Contents of

Legends, Superstitions and Sketches of Devonshire: On the Borders of the Tamar and the Tavy


Mrs Bray

London: John Murray: A.K. Newman and Company, Darling & Son Printers.
In three Volumes, Volume I, illus, 401 pp.

Provided by Michael Steer

This much quoted book by Mrs Anna Eliza Bray (1790-1883) is a compendium of valuable historical information mixed with a great deal of romantic (almost New Age) apocryphal (and entertaining) information about the Druids, Fairies and obscure traditions and ceremonies in old Devon. An original copy of the text is held at the New York Public Library and a complete electronic copy may be accessed at:
Google, in partnership with a number of public libraries has sought to make more widely accessible, old, hard-to-get books on which copyright has expired.




CONTENTS-Allusion to the original plan of the work being suggested by the Laureate-Sources to be employed in its progress- Climate, situation, and natural advantages of the Town- Anecdote of Charles II.- Dartmoor heights, rivers, and streams: their character - Weather: humorous lines on the same- Mildness of the climate; vegetation; laurels, &c.- Myrtles: account of some extraordinary ones at Warleigh- House Swallows, or Martens- Story of a deep snow : a gentleman imprisoned by it- Origin of the name of Moreton Hampstead- Frozen Swans- A Christening Anecdote of the last generation- Snow in the lap of May- Pulmonary consumption unknown on Dartmoor- Snow-drops ; strawberry-plants ; butterflies at unusual seasons- Blackbirds and Thrushes- Winter weather- Monumental stones of Romanized British Chiefs-Reasons given by the Writer for going at once to Dartmoor- Vestiges of the Aboriginal Inhabitants of that region.


CONTENTS :- Dartmoor- Origin of its name- made into a forest by King John-Henry III. gave it bounds- Edward III. bestowed it on the Black Prince- Its extent, &c- Impression it is calculated to produce on the mind- Granite Tors-Sunshine unfavourable to the Moorland scenery; various effects produced by the clouds, times, and seasons- Rivers, their character, &c.- Variety and beauty of the mosses and lichens- Channels worn by the rivers- Crags and cliffs- Tavy Cleave, its grandeur- Scenery of the Moor where combined with objects of veneration, their founders being the Druid priests and bards- The Moor barren of trees- Soil- Primary and secondary rock- Pasture for cattle- Peat- A hut; the crook of Devon ; peasantry of the Moor, children, &c. described- Language of the people. Origin of the word ' Logan'- Snow-storm on the Moor, and the adventures of a traveller, with a traveller's tale.


CONTENTS- Wild animals in ancient times on the Moor- Old custom of Fenwell rights- Banditti once common- Road across the Moor; mode of travelling before it was made- Atmosphere, remarkable- Thunder and lightning, not common- Tradition of Conjuring Time noticed- Witchcraft, still a matter of belief- Extremes of heat and cold- Shepherd lost; his dog- Two boys lost in the snow- Hot vapour on the Moor, its appearance- Scepticism respecting the druidical remains, noticed; its being wholly unsupported by reason, knowledge, or enquiry- The Damnonii, their origin with the rest of the ancient Britons; their history, &c. &c.- Camden quoted- Aboriginal inhabitants of the Moor; their Druids, &c.- Orders of the Bards- Poetry- Regal power assumed by the Priesthood- Priests and Bards distinct orders- Sacred groves, &c.- Allegory of Lucian- Tacitus quoted, and other authorities respecting the Druids- Their customs, laws, &c., briefly noticed- Vestiges of British antiquity at Dartmoor- Spoliation there carried on- an assault made on the antiquities of the Moor a few years ago, related.


CONTENTS- Subject continued- Dartmoor, a region fitted by nature for the rites of Druidism- Tors retain their British names- Hessory-tor, Bel-tor, Mis-tor, Ham-tor, noticed by Borlase- Bair (or Baird) Down- Wistman's Wood- Secrecy and mystery observed by the Druids in their societies- Solitary places and deep groves- Antique Forest; its only vestige- Trunks of trees found in bogs and below the surface- Birds sacred to British superstition still seen on the Moor- Black Eagle once found there- Story of the white-breasted Bird of Oxenham- Heath Polt, or Moor Blackbird- Birds in flocks- Dartmoor probably the largest station of Druidism in Britain- Reasons assigned as the probable causes wherefore the Druidical Remains on the Moor are of less magnitude than those of other and more celebrated stations- Circles on the Moor; memorials of consecration of the Tors- Architects of Egypt; level country- Vixen Tor compared to the Sphinx; rock-basins on its top- Lines from Carrington-Morning on the Moor- Herds of Cattle, &c.- Extraordinary Feat of a Dartmoor Pony- Insect world- Cuckoo lambs- Birds of the Moor, rare and common, briefly noticed.


