Just south-east of Princetown is the eminence of Royal Hill which at its height reaches 402 metres. Dotted all around the hill are various Bronze Age cairns and kistvaens. Clearly at this time the hill was regarded as a special ritual centre. Some 360 metres north-north-west of the head of the Chollake stream is one of these Bronze Age monuments in the form of a cairn and kist. This is one of a few Dartmoor examples whose name actually appears on the modern Ordnance Survey maps – namely the “Crock of Gold”. There are other Dartmoor kists whose name also suggests that at one time they contained ‘treasure’ – ie. “The Money Chest,” “The Money Pit,” and “The Gold Box.” In times long gone by folk would dig into these kists in the hope of finding such ancient treasure which had been buried along with the deceased. Obviously in most cases all they found were (to them) worthless rubbish such as pieces of charcoal, pottery and flint etc. In the realms of Dartmoor folklore various tales of how, after delving into these ancient graves, great misfortune would befall those responsible. It is possible that these stories were an attempt to deter any ‘tomb robbers from desecrating the burial places of what would have been the elite classes of the time.
So, back to the Crock of Gold, I have already posted a page on Legendary Dartmoor about one Luke Mudge who rifles the kist and paid dearly for it with his life – see HERE. However, there is another, less morbid, version regarding this kist –
Mr. Jeremiah Toope was the headmaster of the grammar school at Ashburton and who unfortunately was suffering from the ravages of time insomuch as he was nearly blind and deaf. For some reason or other, now lost in the mists of time, he was dismissed from his post, possibly due to his infirmity. In order to find hopeful re-employment he decided to walk from his home to Tavistock. His journey would possibly have taken him across to Hexworthy over the river Swincombe at Fairy Bridge and along the old track on Royal Hill to Princetown and then down into Tavistock. Slogging up Royal Hill was hard work and having crested the summit he sat down on the rocks which surrounded the kist for a well earned rest. As he quietly sat there admiring the view a band of piskies suddenly trooped out of the heather. Being short-sighted it took him a few seconds to ascertain the fact but then he just stared in amazement with his mouth wide agape. Even down in Ashburton he had heard tales of the little folk but being a learned man completely dismissed them as “tosh and poppycock.” But now, right before his very eyes, weak as they my be, were a band of them. Having finally excepted the impossible fact that he was surrounded by a piskie throng he asked the nearest one what they were doing. The little fellow explained that their Queen’s pet hedgehog had died and she was inconsolable. In the hope of cheering her up they had all come onto the moor to collect heather and honey from down in the Swincombe valley with which they would make their ‘Piskie Juice’ for a huge revel. Mr. Toope peered intently at the assembly and finally managed to focus on a petite lady dressed in green who he took to be the Queen. Having been a headmaster he was well versed with cheering up miserable school children and so beckoned her over to his side. She gracefully glided across and sat beside him on his rock when he began to regale her with cheerful and uplifting stories but being very careful not to mention death and hedgehogs. Like a Dartmoor mist that slowly lifts the Queen’s melancholy so too began to lift and she began to smile. Before long all her troubles and woes had gone and she was looking forward to the night’s revel. Before the merry band scampered off into the heather the Queen told Mr. Toope to dig down into the kist where he would find a token of her appreciation. Once they were out of sight he took out his trusty penknife and began scraping away the loose peat and soil. About six inches down he felt what seemed to be the edge of a wet cloth sack which he carefully excavated. It was wet and heavy and on opening the mouth he saw, much to his amazement, a hoard of gold coins.
Having travelled a good threequarters of the way to Tavistock Mr. Toope decided to carry on with his mission. Yes he had gold but that would only last so long and so he still needed employment. At least now he would have enough money to afford a comfortable hotel whilst at Tavistock. The other strange thing was that as the days went by he slowly began to regain his sight and hearing. Was this just coincidence or was this another gift from his Piskie Queen? Well, it did not take him to find another teaching post at Kelly College which came with comfortable lodgings and a sumptuous dining hall. Not once did he ever recount his meeting with the piskies and the gold coins he took from the kist but even so his mind kept wandering back to that magical spot. Albeit out of curiosity or nostalgia he decided to revisit Royal Hill to see if his Piskie Queen would still be there. That very weekend he told his fellow teachers that he was going to Princetown on an errand and should be back in time for supper. Suppertime came but there was no sign of Mr. Toope, lights out came but still no sign of Mr. Toope, the following day breakfast came with no sign of Mr. Toope. The next two days passed, still with no sign of Mr. Toope, search parties were sent out but still no sign of Mr. Toope. It was as if he had simply vanished into thin air and there was never again any sign of Mr. Toope. Some say he went back to the Crock of Gold met up with his piskie mates, married the Queen’s daughter and lived with them happily ever after. The more cynical say he lost his way on the cold Moor and had died from exposure and fatigue.