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John Trinniman

John Trinniman

This story comes from the very southern edge of Dartmoor and concerns a butler called John Trinnaman who was employed at Stowford House, near Ivybridge. Now, legend has it that Trinnaman was a strong and handsome man who was strongly attached to the lady of the house, this devotion was often flirtatiously rewarded by a sweet smile when the master was not looking. The butler ran a tight ship and firmly believed in people knowing their places which is why one day he noticed the pantry-boy paying too much attention to the daughter of the house. This unforgivable breach of etiquette was quickly brought to the pantry-boy’s attention in the form of the back of the butler’s hand. The lad was told in no uncertain terms that in future he was never to go anywhere near any members of the family unless expressly told to do so.

One bright spring day when the orchard was in bloom and the first cuckoo called from the moor edge, the lady of the house called for the pantry-boy and told him to go and fetch one of the lambs from the meadow for her daughter to play with. The lad sped off down to the field and after a chase caught a young lamb and returned with it to the house. He then took it to the young girl who was in the orchard and there, for a while, the youngsters played with the lamb.

Meanwhile, back in the kitchen, the butler had been frantically calling for the pantry-boy, the mistress, much to her annoyance heard the commotion and went to see what was amiss. The butler explained that he was trying to find the pantry-boy because he was behind with his daily chores. The mistress duely informed Trinnaman that under her orders, the lad had gone on an errand and he would be back shortly. This incensed the butler, had he not strictly forbade the boy to go anywhere near the family of the house? Secretly, Trinnaman was becoming jealous of the lad and feared that maybe he was after his position and the favours of the family.

Eventually the pantry-boy returned to the kitchen only to be met with a tirade of abuse and threats from the butler. The more Trinnaman shouted the angrier he got until finally in a fit of pure hatred he dragged the lad up into the attic and locked him in the small, dark room. His intention was to leave him there to either starve to death or loose his wits.

A couple of days later the young daughter was told of the panty-boy’s fate and whilst she could not free the boy she knew she must help him. A pair of owls were nesting in the attic and so the girl started leaving chunks of meat out for them in the hope that they would return with them to the nest and the pantry-boy would be able to get something to eat. The plan worked, every time an owl returned with a chunk of meat the boy would grab it, this meant the poor bird had to fly back and get some more. Ironically, the lad was eating better now than he ever had done, rarely did meat land on his platter, he only used to get bread and slops. Trinnaman was distraught, somehow the boy was actually putting on weight instead of withering away and so late one night he dragged the lad down into the kitchen and beat him until he revealed his source of food. This sent the butler into a fit of blind rage and he grabbed the boy by the scruff of the neck and repeatedly smashed his head against the hard granite kitchen wall. When his rage had been finally spent the poor pantry-boy lay limp in a pool of blood and brains. Trinnaman quickly regained his senses and realised that he must get rid of the pulverised corpse, to which end he carried the lifeless body down to the River Erme and threw it into its dark depths.

It took a few days but eventually the master of the house noticed that the he had not seen the pantry-boy and so summoned the butler to enquire of the boy’s whereabouts. Trinnaman told his master that a few days ago he had cause to reprimand the boy after which he burst into tears and ran off towards the river. The master immediately mustered a search party and sent them off to scour the river banks. Meanwhile the butler dashed back to the kitchen and began trying to scrub the blood stains off the walls. Whilst he was doing this gory chore the mistress of the house came into the kitchen and saw what he was doing. At the same time the search party returned with the pantry-boy’s body which they had found caught in some weeds about a mile downstream of the house. It did not take long to work out what had happened and the master, who incidentally was the chief magistrate, summoned Trinnaman who soon confessed to his dastardly deed. Punishment was swift in coming and after a wicked thrashing the master sent his butler down to the Erme to get a sack-full of sand with which he was to scour all the blood off the kitchen walls.

No matter how hard Trinnaman scrubbed and scoured the bloodstains stubbornly remained. The master saw that the butler was getting nowhere and so he thrashed him again and sent him back to the river with a sack and length of rope and ordered him this time to get wet sand. Battered and bruised, Trinnaman limped back down to the banks of the Erme and filled the sack with wet sand. As the butler was struggling back up the bank with his heavy load he lost his footing and tumbled into the fast flowing current where he was quickly dragged under and sent to his much deserved death.

Now there are those that will argue with how Trinnaman died and will say that he didn’t drown at all. What happened was, that every time he filled the sack with sand it would split open and spill its contents back into the river. The first time this happened Trinnaman was able to repair the split with the rope but when it happened again the butler looked heavenwards and desperately cried out for, “more rope.” His prayers were answered as immediately  a length of rope came down from the branches of an oak tree under which he was stood. But his relief soon turned to horror as the rope wound itself around his neck and hoisted him up into the leafy canopy where his body hung kicking and twitching until the last breath left his body. As he was hoisted up into the mighty oak he dropped his sack of sand which as soon as it hit the ground turned into a huge granite boulder. To this day, on the banks of the Erme by the pool now known as Trainman’s Pool is a large oak at whose base is a granite boulder. Close inspection of the stone will reveal a small, basin-like indentation which is where Trinnaman was said to have collected his sand.


About Tim Sandles

Tim Sandles is the founder of Legendary Dartmoor

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