Nether Stowey

A little way outside the village, on the Crowcombe road, is a wooded bank called Walford’s Gibbet, in reference to a murderer’s fate in 1789. Historical records show that Walford, a young charcoal burner, killed a wife to whom he had not been long married; local tradition, as recorded in the twentieth century, supplies a background story. It is said that he was engaged to one girl, but entered into sexual relations with another – the half-witted daughter of an older charcoal burner – who used to hang around his hut in the woods and make herself available to him. In due course she became pregnant, and her father and the parish overseer forced him to marry her, much against his will. This led to quarrels, violence, and eventual tragedy; on the night of 5 July 1789, as both were returning home drunk from the inn at Nether Stowey, Walford strangled his idiot wife and hid her body in a ditch (now called Dead Woman’s Ditch). The crime was soon discovered, and he was condemned to be hanged at the scene of his crime, and his body then gibbeted there. The gibbet remained there till the early nineteenth century, when it is said to have been sawn in half and used as a pair of gateposts; the name was then transferred to one of the nearby trees. Some people still say they hear the gibbet’s iron chains rattling on windy nights, or smell rotting flesh – for the remains of Walford’s body were buried on the spot. His ghost, and that of his murdered wife, are said to haunt the area.



Haunted England : The Penguin Book of Ghosts – Written by Jennifer Westwood and Jacqueline Simpson
Copyright © Jennifer Westwood and Jacqueline Simpson 2005, 2008