Where were the gallows in Hanging Wood?
It’s such an atmospheric name; you’d think there would be loads of investigations into it, but I’m drawing quite a blank here. I’ve checked out all my books, maps etc. dealing with Charlton, but no one really talks about it except to talk about it in terms of what’s left of it; which in London terms, is quite a lot really.
The best I can do is Darrell Spurgeon’s highly enjoyable Discover Greenwich and Charlton, from which I’ve drawn this rather wobbly (and probably very inaccurate) map of more or less where the Hanging Wood would have been (the 1746 map above is borrowed from the excellent Ideal Homes website.)
It would have included all manner of different terrain – from what we call Gilbert’s Pits – an old sand mine I’ll talk about another day, Maryon and Maryon-Wilson Parks, plus other sections now subsumed into suburbia.
So where Hanging Wood was isn’t really a problem. But my mystery emailer didn’t ask me that. He (I’m pretty sure it was a ‘he’) asked where the gallows would have been. I have never seen this issue addressed. If there were gallows anywhere, there seems to be no record of it now.
One thing the place wasnotorious for, though was highwaymen and footpads. In 1661 Samuel Pepys wrote about seeing the “filthy remains” of a man hanging on a gibbet at Shooters Hill; perhaps there was a set of gallows at Hanging Wood too, to deter would-be robbers. There was certainly no shortage of gibbets around town - Greenwich pensioners used to make a few coppers hiring out telescopes to park visitors so they could peer at the grisly remains of crow-eaten pirate carcasses from Execution Dock being ‘exhibited’ at Bugsby’s Hole on the Peninsula.
Of course, this always assumes that ’Hanging’ is of the ‘from the neck until you are dead’ variety. It could just be that the woods, being situated at the top of a precipice, the land falling steeply down to the river, ‘hang’ from the ‘cliffs’ that form Charlton’s backbone. Who can tell…
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