Monday, May 28, 2012

Scott Visits Gill's Hill

Turning today to Scott’s journal, to revisit the Radlett murder, which was covered earlier, Scott, intrigued by the story, visited the environs on May 28th, 1828.

May 28 [1828].—We took leave of our kind old host after breakfast, and set out for our own land. Our elegant researches carried us out of the high-road and through a labyrinth of intricate lanes,—which seem made on purpose to afford strangers the full benefit of a dark night and a drunk driver,—in order to visit Gill's Hill, famous for the murder of Mr. Weare.
The place has the strongest title to the description of Wordsworth:—
"A merry spot, 'tis said, in days of yore,But something ails it now—- the place is cursed."
The principal part of the house has been destroyed, and only the kitchen remains standing. The garden has been dismantled, though a few laurels and garden shrubs, run wild, continue to mark the spot. The fatal pond is now only a green swamp, but so near the house that one cannot conceive how it was ever chosen as a place of temporary concealment of the murdered body. Indeed the whole history of the murder, and the scenes which ensued, are strange pictures of desperate and short-sighted wickedness. The feasting—the singing—the murderer with his hands still bloody hanging round the neck of one of the females—the watch-chain of the murdered man, argue the utmost apathy. Even Probert, the most frightened of the party, fled no further for relief than to the brandy bottle, and is found in the very lane, and at the spot of the murder, seeking for the murderous weapon, and exposing himself to the view of the passengers. Another singular mark of stupid audacity was their venturing to wear the clothes of their victim. There was a want of foresight in the whole arrangement of the deed, and the attempts to conceal it, which argued strange inconsideration, which a professed robber would not have exhibited. There was just one single shade of redeeming character about a business so brutal, perpetrated by men above the very lowest rank of life—it was the mixture of revenge which afforded some relief to the circumstances of treachery and premeditation which accompanied it. But Weare was a cheat, and had no doubt pillaged Thurtell, who therefore deemed he might take greater liberties with him than with others.
The dirt of the present habitation equalled its wretched desolation, and a truculent-looking hag, who showed us the place, and received half-a-crown, looked not unlike the natural inmate of such a mansion. She indicated as much herself, saying the landlord had dismantled the place because no respectable person would live there. She seems to live entirely alone, and fears no ghosts, she says.
One thing about this mysterious tragedy was never explained. It is said that Weare, as is the habit of such men, always carried about his person, and between his flannel waistcoat and shirt, a sum of ready money, equal to £1500 or £2000. No such money was ever recovered, and as the sum divided by Thurtell among his accomplices was only about £20, he must, in slang phrase, have bucketed his pals.

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