06 July 2010

More on Tibbet’s Corner

Following my short post last year on the history of Tibbet’s Corner near Wimbledon Common and Putney Heath, I’ve since moved back to the area and rejoined the local libraries.  Aside from perusing the local history section, which is usually excellent in English libraries, I also picked up an interesting history booklet at the village fair a few weeks ago.  So here’s a little more detail on Tibbet’s Corner and its pesky highwayman problem.

According to historian Richard Milward, in his 1996 book Wimbledon Two Hundred Years Ago, the name is close but spelt incorrectly:

The name ‘Tibbet’s Corner’ still appears on detailed maps of London at the junction of Parkside and the A3 Kingston Road.  Before the underpass was made, there used to be a roundabout here, with a large sign showing a masked highwayman and the name Tibbet underneath.  Unfortunately, Tibbet is a misspelling and the real highwayman was Jerry Abershawe.

The correct name should be ‘Tebbutt’s Corner’.  Robert Tebbutt was one of Earl Spencer’s lodge-keepers.  In the early 1800s he and his wife looked after the lodge at the main entrance to the park from the London road.  Little is known of them except that Robert’s salary was twenty-eight pounds a year and that Countess Spencer did not think much of him.

Writing to her husband in 1801, [Countess] Lavinia said she liked his ‘new arrangements in the park’.  She added ‘I think Tebbutt’s lodge a remarkably pretty habitation, if the poor dirty inhabitants make the best of it’ (p.115)

Milward also discusses the problem of the highwayman Jerry Abershawe, who lurked in the area around the same time as Tebbutt resided at the lodge.

In the 1780s and early 1790s the danger returned.  Almost every year there were reports of ‘robberies on Wimbledon Common’.  The culprits were a small band of highwaymen, led by a young man from Kingston, Jerry Abershawe.  Their headquarters was an isolated inn, The Bald-Faced Stag (in Putney Vale, or Kingston Bottom as it was then known) and for several years they eluded even the Bow Street Runners, sent from London to capture them. 

Their attacks became so frequent that in 1795 a special Patrol Guard was set up in Wimbledon by public subscription to give local travellers some protection.  That July, however, Abershawe was at last cornered by the Runners at a pub in Southwark.  He tried to shoot his way out, but was arrested, tried at the Surrey Assizes and sentenced to death.  He was hung on Kennington Common.  Then his body was brought to a mound (still known as Jerry’s Hill) on the Common by the side of the Portsmouth road and hung encased in chains until it rotted.  The spectacle, according to a contemporary newspaper, ‘attracted the visits of many thousands of Sunday loungers’ and was long remembered. (p.15-16)

Abershawe’s body was the last highwayman’s corpse to be displayed as a public warning. 

In 1795 the area must have been less densely wooded than today, because Jerry’s Hill is now submerged in a swathe of trees and undergrowth, set back from the busy Kingston Road.  The gibbet must have been an eerie sight on a hilltop in the middle distance for travellers – not so close that it would startle the ladies in passing coaches, but a strong reminder nonetheless. 

SONY DSC [Jerry’s Hill, Wimbledon Common]

A reprint of the excellent A History of Wimbledon & Putney Commons (ed. Norman Plastow) from 1986 sets out the idea that ‘perhaps the name Tibbet suggested a corruption of the word gibbet’, and this seems entirely plausible, given the similarities between the words gibbet and Tebbutt, and the closeness of Jerry’s Hill to Tibbet’s Corner (about 900 metres separate the two).

So perhaps the presence of Abershawe’s gibbet and the enduring fame it attracted, merged with the surname of the lodge-keeper on the Earl’s estate nearby to give us the present placename with a colourful slice of local London history underpinning its origins.

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