Cornish Folktales: The Ghost of Rosewarne

The following is a retelling of a Cornish folktale called the Ghost of Rosewarne  from  Popular Romances of the West of England collected and edited by Robert Hunt.

The Rosewarne Estate

When the De Rosewarnes ran into financial difficulties their own financial advisor, Ezekiel Grosse, gentleman and lawyer, stepped in buying the estate for a pittance. Supposedly, he wanted to save their dignity, but got himself a very good bargain in the process.  Maybe the De Rosewarnes were unlucky, but the feeling was they were more than a little naive as there was more than a hint that Ezekiel, as their financial adviser was less than honest in dealing with the transactions of their estate and it all seemed fall so neatly for him.

Nevertheless, as soon as the Rosewarnes moved out he moved in but he did not find things entirely to his liking.   At night he heard strange noises in some of the rooms and would rush in to see what was there, but there was always nothing to be seen. Sometimes he heard voices talking in the corridor but there was never anyone there. One night as he lay in bed just, as he was dozing off, he heard footsteps approach his bed. Terrified he pulled the covers over his head but he could still hear people whispering to each other. A cold and unearthly atmosphere pervaded the whole house and most people would have fled in terror, but Ezekiel was determined he would not be chased from his ill-gotten estate by fear of the supernatural.

The Ghost

One evening after dusk as he walked in his garden looking at the fullness of the moon he encountered a very old and worn man who approached him but faded into nothing and was gone in an instant.  This happened several times and always in the garden just after dusk. Ezekiel would simply ignore the apparition to begin with but as its appearances increased it also began appearing in the house and became annoying and irritating to him.

One night as Ezekiel was working late in his office the specter appeared and approached him making strange hand signals.  Startled and annoyed. Ezekiel jumped from his seat and confronted the ghost.

“What in the name of God do you want of me!”  he demanded.

“Ezekiel Grosse, I have come to show you where the Rosewarne gold is hidden.  Are you interested?” replied the ghost.

Few people who have walked the Earth have a greater interest in gold than Ezekiel Grosse, yet even he trembled in fear as he faced the ghost listening to its eerie voice.  He looked longingly at the dreadful specter desperately wanting to know the secret of the Rosewarne treasure, but hardly daring to breathe let alone speak.

The ghost stared at him through baleful eyes making Exekiel quail and then lifting a bony finger beckoned him to follow.  Through his fear, Ezekiel was rooted to the spot and could not move, even though he desperately wanted to follow.

“Come, Ezekiel Grosse,” beckoned the specter again, but Ezekiel was paralyzed.

“Gold, silver, jewels, the Rosewarne treasure, come Ezekiel, come!”  whispered the ghost.

“Where, where!” gasped Ezekiel.

“Follow and you will see the treasure of the De Rosewarnes!” but despite his lust Ezekiel was paralyzed with fear and could not move.

“Follow me, I command thee!” shrieked the ghost.

Ezekiel felt his legs move but it was not by his power but that of the ghost and he followed the specter from the house and into the grounds of the house and beyond.

The ghost led him on through the night until they reached a small dell in a distant part of the Rosewarne estate.  In the center of the dell a small cairn had been built using granite boulders and here the ghost stopped, pointed to the stones and said,

“Ezekiel Grosse I know your lust for gold for I too once had it.  I won more gold than you can imagine and it is all buried here underneath these stones.  

Ezekiel Grosse  if you would win this gold  you will glitter with the evil ones of this world and when you are at your happiest then I will visit you again.”

With that,  the ghost disappeared before the fearful, unbelieving eyes of Ezekiel Grosse who stood trembling in a strange mixture of fear and gold lust and the latter won.

“Devil or ghost , I will have the gold” he vowed, but as he spoke an eerie laugh echoed all around him.

Buried Treasure

Ezekiel returned to Rosewarne where he reflected upon all that had happened.  He decided that at the earliest possible opportunity he could go about the task unseen and pry up the stones and dig underneath.

