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Saturday, 8 September 2012


Five go off to Winter's Gibbet.....by Tiny Blonde
Or,    It's Only a Winter's Tale.  September 7th

Friday, Saturday and Sunday, the 7th, 8th and 9th of September are Heritage Open Days when many of the nation's treasure houses and churches are thrown open to the public  - free. But instead of taking the chance to wander round a place like Gibside Chapel or the Swing Bridge Motor Room we  have decided to join "The Murder Walk" organised by the Morpeth Walking Group and learn all about the dreadful murder of Margaret Crozier in August 1791.
There are five gadgies out today, music, pun,vogel, route and blogpiemeisters. When we joined the rest there were 37 of us. I know this as they were well organised and kept doing a head count and two men were always at the back to prevent escape. It was a bit like being  back at school.

The Murder
 In 1791 William Winter, Jane and Eleanor Clarke murdered Margaret Crozier by fracturing her skull, strangulation and possibly cutting her throat at her small drapery at The Raw, a bastle* a few miles north of Elsdon in Northumberland. They were caught, tried and found guilty. Their execution took place at Westgate in Newcastle in August 1792. The bodies of the two women were given to surgeons for dissection and William's body was hung in chains on Whiskerfield Common, a few miles south of  Elsdon. The body remained on the gibbet as a warning until it had rotted when the remains were scattered, the skull being presented to Mr Darnell of Newcastle.
William Winter's father had been hanged for stealing and the girls' father had also been executed for burglary.
The executioner, William Gardner, had also been condemned to be hanged for sheep stealing but in exchange for carrying out the executions he had his sentence reduced to transportation to Australia for seven years.
It is not certain what happened to him in Australia. There are alternatives, (but only two of course).
He changed his name to Magwitch and became a character in a Charles Dickens novel or he changed his name to Foster, started a brewery and his descendants got their revenge on the British for their ancestor's sufferings by exporting their lager to the UK.
The replica gibbet was erected by the Trevelyan family in 1867. It was complete with a wooden body but over years that rotted too, the head has been frequently stolen and frequently replaced, today it looked like a small football in a jersey.

The Walk.
Elsdon is a pretty village in Northumberland with a village green bigger than many a city park, except for Necastle's Town Moor, which is bigger than Central Park in N.Y., N.Y..
To get there from Newcastle follow the A696 through Ponteland, turn right on the B6342 through Cambo and turn left after a few miles for Elsdon. Going this way is useful as it takes you past the gibbet itself, clearly visible on the left side of the road. This is where we were asked by the organisers to meet. It was here that the leader told us about the murder and then asked us all to go the two miles or so into Elsdon.
                     Winter's gibbet and walkers. At the foot of the gibbet is the base of a Saxon Cross.  Looks like a large stone with a hole in it. There are others in the area. The gibbet is at GR962908.

There is a village hall just outside the village near thye Motte and Bailey with some parking and a toilet which was closed.
Should you want a map get Landranger 80 and 81 (The Cheviot Hills and Alnick Morpeth. The village hall is at GR937933.
Our guide started the walk by giving a brief tour of Elsdon. It has the famous cyclists cafe, well worth remembering if you are a tea drinker and a church, St. Cuthberts. The earliest part of the building is 12th century but there are additions and changes from nearly every century since.
                                   St. Cuthbert's Church, Elsdon.
Nearby is Elsdon Tower, a vicars pele** dating from the  14th century and still,occupied, but not by the vicar.


                                                 Elsdon Tower.
  This tiny village once had four pubs but only one. The Bird in the Bush, remains open. Of the remainder one is a house, the Bacchus, which has a statue of Bacchus and a barrel above the door. Another is a farm and I can't remember what happened to the other.
In another corner of Elsdon is a "pinfold", a stone enclosure used to keep stray animals rounded up by the local "pinner". Many small towns still have a Pinfold Lane.
                                           The Elsdon pinfold.
Walking past the village hall, finally starting the actual walk we saw Elsdon Castle. A genuine and well preserved Motte and Bailey it was built in the 12th century by Robert de Umfraville the local lord. The original "castle" was probably made from wood but Robert wasn't too keen and moved house to Harbottle, leaving a fine example, almost untouched of an early Norman M and B.

                                          The Motte and Bailey in Elsdon.
The walk,(at last!) crossed fields in a north east direction to the farm at Hudspeth. Many farms have the appearance of agricultural scrap yards and this one had several rusting tractors on display and a safe!

Nobody would think a man would keep his valuables out in the fields so I expect they are perfectly safe.

During the murder hunt a "gully"knife was found at Hudspeth. The word "gully" was unfamiliar to me but it was known to the other members of the team. Bill Griffiths North East Dialect Dictionary defines it as a large carving knife for cutting meat, bread or fish.
Going through the  farmyard we crossed a burn and walked up a hillside path to a Herbiespot on Landshot Hill, offering views of Harwood Forest and a view of the gibbet on the horizon. Makes the pies more enjoyable. Lunch over we continued in a south easterly direction to the edge of the wood where we stopped to admire "Penman's Leap", a deep gully overlooked by deciduous trees. It was quite a steep drop to the Whiskershiel Burn, we didn't leap it but turned south west and headed for the farm of the same name. It had been the home of young Robert Hindmarsh (or Hymers), the chief witness at the trial. Fearing vengeance from the family of William Winter (no witness protection then I suppose) he took off but eventually returned home, only to die there at the age of either 20 or 22.
He was immortalised in Baden-Powells "Scouting for Boys" for his observational skills and citizenship

                                   Whiskershiels Farm, home of Robert Hindmarsh.
The footpath from the farm crosses several muddy fields back to Elsdon and the end of the walk. A short one today, however the best bit was to come. We drove in convoy the few miles up the road north out of the village turned left and stopped at the Raws Farm, the site of the murder.
The bastle at The Raw. Raw simply means a row of buildings.
The site of the murder.
The bastle is now part of the farm buildings and has not been inhabited since Margaret Crozier's sad death. But a lady who is about my age was invited to tell us about life at the farm. She had moved there in 1946 at the age of two and her parents had farmed there for some years. In her childhood the farm had no gas or electricity and naturally it had an outdoor earth closet. Her parents kept two cows which were milked by her mother. Her dad kept beef cattle, some pigs for home consumption and a small flock of hens for a supply of eggs and meat. They may have grown a few vegetables but no crops.
I really enjoyed her talk, as did the others and I bet it brings back memories for ANONYMOUS too!
That really was the end of the day and it was quite early for us so we headed for the Waggon, a pub a few miles north of Ponteland. This pub gets an unqualified 5 barrels. It had half a dozen real ales, mostly from the Hadrian Brewery and a very welcoming and enthusiastic landlord who was only too happy to discuss his beers, the brewery they came from and to offer samples. I settled for Tyneside Blonde and it was in great condition. A pub to be recommended.                                                        (And for ANONYMOUS the first time I went to this pub was with Mary Blood and her two Aussie friends in January or February 1966)

* bastle   A fortified farm house, common in the borders because of the marauding Scots.
** pele,(or peel) a stone built tower, mini castle. Also common in the borders.

The Matrix                      steps                                miles

ASDAPED                10101                                     4.782
USBPED                   10455                                     4.95
HIGEAR                   10518                                     4.775
Small black
I found in a
drawer                       12642                                     5.89 ( I wore this allday and did not zero it at the
                                                                                          start of the walk  so it could be right.
OUTDOORS  GPS                                                 4.2 miles (but it was misbehaving)

       Contains OS data (copyright. Crown Copyright and data base right 2012