Just to the west of Tavistock lies the farmstead of Downhouse, the present building was re-built in 1822 but the original house was much, much older. It also had its own ghost in the form of a very tall and gangly man. The ghost was a pretty predictable spirit as it was always at the same time every night that it would appear amidst a cold chill. In the house lived a widow and her three young children, her husband had been killed in a mining accident. The family soon got to know the spectre’s visiting times and would make sure they were in their beds long before the haunting hour.
It was on a cold dark night when one of the children took ill and the mother soon realised the illness was not the usual cough or cold. Immediately the youngster was put to bed and the doting mother sat at the bedside. The poor mite was sleeping fitfully between fits of sweats and chills. During one of these bouts the child asked for a drink of water, the mother went to the bedside pitcher and filled a beaker. The child soon complained that “’twas not fresh,” and refused to drink it. That meant going downstairs and out in the yard to the pump and the woman new only too well that it was the time of night when the tall grisly spectre appeared. She tried to persuade the child to drink what was there but to no avail, fresh water was demanded. Probably due to a mixture of frustration and fear the woman sharply announced that “In the name of God I shall go down to the pump,” with that she bravely picked up the pitcher and walked downstairs. All was well until she stepped out into the yard when the woman had the strange feeling something was following her. Stolidly she strode out into the cold, dark night, not daring to turn around. Then she heard footsteps directly behind her, again with stiff resolve she continued towards the pump. By now every hair on the back of the mother’s neck was stood stiffly to attention and shivers were running up and down her spine. As she reached out to grasp the pump handle a cold, clammy hand suddenly touched her on the shoulder. With a start she spun around and saw to her horror that she was face to face with a tall grisly man. The air was thick and stank like musty leaves in a rotting wood. She was speechless and with eyes bulging the woman found herself momentarily rooted to the spot. Suddenly an inner strength appeared from deep down inside and in a loud voice she demanded to know, “in the name of God, why troublest thou me?” The ghost just stared at her through unseeing empty eyes, in a low, hollow voice it replied, “it is well for thee that thou hast spoken to me in the name of God; this being the last moment allotted me to trouble this world of the living, or else I would have caused thee mortal injury. Listen to my words and do as I tell thee, follow me and I shall direct thee to something that shall remove this pump: which whence moved will reveal concealed treasure.” As if in a trance the woman dutifully followed the spectre as it floated across the yard. Once they reached the shippen the ghost pointed at a patch of briars amongst which she found a large, rusty spanner-like tool. The spectre motioned at her to pick it up and slowly drifted back to the pump. Finally the woman managed to extract the tool from the vice -like grip of the briars and with her hands scratched and bleeding took the spanner to where the ghost was hovering. The tall man pointed to the base of the pump and to her amazement the woman found that the heavy spanner fitted snugly around its basal collar. What was even more surprising was the ease in which the pump came away, she thought that after all the years it had stood in the yard it would have become rusted. The ghost then pointed a bony finger down into the well shaft and when she looked the woman could see a large cavity in the side wall that was full of gold coins. The spectre then said to the woman, “take the coin and spend it wisely upon improving the farm and if any mortal soul should try to part thee from your coin they shall suffer great misfortune. Now, get thee back inside and take the fresh water to thy child who because of thy belief in The Almighty shall recover from the sickness which afflicts it.”
Suddenly the dungheap cock let out a single mighty crow and the first weak rays of daylight began to appear. As they did the ghostly figure seemed to slowly dissolve and become fainter and fainter until it formed into a small cloud which wafted up towards the morning sky. It was as if the cock’s crow had announced the very moment that the ghost’s allotted time on earth had ended.
The woman stood motionless as she slowly recounted the events of the night, suddenly she remembered her sick child and dashed inside and tore up the stairs. Much to her relief she could see that child lay sound asleep, its wan pallor now replaced with a rosy glow as it slept the sleep of the just.
The mother heeded the ghosts advice and spent some of the money on improving the farm and rebuilding the farmhouse but even after all that expenditure there was still plenty of coin left to ensure she and the children always had meat on the table and shoes on their feet. From that fateful night on the tall grisly spectral figure of the man was never seen again – truly his allotted time for troubling mortals was up.