17 September, 2012

The Devil's Great Thunderstorm Of 1638 At Widecombe On Dartmoor

Widecombe Church - St,Pancras
Widecombe Church scene of the Great Thunderstorm of 1638
As I mentioned in my post Haytor On Dartmoor while on the moor we also visited the village of Widecombe mentioned in the English traditional folksong which begins:

Tom Pearse, Tom Pearse, lend me your grey mare
All along, down along, out along lee
For I want for to go to Widdicombe Fair


Widecombe is a pretty English village that has become a tourist attraction because of the song. While we were there they were preparing for the fair, which still goes on every year.

Widecombe Church, dedicated to St.Pancras, has it's own claim to fame being the scene of the Great Thunderstorm of 1638.

Lightning struck the church tower and part of it fell through the roof. A fire-ball then passed through the church and four people died.

Old wallboards inside the church tell of the tale - well some of it, as locals will tell you that the storm and fire-ball was due to none other than Satan himself.

Widecombe church boards tell of the Great Thunderstorm of 1638

The boards (click on photo to make bigger), are in old English where a 'f' is an 's'. They tell of such things as:

Men so perplexed were, they knew not one another's faces. They all or most were stupified that with so strange a smell

and

One man was scorched so that he lived but fourteen days and died

and

Some had their skin all over scorched, yet no harm in their clothes

and

One man had money in his purse, which melted

But not written on the boards is Satan's supposed role in the Great Thunderstorm.

There are several versions but the landlady at the Inn at Poundsgate told of how, back in 1638, a stranger stopped for refreshment and directions to Widecombe. He was dressed in black and had cloven feet. His transport was a jet black horse.

As he drank a mug of ale the liquid hissed as it went down his throat. The mug became so hot it scorched the bar.

This was the devil who then went on to Widecombe Church to collect the souls of four people who had been playing cards while a church service was in progress. One of these was a sleeping Jan Reynolds.

According to Wikipedia the devil, "... captured Jan Reynolds, and rode away into the storm. As they flew over nearby Birch Tor, the four aces from Jan's pack of cards fell to the ground, and today, if you stand at Warren House Inn, you can still see four ancient field enclosures, each shaped like the symbols from a pack of cards."

Going back, to what some would say reality, Widecombe Church dates back to the 1300s and the tower was paid for by money given by local tin miners.

The oldest grave I saw was dated 1673, photo below, the date can be seen in the bottom right corner.

1673 grave inside Widecombe Church on Dartmoor

Near to the church, beyond the Post Office, is an old Saxon Well. It is said to never run dry.

Saxon Well in Widecombe, Dartmoor, Devon

And finally, just in case you feel like singing, here are the full (sad) words of the Widecome Fair Song, so all together now:

Tom Pearce, Tom Pearce, lend me your grey mare
All along, down along, out along lee.
For I want to go down to Widecombe Fair
Wi’ Bill Brewer, Jan Stewer, Peter Gurney,
Peter Davy, Dan’l Whiddon, Harry Hawk,
Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all
Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all

And when shall I see again my old grey mare?
All along, down along, out along lee.
By Friday soon or Saturday noon
Wi’ Bill Brewer, Jan Stewer, Peter Gurney,
Peter Davy, Dan’l Whiddon, Harry Hawk,
Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all
Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all

So they harnessed and bridled the old grey mare
All along, down along, out along, lee.
And off they drove to Widecombe fair,
Wi’ Bill Brewer, Jan Stewer, Peter Gurney,
Peter Davy, Dan'l Whiddon, Harry Hawk,
Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all.

Then Friday came and Saturday soon
All along, down along, out along lee.
Tom Pearce’s old mare hath not trotted home
Wi’ Bill Brewer, Jan Stewer, Peter Gurney,
Peter Davy, Dan’l Whiddon, Harry Hawk,
Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all
Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all

So Tom Pearce he got up to the top of the hill,
All along, down along, out along lee.
And he sees his old mare a-making her will,
Wi’ Bill Brewer, Jan Stewer, Peter Gurney,
Peter Davy, Dan’l Whiddon, Harry Hawk,
Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all
Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all

Tom Pearce’s old mare, her took sick and died
All along, down along, out along lee.
And Tom he sat down on a stone and he cried
Wi’ Bill Brewer, Jan Stewer, Peter Gurney,
Peter Davy, Dan’l Whiddon, Harry Hawk,
Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all
Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all

But this isn’t the end of this shocking affair,
All along, down along, out along lee.
Nor though they be dead, of the horrid career
Of Bill Brewer, Jan Stewer, Peter Gurney,
Peter Davy, Dan’l Whiddon, Harry Hawk,
Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all
Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all

When the wind whistles cold on the moor of a night,
All along, down along, out along lee.
Tom Pearce’s old mare doth appear ghastly white
Wi’ Bill Brewer, Jan Stewer, Peter Gurney,
Peter Davy, Dan’l Whiddon, Harry Hawk,
Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all
Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all

And all the long night be heard skirling and groans,
All along, down along, out along lee.
From Tom Pearce’s old mare and her rattling bones
And from Bill Brewer, Jan Stewer, Peter Gurney,
Peter Davy, Dan’l Whiddon, Harry Hawk,
Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all
Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all

Uncle

Other Recent Travel Posts:
Haytor On Dartmoor
The Pixies Saved Us From The Evil Serpent
Walnuts With A Chord Of Holiday Camp Synchronicity

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4 comments:

  1. Very interesting. A regal piece of architecture. And look the clock reads: 10 to 3 (10-2-3). :P

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  2. looks a lovely area as did your dartmoor post. might get there one day

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  3. I enjoys these excursions through your area and British history. That well - at first glance, it reminded me of a hobbit doorway!

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  4. I know the song well! But have never been to Widecombe, looks great, my sort of place. Actually anything is my sort of place if I can get away from where I live. One day hopefully.

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