Jan, or John, Tregeagle provided the country of Cornwall in south-west England with its most notorious ghost.
Tregeagle, who was chief steward to Baron Robartes at Lanhydrock, is thought to have earned the reputation of being unjust after winning a lawsuit over property in St Breock in about 1653. By the beginning of the eighteenth century he was remembered as an evil man who, among other crimes, murdered a couple to get his hands on their child’s inheritance. He is alleged to have been buried in an unmarked grave in St Breock churchyard on the edge of Bodmin Moor. Some said he had sold his soul to the devil and only managed to get himself buried in the churchyard by bribing the parson.
Most versions of the legend agree that he was summoned back from the grave when a debtor in Bodmin court, trying to get out of repaying a loan witnessed by Tregeagle, exclaimed: “If Tregeagle ever saw it, I wish to God he would come and declare it!”
In a bright flash of lightning, Tregeagle appeared, ominously warning that it would be more difficult to get rid of him than it had been to summon him. But the parsons of Bdomin cunningly decided to set him tasks that would take him an eternity to complete, thus keeping him out of mischief.
First he was asked to empty Dozmary Pool – a reputedly bottomless lake on Bodmin Moor – using a limpet shell with a hole in the bottom. He was to weave ropes of sand at Padstow and after that to clear Bareppa beach of sand. And then he was banished to Land’s End, where to this day he labors at the everlasting task of sweeping sand away from Porthcurno Cove into Mill Bay.
These are the kinds of tasks exorcists often set the ghosts of the wicked. On Goss and Bodmin Moors, and along the coast from Helston to Padstow, the roaring of the storm is said to be Jan Tregeagle howling.