CONTENTS.- Bair-down supposed to have been the Hill of Bards- Inscriptions on the Rocks: how cut- House on the Eminence- Beautiful Ravine: Bridge of a. lofty single arch over the River Cowsick- Trees planted in the ravine by the late Mr. Bray- Remarks on the etymology of Bair-down- and Wistman's Wood- Observations on the English Distich- Merlin's Cave in the Rocks - Wand or rod- Rural Inscriptions on the Granite.


CONTENTS.- Wistman's Wood- Considered as the posterity of a Druid grove- The antiquity of such groves, as places of resort of Eastern idolaters- Examples found in the Bible quoted- Customs of the ancient idolaters- Horses devoted by them to the Sun- Customs of the ancient Germans and Gauls in their Superstitions- Celtic priesthood- Record preserved in the Office of the Duchy of Cornwall respecting Wistman's Wood- The subject of its high antiquity further considered- Hill of Bards, and Wood of the Wisemen contiguous- Account of the Wood, and its localities in their present state- Progress towards it- Adders plentiful on the Moor- Superstition respecting them- How to charm them- Ashen wand- Serpent's egg- Diviner's rod- Pliny's notice of the magic of Britain- Taliesin's account of the wand- The Caduceus, its origin- Toland's account of ancient amulets- Custom of charming adders : a vestige of British superstition- Spring of water- Lucan's notice of Caesar on entering a Druid grove- Lines on Wistman's Wood- The Farmer's legend about the old grove- The ascent to it- Masses of granite- The extraordinary oaks of Wistman's Wood described- Isabella de Fortibus by some said to have planted the Wood- Ages of trees, &c.- Silver coins found; and human hair in a kairn on the Moor- British monuments destroyed- Crockernton- Circles of stone numerous- Wistman's Wood probably the last retreat of the Druids and Bards of Damnonia.


CONTENTS:- Fabrics of unhewn stone of Eastern origin- Examples given- The Gorseddau or Court of Judicature; its high antiquity- The solemnity of trial- Druid judges in civil and religious causes- Courts of Judicature held in the open air with the nations of antiquity- Crockerntor or Dartmoor- Such a Court in the Cantred of Tamare- Since chosen for the Court of the Stannaries- Account of Crockerntor in ancient and modern times- Tin traffic- Stannaries, &c.- The Judge's chair- Parliament-rock, &c., described- Longaford Tor- Rock basin- Many barrows on Stennen Hill- A pot of money, according to tradition, found in one of them- Bair-down Man, or British obelisk- The Grey Wethers; stones so called- Causes for Crockerntor being chosen by the Stannaries for their Parliament- Probably the Wittenagemot of this district succeeded on the very spot where the Gorseddau was held in British times- Grimspound a vast circular wall; its antiquity- Account of similar structures by Strabo and Caesar- Arthur's Stone, a British structure of great interest- Flocks and herds of the Britons- Tin traffic- The scarlet dye mentioned by Pliny, probably alluding to the scarlet moss, from which dyes are formed, on the Moor- Excursion in search of Dennabridge pound- Horses in their free state- The river at Dennabridge- Judge Buller exonerated from having removed the great stone, used as a table by the old Stanuators at Parliament-rock- The stone found at last far from its original station- Dennabridge pound, its extent, &c., described- Trunk of an oak tree, found by Hannaford, in a bog- Oak bowls found in a bog on the Moor; their great antiquity- River Cowsick- Inscription to Shakspeare on the rock below the bridge.


CONTENTS:- Account of the remains of the great Cursus near Merrivale Bridge- Plan of it- Fallen Cromlech; barrow; obelisk; large circle; foundation of circular British huts- Processions in the Cursus in ancient times- Their chariot races, &c.- The Welsh poem of Gododin; its great curiosity and interest as an historical record- its mention of a similar Cursus at Stonehenge- Remarks on Cromlechs- Various in their character and uses, examples given- Drewsteign-Tor, the finest Cromlech on Dartmoor- Cromlech near the Cursus of the Moor, probably a stone of sacrifice- Barrows on Dartmoor opened in 1790; urns found in them containing ashes, or the bones of human bodies, with coins and instruments of war- British monumental inscribed stones- Augury of birds common with the Druids- Great antiquity of the superstition-Remarks on the subject- Sacred springs and fountains- The Cauldron of Ceridwen- Casting lots; twigs, branches, and herbs used in sortilege- Water in rock basins, for what purposes collected- Rocking or Logan Stones still found on the Moor- their uses- Ancient British bridges on Dartmoor described- Ancient trackways and leets of Mines seen on the Moor- Gold and silver found in Britain, mentioned by Tacitus- Silver found in Devon.


