The Story of Kitty jay

An orphaned baby girl was taken to Newton Abbot’s Poor House near the close of the eighteenth century. Because she was the orphanage’s tenth female, the tiny girl was given the name Jay (J), as was customary at the time. To anticipate this, she was given the name Mary because ‘Jay’ had the terrible meaning of being another word for prostitute at the time. Until she was in her teens, Mary was quite pleased at the orphanage, caring for the younger children.

Mary Jay stayed at the Wolborough Poor House until she was in her teens, when she was sent to Canna Farm, which was located outside of Manaton, for work. She would be working as a ‘apprentice’ here, which meant she would be working both in the house and in the fields.

This was a difficult job with long hours and a high workload, and it was here that Mary Jay earned the nickname ‘Kitty.’
Not long after arriving at the farm, she began to attract the attentions of the farmer’s son, which at the time may have appeared to be a way of gaining some security for her, but unfortunately, as wasn’t uncommon at the time, she soon found herself pregnant and thrown off the farm by the son’s furious parents, with a reputation as a whore. (According to other sources, she was raped by the farmer’s son).

Kitty realized that once word got out, she’d never be able to find work in the region, leaving her sole option to return to the Poor House as a pregnant single mother in disgrace. Kitty Jay, sadly, chose a different path and was discovered hanged in one of Canna’s barns.

kitty jay

Because suicides could not be buried in consecrated land at the time, they were interred at a crossroads, often with a stake driven through their hearts. This was done to ensure that the deportee’s restless soul would not return to harass god-fearing humanity.

This was Kitty Jay’s tragic destiny, and she was buried near the confluence of a road and a moorland footpath. The grave quickly became known as ‘Jay’s Grave,’ and weird happenings began to occur shortly after. On moonlit nights, a shadowy figure may be seen kneeling beside the mournful tiny grave, head bowed and face buried in its hands.

Nobody knew if the ghostly figure was male or female because it was constantly draped in a thick, black cloak. Some believe the soul of the farmer’s son guards the grave of Kitty and his unborn child, while others believe Kitty herself haunts the location.

Another element of the legend is that there are always fresh flowers on the grave, which is the topic of local tradition, with some claiming they are brought there by pixies, but it is known that the author Beatrice Chase was one of those who used to place flowers there before her death in 1955.

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