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Traditions and Hearthside Stories of West Cornwall, Vol. 2, by William Bottrell, [1873], at

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The I’an's Ghosts.

We have no title-deeds to house or lands,
  Owners and occupants of earlier dates
From graves forgotten stretch their dusty hands,
  And hold in mortmain still their old estates.

Now that ghostly visits are rare, many persons may be sceptical of what is said of this haunted home, and we shall only relate a few of the most remarkable stories. Shortly after Beatrice died, noises like the rumble of a spinning-wheel and clicking of cards, with unnatural shrieks, were often heard in "Beaton's chamber," which remained locked up, with its furniture just as it was when she died; persons passing by the house at night, who had courage to cast a glance at its windows, saw in that room and others a glimmer of light, and shadowy forms flitting to and fro. But almost everybody hurried by without casting an eye towards the house, or took a roundabout way rather than run the risk of having a fright or their rest disturbed by a remembrance of those strange apparitions.

Over a while it seemed as if more spirits joined those that first arrived, till at length they made such a 'rattle-cum-stave' throughout the whole house that it was left for years unoccupied,—by mortal tenants at least. The turn continued its rumble upstairs, and what had formerly been kitchen, hall, and parlour, seemed filled with a revelrout all night long, and folks were often dismayed by unnatural appearances outside the house. Towards night clouds of fog would roll in from over sea, settle around the I’an's premises, and become denser and darker till the place seemed shrouded in thunder-clouds; then lights would flash around the house, and such sounds be heard as if made by discharges of small fire-arms, with a roar of cannon now and then; one would, also, hear the surging and splashing of waves, flapping of sails, creaking of blocks and tackle, with other sounds usually heard on shipboard, till this apparition rose high above the houses, drifted away seaward, and disappeared.

Sometimes all lights in the house would go out, at the same instant, without any visible cause; this was such a common occurrence that the inmates would merely say, "that's Beaton come again; but, never mind, we shall soon hear her spinning, then we may light the candles again, and hope to be left quiet for a time." When people would persist and occupy the house, it was often troubled by day, and all its mortal inmates, both man and beast, would be seized with fear, and run to doors, at times when nothing unusual was seen or heard. Often in the height of a clear summer's day, a blast of chilly air, with a

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grave-like scent, would pervade the old dwelling; then children would screech, dogs howl, cats, with their hair bristled up, rush out of doors, or smash through windows, if doors were closed. The cats never returned, and died of fright when they couldn't escape the house. There's no end of stories about the ghostly pranks that were acted here for more than a century, and we shall only relate another.

A carpenter, who was working about the place, said he didn't believe that all the I’an's spirits would make him quit the house or Beaton's chamber even; and he waged a pint of brandy that he would see, that very night, what made the racket there, and hail the spirits if he saw any. That he might have a sight of them, without more ado, he bored an auger-hole in Beaton's chamber door. Having primed himself with drink, when night came, and the usual noises began, he fixed himself close to the door and peeped in. At first he only beheld a faint light glimmering over the bed, and what looked like a dead man stretched thereon, with shadowy figures moving about the room; then he saw more distinctly, and made out a woman, dressed in grave clothes, sitting on a chair beside the bed.

Then the chamber became so dark that he could see nothing of the figures on the bed and in the chair but their eyes, that shone with purple light. The woman's eyes—he could see nothing else but her eyes glistening like coals of fire—arose from the bedside and approached the door, and still the carpenter could only see a pair of flaming orbs when they were within a few inches of his face; and he—terror-struck or spell-bound—had neither power to move away, nor to withdraw his gaze. There he stood like one rivetted to the spot for minutes, that seemed hours, till a blast of cold air smote his face, and something pierced his eye like a red-hot nail. He fell on the floor, was found insensible when raised, and he ever remained blind of one eye.

There was but little rest for anyone dwelling in the I’an's house until some years after Parson Corker came to Buryan; and, at first, he made many fruitless attempts to confine those unresting spirits to their graves. He ordered that the locked-up chamber should be opened, and all its furniture burned—as no one would venture to make use of anything therein—and he would try again what could be done.

