John Walford

There are many different versions of the gruesome Quantock story of the charcoal burner, John Walford who murdered his wife and left her body in ‘Dead Woman’s Ditch’. After the murder trial Walford was executed and his body was left hanging in a cage till it rotted, as a dreadful warning for others. The place is still called Walford’s Gibbet.

In this conversation two locals are deciding if they are brave enough to look at the gibbet and the cage for themselves! It is written in Somerset dialect.

The Tale of the Charcoal Burner

  • Jack

    Bill, come on I dare ee, les go ave a look.

  • Tom

    Dus mean the cage, Jack, dus mean John Walford’s cage?

  • Jack

    Aye tis still thur, swingin in the breeze, clatterin of the bones, flappin of is old cloathes. E’en the black crows casn’t get inside.

  • Tom

    Ee wer a poor soul Walford, didna deserve that fate. Ee wer a charcoal burner wernt ee, a collier they says?

  • Jack

    Ee burned branches in the woods to make charcoal. Started when ee wer nine wiv is fayther.

  • Tom

    Ee wer same age as we be now then Jack.

  • Jack

    Aye, theym lived in a truckle hut made o branches n turf. Slep thur all week, waked up every two ours to tend the fire. Charcoal as to burn slow for five days s’know.

  • Tom

    John grew strong as an ox they says, yet all they ate was bread n cheese – a half peck loaf n two pounds o cheese – all week.

  • Jack

    They’m cum ome Sat’day night for a hot meal n a warsh. John ad clean cloathes for Sunday church, e wer a likeable lad.

  • Tom

    Ow cum ee’s a blowin in the wind then?

  • Jack

    Well, when ee wer growed up a bit, ee got lonely an a bit fruity. Jane Shorney wer a soft maid an her took to goin to is hut in the dark. Well course soon er ad a bun in the oven, an John wer took to Court cos Stowey Parish didna want to ave to feed n cloathe a bastard. John’s Ma sed she’d pay for the child.

  • Tom

    Whas happened to John then?

  • Jack

    Well, John ee did fancy Ann Rice, she wer from a good family, lived at Adscombe Mill. Er soon ad a bun in the oven too. Er parents sent er away to be a housemaid.

  • Tom

    Whas happened to Jane?

  • Jack

    Er came sniffin round again, joined John in is hut. Can thee guess what happened next?

  • Tom

    Whas ee goin to do now, John Walford, now there’s another babby?

  • Jack

    Well, er ad to marry Jane, no Ma to elp im this time, so they was marrid on June 18th 1789, save im from goin to gaol. But twernt a good marriage, Jane did bide at er Ma’s most times.One night er came to the cottage where er n John lived at Bincombe, n er says er wants some cider. So John gived er a shillin n they sets off for The Castle of Comfort Inn, cross fields n dark lanes. Well, they ad a argument – maybe twere about Ann Rice n the babby, but ee thumps er – strong as an ox ee wer. Then ee hits er wiv a fence post, dragged out of hedge near The Counting House. Ee wer goin to trundle er body down the copper mine, but er wer too heavy wiv the babby an all. So ee cuts er froat. There wer blood all over n! Idiot then takes the shillin from er pocket n goes ome.

  • Tom

    What a fool. Why didn er think?

  • Jack

    Well, course they soon found n out an put im to gaol in Bridgwater. Twere a terrible gaol, one room, no windows, no pee pots. Well, they found im guilty o course an to make a example of im, they wer goin to string im up an leave is body in a cage for all to see, an warn em of doin murderin things. Ann Rice came to see n as the cart wiv John in wer climbin the Hill from Dodington. John wer shackled up, but they let im talk to er a long whiles, er adnt ad the babby yet. Then ee says “I’m ready.” An they takes im away to do the dirty deed. T’was Thursday August 20th 1789. Ee’d bin marrid a two month.

  • Tom

    Les go see then Jack. Les go see the cage.

(Specially written for the Quantoxyclopedia by Judy Fursland)