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Monday, 26 November 2012

The Headless Horseman

In the eastern area of the Linconshire Wolds is an old track that runs from the hamlets of Scamblesby to Farforth and Ruckland, along which the terrifying apparition of a headless horseman is reputed to gallop. Some years ago when I was researching the folklore of this picturesque part of the county I was told the origin of the phantom by a couple who had lived in the district for many years. The story is as follows. One morning some two hundred years ago a crowd assembled on Gallows Hill to watch the execution of a highwayman who had terrorised the district for some months. As the condemned man was taken by horse and cart to a makeshift gallows, an ominous rumble of thunder portended a mighty storm. As the hangman moved to place a noose around his neck, the first flash of lightning was succeeded instantly by a thunder clap so loud it took the entire assembly by surprise. All that is except the highway man who sized his chance. He slipped his bonds and leaped from the cart onto the back of a snowy white horse mounted by an officer of the law, who was easily dislodged. The highway man dug his heels into the flanks of the startled animal which flew at a gallop through the protesting crowd. But as he urged his mount onwards with greater speed, a solider drew his sword and aimed a glancing blow at the rider which cut his head clean from his body. The head rolled down the sloping road and landed with a splash in the waters of the ford below. The horse its whiteness now speckled with the riders dabbled blood, continued hell for leather, its grisly decapitated mount still in place feet in stirrups and hands clutching the reins. According to local legend on June 11th each year phantom horse and headless rider are still attempting the journey to this day.

Dog Or Demon?

Ghostly black dogs feature prominently in the folklore of Lincolnshire. There are over 75 Black Dog haunting`s recorded from the county, more than two thirds of them documented by the folklorist Ethel Rudkin in her 1938 paper on the subject. In parts of East Anglia black dogs are associated with disaster and death, but in Lincolnshire they are considered to be harmless even friendly creatures which warn against imminent danger, or guard lone travellers on bleak stretches of road. I myself once saw a Black Dog, but that as they say is another story. The one I am about to tell was told to me some years ago by an old man who claimed to have known the farm worker it concerned, but friendly would most certainly not have been the adjective used to describe the phantom hound he encountered.

The man was ploughing fields somewhere on the outskirts of the village of Hemswell (an area well known for its black dog haunting`s) when he uncovered the bones of a large animal. At first he thought it was merely the remains of a calf or a donkey, but on closer inspection he found that the creature`s skull had vicious looking canine teeth. Knowing his friends down at his local pub would be intrigued by his grisly find, he put the skull into a sack, threw it over his shoulder and set off for home. The swift darkness of a cold winter`s evening descended as he tramped along the lonely winding lane leading to his isolated cottage, but on reaching the halfway point of his journey, a gradual feeling of unease began to creep over him. Continually he found himself stopping and looking over his shoulder, but all he saw was the dark empty road flanked both sides by hedges and the twisted bare branches of tall trees. Just as he had convinced himself that his imagination was playing tricks, he heard the lumbering foot-falls and panting of some large animal fast approaching. Turning once again he saw bounding towards him the most enormous dog he had ever seen. Its coat was shaggy and black, its slavering mouth curled into a grin to reveal its lethal looking canine teeth and its baleful saucer eyes seemed to be lit from within the sockets like two red burning coals. With a scream of horror the man turned and ran, the ground shook as the dreadful creature gave chase and as it drew ever nearer, he could feel its hot acrid breath on the back of his neck. Knowing the thing would soon be upon him, he turned brandishing the only weapon he possessed. Holding the sack aloft, he brought it crashing down on to the head of the charging monster. The bag tore open shattering the skull into a thousand pieces, with that the hell hound gave an unearthly howl and vanished in a flash of green fire.

Not surprisingly the man became a laughing stock when he told of his terrifying encounter. However, his friends could not laugh off so easy the sudden change in his disposition. The farmer once noted for his easy going and gregarious nature became morose and reclusive. His nerves too had greatly suffered, the rumble of an approaching thunder storm had him visibly shaking and running for home. And the sight of a farm dog strolling the lanes on a winters afternoon has cost him more than one nights sleep.

