It was one winter’s night when the topic of conversation at the Tinner’s Arms near Lydford got around to the latest guest to be staying on Gibbet Hill. According to an elderly man who was the local font of all knowledge the man swinging in the iron cage at that very moment had murdered his wife in a fit of drunken rage. “tis a bad lot when a man ken’t ‘take a drap of cider without ‘arming ‘is maid“, lamented the old man. The assembled crowd all slowly shook their head in unison and then began to drain their cider cups. When a fresh round had been poured the locals returned to their morbid discussion. The old man started regaling his audience of how, not that long ago certain people would visit Gibbet Hill in the dark of night and cut off the hands of any corpse that was rotting in the iron cage. He then went on to explain that if one had the dark knowledge these severed hands could be instilled with unspeakable powers that no Christian soul dare think about. The old sage seeing that he had the full attention of all in the Tinner’s Arms went on to relate a story his grandfather had told him. Apparently men would acquire these grisly appendages in the knowledge that once a lighted candle was put in the hand and the right words spoken it had the powers to render everyone that was in the same building senseless. These men would break into houses, light the candle, utter the words and then be a liberty to walk from room to room pilfering whatever took their fancy, secure in the knowledge that the householders were all stupefied and helpless. Mouths gaped wide and pipes were lit, the old man’s audience was spellbound and one young man in particular listened intently to every word. He was a ne’er do well who lived with his wife and children in a dilapidated cott on the edge of Lydford. He was a ‘blow-in’ from afar and from the very day of his arrival the locals took a distinct dislike to him. Tobias Tibbs never did a days honest work but always seemed to have coin for the cider, his wife and children forwent many basics to allow for his pleasures as proven by their nicknames, “the ragamuffins vrom down yonder”. Many were the times when Mrs Tibbs led her ragged tribe into the local shop and was seem to be sporting the kind of eye make-up that can only be got from a cider powered fist. Eventually the warning tap of a truncheon on the inn door signalled that the local constable was walking down to the end of the village and would expect to see the bar empty on his return. Cider cups were reluctantly emptied and the locals slowly dispersed into the dark night and made their unsteady ways back to a warm beds and a warm wives.
The following day dawned black and dank, the moorland air hinted at an approaching storm which as could have been predicted came rolling from the craggy tors at noon. The wind howled and the rain blew vertical only relenting occasionally to allow livid blue streaks of lightening to flash down from the heavens. As night drew in the storm continued with such ferocity that the moorfolk firmly barred their shutters and huddled around their peat fires. The Tinner’s Arms felt the effects of the storm insomuch as the bar was empty, not even the most stalwart of drinkers had bothered to venture out, even for a cup of cider. Well, that is not exactly true, one dark figure was skulking along the lane that led out of the village and when the silvery forks of lightening flashed a long handled ‘evil’ or shovel reflected in the man’s hands. Furtively the dark shape made its way up to Gibbet Hill and towards the rotting corpse that swung in the iron cage. One particularly bright flash from the storm illuminated the shovel as scythe-like it cut across the lifeless arm that hung down from the cage. Immediately the figure scrabbled on the ground, picked something up, shoved it deep into the pockets of its coat and scurried off down the hill.
About three months later the local doctor suddenly found that all his valuables had disappeared, but there was no apparent reason as to why. He had been in his house all night and saw or heard nothing untoward, but come the cock crow everything of worth had vanished. A couple of weeks later the same happened at the schoolmaster’s house, a week after that the watchmaker suffered the same experience. Tongues began to wag around the bar of the Tinner’s Arms and theories and accusation flew like jack snipe in a marsh. He did that, they saw this, she said that and we think this despite which nobody was any the wiser, but one look in the corner of the bar could have given them a clue. Tibbs as usual sat on his own wearing his usual sneer but also unusually wearing a new coat and drinking ale. The following week he was sat there in a new pair of boots which didn’t normally come around until the Goosey Fair. As time went by the moorfolk did notice the dramatic upturn in Tibb’s wealth, why now even his children were wearing boots on their normally naked feet. For a change, even the normally benevolent eye of the constable began to watch intently, deep down he had always hankered a desire to see the scales of justice tip against Tobias Tibbs.