CONTENTS :- Account of the Circles of Stone near Merrivale Bridge- Walls, or Stone Hedges, how formed on the Moor- Account of forty contiguous Circles of Stone- Traditionary account and vulgar error respecting the Circles near Merrivale Bridge- Plague at Tavistock in the year 1625- Temporary appropriation of the Circles at that period to a Market gave rise to the error- Borlase quoted; his opinion of the Circular Temples of the Britons- Further account of the Great Cursus near Merrivale Bridge- Barrow- Cromlech- Kistvaen, or Sepulchral Stone Cavity- Origin of the word Cromlech - Borlase again quoted - Obelisk near the Cursus - Hessory Tor- View from it- Curious Rock on the summit of the Tor answers in every respect to a Druidical Seat of Judgment- Bundle's Stone.


CONTENTS :- Bogs on the Moor, called Dartmoor Stables- Mists on the Moor, their density- Popular belief among the Peasantry of being Pixy-led- Fairies and Pixies of the Moor- Lines from Drayton- Fairies of older date in Britain than the times of the Crusaders, Duergar or Dwarf- Their origin by some attributed to the Lamiae- Fosbrook's Opinion quoted respecting their origin with the Nations of the North- Their peculiar Character- Druids supposed to worship Fairies- Derivation of the word Pixy- Pixies a distinct genus from Fairies- Said in Devon to be the Souls of Children who die unbaptized- The reputed Nature, Character, and Sports of Pixies - Traditionary Tales respecting them- A Pixy bribed with fine clothes - Said to change Children in the Cradle - Story of a Changeling- Pixy Houses, where found- Lines from Drayton's Nymphidia- Conrade and Phoebe, a Fairy Tale in verse, by the Rev. E. A. Bray, quoted- The wild waste of Dartmoor haunted by Spirits and Pixies- Causes assigned by the Peasantry for these Spirits not being so common as in former days- Pixy-led folk- Their distresses- Turning Jackets and Petticoats, a practice to prevent the disaster- A Tale of an Old Woman and the Pixies, very faithfully recorded, as handed down by Tradition to modern times- Another Tale, not less wonderful, concerning two Damsels -Legend of the Old Woman, the Tulip-bed, and the gratitude of Pixies.


CONTENTS :- The danger of the sudden mists on Dartmoor- A letter mentioned, written on the subject by the late Mr. Edward Smith, who was enveloped in one on Mistor- Mr. E. Smith, a man of talents, very unfortunate- His family of old standing in the county- Character of his father- A sketch of him given- His children distinguished for talent- Edward, the youngest, the most gifted and least prudent- Some account of him- His early career- At sea- Returns - Goes to Wadham College- The peculiar powers of his mind stated - Determines to turn author- His first projected Work- His merits and defects as a writer- Some mention of celebrated persons who have commenced their career at various ages of their lives- The character and misfortunes of Edward Smith- His marriage- His children- His distresses- The death of his wife- Of his infant- Of his youngest child- Affecting circumstance at the grave on his attending the funeral- His own death at the age of twenty-seven- His letter, with his interesting account of his visit to Mistor


CONTENTS :- Visit to Vixen Tor- The Tor formed of three contiguous lofty rocks- Different appearances of the rock in different situations -These and the Tor described- Difficult of ascent- Rock basins on its summit- Their probable uses - Borlase quoted- Logan stones - Second visit to Vixen Tor some years after the first- Further observations on that remarkable rock- Ascent made in 1831 by a friend of the writer.


