It is said that in the late eighteenth century, 1790 some say, an orphaned baby was taken into the Poor House at Newton Abbot. The little girl was named, as was the custom, with a surname beginning with whatever letter the Poor House had progressed to, in this case ‘J’. As many of the commoner names had been taken the baby girl ended up with ‘Jay’. In those days the word ‘Jay’ was also a slang term for a ‘prostitute’ so the Christian name of Mary was added.
Mary Jay remained at the Wolborough Poor House until her teens where she supervised the younger children. After this period she was sent to Canna farm, outside Manaton.
Here she was to be employed as an ‘apprentice’ where she carried of both work in the house and on the fields. It was possibly at this farm that Mary Jay got her more famous name of ‘Kitty’.
During her work at the farm Kitty started to receive the attentions of the farmers son. It is possible that Kitty may have thought that this would be a way of obtaining some security and a sense of worth. However she became pregnant and the farmer and his wife would have taken the attitude that she had ‘thrown’ herself at their son espcially with the name Jay.
Consequently she was thrown out of the farm and left with a reputation as a ‘slut’. After this Kitty knew she would not be able to seek new employment with her reputation and that the only option would be to return to the poor house. So sadly Kitty hung herself in one of the barns at Canna.
At the time suicides were buried in unconsecrated land on the outskirts of the parish, often at crossroads
Mysteriously, fresh flowers appeared on her grave every morning which was rumoured to be the ‘Devon Pixies’. They were also reports of a dark figure often seen kneeling beside the grave, with head in hands. It was thought that it was either the spirit of one of those responsible for driving Kitty of the farm or the soul of the faithless farmer’s son who as punishment has been sent to stand vigil over the grave of his victim and his unborn child.
The book ‘The Apple Tree’ is the story of Kitty Jay.