Northumberland’s Winter’s Gibbet
On a windswept and lonely moor just to the south east of Elsdon stands one of Northumberland’s most haunting monuments to the area’s bloody past: Winter’s Gibbet.
Looking out over an old unclassified drover’s road towards the Simonside Hills, the scaffold with its eerie carved wooden head swinging in the ever-present breeze is a chilling warning of how felons were once dispatched.
Standing stark against the skyline the gibbet is a lasting reminder of the miserable demise of 18thcentury murderer William Winter – a hardened criminal who had spent time on the notorious prison hulks moored in the River Thames.
He was caught, tried and then executed in Newcastle in 1791 with two accomplices – sisters Jane and Eleanor Clark – for the murder on August 29 of that year of Margaret Crozier, an elderly woman who lived on her own at an old pele tower called The Raw, a few miles north of Elsdon.
Winter’s body hung at Whiskershields Common
His body was then brought back to Whiskershields Common near to the scene of his heinous crime and his body hung in chains from a gibbet until it rotted – a stark portent to travellers and locals alike of the worst that could happen to those who dared to break the law.
Winter and the gibbet eventually perished and both would most likely have been forgotten but for Sir Walter Trevelyan of nearby Wallington Morpeth at Cambo who in the mid-1860s ordered a replica gallows to be made complete with a wooden body.
The gibbet with its full-size effigy was eventually erected on its current prominent site on Sir Walter’s land in 1867. At its foot are the remains of a stone Saxon cross which once marked the highest point of the ancient drover’s road from Scotland.
As you might expect, the replica body proved irresistible to the local young ne’er do wells who used it as target practice and stole various parts for drunken pranks, until only the head remained.
Dummy of Winter’s head
Today a dummy of Winter’s head still swings ghoulishly from the gibbet, although from time to time it disappears and has to be replaced with a new one.
The ethereal spectacle of the gibbet has given rise to many tales of ghostly goings-on.
Even though the gibbet doesn’t stand at the exact spot where Winter’s earthly remains were left to decay 220 years ago, many people over the years claim to have seen the felon’s apparition roaming the wild countryside in its immediate vicinity.