ON a long and lonely lane amid the wilds of Northumbria, there swings an empty gibbet, its macabre arm visible for quite some distance.

As the Object of the Week in last Saturday's paper told, it was where William Winter's body was hanged in chains after his execution in Newcastle on August 10, 1792. It slowly rotted away, torn at by the winds of this exposed spot to the west of Morpeth, and pulled at by the carrion birds until it was no more.

The Northern Echo: Winter’s Gibbet near Elsdon in Redesdale Photo © 2018 David Simpson

Winter’s Gibbet near Elsdon in Redesdale Photo © 2018 David Simpson

But in 1867, landowner Walter Trevelyan, a naturalist and antiquarian of Wallington Hall, re-erected the gibbet as a landmark, and swung a wooden dummy from it. Over time bits of the dummy have fallen off, and over the decades many dummies have disappeared completely so now the gibbet is empty.

"As soon as I saw it in the paper, I knew I had taken a picture of it 50 years ago with a head on it – I can always remember that road was a straight as a dye," says Jen Hopps in Crook. "I had an uncle who was into history and we used to go round places like that, and I took the pictures."

With her husband Alan, she has been leafing through old photo-albums until she found the rather gruesome picture (below).

The Northern Echo: Winter's Gibbet, by Jen Hopps

On August 29, 1791, Winter – a desperate fellow who had just returned after transportation for some other terrible misdemeanour and whose father and brother were both executed for crimes – murdered an old draper, Margaret Crozier, who lived in a cottage within sight of where the gibbet was placed. His accomplices, Jane and Eleanor Clark, were hanged with him at Westgate, Newcastle, but, as they were females, their bodies were given to physicians for dissection.

Winter's body was transported back to within sight of the scene of his crime and erected beside what is now the B6341 which runs between Otterburn and Elsdon, which was probably his own village. This is an old drove road and at its highest point there was a stone Saxon cross – Steng Cross. The base of the cross can still be seen beneath the gibbet.

It was traditional for bodies to be hanged near the scene of a crime. Often the gibbets were at crossroads as it was felt that the intersection of the roads would somehow prevent the ghost of the executed person from returning to the scene to torment the living some more. Most famously in our area, there's the Busby Stoop pub on crossroads near Thirsk outside which Thomas Busby was hanged for murder in 1702, and then there's Andrew Mills' Stob which is near the Thinford crossroads to the north of Ferryhill.

On January 25, 1683, he murdered three young members of the Brass family at their farm between Ferryhill and Kirk Merrington, for which he was hanged near the crossroads on August 15, 1683. He was suspended from the arm still alive in a metal cage with his arms tied behind his back and left to die. To torment him further, a penny loaf was suspended just out of reach of his mouth. His soft-hearted sweetheart came to him every day to feed him dribbles of milk through the cage, and so it took him many days of agony to die, his piercing shrieks forcing people within earshot to leave their homes until he was dead.

His gibbet was still standing in 1796 as old wives believed that if you pared a sliver of wood off it and pressed it into your mouth, it would cure toothache, and so just as Mills' body rotted away, so his gibbet was pared away.