Jenny has given birth to a beautiful baby. She decides to leave her baby at home and to go to the village Harvest Festival. When she returns, the baby is missing. Eventually she finds the infant, and takes it to bed with her. In the months which follow, the baby becomes increasingly strange. Many of the neighbours say that they fear that the fairies have played a trick on her and have replaced her baby by a changeling.
They told her:
“You can do nothing better than to bathe your child in the Holy Well at Chapel Carn Brea”.
Carn Brea is the first hill after Land’s End and is made of Hercynian granite. It is at the southern edge of the parish of St Just in west Cornwall and has a beacon which is the first of the whole series visible on hill tops across the whole of England.
The story continues:
“Jenny dutifully bathed her baby in the Holy Well at Chapel Carn Brea. She had nearly passed around the top of the huge hill and was coming to some large rocks near the open moor when she heard a shrill voice, seemingly from above her head, call out “Thy wife and children greet you well”. Jenny was surprised to hear the shrill voice with nobody in sight.”
“Jenny returned to her home and stayed there until morning. Being fatigued and worried she overslept, for it was nearly daybreak when she awoke and hurried away, full of both hope and fear, to the fence around the field. And there, sure enough, she found her own dear child sleeping on some dry straw. The infant was as clean from head to foot as soap and water could make it, and wrapped up in a piece of old bright flowery chintz, which Fairies often covet and steal from washing lines when it is placed there in the sun to dry.”
“Jenny nursed her recovered child with great care but there was always something strange about him as there always is with one who has been in the fairies’ power, if only for a few days. He was constantly complaining, and as soon as he was able to toddle, he would wander far away to all sorts of out of the way places. The rich lady of Brea came to see him and brought him many nice things that his mother couldn’t afford to buy. When he was about nine years of age Squire Ellis took the changeling (as he was always called) into his service, but he was found to be such a poor simple innocent that he could never be trusted to work in the fields alone, much less with cattle. As the fancy would take him, every now and then, he would leave his work and wander away over hills and moors for days at a time.
Yet he was found useful for attending to rearing cattle and sheep. He was so careful of his master’s flock at lambing time that there was seldom any lost. He often talked to himself and many believed that he was then holding a conversation with some of the fairy tribe visible only to him . They were trying to entice him to ramble among the rocky outcrops, hills and moors, their usual haunts.
When he was about thirty years of age he was missing for several days. His flock had been noticed staying longer than usual in the same place, on a moor between the Chapel Hill and Bartinney. He was found, surrounded by his sheep, lying on a quantity of rushes which he had pulled up and collected for making sheep pens. He lay with his arm under his head, apparently in sweet sleep, but the poor changeling of Chapel Carn Brea was dead.”
12 responses to “The Fairies of Cornwall (10)”
We have often found it hard to understand some of the people around us. We come up with phrases like ‘being on the autism spectrum’. I suppose it is better now that we are more tolerant. But that was a lovely story.
Thank you. I would agree that the characteristics in this post are comparable with what we call over here “Special Needs”, but the baby’s behaviour in the previous post was less so. Among a good few symptoms which would admittedly fit autism, he was eating lots of food yet getting ever thinner. Whether it is possible to have physical symptoms from conditions such as autism, I have no idea,I’m afraid.
It is an interesting story though! The world seen through what were probably late medieval eyes.
It certainly is. Every time I read one of these stories, or have comments made by a reader, they reveal aspects which I had never thought of. John’s idea (above) that the child was perhaps autistic is a valid thought outside the box, and it made me think of just how closed a community some of these Cornish country villages must have been.
A fascinating tale that attempts to make sense of our children who are different from the norm.
It is indeed,and I think that paolsoren, at the top, may have something in his idea. I was initially fascinated by these fairy stories because they seemed to reveal a consistent other world that existed perhaps in another dimension. There is absolutely no reason, though, that other issues such as autism shouldn’t be examined within a particular story.
We often talk about the ‘changes’ in children at school and how it would appear, that these changes have become far more common than when we were at school. We always a had the odd child who was ‘different’ but never as many as we seem to have today. Are the fairies making a huge comeback or has society and the way we live changed so much that we are gradually poisoning ourselves, and it’s having an affect on our young. Somehow I fear the latter!
I don’t think that the fairies are making a comeback here but nowadays there are huge numbers of people who disappear, in true fairy fashion, in the forests of North America.
You are absolutely correct about the children who are “different”.The Americans put it down to the MMR jab from what I have heard, and that doesn’t seem a totally crazy idea to me.
It must be something that virtually all children come into contact with nowadays, but previous generations didn’t. The first thing to spring to my mind is computer screens, but then again, best-guessing is my speciality subject. Some ingredient in food, with the big favourite for me being burgers? Mobile phones and the killer death rays they are supposed to emit? And so on.
Somehow, I don’t think that we are going to find out any day soon!
I was waiting for this post 🙂 To some things in life there are no answers.
You are absolutely right. On such occasions, I am always reminded of one of Shakespeare’s most famous quotes:
“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
And the fairies of Cornwall are certainly one of them!
What a delightful story, John. I really enjoyed this!! Thank you! xo
Glad you enjoyed it, Amy! The story seemed to move in a number of circles but finally came to a conclusion that satisfied all of the rules of the fairy folk.