Route details, maps, pubs, features, local history and folklore for a wide variety of walks focusing primarily on Norfolk and Suffolk

Thursday, 22 December 2011

A Spooky Suffolk Walk to Potsford Gibbet

Potsford Gibbet

A 6.5 mile circular walk around Wickham Market in Suffolk to take in the spooky sights of Potsford Gibbet

Jonah Snell was reputedly the last man to be 'hung in chains' at Potsford Gibbet in 1699 as decreed by the cracked plaque that is affixed to the decaying post which is all that remains of the gibbet. His ghost is said to haunt the area and the hill up to the location of the Gibbet is still locally known as Dragarse Hill after he was dragged by his arse up the hill to the gibbet for his part in the grizzly murders carried out at Letheringham Mill.

Wickham Market to Potsford Gibbet Walk - Essential Information

Walk Statistics:

Start point
Wickham MarketView in OS Map | View in Google Map
End Point
Potsford GibbetView in OS Map | View in Google Map
Total Walk distance
6.5 miles
Walk difficulty
Easy
Obstacles
There is approx 400 metres of road walking along the B1078 where there is no pavement. Caution is advised.

Transport:

First Group - Bus Service
Service Number
64 - First Group 64 service connects Ipswich, Woodbridge, Wickham Market, Saxmundhamm, Leiston and Aldeburgh. Unfortunately this was made into a 2 hourly service from August 2015
Timetable

Walk Data

Date of Walk
2011-12-17
Walk Time
10:30 to 14:00
Walkers
Griffmonster, Kat
Weather Conditions
A very cold winters day, some sun and blue sky but generally overcast

Walk Notes

I had planned to do this walk ever since the summer when I first read about the story of Jonah Snell, the last man to 'hang in chains' at Potsford Gibbet. This had to be a winters walk as the mileage was low which would reflect the lack of light in the day. Also, the previous day had seen a lot of torrential rain which had left the ground pretty much waterlogged and this walk used mainly tracks and country lanes which would be less boggy. Unfortunately I got the wrong mill where the tragic deed was done, which is Letheringham Mill rather than Glevering Mill which we walked by. Not that it would really matter as the current Letheringham Mill was built in the 1800s which is well over 100 years after the murder took place. I can only assume there must have been a mill on this site prior to this date. Nevermind, that can be included in another walk along the Deben valley!

We really did not know what to expect to see at the site of the Gibbet. I had somewhat expected to see nothing so it was a welcome surprise on finding the decaying post with a small plaque attached to it. There is nothing to doubt that this was the original post and it seems somewhat macabre that us 21st century ramblers come along just to curiously witness the structure. Even so, you could easily imagine way back in 1699 the townsfolk dragging old Jonah up to this spot where they strung the man up in chains as an example of what would happen to anyone who dared to contemplate such a heinous deed as murder. We didn't see any ghostly figures and the only sound was of birds and the crack of rifles from a nearby game shoot.

The story of Jonah Snell has been researched for the main feature of this walk although little information can be gained from historic online resources. Since this walk was first published in 2011 numerous other websites and publications have added the story to their pages although nothing new has been found or revealed.

Pettistree is a peculiar little village. After taking a couple of photos of the clock on the Clock House the lady of the house came out calling us back from down the road. I returned to confront her, half expecting a remonstration about taking photos of her property but after declaring my intentions she was happy to show us the clock from closer view. She was very informative, saying the the building had originally been stables and a lot of stables originally had clock towers. When it was converted into a house the clock was retained and the large pendulum that hung from the clock is still in position, now hanging down the back of one of the bedrooms. The clock is rarely used these days as the noise generated by its mechanism keeps guests awake at night. She also related that the village is peculiar in the fact that it had three large estate houses, two pubs, a green and very little else.

Glevering Mill
Glevering Mill

Directions

The route uses country lanes and tracks around to provide an anti-clockwise circuit around Wickham Market

Take the main road northwards out of Wickham Market. Continue past the Mill and a little way up the road there is a track with a bridleway marker on the left. Keep to the track, past Gallows Hill and onto the road. Turn left on the road and follow this through to a junction. Turn left and walk down to Glevering Bridge, a little hump back bridge. Immediately after the bridge turn right and follow the lane through to the road. Turn right and follow the road up the hill. This can be fairly busy but the distance to the entrance to Potsford Wood on the right is not far. Beyond the entrance is the section of road known as Dragarse Hill. The track down the side of the wood has the Potsford Gibbet as it bends to the right.

