Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Winter’s Gibbet

Winter’s Gibbet really needs visiting on a stormy night with an uncertain light – possibly with an owl flying silently across the face of a ghostly full moon just as it comes out from the clouds. However, it was a bright morning when we visited so you’ll just have to imagine it.
The gibbet stands on a wild moorland road, once a drove road from Scotland to England, above the village of Elsdon in Northumberland, a severed head still swinging from it. The head is a fibreglass one, fortunately. It is a grisly memorial to William Winter, the last man in England to be gibbeted. Winter was a gypsy and noted criminal. In 1791 he was charged with the brutal murder of an old woman who lived at Raw Pele, nearby.
He and his two women accomplices were executed in Newcastle and the bodies of the two women were handed to the surgeons for dissection but William was put on display here and left for months, until his clothes had rotted away then it was cut down and the bones scattered.
It was believed that rubbing the gums with slivers of wood from a gibbet would cure toothache and this one gradually disintegrated and rotted away.
Around 1867 Sir Walter Trevelyan of Wallington ordered a replica with a wooden body to be erected. The body was often used as target practice and eventually only the head remained. Even that was frequently stolen and in 1998 the entire gibbet disappeared for a while. A joker left a miniature one in its place with a sign proclaiming that it would soon grow, given the rainfall!
It is said that the sound of rattling bones can often be heard there, especially on stormy nights, and that the ghosts of William Winter and Jane and Eleanor Clark can been seen running from the old tower at Raw Pele. There are more photos at Picasa.

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