Legend of the Hangman’s Stone is taken from Thomas Rossell Potter’s Charnwood Forest – its History and Antiquities, 1842.
It’s a traditional slice of folklore about a man out poaching who comes a cropper. In this story a man named John Oxley meets his maker snared on an igneous standing stone at the foot of Iveshead, in the tumbling wilds of the county’s north west.
Iveshead, FYI, is considered the third finest of the Charnwood hills, after Bardon and Beacon.
There are at least 25 variations of this story, which is ordinarily set in sheep farming districts across the British Isles. Leicestershire’s is different as it involves a deer – deer having been a part of the landscape here for centuries. Wild deer still roam the majestic acres of Bradgate Park.
Moving on, when the weather is sunnier, I’m heading to Iveshead with a camera to have a look for said stone.
LEGEND OF THE HANGMAN’S STONE
It happened but twice in the tide of time,
And but once since the Conqueror came,
That all Shepeshed men were in bed at ten,
And all Whytwyk wights the same.
There were fat red deer in old Bardon Park –
Fat hogs on the great Ives Head –
Fat goats in crowds on the grey Lubclouds –
Fat sheep in the Forest shed.
There were coneys in store upon Warren Hill,
And hares upon Long Cliff dell;
And a pheasant whirred if a foot was stirred
In the Haw of the Holy Well.
There were trout in shoals in Charley brook,
And pike in the Abbot’s lake,
And herons in flocks under Whytwyk rocks,
Their nightly rest would take.
All these were the cause why the Shepeshed men,
And the Whytwyk wights the same,
Never slumbered when the clock told ten,
But watched for the sylvan game.
What matters that Warders and trusty Regarders
Look’d well to the Forest right;
The Shepeshed encroachers were aye practis’d poachers,
And their day was “the noon of the night.”
If the smaller prey did not hap in their way,
What matter? The sheep and deer
Were a goodlier meal, and the verb to steal
Was neuter or nameless here.
John of Oxley had watch’d on the round Cat Hill,
He had harried all Timber Wood;
Each rabbit and hare said “ha! ha!” to his snare,
But the ven’son he knew was good.
A herd was resting beneath the broad oak –
(The Ranger he knew was abed;)
One shaft he drew on his well tried yew,
And a gallant hart lay dead.
He tied its legs. and he hoisted his prize,
And he toil’d over Lubcloud brow;
He reach’d the tall stone standing out and alone,
*Standing then as it standeth now.
With his back to the stone he rested his load,
And he chuckled with glee to think
That the rest of the way on the down hill lay,
And his wife would have spiced the strong drink.
The rest of the way John of Oxley ne’er trod;
The spiced ale was untouched by him;
In the morning grey there were looks that way,
But the mountain mists were dim.
Days pass’d and he came not – his children play’d
And wept – then gambolled again;
They saw with surprise that their mother’s wet eyes
Were still on the hills – in vein!
A swineherd was passing o’er Great Ives Head,
When he noticed a motionless man;
He shouted in vain – no reply could he gain –
So down to the grey stone he ran.
All was clear. There was Oxley on one side of the stone
On the other the down-hanging deer;
The burden had slipp’d and his neck it had nipp’d:
He was hanged by his prize – all was clear!
The gallows still stands upon Shepeshed high lands,
As a mark for the poacher to own,
How the wicked will get in their own net:
And ’tis still call’d The Grey Hangman’s Stone.