So one night the reverend gentleman came over from Tresidder—where he lived with his cousins the Tresillians;—a good number assembled; they broke open Beaton's chamber-door, and began to throw out the furniture, but they found it a more difficult job than was expected. Turns, chests, chairs, tables, were soon cleared out, and a great hanging-press was smashed to pieces, tossed through a window, and added to the blazing pile on

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an open space fronting the house. They found it, however, no such easy work to break up the grand carved-oak bedstead, which must have been made and put together in the room, because neither its tester nor its head would pass through the doorway. In this bed-head were two deep recesses, ornamented at their backs and all around with carved foliage, framing the names and ages of some old I’an or Ivan and his wife, who probably had this bedstead made when their house was built. High up on either side of these recesses, between them and the tester—among flowers and creeping plants—were boldly carved faces, supposed to be those of the family; they were all very much alike, with peaked beards, wonderful high foreheads, and long noses,—straight as a line. Bedding, rich hangings, and old raiment, very grand in their day, were rotten and gone to dust. When all was at length cleared out and blazing in the town-place, the parson entered to conclude his work by sprinkling salted water all about; at the same time he repeated long words, spells, or incantations in Latin, because that tongue was said to be more respected by devils and restless spirits than any vulgar dialect. He also performed other ceremonies, whose use and practice were only known to learned divines.

But it is doubtful whether the reverend exorcist did any good on that occasion. For whilst Treen folks made a bonfire of what had been the I’an's furniture, he or the spirits raised an awful tempest; houses were unroofed, walls blown down, and other damage done throughout the neighbourhood and far away. Meanwhile, ghostly forms were seen and unearthly voices heard, high up over flames and smoke, making derisive shouts like demons laughter. They seemed to enjoy the fun, whilst many people cursed the parson for rising such a storm. One can't say how his best endeavours failed to lay these unruly ghosts. But

"Perchance some form was unobserved,
 Perchance in prayer or faith he swerved;"

for on the following night troops of spirits arrived at their accustomed hour and made as much disturbance as ever. Then Mr. Corker—determined to rout them—sought advice and assistance from the most remarkable "spirit-queller" of that time, one parson Polkinghorne, who belonged to some parish east of Penzance.

It was believed, of this Parson Polkinghorne, that no spirits walking the earth could resist his spells, and that, when other exorcists failed to obtain a mastery over an obdurate one, this gentleman no sooner joined them than the poor ghosts would exclaim—like that of old Squire Harris, of Kenegie—"Now, Polkinghorne, thee art come and I must be gone!" And he at

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once sent the shadow off to its grave and there confined it for evermore.

One night, a week or so after the unsuccessful attempt, the two parsons—arrayed in their priestly vestments, bearing large books and a coil of new hempen cord—arrived at the haunted house's door, and requested all the inmates to quit it before they entered, and not to attempt to hear or see anything that might take place, nor to re-enter their dwellings for that night. When all the living inhabitants had left the house, the reverend exorcists entered it; but how they worked to get control over these troublesome spirits nobody knew but themselves, as they were no more seen till an hour or so after midnight, when they issued forth and took their way to Church-town, with the bound spirits in their company (it is supposed), and, having finished their work in the graveyard, they, about day-break, aroused the inmates of the "Scaw-tree" inn, made a hearty breakfast, and returned to Tresidder.

Now, ’tis said that this Parson Polkinghorne had power, also, over the spirits of air, or whatever they be, that usually raise the wind, when ghosts are laid; for on this night all was so quietly done that the weather was not, for a wonder, uncommonly stormy. The I’an's ghosts, however, were settled, that's certain; they met with their match at last, and quitted their old habitation for good. From that night their old house was quiet and remained so for a few years, then part of it was again haunted by the ghost of a crazy spinster called ’Bitha (Tabitha) who also became insane from grief at her sweetheart's untimely end. But this spirit gave little trouble, compared with the former ones, and took its departure in a few years, of its own accord; at least we never heard of anything having being done to "lay" it.

About sixty years ago these almost forgotten traditions were revived. One Sunday afternoon, in summer time, a carriage arrived in Treen, stopped near the I’an's house, and a middle-aged gentleman stepped from the conveyance just as an old man drew near, who saluted the visitor, and asked if he would be pleased to accept of his services to show him the Castle? The stranger replied, in but indifferent English, that he would like to know if there were any remains in Treen of an ancient mansion, or castle, that once belonged to a family called I’an or Ivan, as he spelt it for Uncle George, who was a most intelligent old guide and the best chronicler of Treen.

