Widecombe-in-the-Moor, Devon: 2015


This Tea Towel Blog is dedicated to my friend Jenny, one of my original Tea Towel Blog sceptics.  She gave me this tea towel as a present at Christmas 2015, together with the story I extracted from her.  I love a tea towel with a story.  Jenny was a work colleague, working in another charity.  She decided to retire several years before I did; we agreed to meet up on a monthly basis for lunch and a decent cup of loose leaf tea, an interest we share.

Jenny’s husband is into family history and is tracing his Family Tree.  He has, apparently, been very successful, having been able to trace some of his lineage back to the 1500’s.  Jenny and her husband have family in Cornwall and Devon and on the return from their holiday last year decided to divert through Widecombe-in-the-Moor  to look at the graveyards.  Everyone I know who is interested in family history gets hooked by graveyards; they knew that they were going to find no new family members in the graveyard but what they were hoping for was a ‘feel’ of where their ancestors originated from.

Widecombe, of course, is not just any old village in Devon; it is the subject of a well-known Devon folk song, Widecombe Fair.  Widecombe Fair is the story of a man whose horse dies after someone borrows it to travel to the Fair in Widecombe with his friends.  While most people know the one verse that is on the tea towel, the song does actually have nine verses.    The fifth verse says “And he sees his old mare a-making her will”.  The song states that the death of the grey mare was not the end of the story because now the grey mare haunts the moors.  The eighth verse talks about “When the wind whistles cold on the moor of a night…..Tom Pearse’s old mare doth appear ghastly white”. And in the ninth verse it says “And all the long night be heard the skirling and groans…..From Tom Pearse’s old mare and rattling bones”.

A lot of research has gone into the story of Widecombe Fair and it is generally believed that the eight people named in the song (Tom Pearse, Bill Brewer, Jan Stewer, Peter Gurney, Peter Davy, Daniel Whiddon, Harry Hawk and Tom Cobley) were real people who were working in the Spreyton and Sticklepath areas of Devon in the early 1800’s.  It is also thought that the song probably relates to an event of 1802, even though the song wasn’t published until 1890.

As Jenny and her husband were leaving the village, singing the words of Widecombe Fair, they realised the key player in the song, the owner of the grey mare, was Tom Pearse, probably one of the relatives they were looking for.  While the tea towel has the spelling of Tom’s name as PEARSE (not quite the spelling they were looking for), the name in the original recorded song is PEARCE.  I love this all-cotton tea towel but I like it even more when there is a story attached to it.  It makes a bit more special.  Happy birthday Jenny!!!

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