Two weeks later the constable was on the last patrol of the night when he spotted a strange, green flickering light shining through the window of the blacksmith’s house. Now, candlelight shining through windows was nothing odd but this one was different, it sent an involuntary shiver down the constable’s spine. He decided to hide behind the old holly bush and see what transpired. It didn’t take long before he spotted a lone, dark figure slinking around the side of the house. A feeling of warm satisfaction spread over the constable for in the opaque gloom of the night he could see that the figure was Tobias Tibbs. He could recognise that guilty, skulking walk anywhere, and it seemed that it was going to bring Tibbs right in his direction. Slowly he drew ‘head knocker’, the secret name he called his truncheon, and as Tibbs sneaked past the holly bush he brought it crashing down on his head. Tibbs crumpled to the ground like a falling beech and lay still, not a question was asked as the limp figure was dragged to the small ash house that served as the village lock-up.
In the morning Tibbs was searched and along with a bag full of valuables the constable found a putrid hand tightly grasping an dirty tallow candle. He knew only too well what it was and where it had come from. At the trial of Tibbs there was no mention of the grotesque hand, there was no need, Tibbs had be caught red-handed with a bag full of stolen property. And furthermore the constable didn’t want tales of dark practice and sorcery alarming the villagers. Unfortunately for Tibbs the deep seething hatred of him wasn’t the exclusive right of the constable, it also spread to the magistrate who on numerous occasions had deliberated over the man’s petty crimes. But this time was different, this time it was serious and now he could take great pleasure in ridding the village of such a vile creature, accordingly Tibbs was sentenced to swing in the iron cage.
Despite an exhaustive search of Tibbs’ house the valuables from the other burglaries were never recovered but everyone knew that Mrs Tibbs was still in possession of them. Once her husband had gone she and the children moved from the shabby cott and rented a small house on the other side of the village. Now with the gibbet there was always a dilemma, did the family visit the iron cage each day with food to prolong the life of its occupant or were they left to starve thus ending the ordeal quicker. In the case of Tibbs it was the latter.
Very soon after moving to the new house Mrs Tibbs was seen running up the street in an pitiful state, anxious to help the widow some of the locals tried to calm her down. But all she would say was that the previous night she and the children went to bed and when they woke in the morning all her valuables had gone and they were now penniless paupers. When asked if they had been disturbed Mrs Tibbs said how she could remember nothing, nothing at all apart from being in a very deep sleep. The constable arrived and took the widow back to her house where he began a search, after finding no clues to the crime inside he went into the garden. It was his nose that led him to a grim discovery, for there was a putrid stench coming from a small bush beside the gate. He parted the foliage and there, sitting in the tangled roots he saw a rotting hand that was holding a candle. The constable knew too well that this was not Tibbs’ original hand for he had burnt that straight after the trial, this ragged, blood-stained lump of flesh was a new one.
It was a crisp, exhilarating morning and ideal for a walk up on the moor, as the constable ambled through the village he met the doctor who appeared in remarkably good spirits. On passing the village school he received an unusually hearty wave from the master and outside the small shop he saw a decidedly chirpy watchmaker. All most out of character but there again a fresh sunny day can cheer the dourest of people. As he approached the swinging cage on Gibbet Hill the constable saw the partly defleshed corpse of Tibbs and then suddenly he noticed that the right arm ended in a bloody, congealed stump, the hand was missing. From his pocket the constable produced a small parcel wrapped in oil cloth from which he took out the grizzled hand he had found at the widow Tibb’s house. There was no doubt about it, the hand was that of Tibbs, so the biter had been bit but who had taken the bite? Clearly the dark powers of the hand were only meant to be used once or else the person, or persons would not have discarded it. Why were the doctor, schoolmaster and the watchmaker so cheerful?
But the story does not quite end there, that was not the last time the hand of glory was seen, in fact it has been spotted many times since. On dark, stormy nights there have been many occasions when the villagers have encountered a bloody, putrid hand creeping along the lanes on bony fingers. They say that you smell the stench of rotting flesh first and then candle wax which is followed by the apparition an ashen, blood stained hand that comes crawling towards your feet. In its talon like clutches is the stump of a candle which glows an eerie yellow colour.