Tales of Britain

By Jem Roberts

The finest, funniest stories of England, Scotland & Wales, refreshed for the 21st century. By Brother Bernard, as told to Jem Roberts.

Thursday, 11 October 2018

The Exorcism of Jan Tregeagle

Spooky Folklore Thursday to all! 

As we mentioned a season ago, on holiday in Tintagel, staying in Bodmin led us to discover the 400-year-old legend of JAN TREGEAGLE, and despite it being a ghost story, we couldn't resist spending an afternoon retelling the legend afresh – even though, being written so long after delivery of our manuscript, this is one story which won't be found among the 77 in our book. 

The truth is, the ghost story, like tales of Christian saints, is one genre we have made a point of avoiding in TALES OF BRITAIN – it's a pet hate that other collections of folklore are so packed with ghost stories (and every settlement has at least a few) it was hard to find any other tale worth telling amidst the thick cloud of identikit 'grey lady' bilge, and ghost stories, though unquestionably part of folklore, do seem to have their own rules and traditions, they belong in their own book...

But the legend of JAN TREGEAGLE is not just any old ghost story, and as a legal thriller, the town of Bodmin, with its courtroom museum bang in the middle, somehow seems to be heavy with his spirit. It's essentially a story of two parts – the first is Poldark meets A Christmas Carol, as the evil law man dies festooned with guilt, and is summoned in court to give evidence of his wrongdoing, which saves a young orphan from the gallows…

But then, having done a good posthumous deed, the demons who claimed his soul no longer wanted the poor shade, and so here's where a quirky ghost story expands into full-blown regional folklore. Because Jan Tregeagle doesn't just appear at the odd window as a smear of grey, he was damned to fulfill a plethroa of impossible tasks all around the North Cornwall coast, and the very moan of the wind thereafter became evidence of the doomed lawyer's eternal penances, emptying Dozmary pool with a limpet shell (with a hole in it), or clearing all the sand from the coast – and so, night and day, forever more, from Gwenvor to Berepper, Portleven to Nanjizal Bay, he sweeps away the sand and bewails his terrible job.

Many landmarks around here are proud of their place in the Tregeagle legend, and the incredibly atmospheric Roche Chapel, besides having a place in the Tristan & Isolde legend, is also said to be the place where Tregeagle's ghost was blown by a storm, in between infinite tasks.

Despite all this, however, when I popped into the cosy Bodmin museum, having completed this folktale retelling, nobody there had ever even HEARD of Jan Tregeagle! And so, I told the Bodmin natives the story all over again, and urged them to add some kind of reference to the 17th century lawyer in the museum, as they were right next door to the courts where he once plied his despicable trade. So if you visit Bodmin, and see mention of Jan in the museum, you have us to thank!

So we're proud of our retelling – it's a little like Ghostbusters set in the 1600s – but although you may not be able to read this tale in the first edition of our book, but you WILL hear it exclusively if you come to our first ever SAMHAIN/HALLOWEEN live show in Bath on the last Saturday of this month! Brother Bernard and Sister Sal will be performing some of our scariest stories in the village of Widcombe, only 5 minutes from Bath Spa station, so we hope to see you there – BE BRAVE! Jan surely can't get at you in Somerset...

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