“Random encounters with the unusual” is a repository for the oddities that me and Mrs J have encountered on our travels, which we find interesting or amusing in some way. Have a look, maybe you will find something interesting or amusing herein.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

A Grisly Place to Hang Out

On the Test Way footpath near the villages of Coombe and Inkpen in Berkshire, a gibbet can be seen sitting high on the hillside overlooking the surrounding countryside. The gibbet is known locally as Coombe Gibbet and it sits atop Inkpen hill - to be pedantic it actually sits upon a Bronze Age long barrow on the summit of the hill. The original gibbet was apparently erected in this very prominent location in 1676 to display the bodies of two convicted murderers, in an attempt to dissuade other people from committing such crimes.

The murderers in question were a pair of lovers known as George Broomham and Dorothy Newman. It is said that Broomham was married with a son and that Newman was a widow when the pair commenced an illicit relationship. Accounts vary, but it seems that as this illicit relationship progressed Broomham and Newman had cause to murder Broomham’s wife and son. This was probably because divorce in the 17th century was practically impossible, as it required a private Act of Parliament, so bumping off your unwanted wife was by far the more practical option. They committed this crime near the location of the gibbet, and unluckily for them, they were witnessed in the act.

During a trial at Winchester Assizes in February 1676, both Broomham and Newman were convicted of these murders and were sentenced to be publicly hanged. This execution took place in Winchester on 3rd March 1676. Following this hanging, the pair’s bodies were transported to the purpose built gibbet for public display, and their bodies were hung on the 6th March 1676.

The gibbet that stands today is not the original gibbet, but is believed to be the 7th gibbet to stand in this location and was erected in 1992. Previous gibbets erected in 1676, 1850, 1949, 1950, 1970 & 1979 seemed to have fallen prey to either the elements or persons of a vandalous nature.

The gibbet is not the only place of interest in the area, slightly further east along the Test Way footpath is Walbury Hill, which at 297 metres above sea level, is the highest point in South East England. Walbury Hill was once home to the Iron Age hill fort known as Walbury Camp, which was initially constructed circa 600 BC. At its peak the defensive earthworks of Walbury Camp would have protected an area of 80 acres, and the camp would have remained in use until the Roman era.

So if you ever walk the Test Way, be sure to look out for these two interesting features.

Coombe Gibbet visible in the distance.
The gibbet, sited on the long barrow at the summit of Inkpen Hill.
The gibbet.
Looking north from the gibbet into Berkshire.
Looking east from the gibbet towards Walbury Hill.

Pictures: Berkshire (January 2015).

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