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Jimmy Townsend

Jimmy Townsend

In a small rundown Dartmoor cott there once lived a man called Jimmy Townsend. Now Jimmy was a sociable fellow who liked a yarn and a ‘drap o juice’, he was the likable rogue of the area. If Jimmy was attending a harvest home or at the market you knew it was going to be a lively affair. The reason his small holding was so rundown was that he was not too fond of a ‘sweaty brow’ although as far as he was concerned he was a grafter. He could often be heard to say that he’d “chayted a ‘oss of a ‘ard days work” as he swigged back a ‘drap of juice’. But Jimmy was content with his lot and wherever he went he was well received. He always said that he was “as happy as a king, although I live with a piskie”.

Now Jimmy lived with Grace and as far as Grace was concerned everyone saw her as his sister. However Jimmy knew better and although she kept and cooked for him he would always shake his head and say “she’s not a Christian soul at all, hers nought but a piskie”. If he had a bit to drink he would then expound on his story. recounting when his ‘praper’ sister was born. “She war a swait little thing ‘er waz, but she want more’n twelve month awld avor ‘er waz stole away an’ a piskie put in ‘er place”. The reason he was sure a Grace was a piskie changeling was that she was “cross tempered” and that “whoever’s ‘as aught to do wi’ ‘er, ull come to some harm”. And as far as Master Townsend was concerned that was the end of the matter. Anything mishap on the farm or in the house was put down to the ‘piskie maid’ and there was nought to do about it. Jimmy would always say; “I never cross ‘er, vor I knaw I ‘uld be wuss off. I jest let ‘er do as ‘er minds to and doan’t meddle wi’ ‘er, best way”. 

That is how the status quo remained until a certain Mr Sam Campin happened along. Sam was a neighbouring farmer who had taken a shine to Grace and despite all of Jimmy’s warnings decided to marry her. Time and time again Jimmy would say “‘er’s a piskie for Lord’s sake, ‘er ull bring ee nought but bad luck”, but all to no avail because it did not take long for the wedding day to come and dimpsey saw the couple return to Sam’s farm as man and wife.

At first things went well and Sam was happy and content with his new life, the farm whilst never making a fortune turned a pretty penny and the stock did well. The locals began to laugh at Jimmy and call him a doom monger and even Sam Campin began to smugly point the finger. But all Jimmy would emphatically say was that ” I knaw ‘er’s a piskie and so just bide a while an ee ull zee what I means”. As it turns out it did not take long for Jimmy’s prophecy to come true. First Sam’s best cow died, then a litter of pigs fell sick and died, next his flock of geese vanished and shortly after his small flock of sheep went down with the scab. Things gradually got worse, his horse fell into a rabbit hole, broke its leg and had to be shot, his hens stopped laying and then his dog, normally a placid beast,  bit the local vicar and it too was destroyed. Sam could see that before long they would be penniless, and always Jimmy was there nodding knowingly and saying “told ee so, t’aint no gud denyin it, you’m married to a piskie, and every time ee squabbles some mis-fortune happins, I ‘uld knaw I lived with ‘er and had to keep from meddlin wi ‘er”.

Still Sam was having none of it and he decided to become a chimney sweep. Some may say that was a good idea except that on Dartmoor there were two ways the moorfolk would sweep their chimneys and both did not involve brushes or chimney sweeps. The first way was to tie a small gorse bush to some rope and haul that up the chimney or the second way was to drop a large hen down the chimney, both methods ‘fuz’ or feathers were very effective. Therefore this meant that any chimney sweeping was going to have to be done in the moorland towns where the chimneys were much larger and the people richer. So farmer Sam became Sweep Sam and bright and early one Monday morning he set off for Holne to drum up some business. It did not take long for him to get his first customer who happened to own a large house with many chimneys. It must be noted that in those days the brushes were not as we know them today and were simply single rods that had to be taken up the chimney by the sweeps. Sadly, nobody had told Sam that a small child was the best way of doing this. So it did not take long for Sam’s first customer to find him firmly wedged halfway up their chimney. To say that it was a messy business in extracting him would be an understatement, there was soot and grime everywhere and needless to say that was the end of his sweeping career. On hearing the sad story old Jimmy excitedly proclaimed “I told ee so! I told ee so! no gud ‘ll ever came to any soul that has aught to do wi a piskie”.

And so Jimmy was proven correct, for the rest of his life Sam Campin never had a scrap of good luck no matter what he did. Fair do’s, he stuck with his piskie wife and just became resigned to the fact she was, as Jimmy had warned him, “a piskie”.


About Tim Sandles

Tim Sandles is the founder of Legendary Dartmoor

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