“Quintin’s Close – on Uphill derives its name from Quintin’s Graveyard, a plot of wasteland lying between the forks of the road adjoining. Quintin appears to be another of the many names given to the Devil, and Quintin’s Graveyard is yet another example of a crossroads at which a suicide has been buried. A few yards uphill from Quintin’s Graveyard are fields called Lock’s Close on Foxworthy and Uphill, and these adjoining Lock’s Cross, a five lane cross which was probably the burial place of a suicide or a criminal called Lock.” – French, p.165.
Above is a brief albeit slightly vague description of the origin of Quinton’s (as spelt in the tithe apportionment) Graveyard and Lock’s Gate Cross. Unlike Jay’s Grave there have been no reports of any excavation to either prove or disprove the existence of an internment at either location. One one hand it just maybe that the place-names had derived from locations once owned or used by a real person ie. Quinton or Lock? According to the Devon & Dartmoor HER there is documentary evidence that at one time a Quytyn Rugge did in fact once own land in the area. Or, as it is a known fact that suicides and some criminals were buried at a crossroad the locations of French’s suggestion could be correct? Again, the HER also noted that a recent owner (1970s) of the land reported that tradition has it that two ladies who committed suicide were buried in the south-west corner of the enclosure. However, the HER gives an Ordnance Survey grid reference of SX 697 739 which places their location just adjacent to Lock’s Gate Cross. This would tie in with French’s comment about a suicide or criminal called Lock being buried there. So, a totally confusing conundrum, were there three possible suicide burials at two locations or were these ideas all a result of local folklore and there were none? As far as I know there are no supporting traditional stories of ghostly encounters at or around the area which may have validated French’s theories.
At one time the act of suicide (or felo-de-se = evil doer in respect to oneself) was considered a mortal sin and a felony which meant any victim was excommunicated and denied a burial service and the corpse would be interred in unconsecrated ground. Ecclesiastically speaking the reason for this was the person had committed a sin and crime against God and therefore would not be allowed to enter heaven. It was also thought that the act of suicide was a temptation that the Devil inflicted on Christian souls. Either way the thinking of the time was that the soul of the decease was destined to go to Purgatory for eternity. But why choose a crossroads for the burials? Now we wander into the realms of superstition insomuch as it was believed that the lost souls of the departed would try to return to their mortal families and homes at night. Clearly this would be a distressing not to mention frightening experience. So by burying the corpse at a crossroads such as Lock’s Gate Cross the spirit would spend the night in a state of confusion as to which road to take. Or as Montague Summers, the eccentric occultist put it’ “when the ghost of body issues forth from the grave and finds that there are four paths stretching in as many directions he will be puzzled to know which way to take and will stand debating until dawn compels him to return to the earth, but woe betide the unhappy being who happens to pass by when he is lingering there perplexed and confused.” This is the very reason why even today some folk will avoid passing a crossroads during the night for fear of what they may encounter.
The last recorded case of a suicide’s crossroad burial in the United Kingdom was in 1823. According the the UK Parliament ‘Burying the Dead’ webpage -” This practice was condemned in Parliament in 1822 after the foreign secretary, Viscount Castlereagh, committed suicide but was buried in Westminster Abbey. An Act passed in 1823 allowed suicides private burial in a churchyard, but only at night and without a Christian service. A review of the law resulted in a new Act in 1882 allowing burial in daylight hours. Parliament did not decriminalise suicide until 1961, despite the fact that it had been suggested in 1823.” Burying the Dead – online source here. However, my mother committed suicide in the 1970s and although allowed a service she was buried in at the time was an unconsecrated part of the local churchyard.
In her article French also mentions how, “Spitchwick manor, in which Lock’s Close lies, was one of the privileged manors of the hundred of Haytor which had its own gallows, Lock’s Cross is a very probable site for these.” – p.165 fn. Unfortunately I cannot confirm this statement but in the Domesday Book (Exon) of 1086 Spitchwick is listed as Espicewita and in 1896 the Court Leet listed Uphill as one of the farms in the manor who sent a representative to be on the jury. There have been instances where gallows have been sited at crossroads which appear to be for two reasons. Firstly it was a prime location where passing people could be reminded of the dire consequences of crime. Secondly, the same thinking as that of suicides applies because should the lost soul of the departed felon decide on a midnight ramble it too would get confused. Sometimes an indication of the site of a gallows can be found in old field names. Such Dartmoor areas as Mary Tavy, Ashburton and Okehampton all have field names such as Gallows Meadow, Gallows Lea, Gallows Park. But, according to the Widecombe tithe apportionment of 1884 there is no sign of a field name alluding to gallows at Uphill or its neighbouring farm of Foxworthy. My apologies to Hermon French for my doubts. Having now picked up Dymond’s book of 1876 where he states that in 1283 the jurors at a commission for the Haytor Hundred found that, “several manors, including “Spitchwick,” were free manors, having furca (gallows) and assize of bread and ale, and the power of capital punishment…” – p.24. Sadly Dymond gives no indication as to where the gallows were situated so all that can be said for definite is that there were some gallows somewhere in the manor of Spitchwick, possibly at Locks Close?
So there it is, more questions than answers, are there suicide burials, if so how many and where?, was there a criminal called Lock buried there? were the gallows at Lock’s Gate Cross?
Dymond, R. (Ed.). 1876. Things New & Old Concerning the Parish of Widecombe-in-the-Moor. Torquay: The Torquay Directory Co.
French, H. 1963. Field Names in Widecombe-in-the-Moor – Transactions of the Devonshire Association, Vol. XCV. Torquay: The Devonshire Press.