Thursday, 20 November 2014

The Mystery of Theo Brown

Ok, now, do me a favour and just watch this. Go on. It's only 12 minutes. And if you're into spooky, weird and wonderful folklore it won't be time wasted. I promise.


Ok, so now, if you're anything like me, you're thinking, 
"Who the hell is Theo Brown and did he really go missing in Devon?" 
Yeah, well that's exactly what I've spent most of my morning trying to determine. 
And it all began thanks to this post at SparksinElectricalJelly.

And now, after several hours of googling, clicking, and reading I've discovered the following. 

First, you should know that this film was made by Ellie Dearing for her BA in Film, Theatre and Television at the University of Reading. The intro card at the beginning makes that clear (somehow I missed that during my first time viewing). But is the disappearance of a local Folklorist true? Or are we looking at something more complex?

Well, yes, Theo Brown did exist. And yes, she was deeply interested in folklore and did leave behind a fascinating archival collection but notice I wrote SHE?

Yes, Theodora Brown, a woman with ties to the University of Exeter, lived a good space of years, from 1914 to 1993. She was also an avid collector of legends, tales and fascinating folklore. That's according to this PDF celebrating Inspirational Women of Devon.


"" was probably early expeditions to Dartmoor with her parents in a caravan known as 'The Loiterer,' which began her interest in folklore...Some of Theo's best know research was on established Devon folklore, such as the 'Hairy Hands' and 'Devil's Footprints' but her archive also includes work on the folklore of Europe and America...She was taken on as an Honorary Research Fellow in the Departments of Theology and English at Exeter University. She produced several books including Tales of a Dartmoor Village (1961) based on her early trip to Dartmoor, The Fate of the Dead (1979) and edited a set of booklets on West Country Folklore produced by the Toucan Press."

She had a stroke in 1978 but did not stop continuing to publish. Her final book, Devon Ghosts was published in 1982. But did she go missing on the moors?

Somehow, I doubt a 79 year old woman who had suffered a stroke, even a woman perhaps considered an eccentric, packed up her life's work and a camera then went for a final walk. Nope, Theo Brown died in an Exeter hospital leaving behind her more than just an archival collection of writings.

"Theo Brown died in hospital in Exeter on February 3, 1993, and her death has revealed something of her wonderful capacity for making and keeping friends. There are many with a keen sense of loss at her passing, not least the children from the local primary school with which she became involved a short while ago. There is little doubt that she passed on to them something of her overwhelming passion -- for it was nothing less -- for local traditions, strange legends, eccentric characters and Otherwold beliefs." - Hilda Ellis Davidson

I wonder if some of those children are people like Ellie Dearing and the members of Folklore Tapes? Because clearly they have been inspired by this fascinating woman and her collection.

Read more about Folklore Tapes' Theo Brown and the Folklore of Dartmoor project here and here.

Or listen to Folklore Tapes creations here and here and here.

Mystery solved...

Did I mention I have a Folklore degree? Which is why I know that the Devil's Footprints also appear in Newfoundland. Maybe Theo Brown visited there? I just discovered she published this about the Mummer's Play. (See a post I did about this tradition in Newfoundland on my other blog here).

I think I'M feeling inspired!