Lady Howard's Coach

Lady Howard's Coach

The Facts

In the 1600s, a man called John Fitz, of Fitzford House near Tavistock, inherited a large fortune at the age of 21. He spent heavily, made many enemies and murdered two men.  He went insane and committed suicide, leaving behind his daughter, Mary, aged 9, who inherited the remains of his fortune.

King James I intervened and sold Mary to the Earl of Northumberland, who then married her to his brother, Sir Alan Percy. Sir Percy went on a hunting trip and, unfortunately, caught a fever and died.

Mary then eloped and married her true love, Thomas Darcy. Tragically, after a few months, he also died.

Mary chose to marry again. This time she decided to protect her fortune, much to the displeasure of her third husband, Sir John Howard. Unfortunately for him, he died of ‘causes unknown’.

Her fourth and final husband, Sir Richard Grenville, treated Mary cruelly  but provided Mary with a son, George, before she obtained a legal separation from Grenville, the first woman in England to represent herself in such a case.

Mary and George then moved back to the family abode of Fitzford House. Tragically, George died not long after they moved back. A month later Mary died of a broken heart.

Soon after people began to see her ghost.


Sabine Baring-Gould: Songs of the West

Baring-Gould, first published this ballad about Lady Howard in his music collection Songs of the West (1891), and reports that there was a real Lady Howard who, after disinheriting her children, acquired a reputation for being “hard-hearted” – a reputation that grew to supernatural proportions, as Baring-Gould goes on to explain:

“Lady Howard was a person of strong will and imperious temper, and left a deep and lasting impression on the people of Tavistock. . . . She bore the reputation of having been hard-hearted in her lifetime. For some crime she had committed (nobody knew what), she was said to be doomed to run in the shape of a hound from the gateway of Fitzford to Okehampton Park, between the hours of midnight and cock-crowing, and to return with a single blade of grass in her mouth to the place whence she had started; and this she was to do till every blade was picked, when the world would be at an end. Dr. Jago, the clergyman of Milton Abbot, however, told me that occasionally she was said to ride in a coach of bones up West Street, Tavistock, towards the moor; and an old man of this place told a friend of mine the same story, adding that ‘he had seen her scores of times.’ A lady also who was once resident here, and whom I met in company, assured me that, happening many years before to pass the old gateway at Fitzford, as the church clock struck twelve, in returning from a party, she had herself seen the hound start.”

gatehouse history dartmoor

The gatehouse at Fitzford House, home of Lady Howard. Photo: Tom Greeves

okehampton history dartmoor

Okehampton Castle. Photo: Tom Greeves

Baring Gould continues: “When a child I heard the story, but somewhat varied, that Lady Howard drove nightly from Okehampton Castle to Launceston Castle in a black coach driven by a headless coachman, and preceded by a fire-breathing black hound that when the coach stopped at a door, there was sure to be a death in that house the same night. There was a ballad about it, of which I can only recall fragments.” (209 – 210).

From those fragments Baring-Gould reconstructs the ballad as follows:

My ladye hath a sable coach,

And horses two and four;

My ladye hath a black blood-hound

That runneth on before.

My ladye’s coach hath nodding plumes,

The driver hath no head;

My ladye is an ashen white,

As one that long is dead.

“Now pray step in!” my ladye saith,

“Now pray step in and ride.”

I thank thee, I had rather walk

Than gather to thy side.

The wheels go round without a sound,

Or tramp or turn of wheels;

As cloud at night, in pale moonlight,

Along the carriage steals.

“Now pray step in!” my ladye saith,

“Now prithee come to me.”

She takes the baby from the crib,

She sits it on her knee.

“Now pray step in!” my ladye saith,

“Now pray step in and ride.”

Then deadly pale, in waving veil,

She takes to her the bride.

“Now pray step in!” my ladye saith,

“There’s room I wot for you.”

She wav’d her hand, the coach did stand,

The Squire within she drew.

“Now pray step in!” my ladye saith,

“Why shouldst thou trudge afoot?”

She took the gaffer in by her,

His crutches in the boot.

I’d rather walk a hundred miles,

And run by night and day,

Than have that carriage halt for me

And hear my ladye say-

“Now pray step in, and make no din,

Step in with me to ride ;

There’s room, I trow, by me for you,

And all the world beside.”


Cecilia Eng

Cecilia Eng is a folk singer from Portland Oregon. She has a version of ‘Lady Howards Coach’ on her first album Of Shoes and Ships.


Will Carnell and Alexa Romanes

Lustleigh composer William Carnell  and writer Alexa Romanes produced together a cantata based on the weird and wonderful legends of Dartmoor.

Alexa is a folklore enthusiast and a member of Cogs and Wheels Ladies’ Morris. Will Carnell is an established composer who lives on the edge of Dartmoor.

One of the songs on their CD A Dartmoor Cantata is ‘Lady Howards Coach’, sung by the Lustleigh Choir.




Baring-Gould, Sabine (1891). Songs of the West.

Baring-Gould, Sabine (1908). Devonshire Characters and Strange Events.

Crossing, William (1914,1997 edn). Folklore and Legends of Dartmoor.

What’s Afloat? Devon’s Folk Magazine. No 83.

Claire Hyne