Tag Archives: murder

Murderer strung up for 67 years. It’s not enough !!!

Scrooby is a country village in the north of the county of Nottinghamshire.

Just to the north of the village, a toll-house used to exist on what was then called “The Great North Road”.

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On July 3rd 1779, it was the scene of two truly horrendous and violent murders.

In this largely rural and peaceful community, the tolls were always collected by Scrooby’s toll-bar keeper, William Yeadon. On the date of the slayings, William Yeadon, was being visited by his middle aged mother, Mary Yeadon. This particular evening, he had been playing cards with John Spencer, a man from the village of North Leverton with Habblesthorpe.  After the Yeadons had gone to bed, however, Spencer returned to the toll-house in the early morning and attempted to steal the money that had been collected as tolls the previous day. Gaining re-admittance to the building under a pretence that a drove of cattle wished to pass that way, Spencer then tried to carry off the strongbox under the cover of darkness, but unfortunately for everyone concerned he made far too much noise. Later it was thought that he had carelessly rattled the coins in the old wooden box too loudly. Mary and William were made immediately aware of what Spencer was trying to do, but the latter reacted with extreme violence…

“In a most barbarous manner he fractured their skulls by repeated blows with a heavy hedge stake.”

Spencer seized the money and then made the best of his opportunity to ransack the house. The murderer was interrupted by travellers as he dragged one of the bodies across the road to dispose of it in the nearby River Ryton. He was arrested shortly thereafter by a search party, but managed to escape. After he was apprehended for a second time, Spencer was taken to Nottingham and put on trial soon afterwards at the Shire Hall in High Pavement.
There was, of course, only one possible outcome, and Spencer was duly found guilty, taken on foot up to Gallows Hill and hanged on July 16th 1779.

3716238That was not the end of it though, as the rest of his sentence was that Spencer be taken to the scene of his crime in Scrooby, and

“to have his body hung in chains with the hedge stake in his right hand… near the place where the awful deed was perpetrated, on the gibbet post, near the Scrooby Toll-Bar”.

This was after his corpse had been liberally smeared with pitch and tar.

H in chains

These gruesome steps were taken “in accordance with the express words of his sentence”. More horror was to follow however, as I discovered as I sat on evening flicking through my back copies of “The Armagh Guardian” newspaper. In the June 9th 1846 edition I found an interesting account which was itself quoting the “Doncaster Chronicle”…

“After the lapse of a few weeks, a party of soldiers conveyed a deserter passing by the place, the sergeant fired his carbine, loaded with ball, at the corpse, and hit it, which caused a stench, almost unbearable for several days afterwards. The circumstances becoming known, the party was followed, and the sergeant taken, and on being subsequently tried by Court-martial he was found guilty and degraded on the ranks. Years rolled on, and the body gradually became less and less, until nothing was left but the chains which originally shackled it, and these in course of time fell and were secretly conveyed away. For several late years the post, with its withered and weather-beaten arm, was the only vestige left of that deed of blood which sixty-seven years ago filled the minds of the inhabitants of the surrounding districts with horror. But Time, which levels all terrestrial objects with his corroding breath, had for years past been gradually gnarling this once loathing stump to its core, and on the 15th of April 1846 actually accomplished his task, and it fell to rise no more.”

On the other hand, what is reputed to be the upright of the ancient Scrooby gibbet is currently preserved in Doncaster Museum.

Not surprisingly, after the murderer’s decaying body had been left dangling for so many years…

“the creaking cage and bleaching bones occasioned the haunting of the place by either disturbed spirits, or morbid sight-seers”

The hill, in Spencer’s honour, still keeps its name of “Gibbet Hill”. Nearby is the modern “Gibbet Hill Lane”. Nowadays, of course, Spencer’s rotting bones have been replaced by an owl sanctuary and a garden centre. What may conceivably have been the original toll-house, the scene of this dastardly crime, is still visible on the A638 leading north from the village, just before its junction with the green road.

map with gibbet hill

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Murder most foul: Chapter Two

A second episode of blood soaked murder in the history of the old Free School was published in a series of “Reminiscences”  in the High School Magazine in December 1929. They came from Mr John Braithwaite, of Bournemouth, who, at the time, was thought to be the School’s oldest Old Boy….

“Schooldays, 1857-1862″

“I went to the old Grammar School in Stoney Street about Midsummer,1857, and left at Midsummer, 1862. The Rev. W. Butler was Headmaster.”

“The old building was very unsuitable, dull and cheerless. The upper school consisted of one large room and one small classroom. There were no cloakrooms or conveniences of any kind, and the sanitary arrangements in the small playground were most primitive.”

free school

“The whole building sadly wanted painting, but no money was spent; the reason given was that the Trustees were saving up to have enough money to build a new school.”

