Winter’s Gibbet

Winter’s Gibbet (also known as Elsdon Gibbet), and it situated  high up on moorland at the side of the road from Elsdon to Morpeth.

The History of Winter`s Gibbet

In 1792 William Winter broke into old Margaret Crozier’s home at Raw Pele Tower, just north of the medieval village of Elsdon, with sisters Jane and Eleanor Clark. Having previously kept an eye on her they  noticed that she rarely had any visitors so they could break in kill her and rob her without being disturbed. Her body wouldn’t be found for a few days at the earliest giving them plenty of time to cover their tracks and make their escape.

On a rainy windswept night Winter knocked on Margaret’s door begging her for shelter from the elements, the kind old lady hadn`t the heart to turn this poor soul away on such a wild night him inside. Winter saw the opportunity and attacked her, punching and kicking the defenceless old lady, fracturing her left temple before slitting her throat. He signalled to the sisters who entered the home and the three of them stole any valuables they could find.

Rather than make their escape they stayed in Elsdon and this was to prove their downfall, whilst sitting on a hillside eating fruit, a young sheppard spotted them and approached without being seen, he noticed the unusual knife Winter used to peel his apple and instantly recognised it as belonging to the recently murdered and still undiscovered Margaret Crozier. He also noticed the strange nail like markings on the soles of the murderers shoes. The sheppard notified the police and Winter and the sisters were quickly caught thanks mainly to the tracks left by Winter’s shoes in the soft mud after the heavy rainfall.

On the 10th August 1792 the three of them were executed at the Westgate in Newcastle. The bodies of the two sisters were given to a local surgery to be dissected. The body of William Winter was put inside a gibbet cage and left to rot for all to see on Whiskershields Common, 3 miles south of Elsdon. Birds fed upon has corpse, pecking out his eyeballs and gorging on his rotting flesh. Eventually all that was left was his bones. The bones would traditionally be buried at the spot of the gibbet but it’s believed that Winter’s bones were scattered and his skull was sent to a Mr Darnell in Newcastle.

Winter’s Gibbet as it stands now isn’t on the original site of the Gibbet, this replica was erected in around 1867 and was complete with a wooden body, the body was removed as people were using it for target practise and now just a stone head hangs from it. The stone at its foot is the base of a Saxon cross that marked the highest point of this ancient drove road, down which cattle were driven from Scotland to the English markets.

The Haunted History of Winter`s Gibbet

The ghost of William Winter is seen quite commonly at this site which is unusual since he lost his life in Newcastle and the Gibbet where he was hung up wasn’t at this spot, however he is said to be seen here, most commonly next to a cattle grid a short distance from the Gibbet.

The wild countryside that surrounds Winter`s Gibbet is also the haunt of “The Brown Man of the Moors”. An 18th-century tale tells of two young men who were hunting on this inhospitable moorland. After lunch, one of the men went to drink from a nearby stream, but on raising his head from the cool babbling waters, he was surprised to see a dwarf staring at him, “… his head covered with frizzled red hair, his countenance ferocious and his eyes glowing like those of a bull…”

The stocky little man began to scold the youth for hunting the creatures that he claimed were his subjects, and told him in no uncertain terms that he was trespassing on his land. The hunter apologised profusely, whereupon the apparition told him that he was the protector of all the creatures who dwelt upon the fell and it was his solemn duty to punish anyone who hurt them.

The dwarf invited the youth to come home and dine with him, informing him that he was a vegetarian. The youth accepted the invitation but suddenly his companion shouted to him, causing him to turn away for a brief second. When he looked back, the little man had disappeared. The two friends continued hunting, returning home laden with much game. The youth who had seen the apparition would, however, have done well to heed its warning for that very night he took ill, and within a few days he was dead.

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