Lidwell Chapel and The Monk of Haldon – Versions of the Legend
Lidwell Chapel supposedly dates back to at least the 14th century and is built on the site of a holy well dedicated to “Our Ladye”, hence the corruption over time to Lidwell.
According to a traditional tale entitled ‘A Legend of Lidwell Chapel’ (recounted in the Western Miscellany in 1850), a monk named Simon lived there around 1560. He killed travellers, stashed their wares and sank their bodies down the well until one day he was himself fatally wounded by one of his potential victims.
According to the legend, ‘the ghost of St Simon is still said to take his accustomed seat on the well on wild and gusty nights, and all who have seen it declare that it still seems to mourn over the loss of its golden treasure.’ Peasants living in the surrounding villages would subdue their children with the threat of calling ‘Saint’ Simon’s ghost from the chapel.
Writer A. H. Norway recorded in 1904 a version of this legend, varying in that it was a priest (not a monk) who decoyed women here and killed them: ‘He is very well remembered in the neighbourhood, as is natural, seeing that the ghosts of the poor murdered women and children are to be seen hovering round the opening of the well on almost any night when the moon is not too bright.’
It is unclear if the story is grounded in fact but the legend does well, at least, to indicate a curiously frequent connection between the paranormal and watery places in the minds of the average Devonian in days gone by. It is also worth pointing out that there are still, to this day, rumours of dark, shadowy figures drifting the heath near the neighbouring farm, which are supposedly the wraiths of Simon’s victims returning to reclaim their robbed gold, which the wicked monk reputedly hoarded in a secret chest under the altar at the chapel.
From: Paranormal Devon by Daniel Codd, 2009
However, there is a version which goes back another 200 years …..
A monk by the name of Robert de Middlecote moved to the chapel around 1325-6 after he was accused of attempted murder of Agnes, the daughter of a local miller and three charges of robbery. He denied all charges and claimed that the robberies were carried out “for the benefit of the ecclesiastical community”.
The legend goes that he was once a caring monk who was driven mad by the solitude (but, according to historical notes, this was most likely not the case and was already in his state of mind upon arrival). During the day he kept his facade up, but at night he went out in search of travellers and offered food and shelter for the night. The travellers, exhausted, starving and seeing that it was a monk gladly took up such an offer and were treated to a hot meal. However, this meal was laced with a narcotic which caused them to become semi-conscious, upon which the monk then killed them with a knife, robbed them of any valuables and then dumped their body into the holy well (this part of the legend is apparently true for it has been ‘confirmed’ by reports after the well was inspected and was found to contain ‘many bodies’ including several women and children).
After several years of this, Robert de Middlecote was to meet his match. A sailor accepted the monk’s hospitality and during his stay – whilst in prayer – he saw the monk preparing to pounce with his knife. He blocked the attack, and in the ensuing fight Robert was pushed down the well. Shocked, the sailor ran out to the nearby farm for help, and both hauled the monk out. Surprisingly, Robert had survived the fall.
According to legend, Robert died minutes afterwards within desperate grasp of his ill-gotten gains. However, according to historical records Robert de Middlecote was executed on the gallows at Exeter in 1329.
(Note: other references refer to Robert de Middlecote of Gidleigh. Have just found this other site which appears to link the two stories together: Legendary Dartmoor)
There is also a reference to a photographer from Bristol who travelled to the ruins In the 1970’s and took some photos. When one of the photos was developed later on he was shocked to discover that instead of showing the chapel in ruins the photo instead showed the chapel intact as it would have looked around about the 14th century.
Spooky, but such is the stuff of myth and legend.