Yesterday I set the scene for a fantastic story about the ghosts of the Monmouth Men
We now move forward 5 years to 1690, and stories of lost souls wandering the Blackdown Hills are common. The story that I want to tell is of Jacob Seley who was so convinced he had been’ bewitched’ by the ghosts of Monmouth men, and that they stole his horse, he reported it to the judges undertaking the Western Circuit.
It goes like this:
Jacob was travelling from Exeter to Taunton on September 22nd. Leaving around 3pm he headed north on the “Hinton Clist Road” to Blackdown, and stopped at a public-house called “Cleston”. Here he stayed for a while and ordered “a pot of beer and a noggin of brandy” (or at least that is all he owned up to!) and went on his way.
By 7 or 8pm he met what he described as a Country like farmer who told him to turn back as there was good lodgings a mile or so behind him. After travelling back to the dwelling, the house and the farmer suddenly disappeared, and Jacob tells of being surrounded by figures, that took his horse (giving it “something like treacle”). He was trapped and when he tried to slash at them with his sword “could find nothing but shadow”.
This continued until four in the morning when he managed to get away, and went to “Coldstock”; to report the whole incident to the judges, and then again publicly to his neighbourhood when he returned to Exeter.
The leaflet that came to press some two weeks later details how the house where Jacob was taken to belonged to “one of the Monmouth Men, and hang’d on the sign post, and the spot of Ground where Mr Seley was confin’d was not far from the house where several of them were Buried that were Buried, and Executed on Monmouth’s side, and goes by the name of Black Down.”
The landscape and the story became bound together, creating the atmosphere that allowed Jacob to be bewitched.
The Blackdown Hills had a reputation for criminal activity at this time, I have always thought that this could be a clear example that many bandits and thieves traded on the superstition and fear which surrounded the area in order to move through the landscape unchallenged.
Could it be that in the public house his head was filled with stories of the ghosts of the men who died only a dew years previously? Were people using the fear that could easily be generated in this landscape of steep sided valleys to take advantage of some robbery and horse stealing?
We’ll never know for sure, but I love the fact that the landscape of the ‘Black Down’ becomes steeped in this story, and almost becomes a key character within it.
I have written a longer paper on this – and if anyone is interested I’ll post it here.