At Brooke Manor in this parish, in the seventeenth century, lived Richard Capel or Cabell (d. 1677).
The Devon folklorist Theo Brown wrote in 1982:
We know practically nothing about him, except that he rebuilt part of his house (the date 1656 is carved over the door) and enjoyed a horrible reputation as a persecutor of village maidens. Having captured one he would keep her under lock and key across the valley at Hawson … So he had an unenviable reputation as a violent and powerful squire, and when he came to die in 1677 his end was unpleasant. One version says that as he lay dying whisht hounds [demonic dogs] gathered round the house, howling horribly. Another says that he was out and a pack of whisht hounds chased him across the moor till he dropped dead.
He was buried very deep outside the south porch of the church (now partly demolished) on a hill outside the village. An altar-tomb was erected over him, on top of which is a little square chamber with a massive iron grille on the side facing the church porch, and on the opposite side a small oak door with a large keyhole. ‘To this day’, wrote Theo Brown, ‘the children of the village climb the hill, walk thirteen times round [the tomb], and then dare each other to insert a small finger in the keyhole and feel Capel gnaw the tip.’ Children still performed this ritual in the 1990s, calling this ‘the vampire’s tomb’; there is a popular tendency nowadays to class all corporeal revenants as vampires. In 1992, one observer noticed that ‘a little cross of twigs carefully tied together’ had been laid on the tomb, presumably as protection.
As a supernatural punishment for hunting maidens, Capel is pursued by the spectral hounds once a year, every year, down the drives of his two mansions: on Midsummer Eve at Hawson and on 5 July (Midsummer Eve by the Old Calendar) at Brooke.
Theo Brown believed Capel was the prototype for Conan Doyle’s wicked Sir Hugo Baskerville in The Hound of the Baskervilles, who in Chapter 2 sets out with his pack of hounds to hunt down a fleeing girl he intends to rape, but is himself followed by ‘a great black beast, shaped like a hound, yet larger than any hound that ever mortal eye has rested upon’, which rips out his throat. Thereafter the Baskervilles are plagued by ‘sudden, bloody and mysterious’ deaths, often preceded by apparitions of the Hound. According to Conan Doyle’s dedication of his novel, this highly melodramatic tale was suggested by a friend’s account of a West Country legend. The friend was
Fletcher Robinson, who lived at Ipplepen, a mere six miles (9.6 km) from Buckfastleigh.