Continue along the track beyond the woods and through open fields. Keep straight ahead avoiding other footpath markers until it joins a bend in a road at California. Continue straight ahead to the junction. Turn left and follow the lane through to Pettistree. Keep straight ahead at the village green until the Greyhound pub is reached. Turn left and head into the adjoining churchyard. Follow the footpath across the churchyard , then across a couple of fields, over the road and across another field. Turn left at the end of the field, along a track. Keep to this, over a road and down to another road. Keep straight ahead and take the first footpath on the left which leads up to All Saints Church in Wickham Market. Continue onto the road, turn right and this complete the walk.

Potsford GibbetDragarse Hill
On the left Potsford Gibbet; On the right Dragarse Hill

Pubs

The Greyhound, Pettistree, Pettistree View in OS Map | View in Google Map

Image of pub
Address
The Street, Pettistree
Website

This timber framed grade II listed building is thought to date from later medieval or Tudor times when it was a thatched Guildhall. The building has an unusual rear which appears to have been built on the churchyard wall. Records show that this was a pub in 1820 when the Smith family lived in the building and were also the village carpenters and coffin-makers.

Today the pub is a friendly community pub offering high quality food made from fresh local produce and a selection of ales. The pub is reputedly haunted by a friendly ghost.

Review

This was a delightful and friendly pub where both barstaff and customers took an interest in our little walk. Woodfordes Wherry and Nethergate Growler were both on tap but we decided to go for the Earl Soham Victoria Bitter. A refreshing hoppy light bitter from down the road at Earl Soham that has a lingering and satisfying taste. This was accompanied by a lunchtime snack of Turkey and Stuffing sandwiches with Cranberry Sauce and a little salad which was pretty special to say the least. Well recommended pub.

Pettistree Clock HousePettistree
On the left Pettistree Clock House; On the right Pettistree

Features

Potsford GibbetView in OS Map | View in Google Map

The remains of a medieval gibbet located in Potsford Wood between Wickham Market and Charsfield.

First we must understand exactly what a gibbet is as the term is often confused with the gallows, an apparatus used for executing criminals by means of hanging. Though similar in structure, a gibbet was used to hang the already dead bodies of executed criminals to deter others from committing similar crimes. This practice, often termed 'hanging in chains' or 'gibbeting, entailed placing the body in a metal cage or chains then hanging it from the top arm of the gibbet. The body was then left, sometimes until the clothes had rotted or even until the bodies were almost completely decomposed, after which the bones would be scattered or buried. Gibbeting was most often used for traitors, murderers, highwaymen, pirates, and sheep stealers and was a common law punishment which a judge could impose in addition to execution. This practice was regularised in England by the Murder Act 1752, which empowered judges to impose this for murder. Up until the start of the 17th century what is known as live gibbeting also took place, this involved placing the criminal in chains and then letting them slowly die of thirst as they hung on the gibbet.

Now this has been explained, we can relate the story of Jonah Snell, the last person to hang on the Potsford Gibbet in the year of 1699. It is locally said that Snell was a journeyman, that is to say he had completed his apprenticeship and was fully educated in his trade yet he was not a master. At the time he was in the employ of John Bullard, the miller at Letheringham Mill. No-one knows exactly what happened or indeed why, but the story relates that John Bullard was doing his accounts alongside his son when Snell walked in and slew both of them with an axe. For reasons unknown, he then took their bodies and hanged them upside down to a beam in the mill. Snell was found soon after, the axe still in his hand, and accused of the murderous deed. Some say he protested his innocence but it would appear the general consensus of opinion was that he was guilty and he was eventually executed at Wickham Market six weeks later. This would have most likely occurred at the site known as Gallows Hill after which his dead body would have been taken to the gibbet at Potsford. This does appear to be in agreement with what is reputedly recorded in The Annals of Wickham Market which states that the Gibbet at Potsford Gibbet/Gallows Hill said to have last been used 1699, and also the parish registers which record that John Bullard and Sons: tenants of Letheringham Mill, murdered 1698/99 by Jonas Snell (journeyman) who was hanged at Wickham Market 1699.

However, local legend states that his accusers bodily dragged him up the hill to Potsford Gibbet and that the hill has ever since been known as Dragarse Hill. A lot of the reiterated tales imply or readily state that he was then hanged and left to die on the gibbet. This does not ring true with the definition of what a gibbet was used for, certainly at the time of the event, and does not agree with the scant evidence of the event. The story does present a bit of a conundrum though, as to have dragged him up the hill, which is now the road to Charsfield, it is logical that they must have approached from Letheringham which is the opposite direction from Wickham Market. This does appear as if the story has evolved over the centuries and now has the murderer being dragged without trial from the from the place of the crime straight to the place of execution, which does not agree with records. Therefore we either have to conclude that he was dragged from Wickham, which although is a gradient, it certainly not as much of a hill as coming from the other direction, or the folk dragging him there took a roundabout route. It is probably something that will never be known and Dragarse hill will just remain as folklore.