CONTENTS :- Pewtor Rock- Ascent to the eminence- Spacious area there found- Druidical Seat of Judgment; more perfect than the Judgment Seat at Karnbre in Cornwall- Basins on the summit- Remarks on the Druids as legislators- Hindoos had recourse to aggeration in elevating stones- Note on the subject giving the opinion of Mr. Southey - Rock basins more particularly described -Objections to rock basins being a work of art refuted- Proofs of their being a work of art stated- Fastness or Stronghold of the ancient Britons- Small cavern at the bottom of the hill- Huckworthy Bridge- Walkhampton- Sheepstor- Visit to the Pixies' House- Return to the village- Second attempt to reach the object of curiosity- Little boy becomes a guide- The Palace of the Pixies at last discovered- Description of it- Dripping of water heard- Story of Elford hidden in the cave- Excursion to Cockstor- Roosetor and Stapletor- Mound of stones; circular form- Account of Cockstor- Roosetor remarkable-Pendent rocks- Two more Basins discovered-A most curious example of Druidical antiquity described - Stapletor- A most interesting combination of nature and art- Ascent to Stapletor- Rock Basins- Pile of rocks, pendent above, very remarkable- The companion of the writer determines to ascend the pile- Difficulty of so doing- He accomplishes the task- Discovery of a Logan Stone on the summit- The Logan shakes under the discoverer- Danger and difficulty of descent- The inquiry pursued further on this Tor- Interesting discovery of a remarkable Tolmen- This the only instance of a Tolmen found on Dartmoor- Uses of the Tolmen with the Druid priesthood of Britain- Ordeals, &c.


CONTENTS :- Mistor described- Tumuli and circles near Mistor- Ashes found in the circles- Barrows- Stream-work, &c.- Brentor- Beacon station with the ancient Britons- Account of this most conspicuous and remarkable tor- Church on the very top of it- Its commanding station- Legend respecting it- Another tale respecting its foundation- Most probable tradition concerning its erection- Brentor a striking object at a distance- Camden's notice of the Gubbins, a rude race of men inhabiting a neighbouring village- Wherefore called cramp-eaters- Longevity, instance of it in Elizabeth Williams- Geology of Brentor- Mr. Polwhele quoted.


CONTENTS.- Source of the Tavy on Dartmoor- North Crockern-tor- Account of some very curious circles found in this excursion- Longbetor- South Beetor - Bel-tor, or Belletor- Excursion to Tavy Head- A Farmer becomes guide- Upright stone marks the spot of the grave of a suicide- Cranmere Pool- Source of the river Tavy- The tracks of foxes seen- A hare chased by a fox- Superstition respecting the spirits condemned to the pool- The guide's credulity- His account of having been himself bewitched by an old woman- Extraordinary walking race mentioned by the Farmer- Head of the river Walkham- Crossing the fen- Peter Tor a fortified stronghold - The romantic and melancholy story of George Stevens related.


CONTENTS.- Excursion to Tavy Cleave- Beautiful effects of light and shade on the lofty tors - Rocks above Tavy Cleave- Their singular character- Arthur's Seat- Tavy Cleave described- Approach to the river- Dry incrustation of foam- Bed of the river, &c.- Gertor- Sharpy Tor- Air Tor- Life of a Lamb saved- Fall from a horse- Return- Interesting excursion upon the railroad- Names of the tors variously pronounced- spoliation among the tors- Curious process in working the granite described- The picturesque scenes around the rail-road- Architecture in which granite is used with most effect- Better for pillars than pilasters, &c.- The subject continued- Remarks on various styles of architecture- On that employed on the gateway of Dartmoor Prison - Picturesque appearance of a figure at work- Immense machinery- Blocks of granite, &c.- King Tor- Huts for labourers- Singular appearance of the men at work, clustered around, and almost hanging like bees, among the detached rocks- Destruction of these magnificent works of nature, the Tors, deplored- Granite enough to be found without destroying the Tors- Caves, or catacombs would be formed by under-ground excavations- Mines might also be discovered- Allusion to Columbus- Bark seen dropped in the road- Wistman's Wood probably in danger- Excursion resumed- Effects of a storm on the roads- Swell Tor- Difficulty of distinguishing the Tors- A vehicle observed near Merrivale bridge- Dartmoor prison near the rail-road- Dense fog- First spoliation of the Moor seventy years ago- The present, there going on, far greater and irreparable.


CONTENTS :- Excursion to the Warren in search of the King's Oven - Arrival at an old house called an Inn- Invitation to the traveller held out in verse- Romantic adventure- Derivation of the word Merrivale- A search after antiquities under a broiling sun- Ridges of stones- Circular barrow seventy-six paces in circumference- The King's Oven found- Probably a place used by the aborignal inhabitants of the moor for their barbarous cookery- A circle- A stone cross- Curious remains of a British bridge examined and described, found near a circular enclosure like Dennabridge pound- Visit to Fitz's Well on the moor- The structure above the well proved not to be so old as, by mistake, it has been represented- Not older than the time of Elizabeth- Account of the well, with the tradition respecting its history as connected with the pixies and Sir John and Lady Fitz.


