Bodmin Moor St Austell Moor surrounds the chapel at Roche Rock in Cornwall. It is haunted by the despairing cries from the ghost of Jan Tregeagle.
In life he was a seventeenth century corrupt local magistrate. Tregeagle earned a reputation as a crook and swindler, and bribed clergy to bury him in consecrated ground when he died. The bizarre story has it that after Tregeagle’s death he emerged from the grave to appear as a witness in court.
The case involved land ownership, and the prosecution claimed Tregeagle had wrongfully claimed this land (while he was alive). Upon summing up, the court room suddenly developed a chill and Tregeagle’s ghost appeared in the witness box.
Despite the ghost’s presence Tregeagle’s was found guilty of fraud. Legend has it that local clergy then took charge of the ghost and set him tasks that would keep him occupied for all eternity. The impossible tasks set for the ghost included, emptying the Dozmary Pool with only a cracked limpet shell. When the ghost failed in one of the tasks he was and banished forever to the moors.
The current church dates to the fifteenth century, albeit with an interior modified in the late nineteenth century, and its exceptionally tall tower looks across the tree tops to Roche Chapel, also built in the early fifteenth century and dedicated in 1409, as is common with chapels in high places, to St Michael.
The chapel, built on the precipitous outcrop, ingeniously incorporates the bedrock in its structure. Built of large squared blocks of granite, probably quarried from the surrounding moor, its construction in this position must have been a masterpiece of mediæval engineering. It stands two storeys high with a lower room in which, according to tradition, lived a hermit attended by his daughter who fetched water for him from a hole in the rocks known as Gonetta’s Well. The room above served as the chapel. Although the west wall has all but disappeared, the east wall survives to almost its full original height, with a large arched window now missing its tracery. Old drawings of the rock hint at further buildings on top of the rock, but these have long disappeared, as has the chapel’s roof. Access to the chapel was originally by rock-cut steps but is now by an iron ladder (take care!).
The precise reason for building it is unclear. It may simply represent continuity of religious activity on a site long-venerated or may be a pious but very visible reminder of the importance of the person or group that funded its construction. One suggestion is that it could have stood as a light or beacon for guiding travellers across the moors; another that it was set up in imitation of the most famous place of pilgrimage of St Michael in Cornwall, St Michael’s Mount, perhaps even with the aim of attracting pilgrims en route for the Mount.