Charms & Superstitions

The photo opposite is of a mummified cat which I keep at home on a table in a glass case. Now before you think me more than a little weird to own such a grisly item and display it in my home then allow me to explain. Prior to the late 18th century, it was common practice particularly in rural communities, to conceal lucky charms in newly constructed houses. When over the years many of these building were demolished or modernised, it was not unusual to find leather shoes, pins, and old fashioned tobacco- pipe heads, hidden in chimney stacks and wall cavities, put there for the purpose of protecting the house and its occupant from all manor of evil spirits. A more familiar version of this superstition is the nailing of horseshoes on the inside and outside of houses, as it was believed that the Devil would be repelled by the touch of cold iron.

Perhaps the most grotesque of these lucky charms are the great many mummified cats found immured in walls or attic spaces of many old houses throughout Britain. Folklorist suggest they were put there in the belief that the spirit of the dead animal would protect the house from vermin and possibly witchcraft.

The mummified cat in my possession was found in a wall above the fire place of a mid 18th century mud and stud cottage (walls made from mud and straw) during extensive renovations of the property in 1992. The cottage presently the family home is situated in a small village in the Lincolnshire wolds. Similarly there are cases on record of dogs who have died and then been buried within the house in the belief that their canine spirits would protect the occupants from evil spirits seeking to enter the building at night.

Both of these bizarre customs may possibly stem from the "Church Grim", the ancient practice of sacrificing an animal on the foundations of a new church so that its spirit would defend the building from devils and evil spirits: a pagan practice that lasted well into the Christian era.

There are to date over a hundred mummified cats on record, but the one in my possession, as far as I am aware is the only example in Lincolnshire. However, if any one knows of any others then I would be interested to know.

Haunted Trees

I took these photographs of a weird looking tree stump when out walking in woodlands last autumn. Not only did its strange configurations remind of the mask worn by the various killers in the scream movies, but it also reminded me of the once common superstition that certain tress had an attraction for evil spirits.

A letter dated 7th July 1606, gives an account of one such haunted tree at Brampton, near Gainsborough. The letter states:

"An ash-tree shaketh in body and boughs thereof, sighing and groaning like a man troubled in his sleep, as if it felt some sensible torment. Many have climbed to the top of it, who heard the groans more easily than they could below."

At length the Earl of Lincoln had one of the arms of the ash lopped off and a hole bored through the trunk. This caused the hollow voice from within to be heard more audibly than before, but in a kind of speech that nobody could understand.

The Suicide Tree

In Fishtoft near Boston, an ancient Hawthorn tree, once stood at a road junction leading to Tower Lane and Fishtoft church. Once a local land mark, the tree is mentioned in the Fishtoft Acre Books for 1662, 1733 , and 1733, and it was once shown on a map of the area. Those travelling the low road to Frieston in years gone by Knew the tree well, but sadly much of the folklore attached it is now lost to antiquity. However, in "The History and Antiquities of Boston" (1856) author Pishey Thompson claimed that the tree grew from the stake driven into the grave of a suicide buried at the crossroads, a memorial that was common centuries ago.

Thompson says: '' We have heard of the name of the particular female said to have been ignominiously interred here and many particulars respecting her, more than a century ago; but do not recollect them."

The Haunted Highway

Two friends of mine recently told me of their encounter on the road with what they could only describe as a "ghost". It happened on a clear frosty night in February 2003, when the couple were driving along the A1086 road to the village of Grasby to collect their daughter from her grandparents house. As they approached a turning leading to the village of Ownby a figure with its head bowed and "wearing a kind of tweed-patterned overcoat with the hood up "Stepped from the verge straight out in front of them. There was a screech of brakes and they could only watch helplessly as an imminent collision between car and hapless jay-walker was inevitable. The impact never came however, because the figure simply vanished into thin air. They stopped the car and got out to look but the road was empty and deserted. The couple have since found out that years earlier the body of a murder victim was found close to the spot where the apparition appeared.