After being strung up in chains on the gibbet it be presumed that his decaying remains would have been scattered in the general area. Local people attest that once upon a time, at the foot of the post was a boulder which was said to scream when kicked and this may have been the marker of Jonah Snell's burial. Chris Halton of Haunted Earth has stated that [Snell's] remains were left in chains until the year 1740 whereby they were taken down and finally buried nearby although there is no reference as to where this information was discovered. The August 2013 edition of Woodbridge Talk publication also records this same date for the body being buried without any reference.

This same publication also provides an unreferenced story about the skeletal remains that were still hanging on the gibbet:

... James Gall, described as a “freethinker and rationalist” passed the gibbet on his way to work and was said to have remarked: “Aha, old fellow, it would be a strange thing if thou were to come down from there.” On his return, at dusk, he passed the gibbet again and was shocked to see that the skeleton and its chains had vanished. Hurrying home, he was said to have heard a faint rattling behind him, growing louder and lower, until he broke into a run, arriving exhausted and breathless at his home, a rationalist no longer.

Even now there are folk who claim that strange lights can be seen up in the woods by the gibbet where Jonah Snells ghost is said to haunt. The lights lure passing motorists to investigate, who are then given the fright of their life as a ghostly figure in hooded cowl and a grimacing, hollow-eyed skull greets them. By day, ramblers intrigued by the post are said to turn around only to be confronted by the same ghostly figure. Some even say you can hear a fearsome choking groan but that is probably their misunderstanding of the difference between a gibbet and gallows.

Letherington Mill was rebuilt in the 19th century but is still said to still be haunted by the ghost of John Bullard. The 1874 publication The History, Gazetteer and Directory of Suffolk does record that near the watermill in Letheringham, several skeletons were found in 1842, in the millers garden, and six more were found in November 1873 in a grave pit on Mr Crisps Farm, only two feet under the ground.

Local band Cottonwood perform a song of the tale of Jonah Snell called 'Potsford Wood'

References

PettistreeView in OS Map | View in Google Map

A small Suffolk village just south of Wickham Market.

An intriguing story of how the village came about the name of Pettistree tells us that during Saxon times people worshipped by a tree sacred to Odin. When Christianity arrived with the Romans, the first churches to be built were dedicated to St Peter and St Paul, the patron Saints of Rome and were placed close to the sacred sites of the old religion. Thus this district became known as Peters Tree, or Pettistree.

At the time of the Norman conquest along with King Harold, the Lord of the Manor was a man who went by the name of Edric the Grim, which, you must admit is a great name.

Interesting buildings include the Clock House, now a residential dwelling converted in in the 1950's from a 19th century stable block and coach house to Pettistree Lodge. The building has a cupola with bell and clock which still retains its pendulum hanging down the back wall to one of the bedrooms. There is also a mock dovecote.

Home Farm, which dates from the 16th century, has a listed dovecote standing in the adjacent meadow. This unusual rubble flint and rendered brick with structure dates from the 19th century..

References
The rather delightful looking Deben Mill in Wickham Market
The rather delightful looking Deben Mill in Wickham Market

Images

Below are a selection of images taken from from the photo album for this walk. Feel free to browse through these or click on any image to view a larger version in the Gallery.

Click on an image below to view the Image Gallery

Maps

Below is the route depicted on the OpenStreetMap, Ordnance Survey Map and Google Map. Links to full page versions are found in the Essential Information

Summary of Document Changes

Last Updated: ... 2016-02-06

2013-02-15 : Add in cautions following the reader comment about B1078. Updated photo gallery.
2013-04-10 : resolve broken links
2016-02-06 : add in references to Potsford Gibbet and update with new information

  2 comments:

  1. This route is for adults only as B1078 is dangerous fast road and really should not be used for walking

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for your constructive comment. I agree that this road, although only a minor road, can be busy at times and there is no pavement along this section which is a distance of just under 400 meters. Caution should be taken at all times when navigating along such sections, walking facing the oncoming traffic as per the guidance issued by the Highway Code (https://www.gov.uk/rules-pedestrians-1-to-35/general-guidance-1-to-6).

      Can I also stress that all these walks are purely personal accounts and, although I encourage readers to walk these routes, I leave it up to their judgement as to the suitability of the walk for their age and skill. However I will take on board your comment and seek to add in specific warnings about any obstacles and areas where caution should be taken.

      Delete

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