Will Jobling’s Swinging Gibbet

I’m coming at this post from a number of angles. Firstly, the beer “Jobling’s Swinging Gibbet”, is produced by a North Eastern brewer, the Jarrow Brewery. Secondly, this is a beer that’s frequently on at the Newcastle Beer festival, and that’s only about a month away. Thirdly, it’s an unusual name, and it — and Will Jobling — deserve some explanation. Fourthly, the one play I appeared in as a member of the amateur theatre group The Progressive Players was Close the Coalhouse Door, which features the local character Will Jobling, I thought it deserved some explanation.

Firstly, the beer itself. What is it?

A copper coloured, evenly balanced beer with a good hop aroma and fruity finish. ABV 4.1%The Jarrow Brewery’s Tasting Notes

And I like it. It’s not my favourite beer; it’s not even my favourite beer produced by the Jarrow Brewey — that would be “Old Cornelius” — but it is a nice drink, and one I’m always pleased to spot at the beer festival or in a bar.

That’s the thing about the Jarrow Brewery. I don’t always like the beers they make, but when I don’t it has been because I don’t like that sort of beer (e.g. Jarrow Bitter is a bit “light” for me), rather than because they’ve produced a bad beer. So far, they’ve produced a lot of quality beer. Watch out for them.

Next, Will Jobling. Who he?

Unusually there’s nothing in Wikipedia, so I’m going to have to rely other, sometimes less traditional sources of information to pull together the story.

Will Jobling was a miner, who was found guilty of the murder of a local magistrate. He was hung, and then his body displayed on a gibbet. He was the last man to be gibbeted in the UK.

Miner William Jobling, 30, was executed 175 years ago for the murder of local magistrate Nicholas Fairles, 71, but it is believed he may have been innocent.

After his hanging, during the 1832 miners’ strike in Durham and Northumberland, his body was displayed inside a gibbet contraption in Jarrow.

The climate of the day was one in which he was made an example of.

“He was hanged, then his body was dipped in tar and put in a steel cage and hung on public display on a gibbet, as a deterrent to anyone contemplating carrying out a similar act.

“Even for its day, it was horrific.”

BBC News

As if that wasn’t horrific enough, there seems to have been plenty of evidence at the time that Jobling had not in fact struck the magistrate.

The scene has to be set: in 1831 and 1832, miners in the Northumberland and Durham coalfields went on strike against the conditions in which they were forced to serve, that they could only spend their wages in company shops, that they had to sign a bond to work for a particular colliery for a year and a day before they would be employed, and that they would have to work 16 hours a day — amongst other things.

For example, 84 miners had been killed in accidents in one Jarrow pit between 1817 and 1830. Yet working practices and safety procedures were not improved.

The miners were in open revolt. The land and colliery owners wanted to crush this rebellion. It is against this context that you need to consider the following:

On June 11, 1832, Jarrow pitmen Ralph Armstrong and William Jobling were drinking in a pub in South Shields.

On the road by the toll-bar gate, near Jarrow Slake, Jobling begged from Nicholas Fairles, a 71-year-old magistrate.

Fairles refused to hand over any money, prompting Armstrong, who had followed Jobling, to attack him with a stick and a stone.

The Shields Gazette (1)

So it might not have been Jobling himself who actually attacked the magistrate. What makes us think this?

Before he died, the magistrate made a statement that Jobling was not his murderer and had only been nearbyTom Kelly’s blog

When Fairles was killed, Jobling was with fellow pitman Ralph Armstrong, who the dying magistrate is said to have identified as his killer.BBC News (2)

An innocent man was sent to the gallows for two reasons: firstly, the authorities were unable to locate Armstrong. Secondly, they wanted to stamp their authority over the miners, to cow them and crush the threat of further strikes and rebellion.

After Jobling was taken from the scaffold, his clothes were removed and his body covered in pitch.

He was then riveted into a cage made of flat iron bars. His feet were placed in stirrups, from which bars of iron went up each side of his head, ending in a ring, from which the cage was suspended.

The Shields Gazette (2)

This is typical of the brutal, callous treatment meted out to the miners at the time, where niceties like the fact the authorities knew he hadn’t attacked the magistrate (although admittedly he didn’t stay to help either) didn’t prevent them making an example of him.

Brutal. Callous. But effective. By September 1832, the strike had petered out, and the union was (temporarily) virtually demolished.

Will Jobling was murdered by the authorities in order to crush the workers. That’s why we should know the story of Jobling’s Swinging Gibbet.

In this case, I’ll leave the final word to Alan Plater’s “Close the Coalhouse Door”:

There was a great strike in 1831, another in 1832.
Aye, but what happened?
Oh, the coal owners called in the military, there was a lot of fighting, a couple of murders.
That’s when they hanged Will Jobling. Accused of murdering a magistrate. Found guilty, naturally. And then they displayed his body on a gibbet in Jarrow Slake as an example to the proletariat.
The last man to be hung on a gibbet in this country. A collier from Jarrow.
That’s what I call a historical nuance
And what did it achieve?
The owners agreed a twelve-hour day for boys of six years old.
All agreed on paper?
Don’t be daft, man, they never recognised anything on paper. The Union wasn’t recognised.
We had to take the word of the coal owners…
…as aristocrats and gentlemen.


Thomas, Geordie, Jackie

Alan Plater’s “Close the Coalhouse Door”

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