My Friends` unnerving encounter has prompted me to recount the following purportedly true stories of paranormal happenings on some of Lincolnshire`s highways and byways. Starting with a haunting that took place in the 1950`s on the A16. near the hamlet of Walmsgate. Motorists travelling this stretch of road reported seeing a green glowing mist come out of an old sandstone pit, which then drifted across the road and disappeared onto fields on the other side. The place became known as "Green man Pit" because the mist, according to some was said to take the shape of a man. One night a driver travelling towards Walmsgate stopped his car when he saw a glowing green figure emerge from a copse and onto the road in front of him. The figure dashed towards the car and the terrified driver could only watch in disbelief as the apparition ran straight passed him and disappeared into the night. It is interesting to note that a Neolithic long barrow, the biggest in the county and said to be the grave of a dragon slain by a local knight in the 12th century, is situated just north of the road here. Such ancient sites have long been associated with paranormal activity. A more recent encounter with a phantom of the road occurred in June 2006, when two holiday makers from Leicester reported seeing an old man wearing "A Jacket, trousers and a cloth cap that looked to be from the turn of the century" riding an equally old fashioned looking bicycle along the middle of the Louth bypass. It happened in the afternoon between London Road and the A157 roundabout. They said the man was only a short distance in front of them but when they drove closer both cycle and cyclist vanished into thin air.

Sightings of the ubiquitous phantom coach and horses have become increasingly rarer since the advent of the motor car, but they are still occasionally reported. For example a lady driving along the A169 between Louth and Grimsby related her experience of this phenomenon to Jared Williams in the "Lincolnshire Life" of April 1985. She said: "I was driving down to Grimsby just as day was breaking. As I approached the village of Waithe I was surprised to see a horse-drawn cab ahead of me and going in the same direction. As it had no lights I thought I `d better over take and tell the driver. I did so. But when I looked in the driving mirror the road was empty. And there was no turning this cab could have taken."

Much has been written over the years about the ghostly Green Lady that haunts Thorpe Hall, a Tudor mansion situated near Louth. The ghost is said to be the shade of a beautiful Spanish noble woman who was taken prisoner after the battle of Cadiz in 1595 , by Sir John Bolle, the then owner of Thorpe Hall. It is said that during her captivity the lady fell in love with Sir John, and according to one dubious legend she killed herself when her love for him was unrequited. The fact she never visited Thorpe Hall (nor England) during her life time, has not stopped reports of her ghost dressed in green (giving rise to her being called the Green Lady) haunting the hall and its environs down through the centuries. The Reverend HJF Arnold, a former vicar of Wainfleet, had a most strange encounter with green lady ghost, because he claimed to have seen her on a road many miles from her usual haunting ground of Thorpe Hall. It happened on a rainy December evening in 1935, as the Revd was driving to Aisthorpe, near Lincoln. Suddenly in the glare of his headlamps he saw a woman step into the road in front of him: "Alarmed lest I should run into her I applied my brakes and stopped. I took my eyes off her for a second while getting into neatral gear and in that second she had disappeared. Revd Arnold was later convinced the woman he saw "dressed in green silk, a tight bodice and flowing skirt, with bare head, arms and neck, was none other than the Green Lady of Thorpe Hall. He based this assumption on a rather tenuous connection that a mansion belonging to a relative of Sir John Bolle had once stood at nearby Scampton.

Not all spectres of the road take human form. At "Double Tunnels" between Fulstow and North Thoresby it was said that " something used to role across the road and frighten horses". Nobody liked to drive there at night and many accidents occurred where the thing was seen.

More traditional road hauntings include the sounds of a ghostly horse and cart in Ings Lane Utterby, and in the same village a ghostly woman in a cloak has been seen running across the road in Pear Tree Lane. There are also a variety of headless ghosts including a headless bride who walks the lanes of Scremby at midnight, and the phantom coach of Ostlers Lane Maidenwell, with a driver who keeps his own severed head on a seat besides him. However, none of the above have been seen to my knowledge within living memory and I suspect they are folklore rather than actual phenomenon. Unless, of course you know different!

