Saturday, 10 March 2012


    William Winter was born in the North East of England, his family were Gypsy’s and hardened criminals, both he, his father and his brother were in and out of prison for a variety of crimes.

     In 1784 William was sentenced to 7 years aboard the Thames prison hulks for stealing an ass and on the 6th August 1788 his father John and brother Robert were both hanged at Newcastle having been found guilty of breaking and entering.

Thames prison hulk

    Winter was released on 14th August 1791 and he quickly made his way back to the North East.
    In the last 18 years of Winters life he had spent only 6 months a free man. 
    On his return he fell in with two sisters by the name of Jane and Eleanor Clark, the Clark’s were an unfortunate family, their father Walter had been hanged along with a Margaret Dunn also on 14th August 1791 for breaking and entering.

    The Clark sister’s association with Winter was to be a short and brutal one. On the night of 29th August 1791 the trio found themselves at Raw Pele, a very old stone house a few miles north of the village of Elsdon in Northumberland. 
    The house belonged to Margaret Crozier and it is alleged that Winter had been watching her and noticed she had few visitors, on that rain swept windy night he knocked on the door and begged the old lady to give him shelter.

    As soon as he entered he attacked her, punching and kicking the poor old woman, causing a fracture of her right temple, it is alleged that her throat was cut but she was most likely strangled. 
    While this murder was taking place the Clark sisters were busy ransacking the house, stealing everything they could carry.

    Soon they were off into the night, however, they hadn’t got far by morning and they were seen by a local boy called Robert Hindmarsh. He recognised the objects they were carrying having belonged to Margaret Crozier and that Winters boots had an odd pattern of nails in the soul.

    Hindmarsh tipped off the authorities and Winter’s unusual boot marks were found in and around the house.  All three were arrested in Newcastle, they were held in Newcastle’s Newgate prison and condemned to death on the strength of Hindmarsh’s testimony. 
    On the 10th August 1792 William Winter, Jane Clark and Eleanor Clark were executed at Westgate, Newcastle.
 Newgate prison, Newcastle.

    The hangman was William Gardener another criminal who had been sentenced to death for sheep stealing but had his sentence reduced to transportation for agreeing to be the executioner.
    The Clark sister’s bodies were handed over to Surgeon’s Hall for dissection while Winters corpse was to be hung in chains on Whiskershield’s common (steng cross) a few miles south of Elsdon.

    Robert Hindmarsh fled the Elsdon area fearing reprisals from the Gypsy community. 
    He returned in 1803 and died aged just 22. 
    Margaret Crozier’s house was never lived in again and it became a farm storage building.

    The gibbet we see today was erected in 1867 when the original had decayed and vanished, its wood was said to cure toothache when rubbed on the offending tooth!
     It is a lonely and bleak place even today, on the approach road Winters gibbet can be seen from a long way off with it’s grotesque wooden head dangling from it….a haunting and chilling reminder of days gone by.
    The song "The Ballad of William Winter" can be found on the album "Tales from the Jago" by Gladstone, available on download here; Tales from the Jago.


  1. If you like what you have read then please share it with your friends......thanks.

  2. I've just encountered this story. Can you give me the source please? I have a little note that it is in Richardson's Table Book of Remarkable Occurrences but I am not sure of the detail.

    1. It was taken from online sources that I can't honestly remember, some of the facts came from newspaper accounts I found in the British Newspaper Archive (an online resource I lose days in!).