The Weirdness of Worcester
Walking around the southern part of my home town of Worcester, it's amazing how much history and local folklore still lives on in the landscape today. Just walking a straight line through the residential Red Hill area one can see the echoes of ancient druids, the Gunpowder Plot and the Civil War.
Whittington Tump, or Crookbarrow Hill as it is sometimes known, is a Worcester enigma. What is it? The lone oak tree is a welcome sight for tired local travellers driving back home up the M5, sitting atop this mini Silbury Hill as a permanent landmark. The mound appears to be a natural formation but was probably altered during the ancient British and later Roman eras. Hubert Leicester, in his “Worcester Remembered” book, wrote “the hill at Whittington near Worcester has the reputation of being a druidical altar...”, and it is easy to see why this is a distinct possibility. Flint arrowheads and later Roman coins have been found in the adjoining fields. The strangely regular mound shape has a long gentle slope along it's east face which encourages access, and an old annual tradition was the Crookbarrow Fair, where hundreds of locals would walk up and gather for games and dancing. Perhaps one day an archaeological study might reveal something, but as long as I or any of my family can remember the Tump has been an eternal mystery.
The view from the summit is excellent, and looking across at Bredon Hill, then turning and seeing the Malverns behind you, it is easy to see why this would have been a summit for a beacon fire. The whole area of Red Hill was used as a base of operations for Oliver Cromwell's army in the build up for the Battle of Worcester, the summit of Whittington Tump no doubt affording a perfect viewpoint. On the night before the battle Charles II himself led some of his best cavalrymen in what should have been a lightning nighttime attack on this camp, with the objective of killing Cromwell, but this early example of a special forces operation was thwarted when a traitor sneaked out of the city and warned the Roundhead leader.
Walking back towards the city and looking to your left just past the National College for the Blind, a new upmarket housing development has a curious “village green” at it's centre. This was the actual Red Hill and the possible reason for it's name – this was a busy place of execution. A mound with a hawthorn tree and a distinct semi circular dip in the ground still bear witness to the shape of the gallows and stage here as it was quite a large setup. John Wintour was one of the Gunpowder Plot gang, and together with his associate Humphrey Littleton was hung, drawn and quartered right here in 1606. The same gruesome end was also meted out to Jesuit priest Blessed Edward Oldcorne and his assistant Ralph Astley on the same day for having vague associations with Wintour. Oldcorne's eye was said to have popped out and travelled some distance with the force of the final decapitation and together with the rope alleged to use to hang him is kept as a relic today. Another priest, John Wall, was martyred on the hill by the same method in 1679.
Red Hill continued to be used as a gallows for a long time after hanging, drawing and quartering was banned, and here is just one example of a typical day's work. William MacAuley and Anthony Craddock were hanged in June 1751. MacAuley, drunk, had stabbed and killed a man in Worcester after arguing with him over a space on a bench in a local tavern. One moment of madness that led to tragedy and perhaps a just end for MacAuley depending on your views...but in contrast old Craddock was hanged for stealing a saddle. Hundreds gathered this day to witness the double execution and ironically dozens complained that they had been pickpocketed while watching!
The last men that I can find record of being hanged at Red Hill, before public executions were moved nearer to the city gaol, are Patrick Jordan and Thomas Brady in 1806 – for highway robbery.
The landscape of Worcester, no matter how small in it's scale, still holds it's tales of the past.
Whittington Tump - otherwise known as Crookbarrow Hill
Memorial to the martyred priests at Red Hill, now a place of catholic pilgrimage
The old execution site at Red Hill, you can see the mound to the right and the dip around it
The execution mound at Red Hill to the right, with the circular ditch around it