[In the village] we vainly endeavoured to procure a guide to what a good woman we talked with called "Piskie House," on the side of Sheep's Tor. Piskie House is a natural fissure, or narrow cavern amongst the rocks, where Elford the royalist [...] was said to take shelter for a considerable time, to avoid the pursuit of Cromwell's troopers. One little boy told me he was afraid to go there; and his mother truly said "That it was a critical place for children."From p v3 102, 108 and v1 p233-5 of 'Traditions, legends, superstitions and sketches of Devonshire..' by Anna Eliza Stothard (Bray), 1838.
[...] Aloft amidst the most confused masses of rock, that looked as if they had been tossed about by the fiends in battle, in a place which seemed (so it appeared to me at least) as if inaccessible to any mortal creatuer, there was seen a somewhat projecting stone like a pent-house. Beneath was a cleft between two low rocks. This is the entrance to the palace of the Pixies, and the cavern where Elford is said to ahve found a retreat from persecution [...] How Elford could live there; how food could be conveyed to him, or how any living thing but a raven, a crow, or an eagle could make his home in such a spot, is to me, I confess, a puzzle; and had not the paintings on the interior sides of the rocks, executed by Elford, been really seen in these latter days to bear witness to the fact, I should have doubted the tradition altogether.
[... an excerpt from Mr Bray's diary of 1802] On reaching the little hamlet of Sheepstor, we were informed by the matron of it, whom from her age and appearance we denominated the Septuagenarian Sibyl, that we might easily find out the 'pixies' house, where we should be careful to leave a pin, or something of equal value, as an offering to these invisible beings; otherwise they would not fail to torment us in our sleep. After thanking the good dame for her advice and information, we proceeded in search of it. [...] With a little boy for our guide, we again ascended the mountain. Leaving our horses below, we followed our conductor over some rugged rocks, till he came to one in which was a narrow fissure. On telling us this was the entrance we laughed, and said none but the pixies and himself could enter it; but, on his assuring us it was the spot, I resolved to make the attempt. With great difficulty I succeeded, and found a hollow about six feet long, four wide, and five feet high. It was formed by two rocks resting in a slanting position against another in a perpendicular direction. The cavity was certainly singularly regular, and had somewhat the form of a little hovel. A rock served for a seat, and the posture of sitting was the only one in which I could find myself at ease. A noise occasioned by the dripping of water is distinctly heard; and as the cause of it is out of sight, it produces at first a sensation somewhat approaching to surprise, till reflection tells us the occasion of it: which might possibly have prepared the mind to imagine it the resort of invisible beings.
The Rev. Mr. Polwhele, in his Devon, notices it, and in a note gives the following extract from a correspondent. "Here, I am in formed, Elford used to hide himself from the search of Cromwell's party, to whom he was obnoxious. Hence he could command the whole country; and having some talents for painting, he amused himself with that art on the walls of his cavern, which I have been told (says Mr. Yonge of Puslinch) by an elderly gentleman who had visited this place, was very fresh in his time. The country people have many superstitious notions respecting this hole." None of the paintings now remain on the sides of the rock.
Mark Beeson at Dartmoor Resource has some more information on Mr Elford, and you can see a carving said to be by him at the local church.
Dartmoor Cam shows you where it is (complete with infuriating tupperware), and The Faery Folklorist has some nice bright shots of the entrance.
Posted by Rhiannon
13th November 2012ce
Edited 13th November 2012ce