N Batcombe Down, Dorset, is a stone about three feet high, evidently part of a cross, and called Cross Hand Stone. Why should a cross be set up, away there on the down? Well, this “be tïale a twold o’t.” Back in the middle ages, one dark, wild winter night, Batcombe priest was sent for to take the viaticum to a dying man, two or three miles off. Taking pyx and service-book, he sallied out with a brave heart on his dark, lonely way over Batcombe Down, and safely reached the sick man’s house. But on getting in, and producing what was needed for his ministration—where was the pyx? It was lost. He had dropped it on the way, and its fall on the turf of Batcombe Down—in the howling wind, too!—had not been heard. Back he toiled into the darkness and the storm on his almost hopeless quest. Hopeless? The easiest search ever made. Up on Batcombe Down there was a pillar of fire, reaching from heaven to earth, and steadily shining in the storm. What could this be? He struggled on faster and faster, with strange, half-formed hopes. He came near to the spot over which stood the calm beam in the gale. He saw numbers of cattle of various kinds gathered in a circle—kneeling—kneeling round the pyx.
Well, this seems to me to be the medieval legend, rendering a reason for Batcombe Cross being set up there, away on the down, where, though time-worn, it yet remains. But (me judice) in the last century a rider was added, as follows:—
The priest was much astounded at what he saw, but not so much so but that he observed among the live-stock a black horse, kneeling, indeed, like the rest, but only on one knee. The priest said to this lukewarm beast, “Why don’t you kneel on both knees, like the rest?” “Wouldn’t kneel at all if I could help it.” “Who, then, are you?” “The devil.” “Why do you take the form of a horse?” “So that men may steal me, and get hung, and I get hold of them. Got three or four already.”
I am indebted to the Rev. C. R. Baskett for this legend. He also tells me of a pinnacle belonging, indeed, to Batcombe Church tower, but which can by no means be made to stand in its place thereon “since conjuror Mintern’s horse kicked it off.” Two vain attempts to erect the pinnacle have been made of late years.