Biding his time, but bubbling with restrained excitement, he waited a few days and then at dusk went down to the cairn carrying a large crow bar and began levering the stones up.   With this done .he dug up the soil where they had lain. The soil was soft and he soon struck something metallic but the dark was coming down fast and he could barely see. Nevertheless working by touch he cleared the soil and feeling around realized it was an urn of some kind but it was now too dark to see and he had not brought a light. He decided he would carefully recover it, replace the stones and make it look as if it had not been disturbed.

Not wanting to draw attention to himself and trying hard to suppress his excitement he waited for two more nights to pass before he returned to the cairn.  This time he was better prepared and quickly moved the stones and dug down to find the urn by the light of lamp he had brought with him. He soon uncovered the urn and found it bigger than he had thought and made of bronze and when he looked inside he saw it was full to the top with gold coins.   He tried to lift it out of the hole but it was far too heavy. Instead he filled his pockets with as many coins as he could and then reburied the urn intending to return for the rest the following night.

Returning home to Rosewarne he acted as calm and as nonchalant as he could so as not to cause his servants suspicion.  He returned to the cairn the following night and the night after that to bring back the rest of the gold pieces. He was so careful and secretive no one not even his servants had any hint of what he was up to.  Indeed, the only noticeable difference that up to yet could be discerned from his activities was that the ghost had ceased to appear and trouble him from the second he had shown the location of the treasure to Ezekiel.

Birds of a Feather

It was with great surprise that the neighbors and nearby gentry looked on in bemusement as Ezekiel spent lavishly of his secret treasure.  He made improvements to Rosewarne and filled it with expensive furniture and fittings and began to develop the estate. He even brought himself fine clothes and gave up practicing law making a great show of his new found wealth to his neighbors and associates.

Of course, people being people are attracted to wealth even though he was well known as a person of dubious, greedy and sly character. They say birds of a feather flock together and it proved to be the case at Rosewarne where a flock of gentrified scoundrels gathered around Ezekiel Grosse.  Thanks to his money he became something of a celebrity in the locality and people would speak admiringly of his long struggle as a lawyer to make it big, forgetting about all the cheating he had employed in the past.

For his part Ezekiel lived up to the part of the gentleman landowner to the full.  He even preached the value of honesty and integrity to his fawning flock and in return received the admiration that is so often given to one who is fabulously rich beyond compare.

All his old tricks and dishonesty were forgotten. and he spent lavishly on entertaining his flock.  These entertainments grew increasingly more seductive to those who counted themselves fortunate enough to be among his inner circle of friends. The Lord of Rosewarne, became the Lord of the West who everyone bowed low to – one of the chosen few – who owned more of riches of the Earth than they could ever possibly use, yet still lusted after more.

Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve arrived and Ezekiel gathered together his flock at Rosewarne for a very special evening he had prepare.  Their host was relishing being the center of their attention and in the kitchen his servants were all working hard for his pleasure and emulating their superiors in their attitude.  Everything was going splendidly and the guests were thoroughly enjoying themselves.  Ezekiel looked on and saw the influence his wealth had and he was well pleased.

As he reflected upon his pleasure and power the atmosphere in his hall began to grow cold and everyone stopped dancing and shivered as if someone has walked over their graves.  The light became strange and they looked in each other’s faces and saw a deathly paleness and in their eyes the cloud of death.

In the middle of the hall amid the dancers a strange old man appeared with an angry demeanor.  No one saw where he came from – he was not there and then he was. The guests moved back from the specter and made a path from him to Ezekiel.  The old man stared at Ezekiel in cold, stony, silence. Ezekiel stood transfixed to the spot in terror as the terrible apparition pointed at him.  Although it was only for a minute it seemed like an age and then it was gone.

Ezekiel, freed from his paralysis and in an effort to show he was unafraid let out a roar of mocking laughter saying,

“Ha! How do you like my little Christmas play?   Scared you all didn’t it? Ha, you look like terrified rabbits!  Butler pass around the mulled wine. Come, my friends, dance on, be very merry! It was nought but a little play to entertain you all!”