CONTENTS :- Southern hills of Dartmoor eleven hundred feet above the level of the sea- Luminous evaporations there seen- Tin mines- Grey granite; of what composed- Manganese found near Moreton-Hampstead- Devonshire marbles beautiful; their formation- Slate remarkably beautiful- The various uses to which applied in this county- Extraordinary carved slab of slate- Slaters called Helliers - The earth often of a bright red- Crystals found in it-Black garnets- Spar, where found- Loadstone on Dartmoor- Prideaux' Geological Survey quoted respecting various parts of the Moor- Brentor, its curiosity and geology- Black-downs, a primaeval mountain tract- Convulsions of nature have been great on the moor- Shock of an earthquake there felt- Full account of the storm and its awful effects, at Widdecomb, in the year 1638- Carrington's lines on it given- Low towers of the churches on the moor- Botany, wherefore here but slightly noticed- Value of some knowledge of drawing; easily attained- The golden blossom of the furze magnificent in Devon- Admired by Linnaeus- May-blossoms- The digitalis, or foxglove grows in the greatest luxuriance- Whortle-berries- White clover- Wild flowers; some of the poetical names given to them by the peasantry- Provincial names for the birds, &c.- Mr. Polwhele's account of the entomology- The finny tribe- Trout excellent- Salmon plentiful- Reptiles- The long Cripple-Snake and Toad seen together- Story of a remarkable toad- Lizards- Adders common on the moor- The Bat abundant in the ruins of an old tower in the Vicarage garden.


CONTENTS.- Vestiges of ancient customs still found on the Moor- Sacred solemnities of the Druids to Bel, or the Sun- Bel Tor the scene of ancient rites- May-fires in Cornwall and Devon- Druidical or British custom respecting Cattle, formerly observed on the Moor- Vestige of the sacrificial rite to the God Bel- Cuckoo's note, an omen- Lines on the Cuckoo- May-day in the West of England- The Hobby-horse; its high antiquity- Conjecture respecting its being a vestige of the Sacred Horse, &c.- Horses, as sacred offerings, so considered by many nations of antiquity- a vestige of such offerings found in chivalrous times- Examples given- The Druidical Festivals of the West- That of Godo- The British Ceres - Harvest- The curious ceremony still observed by the Reapers, near Dartmoor, at the end of the Harvest, described as witnessed by the Writer- Conjectured to be the vestige of a British custom- Plants held sacred- Herbs- Charms- Old Women generally perform the rite- Two Charms in barbarous rhymes given- The Apple tree- Old custom of saluting it- The last of October, the great day with the British Priesthood- To beg fire, in former limes, at the doors of the rich, on that day, once practised by the Peasantry of the West- Now extinct- Old Midsummer Day- Cattle pounded- Decay of ancient customs on the Moor- An interesting Letter from the Reverend Thomas Johnes on the Animals of the West, given at large.


CONTENTS.- The Birds of Dartmoor, &c. &c. MY DEAR SlR, I have great pleasure in now being able to convey to you the following interesting letter, which I have just received from the Rev. Mr. Johnes, on the birds of this district


CONTENTS.- Introductory to Mr. Bray's Letter, from the library to the drawing-room, addressed to his Wife - Inscribed Obelisk erected in the Vicarage garden- The biography of an old Stone- Search formerly made after it at Buckland Monachorum- Colloquy with the village Sexton- An Antiquary's discovery near the Blacksmith's shop- Sir Ralph Lopez presents this record of ancient days to the Writer- Account of the inscribed Stone- Polwhele's conjecture that it originally stood within a Pagan temple- Probably a memorial of a Romanized Briton- The inscription given- Various readings concerning the same- Roman and British names - The Stone bears reference to the period when the Celtic language pervaded the whole Island- Conjecture respecting its having been the Stone of an ancient barrier in the public games- Its original station- A similar Stone near Roborough Down-Inscription upon it- Various interpretations of the same- Allusion to the Dobuni- Henry and Camden quoted- The inscription on the Stone of British origin- Visit to this antiquity- Subject continued- Probable date of the erection- A third and similar Stone mentioned- Manner of its discovery- Its high antiquity- Its inscription, &c.- Removal of these relics to the Vicarage Garden- Other and curious inscribed Stones also preserved in Betsey Grimbal's Tower- An Antiquary robbed of part of his treasure- Some account of one of these antiquities- Possibly a memorial of Alfred the Great- Reasons assigned for the conjecture- Subject continued- Various readings of the inscription- Conclusion- Excursion to Over Torr-rock Basins- The Walkham- Peat carts- Bair-down opening a Kistvaen- Human bones found on the Moor - Obelisk near Bair-down.