England, UK. (Grid Ref: SX733799)
"By the side of the road, where the track from the top of the common
crossed it at right angles and ran through a gate past the narrow wood,
was a thin mound of turf, six feet by one, with a moorstone to the west,
and on it someone had thrown a blackthorn spray and a handful of
bluebells. Ashurst looked, and the poet in him moved. At cross-roads--a
suicide's grave! Poor mortals with their superstitions! Whoever lay
there, though, had the best of it, no clammy sepulchre among other
hideous graves carved with futilities--just a rough stone, the wide sky,
and wayside blessings!..." - 'The Apple Tree' by John Galsworthy, 1916.
Set next to the road, its back to an old sunken lane, squats the grave of Kitty Jay. Though famed for the presence of fresh flowers there were none this bright October day, a handful of wild flowers browning with age, a bangle, a plastic butterfly and the torn pages from a magazine held down by a rock upon the unmarked headstone.
Kitty Jay, it is believed, was a servant at Canna Farm near the village of Manaton during the eighteenth century. There she was raped by a young farmhand and fell pregnant by that brutality, such was her shame that she hung herself from the rafters of the barn. As Kitty Jay was a suicide, judged to be 'self-murder', she wasn't afforded the normal burial rites and the three local parishes of Widecombe-in-the-Moor, North Bovey and Manaton all refused to bury her body within consecrated ground. As was tradition at the time the corpse of Kitty Jay was buried at a crossroads, it is said her grave lay where the three parish boundaries met.
Who or what lies in this green grassy mound, its kerbstones a latter addition to prevent damage by livestock, is debatable. It was once believed that nothing more than animal bones were interred at this lonely place. In the mid to late eighteenth century a farmer from Hedge Barton by the name of James Bryant opened the grave and found a human skull and a jumble of bones - Bryant's son-in-law, a doctor, examined the bones and declared the skull to be that of a woman. The bones were returned to where they were discovered and a headstone erected.
Today folklore, phenomena and strange goings on surround 'Jay's Grave', fresh flowers, posies and other greenery are said to be placed upon the grave daily; whoever carries out this act of devotion remains unseen and unknown. It is told that the author Beatrice Chase would leave flowers upon the grassy mound before her death in 1955, others say it is the faeries, piskies and pookas who out of sympathy for Kitty tend her grave. On certain moonlit nights a cloaked figure is sometimes seen kneeling at the grave, this spectral apparition is said to be the restless soul of the farmhand standing vigil over his victim and his unborn child.
'Kitty Jay' was the 2005 Mercury Music Prize nominated album by the musician and Dartmoor resident Seth Lakeman, the titular song of the album was based upon the legend of Kitty Jay.