Jan Tregeagle (also Tregagle, Jan) is the Ghost of a 17thcentury sinner from Cornwall, England, who was summoned from the grave and set to eternal and fruitless tasks.
A historical Jan Tregeagle existed; he was a local magistrate, stern and unpopular, who used his position to amass a fortune. According to legend, he accomplished this by forgery, fraud, seizing the estates of orphans and selling his soul to the Devil. He is also alleged to have murdered his wife and children, but no historical proof of this exists.
Worried about his after-death fate, Tregeagle is said to have bribed local clergy so that he could be buried on consecrated ground in St. Breock’s churchyard. However, several years after his death he was summoned from the grave, and his eternal travail began.
Legends differ as to the fate of Tregeagle. According to one story, a legal dispute arose between two families over ownership of a piece of land near Bodmin. Tregeagle had served as lawyer to one of the parties in the dispute and had fraudulently obtained title to the land himself. The dispute was taken to the Bodmin assizes. There, the defendant produced Tregeagle’s ghost as a witness, which he had called up from the grave. The ghost testified that the defendant had been defrauded, and the jury found in the man’s favor.
But the defendant refused to return Tregeagle’s ghost to the grave, claiming that calling him up had been so difficult and dreadful, he wanted nothing further to do with the matter. The clergy was consulted, and decided that in order to save Tregeagle’s soul from the clutches of the Devil, they would have to keep the ghost busy for eternity.
Tregeagle was bound by spells and dispatched to DozMary Pool, a supposedly bottomless lake (it now often dries out during hot and dry summers). He was to empty the lake with a leaky limpet shell. A pack of Whisht Hounds kept him at his task. One night, terrified by a storm, Tregeagle ran away. He was pursued by the baying, headless hounds all across Bodmin Moor. Tregeagle reached a chapel at Roche Rock, but only managed to stick his head in the window. When the hellhounds reached him, his screams could be heard for miles.
After several days of torment, he was rescued by the priest of the Rock, who, with two saints, led him to Padstow beach. There, Tregeagle was set to weaving ropes from sand. The incoming tide always destroyed his efforts, and his howling could be heard far and wide.
He became such a nuisance that St. Petroc, Padstow’s patron saint, forced him to move on to Berepper, near Helston. There Tregeagle was assigned to empty Berepper beach of sand, carrying it sack by sack across the estuary of the Loe and dumping it at Porthleven. The tide once again destroyed his efforts. While he was crossing the estuary, a Demon tripped him and he spilled his sand. It formed a ridge, now known as Loe Bar, that blocked the harbor.
The residents of Helston were angry to lose their harbor, and they shackled Tregeagle and packed him off to Land’s End at the very tip of Cornwall. He was told to sweep the sand from Porthcurno Cave into Mill Bay, an impossible task due to the tides. Tregeagle’s howls of protest are still heard whenever a gale rages and throws sand back on the beach.
In another version of the tale, the court dispute concerned a loan between two men witnessed by Tregeagle while alive. The debtor denied receiving the loan and declared in court that if Tregeagle had indeed witnessed the deal, he should come and declare it. To the court’s astonishment, Tregeagle’s ghost suddenly appeared and set the record straight. He told the debtor it would not be so easy to send him back to the grave.
Tregeagle then followed the man everywhere. Finally the harried man sought the help of clergy and exorcists. They drew a magic circle around the man, and the spirit of Tregeagle appeared in the form of a black bull and tried to get at him, but was prevented by the circle. While a parson read holy words, Tregeagle became increasingly gentle. Finally he allowed himself to be bound with hempen cord and led away to Gwenvor Cove. There the exorcists assigned him to making a truss of sand, to be bound with ropes of sand and then carried to Carn Olva.
This was an impossible task, but Tregeagle labored at it until one cold winter when he got an idea. He poured water from Velan Dreath brook over the truss. It froze, and he was able to carry it to Carn Olva.
Freed from his bondage, Tregeagle flew at once back to the man who had summoned him from the grave, and would have attacked him had not the man had the fortune to have an innocent child in his arms. The man sent for the clergy, who once again succeeded in binding Tregeagle. They returned him to Gwenvor Cove and assigned him the same task, but prohibited him from going near fresh water. Tregeagle still labors away on the shores of Whitsand Bay. Whenever a northern storm rolls in and destroys his work, his howls are heard throughout the countryside.
Today in Cornwall, the term “Tregeagle” is applied to anyone who blusters and protests and to children who squall.
- Brooks, J. A., ed. Cornish Ghosts and Legends. Norwich, England: Jarrold Colour Publications, 1981.
- Folklore, Myths and Legends of Britain. London: Reader’s Digest Assn. Ltd., 1973.
Tregeagle, Jan (John)
A 17th-century Cornish highwayman punished by the Devil. The ghost of Jan Tregeagle is known for his howling in protest over his fate. A historical Jan Tregeagle existed; he was an unpopular magistrate in Cornwall, England. Local lore held that he achieved his success by forgery, fraud, and illegal seizure of estates of orphans. He also was rumored to have made a Pact with the Devil.
According to lore, Tregeagle worried about the fate of his soul as he grew older, and he bribed the clergy to allow him to be buried in consecrated ground, which he believed would prevent the Devil from collecting his soul. He was buried in St. Breock’s churchyard, where he rested quietly for seven years.
A legal dispute over landownership arose, and Tregeagle’s ghost was summoned from the grave to testify in court. He did, on behalf of the defendant, who won the case. But the man refused to return Tregeagle to his grave, claiming the job was too dangerous. The clergy decided that the only way they could keep Tregeagle out of the clutches of the Devil was to keep him busy for eternity. Tregeagle was bound by spells to bail out DOZMARY POOL with a leaky limpet shell, a task he could never complete.
One night, Tregeagle escaped and dashed across Bodmin Moor, with the Devil and his Hell hounds (see Black Dogs) in pursuit. Tregeagle tried to hide in the ruined chapel atop ROCHE ROCK, but his head became wedged in the east window.
He was rescued by a priest and two saints, who took him to Padstow beach and set him to the endless and impossible task of weaving ropes from sand. Every time the tide came in, the ropes were destroyed, and Tregeagle howled in protest. He became such a noisy nuisance that he was sent to Berepper, where he was supposed to empty the beach of sand. Once a Demon tripped him and made him spill his sack, creating a sandbar.
He was unpopular at Berepper and so was sent on to Land’s End, where he was supposed to sweep sand. Once again, he howled in protest. Tregeagle’s ghost is said to haunt Roche Rock, especially on windy nights. He still screams and howls at the torment of the hellhounds.
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