Kitty Jay

Album: Kitty Jay (2004)
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Songfacts®:

  • Singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Seth Lakeman was born at Dartmoor, and this song, the title track of his second solo album, has a parochial feel. It is a prayer for the occupant of Jay's Grave. Kitty Jay (also known as Mary Jay) was born around 1790. Either orphaned or deserted, she was raised in Wolborough Poor House until she came of age and was apprenticed to Canna Farm. In practice this meant a life of drudgery, but the lot of ordinary people at this time generally wasn't much better.

    Kitty was left pregnant and abandoned after either being seduced or raped by the farmer's son. Rather than return to the poor house in disgrace, she hanged herself. At that time suicide was a crime as well as a sin, and her body could not be buried in consecrated ground, so as was the custom she was interred at a crossroads.

    In 1860, the grave was opened, and the skeleton of a young girl appeared to confirm the truth of what may have been a local legend. The remains were placed in a coffin and reinterred. In spite of this confirmation, Jay's grave has been the subject of much speculation, partly because of the flowers which appear on it as if out of nowhere; this phenomenon has been attributed both to the ghost of her lover - as in a sanitized version of the story which inspired the Wishbone Ash song "Lady Jay" - and to piskies, Cornish elf-like creatures.
  • A 1973 work by Lois Deacon based on the "legend" bears the lengthy title An Angel From Your Door: The Story of Kitty Jay of Jay's Grave, Dartmoor and They Of The House - To Bed! The author tells her readers, "Although this novel is based on the few known facts about Kitty (or Mary) Jay, of 'Jay's Grave,' Dartmoor, every character delineated in this book is entirely imaginary." Deacon gives her date of birth as around September 15, 1790. Lakeman's version of "Kitty Jay" is bereft of such detail, although he is a keen student of Cornish mythology. The song is basically violin and vocal; unusually when he plays live he performs it unaccompanied, no mean feat. The album version was recorded in his brother's kitchen, and sounds none the worse for that. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Alexander Baron - London, England, for above 2

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