and so people have tried to find out why there always appears to be flowers on the grave. This has prompted stories of people taking recording equipment which mysteriously stops working at midnight. Then there are rumours of local tourist companies sneaking up there to propagate the phenomena.
The truth is that I have been there plenty of times and there has been nothing on the grave. Tourists will often leave flowers or trinkets though. People probably put flowers there to provide interest for fellow ghost hunters. While it is a cool story, and there was definitely somebody buried there the owner of the actual remains could just as easily be Bob Mathews as Kitty Jay, but who am I to get in the way of a cool story?