Saturday, 12 October 2013

Haunted Bodmin moor part 2: Charlotte Dymond

Smuggling, mining, beasts, and ghouls; Bodmin moor has them all and for the month of October, in celebration of Halloween, I’m going to be exploring some of the moor's spookier goings on.

Last week, we looked at a brief history of Bodmin moor, along with the haunted Jamaica Inn. If you haven't read it yet you can find Haunted Bodmin moor part 1 here.

This week we are focusing on the ghost of Charlotte Dymond. I first discovered Charlotte several years ago, when I became fascinated with ghosts around Cornwall.

Living very close to the moors, Charlotte's tragic story, with it's mixture of murder, mystery, and love intrigued me immensely, especially given that it all took place on the moors that I adore.

Charlotte's tale is now commonly taught in schools, as English students, all over the UK, study her story, including reading the Ballad of Charlotte Dymond.  

The Ballad of Charlotte Dymond 
by Charles Causley

It was a Sunday evening
And in the April rain
That Charlotte went from our house,
And never came home again.

Her shawl of diamond redcloth,
She wore a yellow gown,
She carried a green gauze handkerchief
She bought in Bodmin town.

About her throat her necklace
And in her purse her pride
As she walked out one evening
Her lover at her side.

Out beyond the marshes
Where the cattle stand,
With her crippled lover
Limping at her hand.

Charlotte walked with Matthew
Through the Sunday mist,
Never saw the razor
Waiting at his wrist.

Charlotte she was gentle
But they found her in the flood
Her Sunday beads among the reeds
Beaming with her blood.

Matthew, where is Charlotte
and wherefore has she flown?
For you walked out together
And now are come alone.

Why do you not answer,
Stand silent as a tree,
Your Sunday woollen stockings
All muddied to the knee?

Why do you mend your breast-pleat
With a rusty needle’s thread
And fall with fears and silent tears
Upon your single bed?

Why do you sit so sadly
Your face the colour of clay
And with a green gauze handkerchief
Wipe the sour sweat away?

Has she gone to Blisland
To seek an easier place,
And is that why your eye won’t dry
And blinds your bleaching face?

“Take me home!” cried Charlotte,
“I lie here in the pit!
A red rock rests upon my breasts,
And my naked neck is split!”

Her skin was soft as sable,
Her eyes were wide as day,
Her head was blacker than the bog
That licked her life away.

Her cheeks were made of honey,
Her throat was made of flame
Where all around the razor
Had written its red name.

As Matthew turned at Plymouth
About the tilting Hoe,
The cold and cunning Constable
Up to him did go:

“I’ve come to take you, Matthew,
Unto the Magistrate’s door.
Come quiet now, you pretty poor boy.
And you must know what for.”

“She is pure,” cried Matthew,
“As is the early dew,
Her only stain it is the pain
that round her neck I drew!”

“She is guiltless as the day
She sprang forth from her mother.
The only sin upon her skin
Is that she loved another...”

They took him off to Bodmin,
They pulled the prison bell,
They sent him smartly up to Heaven
And dropped him down to Hell.

All through the granite kingdom
And on its travelling airs
Ask which of these two lovers
The most deserves your prayers.

And your steel heart search, Stranger,
That you may pause and pray
For lovers who come not to bed
Upon their wedding day.

But lie upon the moorland
Where stands the sacred snow
Above the breathing river,
And the salt sea-winds go.

This is a picture of Roughtor, taken very close to the site of
Charlotte's murder.
This file
 is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.Attribution: Andy F at en.wikipedia

Charlotte's story makes for a classic tragedy; a young, beautiful maiden, brutally murdered by her less attractive lover with his crooked teeth, lack of height, and prominent limp, a lover, whose only attraction for Charlotte, probably lay in the belief that he'd recently come into money. 

To Charlotte, an illegitimate girl, disowned by her mother, and left with no support in life, Matthew Weeks must have seemed like a dream come true.  

Matthew was not Charlotte's only suitor. Thomas Prout also had a fancy for her. He was the twenty-six year old nephew of Philipa Peters; an old widow, who owned Penhale farm. where both Charlotte and Matthew worked as live-in servants, along with John Stevens. Also residing at the farm was Philipa's son, who was also named John.