"Why, there's the dwelling," said he, "that old people always called the I’an's house, though young ones, thinking to improve the name, have lately called it the John's house; but no family called Johns were ever proprietors of it that I ever heard of."

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The gentleman looked at the old house, and said that he expected to find a much grander one.

"Yet, in its day, that was considered far above the common," Uncle George remarked; "and it must have cost much to build when no wheel-carriages were in use, and timber had to be dogged (dragged) many miles through narrow lanes, and stones and other materials were carried on drays, or on horses' backs. Besides, where you see nothing now but pigs’-crows and turf-ricks," continued he, in conducting the visitor towards the house, "there was once a large green-court; and at the back where you will find little else but dung-pits and heaps of rubbish, there were more buildings belonging to the house, with a large walled garden and a rabbit warren beyond."

The gentleman then informed his guide that he was a descendant of an old Catholic family who, between two or three centuries ago, owned a Castle in Treen and much land in that neighbourhood, if such traditions and documents as were preserved in his family might be credited—that he resided in Brittany, to which place his ancestors had hence removed at a time when Catholics were much persecuted here—that, being in England on business and curious to see his family's ancient home, he had come to Treen for that purpose—and that he would also like to know if there were any tomb-stone inscriptions, or other records of them, in St. Levan Church. Besides, he said, that others of his family had long been desirous to know something of a place respecting which they had many curious traditions. Moreover, he informed the old man that the name usually spelt I’an was an abbreviation of Ivan and equivalent to Juan or plain John; the confusion in, or the various modes of, spelling took place, probably, before J and U replaced I and V, but still the old pronunciation was retained. [The same applies to many old French names here, that seem to be spelt one way, and pronounced differently. Take Lanyon as a familiar example, pronounced Lanine.] This Breton gentleman, whom we may call M. Ivan, as he spelt his name in full, when shown through the old house was much disappointed to find its interior a mere wreck, with little to show that it had ever been a gentleman's residence, except a few fragments of carved wainscot and ornamental plaster-work in an apartment that had been a portion of hall or parlour in olden time. It seems the "gentil Breton" had heard much of Castle Treyn, and 'Uncle' was much diverted and surprised to find that he thought it was a grand building situated in the village, and hinted that it might have been his ancestor's residence.

"Faix! they must have been the giants then," said the old man to himself, "for I never heard of anybody else who ever lived there."

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And, in answer to M. Ivan's enquiries where the Castle was and if any of it was still standing, "still standing, sir," he exclaimed. "I believe ’e, faith, and stand it will till Doomsday, unless one can get out of a rock the Castle-key; but when that is done, as Merlin prophecied, all will sink into the sea, whence it was raised by enchantment, they say, with the giants who dwelt there of yore. But the Castle isn't here in town; it's down to cliff," continued he, showing the way; "and we can travel there across the fields, if you please, while your carriage can go out the lane and await ’e in Pedny-vounder cliff, if so be that you would like to ride to Church-town."

As there were many interesting objects to be seen by the way, the gentleman decided to walk to St. Levan Church also, and his conveyance remained in Treen. In passing the fields Uncle George said, "Old folk, who are dead and gone, always held (and I believe it for truth) that people seldom lived in Castle Treen, or in any of our cliff or hill-castles, for more than a few days at a time; and that was when they had to seek refuge there for their old people, women, and children, with their flocks and other property, from the Danes and other northern robbers who used to land at Parcurno, Penberth, and elsewhere, to ravage the country, carry off women, and do worse mischief than that, if the hair that crops up every now and then in some families may be taken as evidence. But the red-haired pirates were soon put to rout, and then nobody remained in our stronghold of Treen Dynas except a man to keep watch from Castle Peak."

