Monument of the month – The Cabell Tomb

The Devilish Squire and Ruined Church

A Devilish Squire

A change from Prehistory with a move to the Restoration and a man in league with the Devil!

The tale is that Richard Cabell (or Cabel) Restoration squire of Buckfastleigh was in league with the Devil. The squire’s wickedness and wantonness knew no bounds it seems and was only  contained after death by putting him in a iron barred mausoleum. Further proof of his infamy was seen by the Devil’s wist hounds (demonic hounds that accompany Old Nick on his hunts across Dartmoor and sleep under the rocks of Wistman’s Wood) turning up to mourn the squire at his burial. Not to mention accompanying his spirit on ghostly hunts of course.

Cabell Mausoleum
The Cabell Tomb

Mind your fingers!

The legend is if you run round the tomb seven times widdershins the squire will nip your fingers. Or the Devil will – perhaps sniffing for mephitic vapours could help you decide who it was as you nurse your nipped digits.

Sadly such a ripping yarn rather falls apart under close scrutiny. Details like his wife outliving him when he was meant to have murdered her don’t do much for credibility and muddling in of other Dartmoor tales like the wist hounds don’t help clarify things either. The historical evidence points to further muddling of the lives of three different men to create the legend.

And of course the church itself, Holy Trinity at Buckfastleigh has its own legend of the Devil trying to destroy it as it was built.

The empty church on the hill

Approaching Holy Trinity on its hill you could be forgiven for thinking it is a flourishing place of worship. All looks well tended and there are fresh flowers on graves and wreathes around the war memorial.

Holy Trinity Church, Buckfastleigh
Holy Trinity Church, Buckfastleigh

On looking in you find there is only a shell of a church which has seen two major acts of arson – one in 1840 and another in 1992. The last one did for the church and it was rebuilt in the town below. However the bells were saved and restored to their place and are used.

Inside the ruined church

The church has a lovely calm atmosphere even on a wet and dark day like the day I went to see the infamous squire’s tomb. Rather prosaically the inside of the tomb is used to display parish notices!

You can explore the shell of the church and the the 13th Century chantry chapel ruins. I found the evidence of 19th Century ornate graves with lots of ironwork around them interesting too. The path from town to church can still be reached by the old steps.

Top of the stairs
Steps leading up to the church

If Buckfastleigh or the squire sounds familiar

It may well be because you have heard of the tonic wine produced by Buckfast Abbey. This gained notoriety from being a drink of choice for the younger and poorer drinker. It proved particularly popular in Scotland being know as Bucky although whenI worked in Glasgow some years ago youngsters referred to it as Commotion Lotion. I thought that was a great name!

You can still buy the wine although there’s pressure to make it less potent…

And the squire may remind you of a work of fiction set on Dartmoor. Apparently the story of the squire was one of Conan Doyle’s sources of inspiration for the Hound of the Baskervilles.

By Rick Lawrence

Making models and playing tabletop games since the late 1960s, and still enjoying it! Now working in heritage and dabbing around with photography, with quality cafe time when I can.

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