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The Ghost of Charlotte Dymond

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10 July 2010

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One of Cornwall's most celebrated ghosts is that of Charlotte Dymond, who was found murdered on the slopes of Roughtor, near Camelford on Sunday 14th April 1844. Now written into the folklore of Bodmin Moor, this brutal murder was committed in a desolate location. A search party found her body on the banks of the river Alan, in the shadow of Roughtor, Cornwall's second highest point, by Roughtor Ford. She had been killed by an deep cut to her throat. Later examination suggested it was probably caused by two cuts.


Her lover, a crippled farmhand called Matthew Weeks was later hanged at Bodmin Gaol for the crime, though it is doubtful that he committed it.


Since that time, and especially on the anniversary of her death, Charlotte has been seen walking in the area, clad in a gown, a red shawl and a silk bonnet. Sentries of the Old Volunteers stationed in Roughtor were very reluctant to stand duty there, so convinced were they of her ghostly presence.


A memorial stone marks the site of her murder, and the story has been immortalised too in "The Ballad of Charlotte Dymond", by Cornish poet Charles Causley.



The Charlotte Dymond memorial, Roughtor marks the spot where her body was found



The Story of Charlotte Dymond and her Murder


Charlotte Dymond worked on a small farm on the edge of Bodmin Moor called Penhale Farm. She was an 18 year old girl and worked as a domestic servant for the elderly widow and her son. Charlotte was one of three live in servants at the farm, the others were John Stevens and Matthew Weeks, both in their early 20s.


Charlotte and Matthew had become lovers during their time at Penhale Farm. Most people had said that they were a strange coupling. Charlotte was a pretty girl with a very flirtatious nature but was illegitimate with no family, whereas Matthew was a short man, missing many teeth and with a heavy limp, and was described as not at all good-looking though he did dress extremely well. Some people said that the reason they were together was that Matthew had come into a modest inheritance which made him worthy.


Unbeknown to Matthew, Charlotte had another suitor, this was the 26 year nephew of Penhale Farm's owner by the name of Thomas Prout. He worked with Matthew Weeks on occasions as a farm labourer and is said the two got on very well. But Thomas Prout had intentions towards Charlotte and it was later revealed that the two may have been planning to elope.


The other household servant, John Stevens said he had overheard Thomas Prout stating he could take Charlotte away from Weeks any time he liked.

The last time Charlotte was seen alive was soon after her and Matthew had left the farm together, on the Sunday afternoon, heading towards the moor. They were spotted by an elderly neighbouring farmer who recognised Matthew from his pronounced limp, even though it was foggy.

Later that evening Matthew returned to the farm alone, although this was not an unusual occurrence.

When Charlotte did not return to the farm, questions were asked of Matthew, and he told them that Charlotte had been offered a position in Blisland, some miles away over the Moor, and had set off with the intention of staying at an friends house on the way. This was not totally believed and suspicion grew because, the way Charlotte was, a courteous and polite woman, and the fact the someone had notice Mathews' shirt was torn and his trousers were muddied despite his claims he had not been on the moor.


After a week of the disappearance of Charlotte Dymond, John Stevens took it upon himself to clarify Matthews' story. The farmer and himself took off across the Moor to Blisland, and found out the no such position had been offered to Charlotte, and that she had not stayed in a friends house either.

On the same day as the farmer and John Stevens left of their journey, Matthew Weeks picked up his belonging, put on his best clothes and left Penhale farm, it was said with the thought of never going back.

The day after Matthew Weeks had left the farm, the farmer's wife took his old clothes to wash them. However what she saw made her suspicion that Weeks had murdered Charlotte. The collar of his shirt was torn and had several buttons missing. She also noticed spots of blood on the shirt.


Tuesday of the following week, nine days after Charlotte had last been seen, a search party went out onto the Moor, where they found her body. She was lying by Roughtor Ford, on the banks of the river Alan. She had been killed by an extremely deep cut to her throat from ear to ear. Later examination suggested it was probably caused by two cuts.


Now her body had been found and the circumstantial evidence was mounting up against Matthew Weeks to the murder of Charlotte Dymond, a warrant for his arrest was issued. He was found and arrested at his sister's house in Plymouth, where he was planning to flee to the Channel Islands. Upon searching Weeks a pair of ladies' gloves and a blood-spotted lady's handkerchief were found.


Weeks was tried at Bodmin Assize Court on August 2nd. The coroner made it clear that he believed the wound that killed Charlotte could not have been self inflicted, with this and all the circumstantial evidence that was gathered during the brief investigation Weeks was found guilty by jury. They reached their verdict in a little over half an hour, Weeks pleaded not guilty at the trial. The sentence for the crime was death by hanging.


Matthew Weeks spent ten days in Bodmin Gaol awaiting his execution. In this time two letters were attributed to him, but being illiterate these were dictated and scribed by another. The first letter was written to his family, and the second was a full confession to the murder of Charlotte. This second letter was written in an eloquent style, far more eloquent than one would have expected from an uneducated farm labourer:


"I hope young men will take a warning by me and not put too much confidence in young women, the same as I did; and I hope young females will take the same by young men. I loved that girl as dear as I loved my life; and after all the kind treatment I have showed her, and then she said she would have nothing more to do with me. And after this was done, then bitterly I did lament, thinking what would be my end. And I thank the judge and jury too, for they have given me no more than was my due."


On August 12th 1844 Mathew Weeks was hung outside Bodmin Gaol in front of a crowd of several thousand onlookers. His body was buried in the prison's coal yard.


The local community were in little doubt of Weeks' guilt of the death of Charlotte Dymond, there seemed to be no mystery to her tragic death, and it is just another sad example of the age old crime of passion. Because of these thoughts by the community, a memorial monument was erected on the spot were her body was found. The memorial reads - "This monument is erected by public subscription in memory of Charlotte Dymond who was murdered here by Matthew Weeks on Sunday April 14 1844"


However this is not necessarily the end of the tail. From the account written above, the events surrounding this tragedy would seem fairly clear cut. But because of the story of a spurned lover and murder at such a bleak, desolate spot, people believed that the possibility of Mathew Weeks innocence was a true one. One explanation put forward was suicide. It was said that Charlotte believed she was pregnant, and to avoid the shame she had cut her own throat. This conclusion does seem a bit fanciful in two ways. One: given there appeared to be two suitors willing to marry her, and two: the extreme force that had to of been used to inflict the wound.

Along with this are suggestions the three eyewitnesses were unreliable in the story that they told, the fact that the confession that was scribed whilst Weeks was in jail was obviously fabricated, belief swung in the opposite direction, and doubt of his guilt set in. Even though with no other obvious suspects, so much circumstantial evidence and in the absence of witnesses, also the confession, the weight of evidence seems to be compelling and that was why Mathew Weeks was found guilty of the murder. But to this day nobody can say for sure if Mathew Weeks murdered Charlotte Dymond.

If you would like to find out more regarding Mathew Weeks and Charlotte Dymond, you can do so in the old County Assizes in Bodmin's Shire Hall. You can watch a re-enactment of the trial of Matthew Weeks and decide for yourself whether he was convicted of a crime he did not commit.











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