He might have remarked, too, that the old proprietors of Treen held to a tradition that Kaerkeis bowjey and barn were as old as the Castle, and were built in that out-of-the-way place for the purpose of storing fodder for cattle near the stronghold against an invasion. They also believed that valuables were, at such times, hastily buried in the Castles; those who secreted the property being slain, nobody knew where to find it. As a proof of the probability of such a belief, within the old guide's remembrance, about the quantity of two quarts of ancient Roman and other coins were found within or near Castle Maen. The heap of coins were simply placed in a pile, on a flat stone, and enclosed by three others set on edge and capped. The whole was buried in a bank of earth and small stones that formed part of an old hedge or gurgo. Probably some of these coins may still be found among old folks of Sennen. The writer had many of them, when too young to know the value of such interesting objects.

Having passed the fields and ascended the rising ground beyond, M. Ivan asked where the Castle was—he could behold nothing like a building between them and the sea, towards

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which they had shaped their course.

"We are already within it," replied the venerable guide, "and have passed the outer wall through a breach where it is levelled and the ditch filled in to make a road. I ought to have pointed it out to ’e. The outer mound is little short of half a mile long. Hundreds of cartloads of stones have been carried away from the walls for building houses and hedges. Yet on Kaerkeis side, where it isn't easily reached, some of it is still pretty perfect; except, indeed, where our youngsters have bowled the stones over cliff for their Sunday afternoon's sport; and it would be just as well, or better, 'seeman' to me, that they were allowed to have their wrestling and hurling-matches at such times, to keep them from doing mischief, like they had in their great-grandfars’ days, when folks were quite as good, and to my 'seeman,' better than they are now, for all that constables do and duffans say."

We can't follow the old guide through the long story he used to relate of what passed between him and the Armonican gentleman. Having shown the Castle and related the legends of giants, small people, &c., connected with this enchanted spot, they passed along the cliff to St. Levan Church. Service was over and the congregation dispersed, but the church-door key being kept at the inn, they inspected the church to see if any memorial of the I’ans was to be found, but no thing connected with them was observed in carved shields or bench-ends, nor elsewhere. Parish registers—if any remained two centuries old—he had no opportunity to see.

They also visited St. Levan's Well and Chapel. The old man pointed out a long flight of steps that may still be traced best part of the way from the spring to the ancient chapel's site. The gentleman took particular interest in the ancient cliff oratories, with their holy wells, and in every spot along their way hallowed by saintly legend. In returning from Chapel-Curno, as the little oratory over Parcurno used to be called, they were met at the foot of Carnole hill by a gentleman of Penzance, who used occasionally to preach at the Methodist Chapel in Sowah. This gentleman often returned thence to Treen (where he usually remained over night) by way of St. Levan Church and along the cliffs. He knew Uncle George very well; for they often disputed about what the old man styled a new-fashioned religion. Yet they were always great friends.

The gentlemen were introduced and walked together to Treen. By the way M. Ivan related how curiosity had led him to visit Treen, and that he was, on the whole, gratified with his visit, though quite taken down in his exaggerated ideas (as transmitted by family traditions) of their former importance here; and thought the foregoing tragic story, which the old man related in part, just

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as probable a reason for his ancestor's departure as that of religious persecution; yet he believed they were always attached to, and held, the old faith. When they arrived at Treen he handsomely rewarded the intelligent old guide, and was about to leave when the preaching gentleman proposed for M. Ivan to take tea with him at the house where he put up. The invitation was accepted, and he was regaled with bread, cream, and honey—the produce of what was once his family's acres.

Mr. Richard Edmonds remarks that "Treryn Castle, Maen Castle, Chûn Castle, Castle-an-Dinas, and several other cliff-castles, and hill-castles, in the Land's End district, have been in existence probably between two and three thousand years. And Treryn Castle, with its high massive vallum, deep ditch, and the foundations of its stone wall, twelve feet thick, presents so little temptation either to the agriculturist or to the builder, that its existing remains, vast as they are, need no Society's protection for their continued duration for generations yet to come.

All castles, of course, do, or did once contain dwellings of some kind for their occupants. But the low huts which once stood within the castles near Penzance (although considerable remains of such dwellings in Chûn Castle were extant in Borlase's time) have now almost everywhere disappeared. It was, not however, from these rude huts, but from the fortifications enclosing them, that our very ancient castles derived their name; and not one of them, at the present day, appears more worthy of being thus called than at Treryn Castle."

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