Phantom In The Fog. My own True Ghost Story

One of the most frequent questions I have been asked over the years is "have you ever seen a ghost?" to which I have to reply in all honesty '"No". Having said this however, allow me to tell you of my own encounter with something possibly supernatural in origin .
On a visit to Skegness some time ago, I met up with an old friend of mine who I hadn`t seen for quite a while. We got reminiscing about the past and during the course of our conversation we spoke of the strange incident of which I am about to tell.
Some twenty odd years ago I lived in a shoddy one-roomed bed sit on Skegness sea front. By contrast my Friend Chris lived on the very edge of the Gibraltar Point Nature Reserve, a beauty spot a few miles from the town.
Then as now I enjoyed going on long solitary walks in the countryside. But in those days it was one of the few ways of escaping the claustrophobia of my tiny bed sit, and the hoards of noisy holiday makers that crowded the streets and pubs of Skegness during the busy summer months.
One evening on one of my solitary outings, I found myself near the golf course to the south of the town, beyond it lay a long narrow unlit road leading to the Gibraltar Point Nature Reserve. It was starting to get dark and a thick mist was rolling in from the sea but without thinking of time or distance I decided to press on for the reserve. As I have already mentioned Chris lived on the very edge of the nature reserve and since I was heading that way I decided to call him from a nearby phone box to ask him if he would care to join me on my pointless meander. As luck would have it Chris was at home, he had nothing better to do so it was arranged that he would set off and meet up with me on the road roughly half way to the reserve.
I continued at a brisk pace, and soon the last of the street lights receded into the distance behind me, while ahead lay a dark narrow unlit road made less inviting by an ever worsening fog. After walking some distance, the fog became so bad that my visibility had decreased to only a few feet and I could not distinguish the road from the verge. Concerned by the obvious dangers posed by traffic, I started to regret undertaking such a pointless and increasingly hazardous journey, and I would have certainly turned back were it not for the knowledge that by now Chris was somewhere on the road up ahead. I stopped for a while to get my bearings, and it was then that I heard the unmistakable sound of heavy hoof-beats fast approaching. Who on earth was out riding a horse in this weather? I thought and as the galloping got nearer I felt the first intimations of fear.
I was on the narrowest section of the road, and I was sure the horse and its reckless rider would be unable to see me in the dense fog. So in my panic I stumbled blindly on to the verge, aware that each faltering step I took could send me tumbling into a barbed wire fence or worse, a deep water filled ditch. I stood motionless as the hoof-beats thundered passed, the sound was so close that despite the fog I could see where the horse should have been but there was nothing! As the galloping receded into the distance I resumed my journey feeling both puzzled and unnerved by the experience.
I pressed on till I almost collided with a figure in the fog walking in the opposite direction. It was Chris he was equally shaken, as he had just had exactly the same experience further up the road. But our conversation was interrupted when the ethereal sound of hoof beats returned. But this time the drumming of hoof-beats now seemed to be circling us at an impossible speed, getting louder and louder one moment and then fading into the distance the next. Not wishing to hang around a moment longer, we headed back to Chris` house as fast as the going would allow us.
Later we puzzled over the incident. We were in no doubt that we had both heard a horse in full gallop out there on the road, yet there was nothing to account for it. At length however, we decided that the fog had played tricks on our judgement of distance, and in time the incident was all but forgotten.
That is until some twelve years later when I was now living in Lincoln and working as a city tour guide. One afternoon I was swotting up on local history in the reference section of the public library, when by chance I came across a cutting from an unspecified publication, that provided one possible tantalising clue to the mystery. You can imagine my surprise when I read the following:

" A legend dating from the 1700`s has it that a farmer, returning to Gibraltar Point  from Skegness market, tried to take his horse on a short cut along the beach, but lost his way in the fog and was drowned at high tide. Since then it is said that the frenzied sounds of ghostly hoof-beats have been heard at Gibraltar Point on foggy nights."

The Irby Boggle

The Irby Boggle

On All Saint`s Day (November 1)1455, Rosamund Guy and Neville Randall, a young couple on the eve of their wedding went for a walk in Irby Dale Woods, a beauty spot some six miles west of Grimsby. When they failed to return a search was made but neither of them was ever seen again. Just what happened that evening is not known to this day, but it was widely suspected that after a terrible quarrel, the man murdered his fiancée and then fled the village never to be seen again. The girl`s father swore that unless he was brought to justice her ghost would haunt the Irby Dale Wood for five hundred years. It was once strongly believed that the apparition dressed in her white wedding dress walks the dale woods at night and it is said that many years after the couple vanished, workmen widening a gateway to the woods uncovered a woman`s skeleton beneath the shade of an ancient beach still baring Rosamund and Neville`s initials. Local people once shunned the area especially at night and it was said that whenever farm horses past the spot they would rear up in fear.

