Kitty Jay

Image result for kitty jaysI have visited the grave at least once before on Dartmoor.  You could easily miss it; save for a flash of colour at the side of the road and the elevated earth and stone that marks the resting place.  The sense of crossroads is blurred, as two directions look like private laneways now.

Local lore says that the grave is the burial place of a girl who took her own life named Kitty Jay; possibly three hundred years ago.  Those who committed suicide were denied burial in the consecrated ground of a churchyard.  Loved ones were known to bury their tragic family relations at a crossroads.  If the dead were not given a proper Christian burial, it was believed that they would wander the earth. Family members were afraid of such supernatural haunting, even if the deceased were beloved while alive.  The crossroads would offer direction for the soul to wander, and everyone hoped that it would be the road out of town.

Kitty Jay is remembered through oral and written tradition in Dartmoor.  The oldest accounts of her story were written down from interviews with the local residents in the mid nineteenth century.  The catalyst for exploration of the story was the discovery of her bones.  One resident claimed she lived three generations back at the time, which would make her story possibly a hundred years earlier.

Image result for kitty jaysAs many locals as there were to interview, there were just as many versions of her story.  One account claims that she was an orphan, a vulnerable young girl, who was possibly working for a family.  She committed suicide in a nearby barn.  One strand of her tale is that she had a relationship with a local lad, either willing or possibly not.   The result might have been pregnancy, a condition that would have meant immediate isolation from society.  Some stories tell of her being fired because she was discovered in the ‘family way,’ and they didn’t want her terrible reputation tarnishing their good name.

No matter the story, the theme is the same: a young disadvantaged girl who suffers and takes her own life.

The fact that we still know the story of Kitty Jay speaks of a connection; a spark of compassion that ignites when we hear her story. Cut flowers have always strewn her grave, from the earliest knowledge of her resting place.  Her story is a universal tale of struggle of the individual, society and self.  It also illuminates the challenges women face in society.  Many of us can see how we too might have become a tragic figure like Kitty Jay, and honouring her memory is honouring the outlier; understanding that the laws and traditions in our society that sustain us, can also act as a barrier for personal wellbeing and health.

 

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The Red Barn Murder

Image result for red barn murdersThey had tried to run away together at least twice before May.  This time it was going to happen.  She fumbled with the unaccustomed buttons of William’s shirt.  She was going to dress as a young man so that no one from town could recognize her.  William had taken her belongings, including the familiar dress, to the barn his family owned.  There they would meet, and travel to Ipswich to be married.

He was a rough man and was known for his shady dealings, but he came from a good family and prosperous farm. She loved fine dresses, and didn’t want to end up with a poor man like her father.

It was only six weeks since she had returned to her father’s crowded cottage.  She had been staying with a family member after she had become pregnant with William’s child.  She stayed long enough to go through the last visible stages of pregnancy, and have the child. Image result for red barn murders

William held it in his arms; he had called it theirs. Only two weeks after she came home, the child had died. They would have more.

William had taken their dead baby, wrapped in the blanket she had sewn.  Sudbury was far enough away to avoid suspicious eyes; she was unmarried, and there were laws against having a child out of wedlock.  William would have the child buried there, to avoid questions in their own parish.  She wasn’t even able to see the child buried.  She would ask William to show her the child’s tombstone when they were married.

She already had a child from another prosperous gentleman, who she had dreamed would marry her.  He didn’t, but he had done right by her by providing an allowance to care for the child.  Her step-mother Anne, was good enough to mind the boy for the last few months.  In fact, her step-mother, Anne was only a few years older than she, and had a son just a bit older than her boy. She caught her son calling Anne ‘mother’.  It was just as well; her father and Anne would probably care for the boy until she and William were settled.

Maria looked at her cloudy reflection in the mirror, careful not to smile.  The face that looked back at her was resigned, not joyful.  William’s green handkerchief tied around her neck brought out the green in her eyes.  Her brown hair was tied back with three combs.  The soft glint of gold on either ear was a gift from William; when they were first courting.

They had to run away now.  William had heard that the constable was bringing her a letter; charging her with having a bastard child.  She was going to be forced to go to the parish council and tell them who the father of her now dead- child was.  They might see it as suspicious that she had the child buried in another parish.  It was best to leave now, marry William, avoid these awkward questions.  A woman was both made, and destroyed by am man.

She heard William’s voice downstairs, and quietly said her farewell to the room she had shared with her brothers and sisters, all of her life.  In the kitchen she gave Anne a big hug, and asked if she would tell her son she would send for him shortly, and tell her father goodbye.  As agreed she and William left by two different doors, if anyone from town was watching.   They both were heading to the same place; the beautiful red barn owned by William’s family, and the location of their secret affair.