His guests were deeply disconcerted with the appearance of the old man and try as he might Ezekiel couldn’t rouse them to dance, or laughter.  An overpowering atmosphere of unhomeliness remained that made everyone feel uncomfortable. One by one, they made their excuses, bid him him a false Merry Christmas and left well and truly satisfied that all was not well at Rosewarne.

Turning Point

His Christmas Eve party was a turning point in the fortunes and popularity of Ezekiel Grosse.  He put on an air of nonchalance and gaiety as if the incident had never happened but his friends had not forgotten and were convinced of its reality.   He organized more parties and balls but each and every time the same aged old man would appear silently out of nowhere in their midst and staring coldly, point at him.  He never said a word but the sheer aura of power he exuded made everyone dare not to utter a single word, or indeed, hardly breathe.

Ezekiel would make up all manner of lies  to explain the incidents. He would claim the old man was an old friend with a mental impairment that he had represented as a lawyer, who was also deaf and dumb. As he tried to explain, the old man would stand before him, point at him and laugh maniacally and joyfully in his face and then vanish leaving an extremely unpleasant atmosphere of unhomeliness.

His friends made excuses and left despite the earliness of the night and refused to attend his lavish events.  They began to avoid and shun him leaving him all alone. Whereas once he had been the center of their attention, now he was alone despite all of the finery of Rosewarne and his great wealth.  The only friend that remained to him was a man named John Call who was his faithful clerk.

The oppressive  presence of the specter increased more and more and was so strong it did not just remain in the house but followed him outside of it.  Everywhere he went the old man appeared at his side and although he could see it others saw nothing but nevertheless felt its presence.

Shunned

Ezekiel went from being the most sought after and finest gentleman in the county to being completely shunned and avoided by the gentry.   He grew pale and miserable and walked with a drooping back. He became the very personification of misery and being in terror all the time, jumped in alarm at the slightest thing.

Eventually, he began to beg his spectral companion to leave him alone.  To begin with the ghost would not listen seeming content to watch him suffer.   At last the ghost told him that he would set him free on the condition that Ezekiel hand the entire Rosewarne estate and his treasure to the person that he selected and that a proper legal contract would be drawn up to make the deal binding.    Ezekiel readily agreed but when the ghost indicated that it was John Call who would be the benefactor, he began to try to twist and get out of the contract.  The ghost would not allow him to get away with it and shortly the deal was done and John Call became the master of the Rosewarne estate and its treasure.

The Revenge of the De Rosewarnes

After Ezekiel had been legally dispossessed of the estate and treasure the ghost revealed that he was an ancestor of the Rosewarnes and it had been he who had built their fortune.  When he had been a young man he had traveled much and traded in foreign lands and accumulated much wealth, but the lust for gold had got the better of him. Instead of passing it on to his family he had hidden it before he died intending no one else to benefit.

Now he had been sent back to atone for his greed and to punish Ezekiel for fraudulently obtaining the Rosewarne estate and putting its rightful owners into poverty.  The punishment had consisted of the systematic gratifying of his greed, the pampering of his pride until he reached the highest point in society and then causing him to be shunned and avoided.  His status was systematically destroyed making a pitiful exhibition of him for all to see and the estate taken from him and given to a more deserving man.

Ezekiel did not live much longer in misery after that.   He was found dead and it was said that it was a violent death with reports of deep scratches and dark bruising all over his body.  Some even say the specter of Rosewarne was seen leading a group of demons that came and bore away the soul of Ezekiel Grosse. They heard him laugh all through that night having revenged his family and righted a wrong, though whether this freed the soul of the Ghost of Rosewarne from his own doom, we do not know.

