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