Last year we took a visit to Bodmin Jail and as I wander around the cells reading myths and legends that surround the jail, one specific one stood out to me and that was of Rose Wright and The Jackdaws.
The legend says that Rose Wright was born in Luxulyan (a small village located on the edge of Bodmin Moor) sometime in early 1811, she was known as a witch in her local community. For many years she was held with fear and respect within the village, she would make herbal remedies and “potions” for people to help with their problems.
One year there was a drought and the villagers blamed Rose and her witchcraft for the drought, The fear the villagers had of Rose turned into anger and hate and the villagers completely isolated themselves away from Rose, meaning Rose had no source of income.
Rose lived in near the woods, and this was where she gathered her herbs for her remedies. She became lonely, ignored by the village people she had once counted as friends, and over time she reportedly made friends with the animals living within the woods. Among these were the Jackdaws.
The Jackdaw is a small, black-capped crow and they are known for being quite intelligent with a love of shiny objects like its larger cousin, the magpie.
It is rumoured that Rose became aware of this by pure chance as one of her feathered friends brought her a gift of a few shillings it had stolen from one of the villagers. This gave Rose an idea: she could use the Jackdaws to steal money/items for her, she was desperate and did not want to starve. She spent some time training her pets, they learned quickly, so soon she had amassed a small haul of jewellery and coins. Obviously, this did not go unnoticed by the villagers of Luxulyan and they demanded the local gentry and law deal with Rose.
It is thought that Rose was arrested and incarcerated at the jail after her conviction on November 19th, 1846, she was only 36 years old.
Rose was unfortunately ill when she arrived at the prison due to malnutrition and dysentery caused by her poor diet after her shunning. The Jackdaws came with her, and stories are told of them being mischievous; they would harass the guards and other prisoners -making noises throughout the night and being a nuisance within the Jail walls. They would try to steal the cell keys from the guards, but they were unsuccessful – Rose died in her damp and grimy cell on January 13th 1847, 2 months after her incarceration, weak and frail from her long-standing illness.
The Jackdaws did not leave after her death – the story tells that Rose put a curse upon the jail and the county town of Bodmin ‘should the last Jackdaw be born at Bodmin Gaol, so the spirits of the condemned shall rise and bring misfortune and chaos to all that reside within’.