© 05/12/2018 zteve t evans

Reference, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright December 5th, 2018 zteve t evans

Sacred TextsPopular Romances of the West of England collected and edited by Robert Hunt

 

 

 

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Cornish Folktales: The Witch of Treva

The following is a retelling of a Cornish folktale called The Witch of Treva from Popular Romances of the West of England  by Robert Hunt.

There was once a an old woman who was deeply skilled in the arts of necromancy and lived in a tiny hamlet called Treva in Cornwall.  She could make powerful, spells, incantations and charms and people in the neighborhood were terrified of her.

Nevertheless, although the local people held her in fear and awe her husband remained singularly unimpressed by her witchery and refused to believe in such things.  Instead he was more concerned about the housekeeping and the cooking especially when he came home from work when he would demand his dinner the instant he came in.

One day after a hard day’s work he came home looking forward to a good dinner which he expected to be cooked and ready, on the table for him to tuck into as soon as he walked through the door.  Imagine his shock and annoyance when he discovered there was no dinner.  In fact there was no meat, no vegetables or potatoes or any other kind of food in the house at all.

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Cruel Coppinger the Cornish Smuggler

First Published on the #FolkloreThursday, web site, February 17th, 2016 under the title: Cornish Smugglers:  The Notorious Cruel Coppinger

Cruel Coppinger

One of the most extraordinary and fearsome figures in Cornish folklore and legend was Cruel Coppinger.  He is thought by many to have been a real person who attained semi-legendary status from his brutal, criminal behaviour and leadership of a ruthless band of smugglers and pirates.

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Pixabay – Image by natureworks – CC0 Public Domain

Shipwreck

According to Cornish legend Coppinger was himself a victim of a shipwreck by a massive storm wrecked his ship off the Cornish coast. As was the practice the local people gathered at the shore to see what they could claim when the storm died down. They watched the doomed vessel sinking and the lightning flashes revealed the dark figure of a huge man leaping from the ship and striding through the wild waves to the shore.  On reaching the shore he grabbed the cloak from an old woman, roughly shoving her to the floor and then leapt on the back of a horse a young woman had ridden down to the shore.  With her still sat on the horse and him behind her shouting furiously in some unknown language, the terrified steed fled and naturally made its way to its home with them both on its back.

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Cornish Folklore: The Legendary Tom Bawcock of Mousehole

Cornish Folklore: The Legendary Tom Bawcock of Mousehole

The sea and the rugged Cornish coastline dotted with fishing villages and harbors is a fertile breeding ground of many legends and traditions.  For many of the Cornish folk living around the coast, the sea provided them with a means to make a living by fishing.  As well as selling their catch for small profits it was the basic ingredient of their diet.  To catch the fish they needed suitable weather so their livelihoods were inextricably linked to the sea and the weather.

georges_jean_marie_haquette

Georges Jean-Marie Haquette (1854 – 1906) – Public Domain

Stormy Weather

Tom Bawcock was a legendary fisherman in the 16th century who lived in the Cornish fishing village of Mousehole. Like many other local people, he made his living from fishing the seas around Cornwall.  According to legend during one wintertime the area was afflicted by a series of storms and bad weather which prevented the local fishermen from putting out to sea.  This is said to have happened around Christmas time and the fishing boats remained stationary in the harbor. This bad weather continued over a prolonged period and the local people could not catch the fish that consisted of their main diet and began to starve.

Brave Tom Bawcock

According to local folklore this state of affairs continued for some time and by the 23rd of December with the village people in dire straights, one man decided something had to be done.  Tom Bawcock decided he would chance the weather and take his boat out to try and make a catch. Bravely he took his fishing boat out in the most appalling of weather and horrendous seas but good fortune was with him.  He managed to drop his nets and haul in a huge catch of fish.  When he returned he found he had several different kinds of fish all mixed together.

baked_stargazy_pieBy KristaBaked stargazy pieCC BY 2.0

Stargazy Pie

These were all placed together in one big pie with egg and potatoes providing enough to feed the entire village.  They called the dish stargazy pie.   In this dish, some of the fish heads are deliberately placed to poke through the pastry as if looking at the stars and the tails protrude as well so that it looks like the fish are leaping in and out as they would in water.  Placing them this way is also said to let the fish oils run back into the pie improving the taste and nutritional value.