Prout was a labourer, who worked with Matthew from time to time. It was said that they did not get on, and it is not surprising, as it appears Prout intended to steal Charlotte's affections from Matthew; a fact that was disclosed by servant John Stevens, who overheard Prout stating that he intended to move to Penhale Farm and that, when he did, he would easily take Charlotte from Matthew.  Later, it was revealed that Prout and Charlotte may have actually been planning to elope. 

It was not to be; however, for on the 14th of April, 1844, Charlotte was murdered. The 14th of April, that year, fell on a Sunday, so all the household would have been dressed in their Sunday best. For Charlotte, this was a green striped dress with a red shawl. 

She left the farm that day around 4 pm, with Matthew weeks by her side, making it clear that she would not be back in time for milking, but that Matthew would be. Later that evening, Isaac Cory, a sixty-three year old farmer, who was related to Stevens, Prout, and Mrs Peters, turned up at the farm. He mentioned to the residents that he had seen Matthew, who he claimed to have recognised at once, due to his limping gait, in the company of a young woman; a woman that he apparently could not identify. He did; however, manage to describe her clothes, the same green striped dress and red shawl that Charlotte had left in.  

Mrs Peters expected her servants to be in at half past nine, each evening. That night, when Matthew returned home, the family set about  questioning him on the whereabouts of Charlotte, to which Matthew said, he did not know.

The men went to their beds around half past ten that night, but Mrs Peters claimed she was concerned about Charlotte and decided to stay up and wait for her return. She remained awake for another hour, before heading to bed, herself. 

Monday meant wash day at the farm and still there was no sign of Charlotte. As a result, Matthew was again questioned and once more, he stated that he did not know where Charlotte might be. 

Mrs Peters claimed that, later that day, she discovered Matthew's blue stockings, which he had worn the previous day, were muddied, up to the knees. Although there had been some rain that Sunday, she felt that it was not enough to get the stockings in such a mess. The mud, she explained, was like that found in the turf pits on the moor. 

Again, Mrs Peters went to Matthew and asked about Charlotte. She claimed that, this time, Matthew told her that he had accompanied Charlotte, only as far as the gate in Higher Down Field, just before the edge of the moorlands. From there, he said, Charlotte had gone onto the moor, alone, while he had gone in the opposite direction, towards Halworthy; where Mrs Peters' daughter, Mary, and her husband, John Westlake, lived. He said that they had not been at home and that he had then called at the house of John Westlake's mother, Sarah. 

This naturally puzzled Mrs Peters, as Isaac Cory claimed to have seen Matthew the previous day, walking on the moors with a girl, who had matched the description of Charlotte. 

On Tuesday, John Stevens allegedly noticed that Matthew's shirt was torn at the collar and a button was missing. It is said that Matthew insisted on mending it himself, which led to the other residents of Penhale farm becoming  more suspicious. 

Later that day, Matthew also mentioned to a visitor that if Charlotte were to be found dead, her mother would be tried for her life. This led to Mrs Peters challenging him again, resulting in Matthew revealing that Charlotte had gone to take up a new position at Blisland, ten miles away, because she had received a weeks notice from Mrs Peters. (Mrs Peters denied this).
Matthew went on to say that, as it was too far for Charlotte to travel in one evening, she had intended to stay the night at a friend's house. 

When Wednesday came, Mrs Peters had given up on her questioning and was now openly accusing Matthew of doing away with Charlotte, out of jealousy. Matthew; however, stuck to his story. 

Despite these accusations, it seems that work on the farm strangely continued as normal. That Friday, a pig was to be killed by the local butcher. Matthew, still wearing the shirt he'd had on the Sunday of Charlotte's disappearance (since there would be no clean shirts till the coming Sunday) asked if he could kill the pig himself; which he did. 

By this point, news of Charlotte's disappearance had spread all over the moors; not surprising, as nothing, it seems, travels faster than gossip. The result was the whole moorland community, openly voicing their suspicions about Matthew. 

It was at this point it was decided that action must be taken, and so John Peters and John Stevens went to check and see if Matthew's story was indeed true. Matthew also went out that day and Mrs Peters and her daughter decided to search his room, while he was gone, but found nothing particularly suspicious. 

Still, two handkerchiefs and a newspaper clipping regarding a murder committed by a man in prison, found at the time of the search, were used as evidence against Matthew at his trial, despite having no relevance. 

When the two Johns returned to Penhale, suspicions were raised further. Charlotte had never stayed at her friends, nor had there been a job in Blisland. It was clear that someone was lying. Either Matthew had made up the story to account for Charlotte's disappearance or Charlotte had lied to Matthew. 

