In the year 1641, near the little moorland town of Chagford lived a woman called Mary Whiddon who lived at nearby Whiddon Park. As with many folk tales her story involved two men one of which was the jealous and vengeful type. Mary had made the mistake of jilting one lover for another which for a man with a ‘green’ outlook was hard to bare. Day after day he brooded in a deep black sulk and as the weeks passed his envy turned to a malicious hatred. Every day he would malign the woman at every opportunity until in the end the local folk’s sympathy turned to apathy.
Eventually the day came when Mary and the new man in her life announced that they were to marry on the 11th of October of that year. It did not take long for the news to filter down to her jilted lover. Some say he was inconsolable other’s that he sank into a sullen silence. Either way it did not improve his temperament and it did not curb his lashing tongue. The day of the wedding arrived and the bride made her way to the small moorland church. To say she looked radiant was an understatement, as she stepped from her carriage there was a chorus of approving gasps from the assembled crowd of townsfolk. Daintily she picked her way to the large wooden doors of the church and as they slowly opened she majestically strode up the aisle. Her future husband stood waiting at the altar with a proud loving smile on his face. The ceremony proceeded without a hitch and before long both man and wife processed down the aisle and out onto the church steps. All of a sudden a loud bang was heard and a thick purple plume of smoke wafted high into the cold October air. For a moment it was if time had stood still, nobody moved and nobody spoke but everybody looked in shock at the crumpled body of Mary Whiddon. Her white wedding dress was stained with blood which slowly trickled from a small hole over her heart. Her fiancée dashed forward and gathered up her small lifeless corpse and hugged it tight into his chest. He just knelt in the cold aisle sobbing and gently embracing Mary’s body, it was as if he was trying to rock her into eternal sleep. Legend does not say what happened to Mary’s murderer but if an occurrence of 1971 is anything to go by her soul is still not a rest.
Whiddon Park is where Mary lived and in 1971 a daughter of the house was to be married in Chagford church. On the morning of the wedding a guest awoke to find the apparition of a young woman dressed in a period wedding gown standing in the doorway of his room. Luckily the bride of 1971 did not take this to be an omen and went ahead with the wedding. It is said that she placed her bridal bouquet on the grave of Mary Whiddon as a mark of respect. Locally it is also said that Mary’s ghost also haunts the Bishop’s Room and corridors of Chagford’s Three Crowns Inn. This is also substantiated by the belief that an ancient tunnel once linked Whiddon Park with the inn?
Many say that this story was the inspiration for the scene in R. D. Blackmore’s ‘Lorna Doon’ where similar events take place. It is known that the author spent a great deal of time in the Chagford area and so it would not be unreasonable to assume he heard Mary Whiddon’s tale. A memorial to Mary Whiddon was placed in the chancel of Chagford church where the following epitaph is carved on a stone slab set into the floor:
“Mary Whiddon, daughter of Oliver Whiddon, who died in 1641
Reader, would’st though know who here is laid,
Behold a matron, yet a maid
A modest look, a pious heart
A Mary for the better part
But dry thine eyes, why wilt thou weep
Such damsels doe not die, but sleep.”
Her will shows no date or place but in it she bequeathed monies to her brothers and sisters, her godchildren, to the poor of Chagford and the labourers of the parish. She also left a gold ring to her mother and apart from the will very little else is known of Mary Whiddon.