About three hundred years ago lived a man called George Stephens, the tale is that old that some say he was named John. Either way he lived at Peter Tavy on the edges of eastern Dartmoor. Here he met and fell madly in love with a local girl. Once more, depending on who you speak to, she either spurned his advances, fell in love with another lad or her parents rejected poor young George because he was deemed unworthy of their daughter. They all had the same result which was to break his heart, he became inconsolable and could only see one way out. Sadly, driven by his melancholy he took his own life. One version relates how he first killed the girl by giving her a poisoned apple and then after she had died ate the rest so their souls could walk together in the eternal land. Another account relates how he poisoned himself by eating deadly nightshade, other less specific reports simply say that he died from poisoning. As was the way of things all suicides could not be buried in hallow ground and so like Kitty Jay, George Stephen’s was buried at a bleak, windswept crossroads on the edge of the moors. It was said that at the very moment he was lowered into his peaty grave, a white sheet that was hanging on a nearby washing line was blown into the sky; Up into the air it gently wafted and was never seen again. It was soon noted that his ghost could be seen in the locality of his grave on dark nights. Many local people would not venture out after dark to cross the moor for fear of seeing his tormented spirit.
There is very little known about this story. Mrs Bray goes to great lengths to relate the tale, calling the boy ‘George’. Crossing, 1990, p.152, suggests that there was a George Stephens living in Peter Tavy and that he was buried as a suicide on the moor. Hemery, 1983, pp956-7, is more forthcoming with his views when he notes that the lads name was “John Stephens whose death occurred in October 1762,” although where that information comes from he does not say.
As can be seen from the photograph below, there certainly is a stone marking something. Hemery, p.957, notes that in May 1936, the Dartmoor Preservation Association set the stone pillar on a more secure plinth. There is the letter ‘S’ engraved on the pillar. It actually stands beside the Peter Tavy track thus giving credence to the wayside burial of suicides.
Crossing, W. 1990 Crossing’s Guide to Dartmoor, Peninsula Press, Newton Abbot.
Hemery, E. 1983 High Dartmoor, Hale, London.