The following extract from a letter written by George Herbert Willerton, describes one possible encounter with the Dale Boggle: "A Mr J. Warwick who lived on a hill at Irby in the one storeyed house opposite our field, a retired policeman, told us he went to Skell Hill on the way to swallow on the beat. A rustling went past him. He said "Goodnight" but there was no reply. He acknowledged that he was a little scared. This was in the dark, of course and his hair stood on end. This is the story I remember him telling us boys."

Byards Leap

Byards Leap

According to folklore, these four horseshoes recall a prodigious leap made by a knight`s steed during a fight to the death with a malignant witch called Old Meg.

Now read the legend of Byards Leap

The hamlet of Byards Leap, near Sleaford, is situated along the busy B1209 to Cranwell and is best known for it’s RAF College. It is also the setting for one of Lincolnshire’s most enduring legends. Long ago when the area was a wild and desolate tract of land, there lived an evil witch known as Old Meg, who was the terror and scourge of both man and beast. At length a champion emerged who vowed to rid the district of her. In some versions he is a Cromwellion solider, in others a chivalrous knight, and in yet another he is the witches former lover, but whatever the hero’s guise the components of the tale are the same. The man had the pick of a dozen horses on which to ride to battle. Realizing that whichever mount he chose needed to be quick and alert, he devised a plan to test their reactions. While the horses drank at the village pond he tossed a large pebble into the water and noticed the quickest to react to the splash was a horse called Blind Byard. He took this as a good omen, because a blind horse would not be scared by the loathsome appearence of the witch. The hero mounted Bayard and, armed with a sword, he rode to Old Meg`s den and called out to her. In answer, a sepulchral voice replied mockingly:

I must suckle my cubs (children) I must buckle my shoes, and
Then I will be with you my Laddie.”

No sooner had these words been uttered than the door of the hovel burst open and the witch appeared. On her hands and feet, Old Meg wore razor sharp, Freddy Kruger-style claws. But before she could use them, the rider slashed down with his sword and sheered off her left breast. Howling in pain and anger, the witch sprang towards her assailant, digging her claws into Byard`s flanks. The horse reared up in pain and made an almighty leap of some 60 feet, dislodging the hideous hag, who fell headlong to the ground. Seizing his chance, the champion ran her through with his sword this time killing her outright. However, the death blow was so forceful that the blade passed clean through the witch and mortally wounded the gallant Byard. Old Meg was taken to the crossroads and buried in the time-honored fashion, with an iron stake hammered through her black heart. The man returned to the village a hero, and the grateful villagers set up a memorial to mark Byard`s prodigious leap.

The impression where his hooves struck the ground are marked by a set of four horseshoes set in concrete. They can be found by the side of the Leadenham to Sleaford road.

The Werewolf of Gedney Dyke.

Few mythical creatures in the pantheon of world wide folklore have as much enduring popularity as the werewolf. Since the time of the ancient Greek’s stories of savage half-wolf-half-human creatures have persisted and even in today’s ultra technological age it is still possible to find vestiges of this ancient superstition in the more remote regions of France and Eastern Europe. The word “werewolf” is old Anglo-Saxon for man-wolf. In the folklore of medieval England these bestial creatures were closely associated with witchcraft and black magic. It was generally believed in these times that witches possessed the knowledge to prepare ointments which when rubbed on the skin enabled them to take the shape of wolves. Thus transformed they would then roam the countryside killing animals and any unfortunate human who crossed their path.

There are countless stories of werewolves in the folklore of France, Spain, and Eastern Europe, but in Britain the werewolf is a comparatively rare beast. This is possibly because wolves have been extinct in these isles for hundreds of years and consequently many dark tales associated with them have been lost to antiquity. However, in certain parts of Britain the werewolf legend faintly lingers. For example in Lincolnshire, as recently as the late 19th century, in a village near Northorpe, it was said that an old lame man reputed to be a wizard, was seen to change into a vicious canine creature and attack his neighbour’s cattle.

