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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
And Paddington came too
Not only is the exterior of the building restored and a pleasure to sit outside but they serve a really nice marmalade cake. I am sure Paddington would approve. Nice coffee too although I am not sure if it was from Peru or elsewhere. A lot of my coffee seems to come from the elsewhere plantations.
Before ordering those essentials of a day out, tea and cake, have a look at the interpretation boards at the far end of the interior. They have a history of the lido and plenty of interesting images too. There are chairs and table beside this. I may have worried a fellow customer as I was peering intently at some of the old images in close proximity to their table!
One piece of advice is be prepared to make new friends if you sit outside. These will be of the feathered variety and want to know you for your cake not your sparkling wit. The pleasure of the view across the serpentine and early morning in the park is worth the feathered attention though.
Whilst walking through the gardens keep an eye out for the bright green parakeets. They are descendants of some that escaped some time ago and are very hard to photograph but it was fun trying. I was surprised they had survived the 2009-10 winter but feathers are good insulation!
I went along to Politmore House’s recent open day. This included a tour with plenty of stories about the house’s past and details of the plans for its future. The house has a rainproof lid on it and this is the first step towards reconstruction.
After the tour we went for tea and cake in the chapel. The chapel is not a classic stately home late English Gothic chapel but a big hut! This was used as a chapel when Politmore House was a boarding school. Now one of its uses is to serve really good homemade cakes, and tea of course.
Is there more?
Poltimore is worth visiting to see the before state of a stately home prior to restoration. There are some remains from the original Tudor house visible inside, especially in the courtyard. The saloon has very well preserved early English plaster work, and a state of the art 1940s operating theatre from when the house was a hospital.
The garden is at an early stage of restoration but does have some interesting features. The original garden was designed and planted by the local firm of James Veitch and sons, hence a monkey puzzle or two. There is even a dog’s graveyard with beautifully carved headstones for the deceased hounds.
The house and garden are not open all year round but there are open days to go to. Check their website for the next event.