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Shadows of the Gibbet

Peter's Stone is a very distinctive rock formation that stands along a valley in the Derbyshire Peak District. Familiar to anyone driving along the A623 between Sheffield and Manchester, it is a popular destination for walkers but has a very dark history attached to it.

A tollhouse once stood along the main road, opposite to the Three Stags Heads Inn (you may remember my post showing their mummified cat), occupied solely by a widow called Hannah Oliver who collected the toll charge from merchants travelling the road. One cold January night in 1815 a young man from the nearby village of Litton named Anthony Lingard decided to break into the tollhouse and steal what he could. He would have regarded this as a soft target, being “manned” by a solitary and aging woman as it was, but the robbery went awry when Hannah awoke and launched a spirited defence. She made for the window to scream for help but Lingard pounced, strangling her to death. As well as the tollhouse takings Lingard stole Hannah's brand new pair of red shoes, something that would lead to his reckoning.

With little feelings for what he had done Lingard went straight to his pregnant girlfriend Rebecca, offering her the money and the shoes to say that somebody else was the father of the child. News of the murder had spread with the red shoes being mentioned constantly, so Rebecca rebuffed his offer with Lingard arguing that he had bought the shoes from a travelling packhorse trader. She reported him soon after and he was arrested, going for trial six weeks later. As far as the jury was concerned this was an open and shut case and after pronouncing him guilty, Judge John Bailey sentenced Anthony Lingard to death. He was hanged at Derby on the 28th of March, but there was to be something rather different planned for him even after death.

Judge Bailey decided to revive the old practise of gibbeting, where a felon's corpse was coated with tar and displayed in an iron cage at some prominent place as a warning to others, and he suggested Peter's Stone as the best place to gibbet Lingard. At great expense to the city of Derby a new gibbet was constructed and Lingard was duly carried to Peter's Stone by wagon, whereupon the grisly display was set up. Far from making passers-by shudder, the gibbet quickly became something of a tourist attraction with hordes of curious visitors flocking to the dale to see the macabre spectacle, and stalls were even set up selling pies, ale and even animal bones as souvenirs! Lingard's tattered remains stayed there swinging in the breeze for the next few years – and there was worse to come.

With the caged skeleton still hanging in full view from Peter's Stone, two teenaged girls walked along the dale, stopping just a hundred feet away from it. They sat down to share a cake that Hannah Bocking had made for them, but as her friend Jane Grant munched away, Hannah watched her without eating. The cake was laced with arsenic and young Hannah wanted Jane to die for getting a job over her. When arrested and tried Hannah fully admitted her guilt and, at the age of 16 was sentenced to death by hanging. This was duly carried out but unlike Lingard she was given over for dissection by the Royal College. And there were further twists.

Hannah Oliver the tollhouse keeper had a sister who also inhabited a tollhouse in Yorkshire. She was murdered for her money too – incredibly, on the same night as her sister! Anthony Lingard also had a younger brother who went on to become a highway robber – caught, sentenced, and hanged too? No, on a rare “good day”, the judge sentenced him to transportation to Australia, from where he never returned.

With the commotion of the visitors and stallholders, drunken tomfoolery and general noise, the justices decided to take the gibbet down almost four years after Lingard's suspension at Peter's Stone, a sigh of relief breathed by the new tollhouse keepers who complained of the night-time creaking and clanking as the gibbet swayed in the wind. It is said that these sounds are still heard years later, the clinking of chains and the rattling of Anthony Lingard's bones funneling clearly along the valley....listen carefully if you're walking along there...

If you enjoyed this post, you may like my book The Mystery of Mercia available to order here:

STAY TUNED - The Mystery of Mercia II will soon be available to order as well.

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