Welcome to the information and download page for ‘Romancing the Gibbet: The Ballad of Johny Walford’. This is one of 4 events as part of the Being Human festival, the UK’s only national festival of the humanities, taking place 14–23 November. Led by the School of Advanced Study, University of London, in partnership with the Arts & Humanities Research Council and the British Academy. For further information please see beinghumanfestival.org. You can book the event at the Nether Stowey Village Hall (14 November 19-21.00) HERE.


You do not have to try out the app if you don’t want to – if you are simply curious, or want to know more about these historical events or how we made the trails you are very welcome to just book and come along. BOOK HERE.

‘Romancing the Gibbet’ is a collaboration between poet Ralph Hoyte and historian Steve Poole. We explore themes of ‘dark tourism’ using ‘mobile immersive media’. This innovative use of technology allows you to experience Ralph Hoyte’s poetic responses to four notorious Georgian era murders and the subsequent extraordinary public executions ‘on the ground’, where the events actually took place.

To experience this, you download an app to your smartphone or gps-enabled tablet and then follow the audio-trail on foot. The example below shows a ‘soundpool’ placed at the site of Walford’s Gibbet. You follow the blue line (checking your phone every now and then to make sure you’re on track). When your phone encounters ‘a soundpool’ it vibrates. You can then put earphones on and listen to Ralph Hoyte’s poetic response to events during the actual murder, where the actual murder took place in 1789.

John Walford, a charcoal burner from Nether Stowey, was forced to marry Jane Shorney, who was pregnant by him. One fatal day Jane wished to go to the nearby Castle of Comfort Inn for a pint of cider. On the way across the common they had an argument. John took up a hedge stake and bashed his wife’s head in. He then slit her throat and tried to dump her down a nearby copper mine-shaft. He was subsequently tried, condemned to death, hanged high on a hill overlooking his childhood haunts and the scene of his crime (hence ‘a crime-scene execution’), then hung in an iron cage (‘gibbetted’) and his body left to be pecked at by the birds until it rotted away.

… then you take your headphones off and wander on, enjoying the scenery. The app is free to download and use and you DON’T need any sort of network signal or online connection: all the information is in the app, it is merely triggered by location!

At the actual Nether Stowey event ‘Being Human Festival’ event Steve Poole will explain the historical background to the murder and crime-scene execution. Ralph Hoyte will then perform extracts from his poetic responses, and we will both introduce the project’s four free audio trails and explain how they were made. You are then invited to sample some of ‘The Ballad of Johny Walford’ soundpools which have been relocated in and around the venue for you to try out the experience and the technology.

It is essential to download the app to your phone or gps-enabled tablet beforehand if you wish to do this (instructions on how to do this will be posted on Monday 4 November). Don’t forget your headphones: this is an audio-trail!

Warning: some strong language and themes of murder and public execution