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

p. 224


In Cornwaile's fair land, bye the poole on the moore,
    Tregeagle the wicked did dwell.
He once was a shepherde, contented and poore,
But growing ambytious, and wishing for more,
    Sad fortune the shepherde befelle.
                                       John Penwarne.

ONE may almost every day hear West Country folks make allusion to Tregagle; for instance, a squalling child is called a Tregagle; and to a blusterer they often say, "Hold thy bleatan, thee art worse than Tregagle roaran before a storm."

But little is known here of the living man's history—which belonged for the most part to the neighbourhood of Bodmin—all our common sayings, connected with him, refer to his troublesome ghost at Gwenvor.

Our vague traditions, however, represent him as having been a most unscrupulous lawyer; and say that he rose from low estate, by taking bribes to lose his poorer client's cases, by bearing or procuring false witnesses; forging documents relating to the bequest of property; and other nefarious transactions which resulted in his acquisition of much riches and consequent power.

He is also said to have been so cruel in his domestic relations,—by having despatched several wives, who, were rich heiresses—that he is regarded as a sort of Cornish Bluebeard, who sold his soul to the devil that he might have his wishes for a certain number of years.

All our western legends agree, however, in stating that the particular business which was the cause of his being "called from the grave" was this:—

A man who resided in the eastern part of the county, lent a sum of money to another without receiving bond or note or anything for security, as the transaction was witnessed by Tregagle; for whom the money was borrowed; and who died before the money was repaid.

Soon after Tregagle's death, the lender demanded his money, and his debtor denied ever having received it.

The case was brought before the court at Bodmin assizes; and when the plaintiff said that Tregagle was the only witness,

p. 225

the defendant denied it with an oath, and exclaimed, "If Tregagle ever saw it I wish to God that Tregagle may come and declare it."

The words were no sooner uttered than Tregagle stood before the court, and, pointing to the man, said, "I can no more be a false witness, thou hast had the money, and found it easy to bring me from the grave, but thou wilt not find it so easy to put me away." Wherever the terrified man moved about the court Tregagle followed him; he begged the judge and long-robed gentlemen to relieve him from the spirit. "That's thy business," said they, one and all, "thou hast brought him, thou may’st get him laid."

The man returned home, but whithersoever he went Tregagle followed, and would seldom quit his side or let him rest by night or by day.

He repaid the borrowed money, gave much in alms, and sought to get rid of the spirit by the aid of parsons, conjurors, and other wise men, before they succeeded in binding it, for a while, to empty Dosmery Pool with a crogan (limpet shell) that had a hole in its bottom.

Having soon finished that task, he returned to the man that brought him from his grave, and followed and tormented him worse than before, until he procured the help of other powerful exorcists who were more astute. The first thing they did was to draw a circle, out in the town-place, and put the man to stand within it. The spirit then took the form of a black bull and tried to get at him with horns and hoofs, but the man was safe within the line traced. A parson continued reading all the time, while others kept an eye on the spirit that took many shapes. At first the holy words of power made him furious; by turns, he bellowed like a mad bull, hissed like an adder, or roared like a wild beast, that he might be heard for miles away. Yet, by degrees, Tregagle became, as gentle as a lamb, and allowed the spirit-quellers to bind him with a new hempen cord; and to lead him far away to Gwenvor Cove.

There they doomed him to make a truss of sand, to be bound with ropes made of the same material, and carry it up to Carn Olva.

Tregagle was a long while at his tiresome task without being able to accomplish it, until it came to a very cold winter, when, one hard frosty night, by taking water from Velan Dreath brook, and pouring it over his truss, he caused it to freeze together and bore it in triumph to Carn Olva.

He then flew back to the man who raised him, and he would have torn him in pieces, but, by good luck, he happened to have in his arms an innocent young child, so the spirit couldn't harm him.

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Without delay the terrified man sent for the nearest parson, who, however, was not able, alone, to cope with Tregagle; the most he could do was to prevent him from harming the man until other spirit-quellers were brought to his assistance; with whose aid the furious spirit was again bound, led away to Gwenvor, and required to undertake the same task, without going near fresh water.

So Tregagle was matched at last, for he is still there on the shore of Whitsand Bay vainly trying to make his truss of sand; and he is frequently heard roaring for days before a northerly storm comes to scatter it.

I well remember that when a boy, and living in Rafra, St. Levan, how elderly men would go out into the town-place, last thing before they went to bed, to "look at the weather,"—in harvest particularly, and come in saying, "Tregagle is roaring, so we shall surely have northerly wind and a dry day to-morrow," or, "the northern cleeves are calling," by which they meant the same, and unconsciously used somewhat poetical figures of speech.

A legend which connects Tregagle's escape from Gwenvor with the sanding up of Parcurnow has been noticed (on page 140); other stories, however, say, that job was imposed on him as a separate task, which he quickly accomplished just before he was finally settled at Gwenvor.

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