More sinister perhaps is the following tale of werewolfism in the county related by my friend and fellow student of folklore Christopher Gask.
In the 18th century, in the village of Gedney Dyke, an old woman acquired the reputation of a witch, as in the case of many old women who lived alone in remote, sparsely populated areas. At that time rumour usurped reason and it was said that she had the evil eye. Consequently her house was shunned by the locals. In a village nearby a youth named John Culpepper had developed a crush on a local girl called Rose Taylor who spurned his advances, as his reputation was that of the village idiot this was perhaps not surprising. The final straw was reached at a local fair when Rose publicly ridiculed him. He had heard stories of Old Mother Nightshade of Gedney, and though she was reputed to harm anyone foolish enough to venture near her dwelling, even those who unwisely sought supernatural council with her, Culpepper went to see her any way; well he wasn’t known as the village idiot for nothing!

The hapless half-wit duly arrived at the infamous cottage, and surprisingly was received by a cheerful old woman who appeared to be hurt and bemused by her undeserved ostracism, although she did admit to having “certain powers” Emboldened by this reception, john poured out his tale of rejection. The old woman listened thoughtfully then she said, “Young man, I will help you, but you must do what I say.” She handed him a wrapped box which he was to present to Rose on her birthday and after he was to return to the old woman for further instruction. Seven days later the girl of his thwarted dreams found an additional parcel amongst her presents; a box containing a selection of sweetmeats which she ate and thoroughly enjoyed. That evening John set out for the old woman’s house convinced that soon all would make sense and vengeance would be his. Once more she received him like a long- lost son and kept him talking long into the night. Just when he was beginning to think that she had forgotten why he was here, she said: “Now I shall reveal the secret of your revenge, but you must let me do it in my own way and not question what I do, however odd.” John agreed to this, by this time he would have agreed to anything, and at her bidding sat back and closed his eyes. When he reopened them he was firmly tied to the chair with the old woman standing over him. “You poor weak fool.” she croaked “did you really think I would help a worthless simpleton like you? Those sweets you gave to the girl were just sweets and nothing more, but now I have a present for you.” As she said these words her wrinkled visage began to twitch and shudder horribly, this spread throughout her entire frail frame, and before the boy’s incredulous eyes a macabre metamorphosis was taking place; limbs miraculously stretched and altered shape. Her extremities too were changing, fingers and toes elongating, her nose extended into a snout and thick fur grew over her wrinkled skin. Finally, the transformation from biped to quadruped was complete and before John’s disbelieving eyes stood a huge grey wolf. The beast pounced and the screams and inhuman growls that ensued could be heard in the village, but no one had the nerve to investigate until day light when a large party set out.

Outside Old Mother Nightshade’s dwelling were a series of giant paw prints heading away from the cottage. Within were the mangled remains and assorted viscera of what had once been John Culpepper. The parson was summoned but refused to confirm that this was the result of witchcraft. The frightened villagers then took matters into their own hands and put the accursed home of Mother Nightshade to the torch. When the conflagration subsided not a trace of the building or its gruesome contents remained.
Today, some 250 years later, there are still those in Gedney Dyke who claim that the howl of a wolf can be heard on the moonlit nights.

Scawby Hall: The Laughing Coachman.

According to tradition, one dark and stormy night, a coach and horses raced along the road between Scawby and Broughton. The reckless coachman, who had been freely partaking of the ale at the village inn, cracked his whip laughing and shouting as he urged the horses to a frenzied gallop.Through the furious night they raced, then suddenly they swung away from the road, dashed across the fields, and, with a resounding splash, coach, horses, and coachman disappeared beneath the water of the pond in the grounds of Scawby Hall.”

