|The site of the gibbet|
Now, the word “rogue” might have been invented for Henry Robert Whitley. Unfortunately for Whitley the word “loveable” was not anywhere near as appropriate. This fact was to lead to his death, and to the haunting of an otherwise utterly blameless stretch of road near Winchester.
Whitley lived in Winchester in the early 17th century, a period of history when the certainties of the Tudors was giving way to the upheavals of the Stuarts. Civil War was not far away. Political matters did not bother Henry Whitley. He was much more concerned with his neighbours’ property – and how he could get his hands on it.
Any citizen of Winchester who left his front door unlocked might find that something had gone missing by the time he got home. Anyone foolish enough to carry money in his purse was as likely as not to find it gone by the time he got to the shops. And there was rarely much doubt as to where it had gone. Whitley was usually around somewhere. Not that anyone wanted him around. He was not only lightfingered, but unpleasant with it. There was no charm to redeem him as a companion, no ready wit and no good looks. He was, to put it bluntly, a bad man.
But Whitley was not stupid and he rarely, if ever, got caught. The sense of frustration among the good folk of Winchester during the 1630s can be imagined.
Then, in 1637, Whitley made his fatal mistake. He got caught with stolen goods in his little cottage. Not only had he been seen near the scene of the crime, he had the pilfered goods in his possession. He was quickly hauled up in front of the Quarter Sessions and swiftly found guilty by his fellow citizens. The judge, knowing the man before him, reached for the black cap that signalled death.
In desperation, Whitley pleaded “Benefit of Clergy”. Although removed from the law books by 1637, the custom that clergymen should not be executed no matter what their crime was still followed. Imprisonment, flogging and branding was their punishment. The judge was, to say the least, surprised. He had no idea that Whitley had ever been ordained, nor did he want to waste time trying to find out. Instead the judge picked up a pocket edition of the Gospels and threw it across the court room to Whitley.
“Read it”, commanded the judge.
Whitley could not read, and stood there silent. The judge donned his black cap and pronounced the awful sentence of death.
Next day, Whitley was led from Winchester Gaol to his place of execution. He was hanged from the gibbet on top of North Hill, on the Andover Road. When dead, his body was taken down to be wrapped in chains and rehoisted. His rotting corpse swung in the wind for many days to warn all those approaching Winchester what the citizens would do to habitual criminals. Eventually the bones were taken down and thrown into a pauper’s grave.
Which was when the hauntings began.
The lone figure of Henry Robert Whitley was seen walking from the gaol out of the city and up to the gibbet on North Hill. Long after the gibbet was taken down, the phantom Whitley continued to retrace his last mortal journey on this earth. And he walks still.
from HAUNTED HAMPSHIRE by Rupert Matthews. Buy your copy HERE