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JUDGE JEFFREYS
THE HANGING JUDGE

 

George Jeffreys, 1st Baron Jeffreys of Wem

James II appointed Judge Jeffreys to try the rebels, and he was so brutal that he became known as the hanging judge. The trials were held at several places but the main centre was Taunton where the rebel army had assembled. Jeffreys sentenced 200 to hanging and another 800 to transportation to the West Indies. Monmouth himself was beheaded on Tower Hill in London on 15 July.

The sound of running feet and horses’ hooves is regularly heard at Westzoyland. Supposedly, a farm lad with a reputation as a runner was made to race a horse for his life from a standing start. The boy is said to have won the race over a short distance but was hanged anyway. This sounds rather mythical and might be a much older story modernized at the time. A Celtic goddess is supposed to have raced a horse and won.

At Moyles Court at Ellingham in Hampshire, a 70 year old dowager was accused of hiding two fugitives from Sedgemoor, and Jeffreys condemned her despite her age. Her sentence was to be burned to death, suggesting that Jeffreys took her to be a witch. In fact, the sentence was commuted to beheading and she is now one of the many headless ghosts of Britain.

Frome was associated with the Orange Rebellion because the Duke of Monmouth is said to have stayed at a house in Cork Street now called Monmouth House. And locals found guilty by Jeffreys passing through Frome for his “bloody assizes” were supposed to have been hung, drawn and quartered at Gore Hedge, just past the top of what is now Bath Street, but then was Rook Lane. There might be some doubt about this name, however, since a “gore” is an ancient name for a triangular field.
Judge Jeffreys attended many of the hangings in person, and his ghost is said to haunt several west country locations as well as his own home at Walton on Thames. He used to dine and drink at the Prospect of Whitby public house at Wapping in London. This old pub famously has staging over the river and is still a pleasant place to sit in summer, but Jeffreys liked to watch the executions of criminals across the river at “Execution Dock.” Condemned pirates were hung over the river at low tide, and were not cut down until they had been washed by three tides. This is reminiscent of the ancient fertility ritual of the Jack in the Green, who was paraded in a decorated basket before being lowered into a river or lake on May Day.

Several towns had gallows trees for the victims including Croscombe in Devon. Twelve People were hung at Lyme Regis where Jeffreys dined in the Great House in Broad Street, a spot still troubled by his ghost even though the original house is long gone. He is said also to haunt a house in Lydford in Devon and a house in the centre of Dorchester. It is said that the sound of choking men rather than the ghost of the Judge is heard in some places. People have reported the sound of horrific gasping on quiet nights in Bath Street and the approaches to Gore Hedge in Frome.

James carried on with his plans to turn Britain back to Catholicism, but the rich Whigs still had William of Orange waiting in Holland. With much more money and provisions, William succeeded where Monmouth had earlier failed, landing on 5 November 1688 AD at Torbay. John Churchill, the future Duke of Marlborough and ancestor of Winston, deserted to the rebels and this time it was James who fled. William and Mary were made rulers in February 1689, but the Whigs made sure that Parliament, not the king had control of the army and the judges, and that the king had no right to suspend or dispense with Parliament’s laws. Furthermore, Parliament controlled the exchequer. The Whigs became monarchists when the monarch had to be a Whig.
At the Revolution in 1688, he was nearly lynched by a London mob and took refuge in the Tower, where he died of kidney disease .


 
 
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