Exhibition - For Whom the Bell Tolls

For the final stage of our Dartmoor in WW1 project (2013-14) we decided to create an exhibition - For Whom the Bell Tolls - using a selection of scenes from our two plays - Road to Nowhere and Chasing Kitty Jay - on video and displaying a lot of the research we had conducted on A1 boards with photographs. We also carried out oral history interviews with local people whose relatives had taken part in the Great War. At the launch event we performed a Morris dance and two scenes from Road to Nowhere interspersed with music from the period and a piece specially composed by two of us. There were over 120 people who attended - we felt very proud to know that so many people took an interest in our work. We put the exhibition on in partnership with Moretonhampstead History Society.

Link to Road to Nowhere and Chasing Kitty Jay: Dartmoor in Wolrd War One project plays

MED Theatre's Young Company


Dartmoor Writers in World War One

the creation of the ‘Kitty Jay’ myth

Writers Beatrice Chase and John Galsworthy lived in the Dartmoor parishes of Widecombe and Manaton during the First World War. Both had come from London where they had witnessed the poverty of the East End and developed a vocation for social reform. Living on Dartmoor provided them with fresh insight for their writing, amongst which the modern myth of the lost girl ‘Kitty Jay’ was created...


Life on Dartmoor

John Galsworthy and his wife Ada Galsworthy lived at Wingstone Farm in Manaton. Their activity within the parish can be found in both written and oral history.  One such account in the Manaton school logbook states that the Galsworthys took an interest in the local school, organising summer outings for the children to Paignton, Torquay and (following the suspension of the train line during the war) Haytor. Galsworthy is also known to have been a keen animal lover, particularly of horses, though local oral history suggests that during the war he had his thoroughbreds put down as they were eating too much forage.

His Writing

Galsworthy wrote two plays and a story which are linked to Dartmoor:

  • Escape is his one play that can be directly linked; an ex-war hero is sentenced to Dartmoor Prison for defending a prostitute. The man escapes and is helped by a variety of Dartmoor characters on his way.
  • A Bit O’ Love is partly set on a village green ‘somewhere in the West Country’, though its resemblance to Manaton Green is clear. Written in 1915, the play’s leading lady is named Beatrice, which might imply that Galsworthy was acquainted with Beatrice Chase.
  • His story The Apple Tree is a version of the Kitty Jay story, taking its inspiration from a Dartmoor legend of a girl buried at a local crossroads. It begins and ends at Jay’s Grave (as it is now known), written during the war in 1916.



Life on Dartmoor

Olive Katharine Parr (later using Beatrice Chase as her literary name) and her mother (whom she referred to as ‘the Rainbowmaker’) worked in the slums of London’s East End during the last decade of the 19th century, helping to alleviate the effects of poverty as part of a Roman Catholic mission. She developed tuberculosis in her late 20s and came to Dartmoor under doctor’s orders, where she lived at Venton near Widecombe until her death in 1955.

Beatrice Chase fell in love with Dartmoor and when given the title ‘Lady of the Moor’ by writer John Oxenham she adopted it herself. Whilst living on Dartmoor during the First World War she is said to have lost her fiancé on the front line. As such in later life she campaigned against military training and live-firing on the moor.

Her Writing

Beatrice threw her energy into moorland life: she immersed herself in the Dartmoor communities and wrote books about the area, significantly The Heart of the Moor and Through a Dartmoor WindowThe Heart of the Moor, which claims to be factual, records her enthusiasm for the Dartmoor people she met and their culture and traditions. One character, for example, was ‘the man in the leather mask’, whom she transformed into the man in the ‘iron mask’ in the book.













The Moor Grave

I lie out here under a heather  sod,

A moor-stone at my head, the moor winds play above.

I lie out here…. In graveyards of their God

They would not bury desperate me who died for love!

I lie out here under the sun and moon;

Across me bearded ponies stride , the curlews cry.

I have no little tombstone screed, no: “Soon

To glory shall she rise” – but deathless peace have I!

(John Galsworthy, circa 1910)


Both John Galsworthy and Beatrice Chase were instrumental in the development of the Kitty Jay myth, which is now perhaps one of the best-known stories from Dartmoor’s folklore. Until their arrival in the area, all that was known about Jay’s Grave was that it contained the bones of a female, probably the victim of suicide. Following the death of her fiancé in the trenches, Beatrice Chase became closely attached to the unmarked grave. She is thought to have begun the tradition of leaving flowers by the headstone, though in her book, The Heart of the Moor, she indicates that she took this practice from others.

Ultimately it was through the creative intervention of both writers that the grave became an outlet for human bereavement in a grieving community, during a brutal yet remote World War. Galsworthy’s poem ‘The Moor Grave’ describes a girl who ‘died for love’, buried under ‘a heather sod’. His short story ‘The Apple Tree’ elaborates on his theory that the girl buried there drowned herself in a nearby river, following abandonment by her fiancé. Similarly, Beatrice’s account in ‘The Heart of the Moor’ describes a girl who, jilted in love and possibly pregnant, hung herself at a local farm. Forever adorned with fresh flowers to this day, Jay’s Grave still survives as Dartmoor’s shrine to the tragedy of abandonment.

Read more about the Kitty Jay myth here

Read about MED Theatre's play Chasing Kitty Jay here

Read about Galsworthy the dramatist here


John Ford on Dartmoor


Click here for more on the John Ford on Dartmoor project

What is the connection between Dartmoor and Shakespeare? It turns out to be a man by the name of John Ford. An unusual new play about the life of the controversial 17th century playwright, author of  Tis Pity She’s a Whore, was staged as a promenade performance at Buckland Abbey on the edge of Dartmoor on Saturday 24th September 2011 and in an adapted version at Burrator Reservoir on Sunday Septemebr 25th..  John Ford, the last of the great playwrights who wrote in the Elizabethan style, and said to have been a friend of Shakespeare, was born and brought up on Dartmoor in the village of Ilsington. The new play, John Ford’s Story, created by young people from the Dartmoor area with the support of a grant of £18,500 from the Heritage Lottery Fund’s Young Roots scheme, and based on original research mentored by cultural historian Dr Tom Greeves, looks at the influence that Ford’s Dartmoor background had on his life and work. Ford’s family on his father’s side were heavily involved in the Dartmoor tin-mining industry, while his mother was the niece of Sir John Popham, who became Lord Chief Justice under Queen Elizabeth I. Bagtor, where the Fords lived, stands in the shadow of some of Dartmoor’s finest granite tors, including the iconic rock of Haytor – which in those days it would have been shrouded not only in mist but in the smoke of tin-smelting.

All That Was Left Behind

All That Was Left Behind

A short film imagining the discovery of a diary recording the thoughts and events in the life of a French prisoner of war's sweetheart on Dartmoor, from MED Theatre's The War Prison at Princetown project 2009

Read about the historical background to the building of the War Prison


Loricum - Childhood on Dartmoor

a4 lor land

Image designed by Nicola Oakey

Loricum (MED Theatre 2006) was a play about two generations of childhood on Dartmoor, bringing together memories from the 1960s with the 1990s


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