Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Cutty Dyer, Ashburton

The title of most nasty fae creature in Devon should belong to none other than the dreaded Cutty Dyer of Ashburton. This bloodthirsty sprite or ogre is said to lure naughty children to the banks of the Yeo, slitting their throats and drinking their blood. Some sources say he is particularly fond of the King's Bridge in the centre of the town.

Reports and Transactions of the Devonshire Association for the Advancement of Science, Literature, and Art. Volume XI. (1879) includes an article by P. F. S. Amery regarding Cutty Dyer.
"Old townspeople of Ashburton recollect well the dread of their lives when children, was a mysterious being supposed to inhabit the river Yeo, with whose displeasure and its undefined consequences they were threatened by parents and nurses as a punishment for disobedience and childish frolics. To the generation before, namely, to our great grandparents, "Cutty Dyer" was the dread of their more matured years, and was supposed to inflict summary punishment on topers as they reeled with difficulty by night through the dark streets to their houses."
"He was described by persons who saw him as being very tall, standing in the water to his waist, with red eyes as large as saucers, endeavouring to pull them into the water. When the stream was bridged he remained only a scare to children, and on the streets being lighted disappeared altogether. He is remembered, however, as "Cutty Dyer," but how the second name became added I cannot guess. I may mention there is a Cuttyford Bridge about half-a-mile above Ashburton, on the same stream."
Amery gives an interesting theory into how the legend of Cutty Dyer came about, suggesting that the origin lies with Saint Christopher:
"Christianity taught that all objects of pagan worship were devils, and their influence therefore baneful to man. The giant Saint Christopher was afterwards introduced as a sort of patron to fords and bridges to neutralize the evil effects of the water sprite. In the old churchwardens' book at Ashburton we find the following entry, under date of 1536-7: "Paid vj for lokyn of the stocke to make Saynt Cristoffer." We also find, under the date 1538-9, the following among other payments: "jx"- in part payment of the greater sum for making the image of St. Christopher." At the Reformation it was dethroned, and most probably cast into the brook, and Christopher or " Cutty " became the ogre, and was supposed to lie in wait for drunkards crossing the stream."
The Legendary Dartmoor Website tells a story from William Crossing of two men walking late at night along the bank of the river Yeo, when they encountered Cutty Dyer. He is described here as an ogre with "great goggle-eyes", black hair hanging over his shoulders in twisted snake-like locks, a beard of the same colour, and teeth like a shark. Lucky for the men, they escaped unharmed. The whole story can be read here.
A more recent mention of Cutty Dyer is given on the BBC website, where Town Clerk John Germon gives an insight into the town of Ashburton. In this article he gives mention to Cutty Dyer, saying: "As young boys we were told not to hang around Kings Bridge after dark as 'Cutty Dyer' the evil water sprite would seek out children, cut their throats and drink their blood!!! An old wives tale or a story to keep children away from this area? Who knows, the only thing I know is it worked for me!"
Whilst in Devon I paid a visit to Ashburton, and carefully peered over the sides of the bridge where he is said to most often lurk. I'm not easily spooked, but I admit that my inner child was a little reluctant to lean over the bridge just incase, and I certainly wouldn't want to lift the cover to the metal grate as it looks like the perfect place for Cutty Dyer to be hiding, lying in wait... 
I would like to give great thanks to Thomas, owner of the Westcountry Folklore Blog, for his help in researching this blog entry and providing me with lots of very useful and helpful information. I thoroughly recommend you all take a look at his wonderful blog! 

Sources & Further Information
Reports and Transactions of the Devonshire Association for the Advancement of Science, Literature, and Art. Volume XI.
Westcountry Folklore Blog
Legendary Dartmoor, Cutty Dyer
BBC Website, Ashburton Article


Anonymous said...

Isn't it interesting that some otherworldly creatures can't cross water, whilst some live in it? I wonder if the sprite is St. Christopher, or the thing that Christopher was supposed to defeat? All very interesting. Up here, we have a Jenny Greenteeth who lives in ponds and under bridges. Very effective, as your chap says, at keeping kids out of the water, if nothing else!

The Faery Folklorist said...

Water does seem to have a reputation as a gateway allowing creatures across from the otherworld, but indeed it is interesting how other characters, like witches, are sometimes said not to be able to cross running water! Would you mind if I started a discussion on it on the Faery Folklore facebook group? Or feel free to post yourself if you're on there! Would be intrigued to know if anyone knows why exactly some creatures and folklore characters can't cross running water. Sure I should know it myself, but can't for the life of me think of it right now!! :)

Sarah said...

Love the article! I'm an Ashburtonian and was thankfully spared the details of Cutty Dyer's antics when I was a child but that's not to say I didn't know about him. He was a household name!
Only later did I read up on him and became fascinated. I'm sure upon your visit and having looked into the river your imagination had no problem conjuring up the mental image of some, ferocious, dripping beast staring back at you.
Even now if I'm walking home at night, I tend to stay away from those bridges. :)

The Faery Folklorist said...

Hi Sarah, it's lovely to hear from an Ashburtonian! You're very lucky that you weren't told of cutty dyer's horrible antics as a child, it's enough to give anyone nightmares!! I don't blame you for staying away from those bridges, very wise :)

Anonymous said...

I come from Ashburton and I was told in no uncertain terms and in that clipped Devonshire accent that should I go over that bridge "Cuttyd Dyer'll ged ee" (Cutty Dyer will get you)!

The Faery Folklorist said...

Thanks for commenting! It's good to know that the story is still known locally and being passed down the generations :D

Guillaume said...

I read about Cutty Dyer in a book I bought in Devon about local folklore. I want to discover more about him and thus found your blog. Great pictures! I could imagine a monster dwelling in these murky waters.