Friday, March 07, 2008
2008 Friday fun 7
The Ghost of Gibbet Lane, Stourbridge
Gibbet Lane is a short cut between Stourbridge and Kinver and has been used for many centuries. Strange, creepy sounds are said to haunt the underbrush that lies on both sides of the lane. Trees creak and groan in the wind and the scurrying of night creatures also break the stillness. People have reported uneasy feelings. They feel like they are being followed by something sinister and strange that haunts the night.
In times gone by, the bones of cutpurses and murderers hung in chains along the road. Their mortal remains left hanging for months; a fatal warning to others contemplating a criminal career.
The gibbet post was driven into the ground at the exact spot where William Howe shot and robbed a wealthy local farmer, Benjamin Robins, on a winter’s night in 1812. It was market day in nearby Stourbridge. Mr Robbins was wearing a well-filled money-belt, having sold some sheep. He had celebrated the sale in the near by Nag’s Head hostelry, before setting off on foot to his farm in Dunsley.
The victim was a tough individual. After being robbed and left for dead, he managed to stagger home leaving a trail of blood in the snow. He lived for ten days before dying on 28th December. On his deathbed he gave a description of his attacker.
His brother was quick to react. He rode to Stourbridge and ordered one hundred “Wanted” posters. The crime caused such a sensation that the famous Bow Street Runners, Harry Adkins and Sam Taunton (ace detectives of their time), were brought in by the local magistrate in a determined effort to bring the robber to justice.
They interviewed many locals which paid the dividends. Thomas Bates reported that he had noticed a suspicious character lurking in bushes. He described a man wearing a tricorn hat, a dark riding coat and carrying a pair of pistols stuck into his belt. Others reported similar sightings.
The investigators followed the trail and discovered their quarry was a servant of the Marchioness of Downshire, by the name of William Howe. He had some instinct that the Bow Street Runners were on his trail as he packed his bags and left without giving notice.
But Mr Howe was finally apprehended at the Castle and Falcon pub in London. He was sent in irons to Stafford Gaol to await trail. When on trial, after a mere seven minutes the verdict of “guilty” was reached and the sentence of hanging by the neck until dead (and then being cut down and dissected and anatomised) was carried out within 48 hours.
However, when the verdict was announced, the attending Stourbridge magistrate immediately applied for the body to be released to them and hung in chains near the sport where the crime took place. Recent murders in Kidderminster, Bridgenorth and on Whittington Common resulted in the request being granted as a warning to others.
Vast crowds gathered to witness the arrival of the body and follow the procession. The body was suspended in chains “for the moral benefit of the local population.”
The corpse swayed in the breeze for many months and was little more than a skeleton when it was stolen at night by a local surgeon, who felt his profession had been cheated from using the body for medical advancement.
The legend of William Howe became widely circulated and sightings of the phantom started to occur regularly during the last century. Howe’s spirit has been reported to appear as a malicious figure which glides rather than walks. One witness, who claimed to have lashed out at the spectre in fright, says he stumbled back after his stick passed straight through the ghostly apparition.
Equally disturbing encounters with the spectral shade of William Howe continued to emerge regularly in the local press. The old tale was enlivened once more in 1908, when a skeleton with a rusty dagger protruding from its rib cage was discovered near the ‘old gibber tree.’ It is now speculated that William Howe is not the only lonely shadow haunting the old lane.
The most recent investigation into the Gibbet Lane phenomena took place in December 1975, when three paranormal researchers hailing from Dudley kept a four-night vigil in the vicinity of William Howe’s haunting. Bill Oddy, Kevin Stokes and Roy Banks took scientific equipment and spent the December nights searching for paranormal activity. In a summary of their findings, they explained how they heard eerie tapping sounds, shared the feeling of being followed or being invited to follow a presence, and witnessed a black, human form crossing the lane.
But the researchers concluded that, due to their lack of convincing evidence, the surrounding countryside around Gibbet Lane is at peace. Perhaps the spirits are finally at rest...
(Story courtesy of Charlotte Duckworth)