Red Hill: Suburb of Death
With Guy Fawkes fireworks still in full swing, I was reminded of a little-known site in a quiet corner of my home town of Worcester that will be forever associated with the Gunpowder Plot.
At the edge of an upmarket housing development in an area called Red Hill, is this little patch of green that features a curious mound topped with an old beech tree. Looking across at it is a wooden crucifix station. This mound was actually the main execution site for Worcestershire, a gallows until the turn of the century but before that the sad site of some much more gruesome fates.
Humphrey Lyttleton was one of the Gunpowder Gang, if not one of the core plotters, and when he was arrested for harbouring Robert Wintour after the raid at Holbeche House he immediately blabbed to the authorities that a Catholic priest was hiding in his house. This was despite Lyttleton having just received mass from him! Our priest was “Blessed” Edward Oldcorne and as he was unwilling to renounce his faith he was put under terrible torture including the rack and having his arms dislocated from the ceiling. Faithful to the end, Oldcorne was sentenced to be hung, drawn and quartered along with Lyttleton and another man. So Humphrey's betrayal of Edward had done him no good at all.
The sentence was duly carried out at Red Hill with the three men dragged on hide sleds along London Road up to Red Hill, hung to unconsciousness, then sliced and gutted until the final decapitation. The axeman did his job so "well" that Oldcorne's eyeball flew out with the force of the blow and today it is kept preserved as a holy relic. He was by no means the last Catholic martyr to be killed so gruesomely at Red Hill though, as Saint John Wall endured the same fate in 1679. This is now his solemn shrine with a crucifix station marking the site, and I believe this is what prevents the green being the location for a fireworks display in a rather black celebration of the Gunpowder Plot being defused.
The link between Worcester and the Gunpowder Plot doesn't end at Red Hill though, as while the raid on the gang's hideout at Holbeche House was carried out by the Sheriff of Worcestershire, the man who actually shot Catesby and Wintour down was a resident of the city itself.
During the 18th and 19th centuries Red Hill served as a gallows, ending the lives of everyone from notorious murderers to an 83 year old man convicted of "stealing clothes". That tree on the mound is at least a couple of centuries old, what tales it could tell!
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Red Hill with its mound still very visible
Shrine to Saint John Wall, Catholic martyr hung, drawn and quartered here
“Blessed” Edward Oldcorne
Edward Oldcorne‘s eyebalo, preserved in a glass and silver case