Tom Bawcock’s Eve

Naturally, the villagers were delighted and Tom became their hero. A festival has been held on 23rd December which became known as Tom Bawcock’s Eve ever since in the village of Mousehole. During the evening of the 23rd, a huge stargazy pie is the centerpiece of a parade through Mousehole accompanied by villagers carrying lanterns and the pie is then eaten.  But even the Cornish weather can affect this and sometimes the lantern parade is postponed if the weather is particularly bad.

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The lantern parade for Tom Bawcock’s Eve – Public Domain

There was once an older festival held in the village during the end of December which also featured a fish pie made with several varieties of seafood and it may be that Tom Bawcock’s Eve has evolved from that. Over the years the festival has grown and since 1963 the famous Christmas festive illuminations of Mousehole are included adding extra color and sparkle.

The origin of Tom Bawcock

There are alternative theories as to how the festival originated.  One proposed by a nautical archaeologist, Robert Morton Nance (1873–1959) an authority in his time on the Cornish language and one of the founders of the Old Cornish Society put forward the idea that the name Bowcock  was derived from the French Beau Coq. He thought the festival was from an era that pre-dated Christianity and thought the cock in pagan times was the bringer of light or the sun in the morning with its crowing.

Another explanation is that the name Bawcock in Middle English is a nickname for someone who is regarded as a good fellow and Tom a generic name used to describe any man.  So Tom Bawcock would mean any good fellow and perhaps, in this case, any good fellow, who was brave enough to risk his life to feed the village.  It could have been a kind of Harvest Festival celebration in honor of any or all of the village’s brave fishermen if read like this.

The Devil in a Pie!

There is a tradition that the Devil never went to Cornwall.  According to Robert Hunt, after the Old Nick crossed the River Tamar he noticed the Cornish people liked to put everything in pies.  Not fancying his chances he decided to hightail it back  before they decided to place him in one!

References, Attributions and Further Information

Copyright zteve t evans

 

Cornish Folklore: The Bells of Forrabury

There are many legends and folktales from around the world that tell of sunken bells that have either been sunk in the sea or in a lake inland.  This folktale comes from Boscastle, Cornwall in England, which is a fishing village and harbor and part of the civil parish of Forrabury and Minster and tells how the bells of Forrabury Church were lost to the sea. According to the legend there was once a degree of rivalry between the church of Forrabury and the nearby church of Tintagel whose bells were said to have pealed merrily at the marriage of King Arthur and most solemnly when he died.

The Captain and the Fisherman

The church of Forrabury had no bells and the parishioners decided that their church should also have a fine peal of bells and so they commissioned a Spanish foundry to cast a set of bells that would surpass their neighbor’s.  When the bells were cast they were blessed and carefully transported to Forrabury on a ship under the command of a Spanish captain.  The ship sailed under fair winds from Spain to England then along the rugged coast of Cornwall under the guidance of a local fisherman who was familiar with the dangers of the coastline and a good safe voyage was made.  When the ship arrived the bells of Tintagel rang out a welcome.  The pilot on hearing them realized they were safely at their destination and went down on his knees to give thanks to God for their safe keeping and the speed of their journey.

The captain was a surly fellow and laughed at the pilot, mocking him and calling him a superstitious fool.  He told the pilot that their safe and swift journey was down to a combination of his own knowledge,  the skill and hard work of his captaincy, and the hard work of the crew. He told him that soon they would come to a happy and successful end to the voyage thanks to themselves alone and pored scorn on the idea of any divine intervention.  As he finished berating the fisherman he uttered an oath and profanity to end his speech.

The fisherman told the captain to moderate his language and show gratitude to God for their safe voyage.  The captain swore and laughed and continued to insist that the only one to thank for their safe and speedy voyage was themselves and uttered a string of expletives and mocked the fisherman mercilessly.  The fisherman shook his head and said, “May God forgive you!”