On Sunday April 21st; a week after Charlotte's disappearance, Matthew put on his best clothes, took his umbrella, and walked out of Penhale farm, never to return.

Washday came around again. Mrs Peters said she found the shirt Matthew had worn on the day of his walk with Charlotte and as well as the already noticed wear, there were also now spatters of blood. The case against Matthew, suddenly seemed complete, especially given it seemed, as if he had fled. It was time to search the moor. 

The following day, Charlotte's body was found by John Peters, John Westlake, John Stevens, and a neighbor, who was not related to the others, at the base of Rougtor, beside a small stream that runs there. She was found, face upwards, about a foot from the stream; her throat slit and her coral necklace, broken around her. 

A search went out for Matthew and he was later found in Plymouth. He was found guilty of Charlotte's murder and was subsequently sentenced to death by hanging. 

But, did Matthew really kill Charlotte? 

Some believe not, saying that the only people closely involved with Matthew, after Charlotte's murder, were all related to Prout; a man who, despite having an attraction to Charlotte, seemed to stay away at the time of her disappearance. 

So, was it all a set up? Did Prout murder Charlotte and did his family, on hearing about it, set out to frame Matthew to save their own family's reputation?

Did Matthew leave the farm, simply because he could not cope with their constant accusations? 
Monument on Poldue Downs The inscription reads: 'This monument is erected by public subscription in memory of Charlotte Dymond who was murdered here by Matthew Weekes on Sunday April 14 1844'.
Rod Allday

One of the most suspicious parts of this story happened after the trial of Matthew Weeks, when Mrs Peters and her family went out of their way to have a monument placed at the site of Charlotte's death, not simply to remember her, but to remind others that Matthew Weeks was the killer. Yes, they actually had this engraved onto the monument. 

Why would the family go out of their way to do something so extravagant for a mere servant? Some believe that it was their attempt to ensure that no one would forget that Matthew had been found guilty of the murder; a murder that he, in fact, did not commit, but rather a member of their own family had. 

The truth is we may never truly know, but something prevents Charlotte's spirit from moving on; because, to this day, Charlotte is still seen around the area of her death, walking the lonely moors. Sightings are more common on the anniversary of her death and so, on the 14th of April, people often head for Roughtor, in the hope of seeing Charlotte's ghost. 

I have done this, on many occasions, with my husband and it is incredibly creepy. We've even heard someone running towards our car, when there is no one to be seen; their feet causing the gravel to crunch, and have witnessed other phenomena, so it is really worth a visit. 

I hope this post is clear and not too rambling. I'm a bit tired at the moment, and though it wasn't, perhaps, the best time to tackle it, I didn't want to keep you waiting too long for the second part of this series. I will try to find some of the pictures from our visits to Roughtor and post them up at a later date. (They're hidden somewhere in our stack of disks)

Love and hugs,
Joss xx


  1. I love the Ballad of Charlotte Dymond and used to use it as a speaking and listening exercise for my students back in the day when I was a teacher - the kids had to perform a police interrogation of Matthew Weeks in which they would use clues from the poem to make him confess to the murder. Great to know more about the story. :-)

    1. It is a fascinating tale. Their is a book by a woman called Pat Dunn that really investigates the possibility that Matthew weeks was framed. I think she firmly believed that he was though, and so pushes for it quite hard. But it certainly gives a lot more details about the murder and the trial than anything else I have come across and makes for a fascinating read. Thank's so much for stopping by and taking the time to read my post and comment. I hope you are having a lovely weekend.

  2. Interesting tale. Since policing was nine tenths assumption and only one tenth investigation in those days, they could easily have got it wrong. Certainly the erection of the monument seems a bit odd, but Matthew had a strong motive if Charlott really was intending to elope and told him so, it could be a case of 'If I can't have her then no one will.'. A cold case that will never be solved.

    1. It's definitely a difficult one. I haven't been able to include all the information here that Pat Dunn had about the suspicious aspects of this story but tried to add the key points. The reality is that no one will every truly know the truth but it certainly makes for an intriguing story. Thank you so much for stopping by and leaving a comment and I hope you have a lovely weekend. Well what is left of it at any rate. :)

  3. I love ghost stories so I am looking forward to this series from you! This is such a sad tale. But also really intriguing.