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Friday, 29 January 2016

The Gibbet Frame

The old gibbet on Gallows Hill in Shropshire had a long and eventful life before executions were moved to the county town of Shrewsbury. Famed executions that met their end on the old gibbet included murderers, arsonists, poachers and even witches. The gibbet’s most famous victim was Salton Paxton, an unchristian person (it is not appropriate to describe him as a gentleman) who incorporated the bones of his victims in the walls of his hall. These were only found after his death, when the hall was being renovated. The hall has since fallen into ruin.

The old gibbet was dismantled, and only the stone blocks that made up the foundation remain, slowly weathering over time.

The timber that made up the gibbet was considered unlucky by the Shropshire residents, and left to rot. However, small pieces of the timber were taken by a witch, Luella Cawford and fashioned into a crude picture frame. Luella was eventually caught, tried and put to death by pressing. After her execution, the magistrates returned to her cottage to dispose of Luella’s possessions. They found the cottage completely bare. No one knows what became of her possessions.


1 Luella cursed her enemies with her gibbet frame. She drew or painted a likeness of the object of her enmity (a person or place) and placed it within the frame. From then on, corruption and foulness would befall the individual or location. If a person, they would suffer terrible accidents, or a wasting disease, or a became the victim of a brutal crime: they rarely lived for long. If Luella was cursing a place, then it suffered from infestations of vermin, vandalism, burglary and worse.

As the curse takes effect, the picture foretells reality. If the picture was of a person and the picture showed a bruise, then that person would soon receive a corresponding bruise.

The frame is now in a property managed by the National Trust. The frame is accurately described as being thought to have once belonged to the noted Shropshire witch Luella Cawford. The picture inside the frame is of a ruined folly in the property’s grounds. It seems that no matter what the Trust do, they cannot preserve the folly.

2 Luella used the gibbet frame to escape her fate. Some time before she was arrested as a witch, Luella poured her essence into the frame. From that time on, Luella’s was able to possess the body of whomever’s portrait the frame contained. Upon leaving the body, the victim had only a hazy memory of what had happened, and was often plagued by nightmares.

It mattered not the accuracy or likeness of the image in the frame. If the portrait was drawn with the intent of being the likeness of somebody, then Luella was able to possess that person. If the frame contained a picture of more than one person, Luella could posses any of them. Photographs, however, do not work.

Over time Luella became quite skilled. She learned to ‘lightly’ possess someone and watch through their eyes and listen through their ears, learning their ways and manners before fully taking over. In this way she saw her enemies act against her, and before she was arrested she took flight in the body of one of the magistrate’s clerks, took her possessions and fled.

With her real body gone, Luella is now a body thief. Her frame is now stuffed with portraits, and when she tires of a person, she simply adds a new portrait to the frame. The gibbet frame is her most important possession.

3 Luella was a kind witch and was commissioned by the local landowner, Sir Arthur Musgrove to protect him and his family from harm. For this she crafted the gibbet frame, and instructed Sir Arthur to place likenesses of those he wanted to protect within the frame.

Luella, however, did her work a little too effectively. The frame protects its wards from ill health and unfortunate accidents, and provides lucky escapes from calamities of all kinds. It effectively grants immortality. One side effect, however, is that the frame’s wards become barren and may bear no children.

Sir Arthur’s family enjoyed good health and vitality for many years, until, for reasons unknown, the picture in the frame was changed. Shortly after, Sir Arthur’s family suffered a run of shocking bad luck, as if their good fortune had run out. They were all dead within the year.

The gibbet frame is now owned by the reclusive Whistler family of north London. Mabel Whistler, on learning of the gibbet frame, understood exactly its powers and dangers, and uses it to protect her family - her sons, daughters and grandchildren. They are all much older than they appear.

© Steve Hatherley

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