Old Fish Cellars Cove

Mother Ivey’s Curse

The story begins with the highly lucrative pilchard processing business of the Hellyer family of Harlyn Bay, close to Padstow. Pilchards were caught, salted and packed into barrels, then shipped to Italy. The starving villagers employed by the Hellyers were too poor to feed themselves with the fish they had risked their lives harvesting. For them, the motto carved into the granite lintel of the fish cellars – Dulcis Lucri Odor, meaning ‘Profit Smells Sweet’ – was cruelly ironic. To this day the house still bears this inscription, a grim reminder of their plight.

One fateful day in the sixteenth century, when nearby Padstow was an important fishing town, a large cargo of pilchards returned from Italy, unsold. Though past their best, the fish would have been a blessing for the starving villagers. Mother Ivey, a local white witch and healer, approached the Hellyers and requested that they be donated to ease the villagers’ suffering. Despite her pleas, the Hellyers denied the villagers the fish. The pilchards were ploughed into a field as fertilizer instead. Mother Ivey, in her wrath, cursed the field so that if ever its soil was broken, death would follow. The family however, continued to use the field until shortly after this, the Hellier’s eldest son was thrown from his horse and killed whilst riding in the field. Mother Ivey’s curse, it seemed, had claimed its first victim.

For fear of the curse striking again, the field remained fallow for centuries. Mother Ivey’s social justice was proven. As one source of food was denied from the villagers, so another was denied from the family responsible. The story may have turned to legend – very little has been written about the curse; it survives instead as a folktale passed from father to son of the Hellyer family – yet it resonates ominously to this day. Even now, the curse lives on.

During World War Two the Hellyers convinced the Agricultural Committee to leave the field fallow, despite the ‘dig for victory’ campaign. Despite the latter day Hellyers’ impassioned pleas though, the Home Guard, insisted on digging defensive trenches. Only a matter of days later, the owner’s eldest son met a grisly end. Mother Ivey’s curse had struck once more.

Ownership of the estate has since passed from the Hellyer family. The new owners, desperate to cleanse the land of the curse, enlisted the help of a local wise woman. Known as a ‘peller’, a word possibly derived from ‘expeller’, she recited incantations over a tin stuffed with fabric, and buried it in the field. Tragically, her efforts proved futile. In the 1970s a group of metal detector enthusiasts began digging in the field unaware of its deadly history. Within days, one of their number suffered a fatal heart attack As recently as ten years ago, despite fervent warnings a water company disturbed the soil to lay pipes. The following day, the foreman lay dead also. Mother Ivey’s curse has lost none of its power with the slow passing of time.

To this day the field remains fallow in the heart of the beautiful village of Harlyn, overlooking the sea. The farmhouse itself, an imposing grey-stone presence overlooking the bay has revealed an equally ghastly and wicked history of its own. Twentieth century renovation work revealed hidden staircases and rooms, with grim evidence of torture.

It seems that Mother Ivey’s presence still lingers. Her ancient words echoing like the crows’ eerie cries that shatter the tranquility of the bay that bears her name. Will anyone dare again to disturb the soil she cursed?

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