Commemorating William Jobling, the last man to be gibbeted in England

Many in the labour movement will be able to tell you about the Tolpuddle Martyrs. There is even an annual two-day event in Dorset to commemorate them and indeed the wider struggle of the labour movement. How many, I wonder, could mention the case of Will Jobling (commemorated left - Vince Rea with Jobling's gibbet at South Shields Museum), a miner from Jarrow who was gibbeted at about the same time as the men from Tolpuddle were being sent to Australia, or indeed of seven men from Jarrow who were likewise deported for their union activity?

Jobling is at last to be commemorated in Jarrow, the town in which he lived.

The BBC’s online coverage of the story is here.

The local Gazette’s coverage is here.

Debate has focused on such a commemoration for a long time. Indeed I myself waded into it 18 years ago. On February 14th 1989 the Shields Gazette gave me the entirety of their letters page and published the following letter and poem (in classical iambic pentameter) I had written in an evening and sent them along with accompanying notes (which I have since updated). I dug the paper clipping out this morning and retyped it:

From the Shields Gazette, 14/2/89

“In response to HRD’s letter of February 10, in which he opposes the erection of a memorial to Will Jobling, who was gibbeted back in the 1830s for a crime he did not commit, I’d be obliged if you could find space to publish the enclosed poem about Jobling and the Binding Strike of 1831. That way he might see why one is needed – it’s not so much a monument to Jobling, but a monument to the working class.”


A While ago, down Jarrow’s Slaughter Pit, (1)
Though nothing nowadays remains of it,
A hundred hardened miners set their sights
On such a thing as basic human rights,
And thinking if they only formed a band
Of honest, daring men, they’d make a stand
Against atrocities way down a mine
Whose seams ran deep beneath the River Tyne.

For many years, on Binding Day, they’d signed
A bond, which stated that they were inclined
To bide by all the owners’ rules and laws,
And frequently some new oppressive clause,
As in the Binding Strike of eighteen-ten,
When those who could not read nor work a pen
Had realised they’d work a longer day,
Wherein the keeker fixed the rate of pay; (2)
But miners found that strike to no avail
Once rotting in an episcopal jail. (3)

Again, above their heads the binding loomed
Like blackened clouds. Again the men felt domed
And shuddered at the all too chilling choice –
To work like rats or rise in common voice,
Defying all the threats the owners made:
The sackings and the burly bailiff raid,
The stays in jail, the tread mill and huge fines.
The miners wanted standards in the mines!
Take once! The owners thought the miners daft:
“Of all the nerve; a ventilation shaft?
Why, Humphrey Davy has discovered laws
Which prove that gas can’t pass through metal gauze.
In fact, he’s made for you a safety lamp
To help combat that treach’rous fire damp.”
To put their selfish theory to the test,
The owners of the gassy pits thought best,
The Davy’s debut should be Hebburn Pit. (4)
“Just think – the money we will save with it.
We’ll never need a ventilation shaft.
Why pay so high a price for just a draft?”

Enough! With courage born of facing death
And Tommy Hepburn’s all-inspiring breath, (5)
In eighteen-thirty-one, on Binding Day,
Some twenty-thousand miners made their way
To North Tyne Moor, to talk and reason how
To lead a peaceful strike, and make a vow
That in their struggle non would raise a hand;
That this would be a non-aggressive stand.
But those who owned the pits had other thoughts.
They sought to crush the strike in local courts.
They brought in yeomanry to guard the mines,
Evicted thousands crippled them with fines.
Then turned their furniture to firewood
And mocked as children died for want of food,
Because the Tommy Shops had stopped all sales.
They even tried to bring in scab from Wales,
But sighed to find the Welsh were just as proud
And obstinate as Tyneside’s silent crowd.

The strike of thirty-one is strewn with tales
Of hardened men who’d sooner rot in jails
Than sign a bond which bound them for a spell
Deep down inside the gaping wounds of hell.
If, friend, you’re e fired by these foul crimes, then read
Some more about a further ghastly deed.
n June, next year, two striking miners walked (6)
South Shields road. Halfway, they stopped and talked
With Fairless, sat astride his gallant steed. (7)
What Fairless said, the two had not agreed,
For Armstrong, with new courage found
Knocked Fairless from his horse and to the ground,
And left him there, eyes closed with gaping head.
The trembling miners, fearing Fairless dead,
Made off. Armstrong was never seen again,
But Jobling, never fearing mortal pain,
Returned to find that just before he died
The falling Fairless had in fact denied
That Jobling struck a blow. Instead his fault
Was that he had not helped prevent assault.

