The Story Of Winterís Gibbet  


1791 Margaret Crozier, an elderly widow, lived at the Raw, an ancient tower house, whose thick walls and narrow windows had provide shelter and security for many a family during the dark days when the dreaded sounds of raiding horsemen brought terror to young and old like. Those days were now long gone and the enemies were now the familiar ones of poverty and sickness.

But Margaret had much to be thankful for. She was in good health and although by no means wealthy, she made a comfortable living from a small shop she kept for the sale of drapery and other goods. She was a kindly soul, always willing to share with her neighbours and callers who might be less fortunate than herself. 

One day, two peddlers, Jane Clark, with her sister, Eleanor, visited her. After inviting them in and providing them with refreshment, the sisters produced an attractive array of domestic wares from out of their baskets from which Margaret made a number of purchases. 

Much impressed by their sales the sisters went on their way and, in the course of their wanderings, met up with one William Winter,

Winter was a villain. He appears to have been from gipsy stock and the whole of his family were well known for their criminal activities. Winterís father and brother had previously been hanged at Morpeth for theft.

Convicted of stealing in 1784, Winter was sentenced to a long term in the hulks on the Thames and had only recently been released. He had made his way back to his home ground in the North of England were he settled down, once again, to a life of crime. 

The three had much in common and, in the shelter of a sheepfold high up on the moors they looked down upon the Raw below, and the women told Winter of their visit to Margaret Crozierís home and of her thriving business and, no doubt, a goodly accumulation of wealth.  They made their simple plans and eagerly awaited nightfall.

On the night of 29th August 1791 they broke into Margaretís home.  No longer was it heavily defended as it had been in the days of the reivers, when to reach the only entrance on the upper floor, it was necessary to let down a ladder to gain entry, for, now, in the days of peace, there had been constructed a stone staircase, a flight of steps, giving easy access to the house. 

Margaretís body was found the next day by a neighbour. She had been savagely attacked and had severe head injuries. Winter and the two women where arrested and their guilt was soon established. The chief witness was a shepherd boy, Robert Hindmarsh, who had passed by the trio and noticed Winterís unusual footwear which corresponded with the imprints at the Raw.

On August 10th 1792 William Winter and the Clark sisters were executed at Westgate, Newcastle. It was directed that Winterís body be sent to Whiskershields Common, near Elsdon, and be hung in chains.

The bodies of the two women were dispatched to the surgeonís hall for dissection where, no doubt, the two women performed a useful service to the public even after death.

On the old drove road which today runs from Elsdon to Rothbury is Steng Cross, in ancient times a place of some importance meeting drove road from the north. Nearby, on the roadside, was erected a gibbet from which Winterís body was displayed for all to see. It was then the custom for a murderís body to be displayed near the scene of the crime.

Morbid sightseers soon lost interest when the stench became unbearable. Eventually the corpse was taken down and buried. It was replaced by a carved effigy of Winterís head. And so it is today, although heads tend to disappear and have to be replaced from time to time.

The boy, Robert Hindmarsh feared vengeance from the gipsy fraternity and left the region to live in Scotland.

After the murder the Raw was no longer inhabited. What remains is incorporated into the outbuildings of Raw Farm.

If you wish to visit the Raw you will find it at map reference 80 943 980.

If you are travelling along the A 696 from Newcastle to Carter Bar, Winterís gibbet requires but a short detour. Leave the main road taking the B6320 northeast to Otterburn, and then proceed to Elsdon. You will pass Winterís Gibbet on the way. 

If you decide to go on to the Raw it is only three miles along the Rothbury Road. The minor road is on the left.  

You will need to enter the area of the Ministry of Defence firing ranges, but you are unlikely encounter any problems if you follow the instructions at the entrance. 

If you need advice telephone the Range Control Officer. 

01830 520569/ 0191 239 4261

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