Garrow Hill

What is Garrow Hill? 

Garrow hill is situated towards the South East of the city, with an elevated position that overlooks the city to the north and west, as well as the low-lying ancient towns and villages in the vale towards the Wolds. Having stood here for centuries it has cast its eye not only over the history of its city but of those of its neighbours and their dastardly doings. 

It’s a dark and mysterious place in the winter months but totally transforms come the warmer weather, displaying all its fauna and flora with a lofty arrogance. There is something of a contradiction to its benign state today, after years of evil and hurt, you could be forgiven for not knowing what its past has hidden away. 

OS Map of Garrow Hill

The Hill’s recent past… 

In its present state, it has become a residential sprawl, a nature reserve, a part of the educational establishment and also a place of convalescence; as well as its location for both tourists and local ghosts. During the second world war it was once hoped that the sites’ numerous large dwellings could be used as clearing houses for child evacuees but this did not materialise. Having to roam these large buildings on land that houses ancient burial grounds of late Roman and Anglican remains was more of a decision that could be greeted with a sigh of relief if you were superstitious. 

In the late 1700’s a Quaker family purchased the land and set to working a health complex; including a residence, a farm and gardens for the residents of those suffering from mental illness.  Perhaps this forward thinking in such times was a way of papering over the cracks of what was going on here only years before. 

The Gallows 1600’s

The gruesome history of the Hill. 

On the 1st May 1676 at St Leonard’s Green, Garrow Hill, Messrs Rook and Gaskill were the last to be executed by hanging at this site, their bodies buried in St Johns church yard, York.  

As the brave new world was rolling in towards the end of the 1600’s, new ways of thinking and were fast producing and the public gallows on Garrow Hill were dismantled permanently in 1700 paving the way for Tyburn to be the city’s only remaining source of entertainment. 

But Garrow Hill still has its demons lurking, a past that cannot be brushed away. In 1659 Charles Spooner was convicted of the Robbery and Murder of Francis Groves. He was executed at Garrow Hill. His fresh remains were then taken to nearby Barmby Moor (believed to be victims home village) and was hung in chains at the road side.  

“Hanging in chains” or Gibbeting refers to the use of a gallows-type structure from which the dead or dying bodies of criminals were hanged on public display to deter other existing or potential criminals. Occasionally, the gibbet was also used as a method of execution, with the criminal being left to die of exposure, thirst and/or starvation.  

Not only were criminals placed on display as they met and endured their demise, a public and popular practise, but so too was the sending off of the recently departed to medical research. In April 1647, local residents and sisters, Elizabeth and Helen Drysdale (both in their mid 20’s), were executed at Garrow Hill for the crime of murdering two men by poisoning, their bodies then donated to surgeons for dissection.  

As a monument to pain and suffering, both of the living and the dead, punishments were often like for like sometimes. Elizabeth Cook was hanged and burned on the 29th March 1605. Her crime? The murder of her 82-year-old mother, by burning her to death! 

In a bid to find ways to parade and formally warn those of any similar criminal intentions, severe penalties were given to those particularly under the act of conspiracy, plotting, revolution, overthrowing, counterfeiting, murder and witchcraft, bodies were commonly hung, drawn by horses and then detached into quarters. A macabre act that put 3 men, Frederick de Alcyonius, Richard de Aldrich and William de Malcolm, to have their bodies hung, drawn and quartered at Garrow Hill in March 1587, their heads mounted on top of Micklegate Bar as trophies of power. 

A seat at the Front of Garrow Hill. 

Being dressed for occasion could be all too literal, maybe the original understanding of the term, as it was often seen that the guilty were brought to the gallows sporting an already tied noose and sitting in your own coffin. Having to crowd surf to Garrow Hill through the streets, being publicly ridiculed, insulted, jeered and have objects thrown at them was all part of the day’s participation. This was a prime-time event, a family day out.  

Garrow Hill on Garrow Hill (2019)

So, what of Garrow Hill? 

As for the hill now? A strangely ominous place if you know. It does have charm, and now the years have quietly lost contact with those who were there back then, it does seem peaceful and far removed. You will not see any signs or any markings; a once hostile place now leans on and watches…with experience.  

Garrowhill are four musicians from York City. Drawing on a collective influence of music styles and genres, from rock and alternative culture, to finding inspiration from some of York’s more unusual and violent past.  

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