The Life and Death of Kitty Jay



If you've read Making the Trek to Dartmoor: Preparation Tips, you know that a bouquet of flowers isn't exactly an essential item to bring on your adventure to the park. But it might not be as crazy as it seems--not if you want to visit Kitty Jay's Grave.

The grave is an important part of Devon's, and specifically Dartmoor's, folklore. It dates back to the eighteenth century, to the story of a poor young Devonian girl named Kitty Jay. The girl was an orphan at a workhouse on Manaton Farm. During her time at the farm, she fell in love with a farm laborer and became pregnant with his child. The farm boy abandoned her and Kitty Jay was left alone. Not knowing how she was going to endure bearing a child out of wedlock, and worried about how she would support the child, Kitty Jay took her own life by hanging herself in the farmer's barn.

It was believed by the members of the surrounding parishes that a person who committed suicide could not be buried on consecrated ground. As a result, she was buried at the crossroads of three parishes so that none of the parishes had to claim responsibility for her.

The grave was quiet until 1860, when a man named James Bryant, curious about whether or not a young girl actually was buried there, excavated the grave and found a female skull and bones. He then proceeded to place the remains in a wooden box and bury them again in the same spot, this time under a raised mound, which is still there today.

The most mysterious part about the grave is that, since Bryant restored it, fresh flowers have always appeared at the site, and yet no one takes responsbility for placing them there. Kevin Hynes, in his book Haunted Dartmoor, discusses how, "Even after harsh moorland blizzards, fresh flowers have been left with no sign of footprints left in the blanket of white snow." Hynes himself thinks that the site is still haunted by Kitty Jay.

Yet whether or not the flowers are being left by Kitty Jay's ghost, locals, or visitors, Kitty Jay's grave remains a popular site for those going to Dartmoor. The fact that the site is so often visited shows how folklore can keep history alive where it would otherwise be forgotten. Plus, it demonstrates how the people visiting Dartmoor are invested the folklore of the area and continue to interact with their own history. Jay's Grave, then, is just one example of how folklore commemorates a culture's past and keeps that past alive.

So when you're looking over those Dartmoor Preparation tips, maybe you'll decide to bring along a couple of flowers and visit the grave on the road between Heatree cross and Hound Tor. That way you can be a part of the Devon folklore experience, too (just remember, no one admits to placing them there!).



Text © Alana Gale, Photos © Alex Kirshy


Earle, John. Walking on Dartmoor: National Park and Surrounding Areas. Cicerone Press: Singapore, 1987. Reprinted 2015. Print.

Hynes, Kevin. Haunted Dartmoor. The History Press: Gloucestershire, 2014. Print.


Kitty Jay's Grave