Suze Gardner. The A-Z of Curious Devon. History Press, 2016.
A varied collection of strange and curious stories, hauntings, legends, lore and historical oddities from the South-West, arranged as an alphabetical gazetteer, by town and village. They range from contemporary urban legends like the ‘hairy hands’ of the B3212, to traditional folklore such as Ottery St Mary’s annual 5th November blow-out – or blow-up – currently threatened by rising insurance costs. Why anyone should think that carrying blazing 30kg barrels of tar on your shoulders through the streets of a small town should need any form of insurance, I can’t imagine.
Combe Martin’s rumbustious annual ‘Hunting the Earl of Rone’ fell victim to the Victorians abhorrence of rowdy popular festivals, but was revived in the 1970s, I suspect in a form more suited to the taste of today’s ‘health and safety’ enforcers.
There are a number of Fortean oddities included, such as the strange story of Princess Caraboo, who made a very convincing Princess of Sumatra until she was unmasked as a cobbler’s daughter from the Devon village of Witheridge. She gave her name to ‘Caraboo Syndrome’, a condition where individuals are enmeshed in a self-delusional fantasy, and are able to involve others in it.
Devon seems to have the usual quota of dodgy clergyman, like the randy curate of Lapford who attracted the righteous ire of his vicar, who denounced him loudly and publicly when the vicar’s wife started paying a little too much attention to the curate. When the curate was discovered dead the vicar was tried and found guilty of his murder, but remarkably not sentenced and later returned to his position. After his death he was buried in an obscure part of the churchyard. Naturally on stormy nights his spirit prowls the churchyard looking for a more comfortable billet.
I was disappointed to see that there was no mention of the Scorriton mystery and the notorious Arthur Bryant, but this is not really a volume for the serious Fortean’s bookshelf, but it is a useful little compendium for local people, or anybody holidaying in this beautiful part of England. – John Rimmer