Thursday, 26 July 2018

Hang 'em high

Not far from Elsdon in north-western Northumberland, and at the windy south-western edge of Harwood Forest, is a place where criminals were hung in times past. The spot is marked by a gibbet. The gibbet you see nowadays isn't of course the original one, but even so it looks authentic and ready for business if need be. It's called Winter's Gibbet.


Presumably he was the most notorious of the persons hung here. A nearby plaque tells you something about it. William Winter was hung here in 1791 for murdering an Elsdon woman.


Wikipedia (at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elsdon,_Northumberland) regurgitates more of the story:

Elsdon has a grim reminder of the past in the gibbet that rears its gaunt outline on the hill known as Steng Cross. Strangely enough this gallows has no connection with the Border raiders, many of whom met their death "high on the gallows tree". The present gibbet stands on the site of one from which the body of William Winter was suspended in chains after he had been hanged at The Westgate in Newcastle. Today this grisly relic is called Winter's Gibbet. Pieces of the gibbet were once reputed to be able to cure toothache, if rubbed on the gums.

In 1791, a very nasty murder of an old woman, Margaret Crozier, took place. The following quote from Tomlinson's Guide to Northumberland shows the enjoyment which the old writers took in recounting horrors in all their bloodthirsty detail. Tomlinson says:

Believing her to be rich, one William Winter, a desperate character, but recently returned from transportation, at the instigation, and with the assistance of two female faws [vendors of crockery and tinwork] named Jane and Eleanor Clark, who in their wanderings had experienced the kindness of Margaret Crozier, broke into the lonely Pele on the night of 29th August 1791, and cruelly murdered the poor old woman, loading the ass they had brought with her goods. The day before they had rested and dined in a sheep fold on Whisker-shield Common, which overlooked the Raw, and it was from a description given of them by a shepherd boy, who had seen them and taken particular notice of the number and character of the nails in Winter's shoes, and also the peculiar gully, or butcher's knife with which he divided the food that brought them to justice.

The shepherd lad must have had very good eyesight to count the number of nails in Winter's shoes!

The gibbet stands at a high point once marked by an old cross, called Steng Cross. The stone base of this is still there:


It's a rather lonely spot, in a bleak landscape, which would have been even bleaker before Harwood Forest came into being. There are wide views. Perhaps these views were the main reason why a stone memorial was set up here in memory of a couple named Jack and Dorothy Anderson:


He died in 2000, she in 2013, so presumably the stone was planted only in the last few years. I have to say it's terribly hard to ignore the proximity of the gibbet, with all its dismal associations. And that makes it seem an odd place to put a memorial stone. But perhaps there was some special private reason for the stone being where it is. 

I am aware of more than one 'Gibbet Hill' in England, and more than one 'Hangman's Stone', which usually marks the spot if nothing else does. But I can't recall ever seeing another complete working gibbet like this. Not a good place to be after dark, I'm thinking...

1 comment:

  1. I had not heard that name for a road since childhood, Gibbet hill was where the posh houses were...

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