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The Black Pig of Lydford

Updated: Feb 12

During the reign of King James II, one man struck fear into the heart of every miscreant, criminal, and ne'er-do-well. Traitors had cause to fear him too, for Lord Chief Justice George Jeffreys' most notorious work was done at the Bloody Assizes, where many of the Duke of Monmouth's followers were punished with death.

Hanging Judge Jeffreys: the nickname was well-earnt, for 320 of Monmouth's followers were executed. Another 800 were condemned to lives of slavery in Barbados. Hundreds of others were fined, flogged, and flung into prison. Although the judge handed sentences perfectly in line with the laws of the land, his lack of compassion shocked onlookers.

Indeed, the ferocious nature with which he condemned over a thousand West Country peasants, wantonly used as pawns in Monmouth's failed power grab, made Judge Jeffreys loathed in Devon.

...which takes us to Lydford Castle!

Standing gaunt and hollow on the very edge of Dartmoor is an old Norman keep. It was once used as a jail, imprisoning men accused of breaking the stannary laws. Tin mining was so important, the industry boasted its own set of rules, courts, and punishments. Lydford Castle was at the heart of the system.

One such prisoner was Richard Strode, MP for Plymouth. He was confined there in 1510 after complaining about tin mining debris dumped in moorland rivers silting up his city's harbour. Whilst many folk today would love to see their politicians banged up in jail, Richard's unfair treatment shows how arbitrary the so-called Lydford Laws were!!

Lydford Castle
Steps leading down to the dungeon

So, we now have a merciless judge, unjust laws, and a notorious prison. Amongst the misery and suffering such things engender, ghosts are all but inevitable. However, the one haunting Lydford Castle is extremely strange.

I'll use an excerpt from my novel 'Forever Onward, Battling The Beast of Dartmoor' to explain what it's claimed to be. In the conversation below, my protagonist Sabine Baring-Gould does the same for the benefit of beautiful heroine, Florence Tucker.

The maid liked a story or two, so I decided to share one now. I hoped it would raise her spirits a little.

“The castle, where we met earlier,” I said, with a twinkle in my eyes, “did you feel anything strange when waiting for me there?”

Florence looked up in surprise.

“Now as you mention it, yes!” She replied. “It had a dark atmosphere, and a little more besides. I hadn't really noticed at the time, but you having asked me, I remember there was a feeling of great sadness there.”

“Great sadness? Right, that makes perfect sense. Have you ever been inside, to take a look around the ruins?”

“No, I've never really wanted to. It's an ugly building. Ugly and squat. And I'm not all that interested in castles and the like.”

“I can understand that because it isn't a very pleasant sort of place. However, if you did venture through its arched doorway, you might find the experience thrilling. For you'd be in the company of ghosts!”

“Ghosts?” Florence shrieked in delight. “Are you saying the castle is haunted by brave knights and fairytale princesses?”

“No, because it spent most of its working life as a prison, not a palace. Men and women who got on the wrong side of local mineowners were jailed there, sometimes without being convicted of any actual crime. So, think less brave knights, more drunken tinners. Less beautiful princesses, more impoverished wives.”

I had the young maid’s full attention now and could see she enjoyed the story. The adventures of feudal lords wouldn’t have meant a lot to her, except as romantic tales from a dim and distant past. Lydford Castle having been a prison, where the poor and desperate were once caged, allowed her to sympathise with their fates. Coming from gypsy stock, she knew all about dwelling on society’s bottom ladder.

“That said,” I searched for a fitting climax, “it isn't the tortured souls of those kept in its foul dungeons that haunt the place now. They've found peace after death. No, it's the soul of the wicked man who put them there which is now forced to remain trapped within its walls!

“Such is the eternal punishment of Hanging Judge Jeffreys, imprisoned in his own jail until the Book of Judgement is finally opened. He's damned to take the form of a spectral black pig.”

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