And on certain nights, it is said, people passing along that road have heard the sound of spectral hoof-beats, the crack of a whip and the maniacal laughter of the drunken coachman

Saturday, 17 November 2012

The Gibbeting of John Keal


An act of 1752 ordered that the bodies of executed criminals had either to be handed over to surgeons for dissection of “hung in irons”. The latter involved the construction of an elaborate metal cage in which the body, having first been coated in pitch to prevent early decomposition, was publicly displayed, usually at a cross- roads or roadside close to the scène of the crime. The grisly spectacle of some local miscreant hanging by the roadside, with birds pecking at sightless eyes, was meant to serve as a powerful deterrent to those tempted by a life of crime. However, this macabre practice, formally referred to as “hanging in chains”, had been an unofficial form of punishment in Britain for hundreds of years prior to the act. Evidence of gibbets have long since disappeared from our highways and byways, but in some locations it is still possible to find evidence pertaining to this grisly practice. At Normanby by Spital, a tree still standing by the roadside was said to have been used to gibbet dead criminals. When a post was erected for this grisly purpose at a farm still known today as “Gibbet Post Farm” the irons from the tree are said to have been taken down and used in the construction of the nearby Pillford Bridge.

The earliest known case of gibbeting in the county happened to a woodcutter named John Keel in March 1731. Keal, from Bardney Dairies, near Lincoln, lived in a farm cottage in the Wolds village of Mucton, near Louth. A widower with five children, he eventually remarried Mary Aldgate from Swaby and had three more children with her.
Keal was a drunk with a quick temper and one evening, during a violent row with his wife, accused her of adultery with a neighbour whom he also suspected of being the father of their youngest child. She denied the accusations but in a murderous rage, Keal snatched the infant from its cradle and with a furzebill-a hooked hatchet-chopped off its head. He then attacked his wife with the same weapon fatally stabbing her in the breast and throat. Keal was imprisoned for six months in Lincoln castle, and then brought before Lord Baron Page at the Lent Assizes on Tuesday, 7th March, 1731. A contemporary pamphlet (see below) records his sentencing and subsequent execution:
“… the judge pronounced sentence that he should be gibbeted alive, with the intent to strike terror into the hardened soul of the prisoner, yet the laws of England allow of no such death therefore, on the above morning (Saturday, 18th March, 1731) he was taken from Lincoln in a light cart, and the gibbet irons with him, and with very little ceremony hanged upon a gibbet -post by the neck until he was dead, when being cut down he was put into irons, again hung up, between earth and heaven, food for every devouring bird of prey. He said nothing at the place of execution, but appeared with a wild and ghastly insensibility, terrible to behold.”
The pamphlet gives the location of the gibbet as Hoffam (Haugham) Walk, at the cross-roads between Mucton Burwell and Louth. However, there have been conflicting stories over the years as to its precise location. N V Gagen in “Hanged at Lincoln 1716 to 1961” points out that “Haugham Walk” has not been identified although early maps show the walk to be east of Tathwell.
Some have claimed that the gibbet stood at “Broad Spot” in Louth, near the Keddington crossing, while others claimed its location was at the junction of the Legbourne and Kenwick Roads. Credence was given to this by the Louth enclosure and award plan of 1805, which refers to a private road here known as “gibbet road” running from Legbourne road corner to Linden Walk.
The post from Keal`s gibbet was used for a time in the stables of the House of Correction in Louth. When theses premises were demolished, the governor had the posts turned into various souvenirs and mementos and the gibbet cage can still be seen on display in Louth Museum.
For many years after his execution, it was said that Keals`s ghost haunted the place where the gibbet once stood. Such stories were possibly inspired by the following darkly amusing tale recorded by Meg Wynne in “Ghosts and Legends of Louth”
One Saturday night, three of Keal`s` friends gathered in the White Horse pub, in Louth:
“While eating some hot supper, one said, “What about taking some for old Kealy?” They drew lots as to who should take it and the loser staggered off, clutching a bowl of hot soup. When he reached the gibbet, he held it up and said, “Ere ya be Kealy, ave brought a bit of ot supper” and placing it down on the grass, he retired into the hedge bottom for forty winks. When he awoke he saw that the food was untouched, so he shouted, “Why aint ya etten it it?” and to his horror a gruff voice replied “It’s too ot” His nerve failed him and he threw the bowl of food into the air and fled for his life back to town. What he didn’t know was that his pals had sneaked along after him to see the fun and came in at the right moment.

The gibbet tree at Gibbet Post Farm, Normanby by Spital

(Left) A page from the battered pamphlet recording the sentencing and subsequent execution of the murderer John Keal (courtesy of Lincoln Central Library)