Epilogue

It was a few months of silence before Maria’s family became suspicious.  William came back alone to his family farm.  He was the only remaining son, and he had to help with the harvest.  He told Maria’s family that she was on the Isle of Wight, or in the care of an acquaintance and joyfully had become his wife.   She had hurt her hand; that was why she had not responded to their letters.  They were married, and she would soon visit.

It was when Anne became haunted by nightmares that the tragedy of 1826, in the Red Barn, was uncovered.

To be continued.

 

 

 

 

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Muse

Light & Shadow

My beloved;
Elusive one.
Scent of
Feral honey and
Chocolate.
Satin cloaked in
Velvet.
My heart
Quickens
When you
Exhale.
Words dance around you:

Why, if, may I, when?

Colours blend;
In the gloaming.
Mars and Venus
Embrace.
Your kiss;
Creation
Out of chaos.

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A New Leaf…

IMG_8360It is almost a year since I came to the fork in the road and walked a new path.  I started this blog as a way to share my family papers and artifacts; to share my love of history.  My passion for this subject never wavered; it has only been placed on the back-burner to simmer.

I am now living on a 110 acre farm- like Winnie the Pooh.  As a city girl, this comes with a million new challenges and adventures.   We harvested our first maple syrup this year.  I am watching the birds return, and the buds open.  We will have a few colonies of bees, chickens, and a large garden to keep us busy..

While I have been silent, I have not turned my back on my love of history.  There are so many stories I have discovered that I want to share.  Many of you have been interested in the Gamsby Manuscript, and I have been honoured to connect with some of you.   I will explore this further in the coming year.

Thank you for your interest.  As our national literary treasure would say, “You are a kindred spirit.”

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Greek Drama

dionysus-acropolisIt is the morning of the first day of the City Dionysia.  The event takes place in Athens, a city state on what is now mainland Greece. It is one of the most powerful cities in the Ancient world. This is the home of modern philosophy, mathematics, democracy and -for our interests- drama.

Athens is a city that has grown into the very hill that surrounds it.  The most important temple of Athena, the patron Goddess of the city, stands on the highest hilltop. It overlooks the Mediterranean Sea, and guards the many fishermen who venture out to feed their families and obtain some additional income.

Just below this temple sits the theatre of Dionysus; a theatre dedicated to Dionysus, the God of wine and merriment. The seats are carved into the hill, and almost 15, 000-30,000 citizens can attend this performance. In a matter of hours, as soon as the sun rises, this theatre will hold all of these citizens and more.

The priests in the temple of Dionysus are preparing the statue of the God. They will ceremonially wash, cleanse and feed the statue before he is carried at the front of the crowd of Athenian citizens as they walk to the theatre of Dionysus.   He will be placed in the seat of honour at the front of the theatre.  A goat will be sacrificed to him, indicating a beginning in the ceremonies.

It is a civic duty to come to this event.  Everyone has the day oath007aff.  The fishermen will not venture out today.  The event is important for many reasons : it is honouring the God Dionysus for his help in keeping Athens safe; it is part of the citizen’s civic duty; and it is believed that the act of crying at a tragedy will purify a person.

The God has taken his place at the front of the stage, and people file through the entrance of the theatre and take their seats where they can find them. They have brought food and drink for the day- the performances will last until the sun sets.  This will be a week-long event, and everyone has been eagerly awaiting it.  Playwrights will compete for a coveted ivy garland that is made of gold, and more importantly the bragging rights to claim themselves the winner of the City Dionysia.

Each playwright must write three tragedies, usually about myth or legend.  Originally, when the City Dionysia started, there used to be a huge chorus; sometimes 300 people. They were regular citizens that were required to offer their time to support the competition.  Slowly over time, the chorus started to disappear and one or two actors replaced the chorus.

12-portraitofmaskandactorThe audience of Athenian citizens can hear the plays very well, even if they sit quite a distance up the hill away from the stage.  This is possible because of the natural acoustics of the mountainside and the bowl shape of the theatre. The actors also are wearing large masks over their faces with a hollow mouthpiece that has a megaphone to project their words.  The actors wear stylized costumes that communicate their role in the presentation (rich, poor, man or woman).   They wear huge platform shoes that add additional height so that the people who are sitting high up on the side of the hill can see them better. They, like their audience, are only men.  There is much debate whether women could attend the theatre in Athens.

The day is long and pleasurable: as the sun sets the audience will have seen three tragedies from one playwright and a set of comedies at the end of the day.  The god will be returned to his temple, and everyone will spend the rest of the evening discussing the plays over their rice, fish and olives. They still have another six days of performances to experience, and everyone is eager to see the other playwrights’ work.

 

 

 

 

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