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William Clarke and Nero

William Clarke was the last man to be hanged at Lincoln Castle in on the 26th March, 1877 by famous Horncastle hangman and inventor of the Long Drop, William Marwood. Known as Slenderman, William Clarke and three other men William Fletcher, George Garner and George Wood, planned a poaching expedition in Eagle Woods near Lincoln on the night of January 30th 1877. Clarke had one of two shotguns in the party. During the night, the men became split into two groups, Clarke and Garner deciding to go onto Norton Disney when they were challenged by Henry Walker and two other gamekeepers.

The Head Gamekeeper, Mr Henry Walker, along with the land owner Charles Wells had heard gunshots coming from nearby a plantation, they summoned assistance from other gamekeepers and proceeded to the area of the shooting.

As Mr Walker and Wells hid behind trees awaiting the arrival of the other gamekeepers, the poachers passed them. They sprung from their hiding place to confront them. The poachers turned to them warned them to stay away or they would blow their brains to hell. Henry Walker told them to stand their ground, put down their weapons and they would fight them like men. They poachers turned and fled.

Now the other gamekeepers had joined them and they chased the poachers to Stapleford Woods, close to Norton Disney, near Newark. As they crossed a ditch, the gamekeepers caught them up. Again, threats were made and likewise Henry Walker told them to drop their weapons and fight like men. A poacher then said, "Let them have one"; and Clarke dropped to one knee and took aim, aimed at the legs of Henry Walker. Henry Walker was heard to say "We shall give up, we are unarmed", but the man opened fire anyway. Henry Walker was badly wounded in the knees and in some distress. The poachers ran off toward Newark and Walker died of his injuries.

The man who fired the gun was described as very tall, over 6 feet, slim, wearing a fur coat and brown cap. Some confusion in their apprehension ensued. Garner and Fletcher were arrested with ease, and initially Fletcher was thought to be the shooter. On further examination, Charles Wells said he wasn’t the shooter, as he wasn't tall enough; his face wasn’t as thin and his voice not as deep. Wood was soon arrested. Clarke had slipped the net and was rumoured to be attempting to flee the country. A £50 reward was posted for his capture and Superintendent Brown of Kesteven Police was given the task of catching him.

The trail took Superintendent Brown via Hull, Grimsby and Yarmouth to Lowestoft where, on the night of February 15th, he trawled the pubs and spotted his quarry drinking in the White Horse. Brown sent for reinforcements and swooped on the pub, taking Clarke without a struggle. Brown got there just in time as Clarke was awaiting passage to Ireland. When Clarke's pockets were searched, they contained gunpowder and shot, the same as that used to kill Henry Walker.

The four poachers were sent for trail and on March 7th; Fletcher, Wood and Garner made statements that Clarke had fired the weapon, and they were subsequently charged with poaching. Fletcher was initially to be charged with murder, as the gun belonged to him and it was he that had said "Give him one" to Clarke. Fletcher disputed this and in fact claimed he had said "Don’t shoot him", this was confirmed by Garner and Wood. Fletcher was discharged of this in return for giving evidence against Clarke.

 When I was bound apprentice in famous Lincolnshire Full well I served my master for more than seven year Till I took up with poaching, as you will quickly hear Oh! 'tis my delight on a shiny night, in the season of the year As me and my comrades were setting of a snare 'Twas then we seed the gamekeeper - for him we did not care For we can wrestle and fight, my boys and jump o'er anywhere Oh! 'tis my delight on a shiny night in the season of the year As me and my companions were setting four or five And taking up on him again, we caught the hare alive We caught the hare alive, my boys, and through the woods did steer Oh! 'tis my delight on a shiny night in the season of the year I threw him on my shoulder and then we trudged home We took him to a neighbour's house, and sold him for a crown We sold him for a crown, my boys, but I did not tell you where Oh! 'tis my delight on a shiny night in the season of the year Bad luck to every magistrate that lives in Lincolnshire Success to every poacher that wants to sell a hare Bad luck to every gamekeeper that will not sell his deer Oh! 'tis my delight on a shiny night in the season of the year] On March 3rd 1877, William Clark stood trial for murder and was found guilty. William Clark was executed on 26th March 1877 at Lincoln Castle. Not on Cobb Hall but in the Prison courtyard. During his time in the condemned cell, Clarke behaved admirably, listening intently to the Prison Chaplain and preparing himself for his fate; hoping his sentence would be commuted. He had visits from family members, most of which he hadn’t seen for years with an aunt paying for his council. On his last morning, he awoke early, wrote a letter to his aunt and family, thanking them for their kindness. He stated how much he appreciated the kindness of the warders, the Governor and the Chaplain. At 7 am, he confessed to the Chaplain that he was indeed the killer. He was hanged at 9 am, his last words being "Lord have mercy, have mercy on me, Lord have mercy my soul" followed by the chaplain "Lord have mercy on him"

William Clark was buried in the Castle Keep, now Lucy tower, on 26th March 1877.

A traditional folklore song, associated with Lincolnshire is 'The Lincolnshire Poacher' deals with the joys of poaching, however as the story of William Clarke tells us it was often dangerous, but unfortunately one of the few ways a poor man could feed his family.

The story of William Clarke does not end however with his death. William Clarke owned a lurcher called Nero, which accompanied him everywhere, even accompanying Clarke during the murder of Henry Walker. After his master's capture, William Clarke presented his dog to the landlord of The Strugglers' Inn, a favourite haunt of the pair. Nero pined away , rumour has it for his master on the other side of the Castle walls. Nero was then stuffed, taking up display in the bar. Nero was given to the Friends of Lincoln Castle who then in March 2007, presented the dog, refurbished by a local taxidermist and with a new case to be put on display in the Victorian Prison, dog and owner finally reunited within the Castle grounds. In 2009 when Fiona Bruce and the Antiques Roadshow team visited Lincoln Cathedral,  Kim Adams and Angie Clay from Lincoln Castle took the dog across the bail gate to the Cathedral, the dog was shown at the end of the programme; Fiona Bruce was sitting on a settee with the dog on the floor. They decided Nero was so unique they couldn't put a value on him.