The Weather Changes

Now, the seas off the Cornish coast can be changeable.  A ship’s captain may believe that because the voyage has encountered mild seas and favorable winds all will be well the entire journey.  However, a wise captain will wait until he is safely ashore before judging the quality of the voyage and will always treat the sea and weather with respect knowing they at the bidding of God.  So when the seas and weather suddenly changed within sight of the harbor this would have come as no surprise to an experienced mariner such as the fisherman and change it did.   As the weather changed and the seas grew dangerously wild a huge wave rampaged towards the ship carrying the Forrabury bells.

The Bells of Forrabury

A vast throng of local people had come out to the harbor to welcome the bells.  As the captain was uttering his profanities they watched in awe and fear as a great swell in the sea far out beyond the ship formed into a massive wave.   This then swept towards the shore catching the ship bearing the bells tossing it to and fro and finally overwhelming it and sinking it close to the shore.  As the vessel sank the horrified watchers from the shore heard the sound of the bells muffled by the water like a death knell and indeed it was.  The only person who survived the sinking of the ship was the good fisherman with the captain and everyone else on board going down with the ship.  And so it is said that when the storms rage and the wild waves race across the sea to batter that part of the Cornish coast the dull clanging of the bells can be heard rising from the depths of the foamy ocean.  Their muffled tone, though dulled by the water, ring out a warning  to the wicked and the profane to change their ways. The church of Forrabury did not get its fine bells to better those of its neighbor and perhaps there is another lesson in that.

© 01/11/2016 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright November 1st, 2016 zteve t evans

The Cornish folktale of Jan Tregeagle

Jan Tregeagle is a name that is known all over Cornwall. In Cornish folklore he is considered the wickedest man that ever lived. His cries and wails can be heard when the wind howls through the trees and woods, across the bleak, cold moors and along the rugged coasts as he struggles to complete the task allotted to him. Like the Wandering Jew who is doomed to an eternity of endless, restless wandering, Tregeagle must work to complete hopeless tasks until Judgement Day when he will be brought before the Almighty for for release, or endless condemnation as the Lord shall see fit.

The Faustian Pact

Around the world there are many legends and stories from diverse cultures that tell the story of how a person sells their soul to the devil in return for riches, power or long life. To begin with things go well as the seller reaps the benefits of the Faustian pact. However, the devil does not forget and there comes a time when he has to be paid. The story of how of Jan Tregeagle, a Cornishman, sold his soul to the devil is one such story. As is often the case with legends there are a number of different versions that vary by location and who is telling the story and this version is influenced by others. Even so the Faustian theme of a person selling their soul to the devil and the reluctance of the seller to honor the bargain when the time comes remains, as well as the setting of a series of impossible tasks to keep that person on earth until the Judgement Day. Many people think Jan Tregeagle was a real man who was a magistrate who may have lived and worked in 17th century Cornish town of Bodmin. By evil means, including cheating an orphan from their rightful inheritance, he had acquired great wealth and to help him fulfill his desire for riches he made a pact with the devil.  Read more

The Cornish Legend of the Mermaid of Zennor

Cornwall in the extreme west of England is a peninsula with a long, rugged coastline with many towering cliffs, hidden coves, harbors and small fishing villages. The Cornish people around the coast for centuries made their earthly living from the sea and took their spiritual guidance from the church and these two themes often mix with old pagan beliefs which became woven into local folklore and legend.

By H.J. Ford, illustrator – Public Domain

Is there a hidden meaning?

The legend of the Mermaid of Zennor is certainly quaint with more than a touch of romance, but could any part of it be true? There are many folktales and legends from around the British Isles that have deeper meanings than often seen apparent. They often have a hidden moral or warning of some kind hidden in the symbolism and have parallels or links to other legends from other parts of the world. Is there a hidden meaning in the legend of the Mermaid of Zennor?  Read more