I first came across the name Otter in the City of Lincoln in the UK, when carrying out some work in Otters Cottages, which are in a small lane off Newark Road.
The name intriqued me and made me wonder from where the name had come. Along the road between Lincoln and Gainsborough, part of which is now the A57, between Saxilby and Drinsey-Nook there is Tom Otters Lane and also Tom Otters Bridge.
They have a tale to tell
In 1805 Tom Otter was a navvy engaged in enclosing the old Swanpool at Lincoln. During the time he was engaged upon the works he became acquainted with a girl, and after this acquaintance lasted some time the girl had a child by him, to which she duly swore, according to the practice at that time.
Otter was taken up and ordered to marry the girl, the alternatives being matrimony or Goal
The marriage ceremony took place at Hykeham Church, and as usual, the parties stood between two Constables.
Otter, on the very night of his marriage, was walking home with his wife, when, in the lane leading to Harby, he killed her with a hedge stake.
Otter, at the time had another wife, and this circumstance, perhaps, might have induced him to act a more desperate part.
On the day following the murder he was apprehended in Lincoln and at the Old County Hall was tried and found guilty of murder. He was sentenced to death and the Judge ordered that his body should be hung in irons and gibbetted upon the spot that the murder was committed.
Before he was hung Mr Gazzard, blacksmith went into his cell to measure him for the irons, but of so determined a character was Otter that he would not allow such a proceedings, and as he threatened the blacksmith with not the best treatment, he was not measured.
Thousands of persons were present to witness the death of the murderer, who was executed on the old gallows near to the Union Workhouse. Afterwards his body was encased in pitch, fastened in irons and hung up on a high post in the Lane, which has been since been known as Tom Otters Lane.
By degrees the body fell away and mouldered to mother earth. The chains remained on the post, and have rattled to and fro in many a storm until the present spring (1850) when the post and its appendages fell to the ground.
Otter was hung on the 14th March 1806.
The confession of John Dunberly on his deathbed was:
"I heard this man say,'sit down you can rest here'. I climbed through a gap and got into the stubble close: nowt but the hedge divided us. I could have touched Tom Otter if I had put my arm out when he came and tore a stake out of the hedge, he must have been a strong man from the way he pulled out the hedge-stake, which was two feet into the ground; the moon shined into his face at the time and his eyes frightened me, for there was a fiery look in them such as a cats eyes when seen in the dark."
"I heard him say to his-sen, (himself) 'This will finish my knobstick wedding'; then he made three strides to where she was sitting with her head hanging down, and swinging the hedge-stake with both hands, hit her a clout on the head. She ged (gave) but one scream, and called on God for mercy then tumbled with her head on the ground. He hit her head again as it lay on the grass that grew by the lane-side, and that time the knock sounded as though he had hit a turnip. I saw her legs and her arms all of a quiver like for a minute, and then she was as still as a cobble-stone."
"I went of in a faint. When I cum round again the hedge-stake he had murdered her we' (with) lay close beside me. I took it up, and my hand was covered we' red and my smock sleeve dabbled with it. The I thought that if I were fun (found) in that state that they would take me up for the murder and hang me. And for days I wandered about - I can't tell you for how long - working on the roads, and getting a job how I could. I came back to Doddington on the 20th March in the spring, and heard for the first time who it was who had done the murder, and I helped to pull the tackle when they hoisted him up in irons. I was under his body when it fell and was hurt badly. When they picked me up I had hold of one of his hands, and as sure as I am a dying man it gripped my hand quite tight. I had the marks of his clutch on my hand for some time after. But I said nowt, only that I had trapped my fingers, when anybody axed (asked) me what was the matter we' it".
"I went back to my old place and nobody ever named a word to me about the murder, nobut (none but) Robert Cooper who kept the Saxilby toll-gate, and he said 'Why, John, you must have been close on to their heels on the night of the murder. didn't you see them?' I said 'I might have seen them turn down Drinsey-Nook lane.' but he said nowt no more to me, only made a bit of a game with me about getting out of the way of being summoned as a witness."
"Well, nowt happened to me any more till Sunday night, twelve months after the murder, though I often walked down to John Row's down at the Sun Inn, Saxilby, frae (from) Doddington, and in course I never passed the ditch or the gibbet post without looking up at him, where he hung in his irons, and looking down at the spot where she was sitting when he murdered her. Sometimes he shaked his head at me, but that I didn't mind much, but shook mine at him again, and said 'You did give me a bit of a turn once we' your eyes, and made my hand quite bad, but you'll not do nowt at me no more.' Well do you kno' he kicked his leg and would have sent one of his shank bones at my head, if it hadn't been made fast to the gibbet-irons. After that I allus (always) went on the tother side of the road, though I never trod on the spot where I seed (saw) her sitting wa' (with) her head hanging down,when he ged her a clout with the hedge-stake."
"Well, that night twelve months after the murder I felt quite doley-like (funny, strange ?) and couldn't keep wacken (awake) try all I would, so I went gatus (tired?) to bed soon after dusk-hours; and what I'm going to tell you, is as true, as I saw him murder her we' my own eyes."
"What time it was I shall never kno', but Tom Otter comed to me and said, 'Its time, come along,' and I went we' him: and he said again, 'Fetch it, make haste,' and I went into th' Sun Inn, at Saxilby, and fetched the hedge-stake that he murdered her we' frae off the nail where it was hanging up, and when I got outside o'th' door, they were both waiting for me, and we all three went over the Saxilby draw-bridge together: the woman walking behind, and carrying a paper box in one hand and a pair of pattens (shoes?) in the other, and wearing the same light blue gown that she had on that very night and Tom Otter also wore the same light drab velveteen jacket and breeches that he had on when he came to the fence and tore up the hedge-stake that I was then carrying. It was a kind of misty twilight we seemed to be walking in, We turned down Drinsey-Nook lane and reached the very same spot which we reached before, when he also used the very same words, and said 'Sit down, you can rest here,' and she sat down, with her head drooping on her breast, just as she did that night twelve months ago; then he came to me - with his eyes more fiery than they was beforetime, and said 'Now, then, quick.' And I was compelled to lift up the hedge-stake we' both hands, and murder her just in the same way that he had murdered that very night twelve months before."
"And every 3rd of November for years, no matter where I might be, the same doley feeling came over me, an' I couldn't keep wacken no how but went gatus to bed: and Tom Otter came to me and said, 'Now then, its time,' and I had to go fetch the hedge-stake frae ever it might be, and do the same murdering over again; and once when it was fastened up with staples, he come and helped me pull it down, and said 'You could pull hard enough when you helped to gibbet me.' And for years this kept on, and the hedge-stake was always found in the stubble field next morning, where I was forced to throw it: and when I woke in my bed, after all this was done, my hands were allus red, just they was when I took up the hedge-stake after I come out of my faint in the stubble close on the night she was first murdered. And I hadn't no peace till the hedge-stack was burnt at the Minster-Yard; for after that was done they never came to fetch me to go we' 'em to murder her no more."
Such was the strange unearthly confession of John Dunberly, of Doddington, on his death bed; and twenty years ago there were scores of people living who could testify to the hedge-stake having been always found in the stubble close every morning of the 4th November for years.
One night, on the 3rd November, while it was fastened to the wall of the Peeweet Inn, or Wave House, as it was sometimes called, a party met in the room where it was secured, determined to watch its removal, but about 12 o'clock at night a deep sleep came over them all, and when they awoke the hedge-stake was gone. After that the Bishop of Lincoln commanded it to be burnt, as before stated