With Jobling seized, a trail began on August first.
The foreman of the Jury with a thirst (8)
For sweet revenge, within a hour saw fit (9)
That as a grim example to a pit
On strike, in days to come the man should swing.
Then, smiling, Justice Parke thought up a sting: (10)
To re-enact some medieval mode,
Just passed in some new legislative code,
They’d pitch and gibbet Jobling and, to make
Their case, exhibit him on Jarrow slake.

On August, third, before Will Jobling died,
Amidst his audience somebody cried
A last “farewell”, and turning to that well-
Acquainted voice, unlucky Jobling fell. (11)
Poor Jobling, now deprived of sacred ground,
And blackened in a metal gibbet, found
His empty shell was guarded night and day,
In case his comrades carried him away
With martyrs songs to keep alive the cause.
Weeks past and when no soldier dared to pause
By rotting Jobling, fearing some disease,
They left. One night, as silent as a breeze
Some came and stole the grizzly sight away,
And there ends Jobling’s tale unto this day.

That tale is only one that illustrates
The fury of the local magistrates
At their own inability to end
A costly strike, and consequently send
The miners back to work and thus restore
The status quo. But there again, there’s more!
Think of the seventeen that Parke had tried
Before the Jobling case, and three who cried
On hearing that they’d hang because they’d dared
To hit a scab! And those a jury spared – (12)
The “Seven Lads” they sent across the sea (13)
On jumped up charges of conspiracy!

At length, the hardened Jarrow men, who’d swore
They’d fight until the end, could take no more.
With sickness sweeping through their weakened rank
And file the saddened miners spirits sank
To lower depths. For want of warmth and food,
The men of Slaughter pit, who’d boldly stood
A long defiant year, began to yearn
For life’s necessities. The right to earn
A decent wage, to arbitrate their pay,
The right to choose the hours they worked each day,
In slaughter-free and ventilated seams,
Became the fragments of their shattered dreams
In August, eighteen-thirty-two, the cage
At Slaughter Pit once more began to gauge
The gaping wounds of hell. The strike was crushed.
Why, even Tommy Hepburn’s voice was hushed! (14)


1) Slaughter Pit was the name given to Jarrow Colliery after explosions in 1826 and 1830 claimed 79 lives.

2) The “keeker” fined miners for underweight corves (7.5 cwt baskets of coal). Pay was deducted if a corve was only 2lb underweight. Often the keeker purposely made them underweight as his own pay depended upon it. Hardly difficult to imagine why they were so unpopular and why many got their heads kicked in down a back alley at night.

3) The Bishop of Durham kindly loaned his stables to the authorities to accommodate the overspill of miners from prisons.

4) Davy’s safety lamp was first tested in Hebburn Colliery in January 1816. Capitalists, being the greedy bastards that they are, quickly found the lamp was a timely alternative to the cost of sinking expensive ventilation shafts.

5) Tommy Hepburn was a miners' leader. His non-violent policy prevented many miners attacking soldiers and consequently facing the death penalty.

6) Ralph Armstrong and Will Jobling

7) Fairles was a stern local magistrate. I’ve added an extra “s” to his name, not least to give me the extra syllable which helps with the rhyme structure.

8) The foreman of the jury was actually a colliery owner.

9) Jobling was found guilty within 15 minutes.

10) Justice Parke, presiding at Durham assizes. In his summing up he lambasted the unions as "Combinations which are alike injurious to the public interest and to the interests of those persons concerned in them...I trust that death will deter them following your example". The sentence was that Jobling be publicly executed and his body be then tarred and hung from a gibbet to be erected in Jarrow Slake, near the scene of the attack. The judge continued: "I trust that the sight of that will have some effect upon those, who are to a certain extent, your companions in guilt and your companions in these ‘illegal proceedings’ which have disgraced the county. May they take warning by your fate". Jobling was the last man gibbeted in England..

11) Legend has it that Armstrong himself shouted “farewell”. As Jobling turned, he dislodged the noose and died an agonising death.

12) Seventeen tried on strike-related charges, including two men and a woman who were hanged for assaulting a black-leg.

13) “The case of the Seven Lads of Jarrow” – seven young men who were sentenced to death for being union members. Their sentences were finally commuted to transportation to Australia.

14) With the strike crushed, Hepburn was blacklisted at every pit along the Tyne. To make a living he began selling tea, until coal owners threatened anyone buying from him with instant dismissal. He eventually secured work at Felling Colliery on condition he ceased all union activity. He is buried at the cemetery at Heworth (which The Swan public house backs on to- and where the SPGB’s NE Branch held meetings for 10 years).

William Jobling


prolerat said...

A poyet and ye knowyet

Anonymous said...

good stuff. something like this could be produced in pamphlet form and actually sold at events like the miners gala or even Tolpudle

Renegade Eye said...

Really good post.