“We began work at 8 o’clock and finished at 5 o’clock, or later, with two hours’ break at midday. In winter we had to use candles… “long eights” I think they were called. One candle was allowed between two boys, and lighting them was the signal for all sorts of play. We amused ourselves by blowing the candles out and in again, making a nasty smelling smoke.”

gallows

“About the autumn of 1859, a man was sentenced to death in the Nottinghamshire Courts for a murder in the northern part of the county.

Our headmaster, the Rev.W.Butler, as Chaplain of the County Gaol, was required to read the burial Service at the execution, which was fixed for 8 o’clock one morning at the County Gaol in the High Pavement.”

The main building on High Pavement, which dates from 1770, is quite imposing. The Normans were the first to use this site, appointing a Sheriff to preserve law and order in Nottingham, and to collect taxes. The oldest written  mention of law courts comes in 1375.

DCIM100MEDIA

The cells are below street level. They date back to at least 1449.

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The scaffold used to be erected on the steps in front of the brown columns. There are special square holes cut in the stone steps to hold the wooden beams. They are still there to this day.

hanging-at-shire-hallThe dead hangees were buried in unconsecrated ground around the back of the building, their feet disrespectfully pointing towards Jerusalem.

Yard at Shire Hall with headston

“As usual we were at our desks at 8 o’clock on that particular morning, but the headmaster was absent. We all knew where he was, and each of us was thinking of him and visualising the dreadful scene which was being enacted only a short distance away. Back in school, the Deputy Master read prayers, and we waited, silent and awed. Presently the door was burst open, and poor Mr.Butler, with face white and drawn, stumbled in and staggered to his seat, almost spent. After resting awhile he stood up and said, “Boys, I have just come from….” and then he broke down. After recovering himself, he began again, and then he preached us a more impressive sermon than I have heard from any pulpit. As no one was in the mood for lessons we were sent home for the day…”

3716238The hanged man was one John Fenton, a blacksmith and publican, executed at the age of thirty-seven for the murder of Charles Spencer at Walkeringham on March 6th 1860. This was a public execution, held on the front steps of what is now the Shire Hall in High Pavement.

The crowd, however, was a lot smaller than expected. This was because, even though it was fourteen years previously, the last public hanging in Nottingham had resulted in the crushing to death of seventeen people, almost all of them children.

Given this blood soaked past, it is no surprise to find that the Galleries of Justice have a plethora of ghosts. On some wet Tuesday afternoons, there can sometimes be as many ghosts as living tourists. Here is a selection of the ghosts I saw on my own visit…

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Wooooooooooooo………………………………

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Murder most foul: Chapter One

Strangely enough, the theme of murder runs bright scarlet through the early history of the High School. First, came George Somers, who was the Headmaster for an unknown period of time between, probably 1530, and , hopefully, not long after Friday, July 15th 1532.

Eighteen years earlier, in more probably April, but perhaps in early May, 1514, the Free School’s main benefactress, Dame Agnes had died.

a mell

She left much of her property to the school and was buried alongside her husband in St.Mary’s Church, Nottingham.

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Within a few short years of Dame Agnes’ death, however, her high standards of morality were more or less forgotten. Money frequently went missing and both the Headmasters and the school wardens neglected their duties. A number of teachers appeared in court on various charges, which varied from failing to maintain the church windows to the theft of pupils’ books.

In perhaps January of 1532, the Headmaster, George Somers, was accused of stealing a featherbed, a long pillow, two short pillows, a green and red quilt, a covering and a pair of sheets to the value of 46s 8d. (£2.33p in modern money. Oh for a time machine!)  Somers also owed twelve pence for the hire of the same bed. For what purpose has not been recorded. But you can probably guess…..

IMG_4607 bed

On Friday, July 15th of the same year, in a much more dramatic episode, George Somers, was now accused of murder. The Records tell how.

“…We indict the School Master of wilful murder.”

The incident had taken place almost a month earlier, on June 17th, and Somers had supposedly assaulted John Langton, Chaplain of Nottingham,

“by violence and weapons, namely a stick and daggers, of malice aforethought, and… had feloniously killed and wilfully murdered the same John, against the peace of our Lord the King.”

fox in the snow cvgbh

Unfortunately, the outcome of these events remains completely unknown, although it is devoutly to be wished that, if convicted, Somers did not keep his post as Headmaster of the school.

Hopefully too, this woodcut does not show Somers’ eventual fate. Notice the moment when the Mexican Wave was invented. Presumably it must be some  Tudor oik losing his focus during the thirty seconds while the rope is put on.

tudor hang

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