Tom Long’s Post Is the meeting place for the six roads which cross Minchinhampton Common just 1.5 miles south of Stroud and 11 miles west of Cirencester
Who was Tom Long
The tales of the possible origin of Tom Long’s Post on Minchinhampton Common are varied. A small number of versions of the story claim Tom to be a suicide who was buried at the crossroads in the early 19th century, damned to lie in unconsecrated ground. However, most accounts describe Tom as a notorious highwayman and this is the line the society has decided to pursue. This crossroads was the site of the Minchinhampton gallows so this criminal connection seems the more likely. Research has unearthed many tales of Tom’s demise at the crossroads including that he took his own life to avoid capture, he was hung on the gallows at that spot and that he was hung in chains until his flesh fell from his body as a warning to deter others.
Accounts of Tom Long are very fragmentary but from these, we have been able to piece together the threads of his story. Tom Long was known as the Crickley Hill highwayman. He was described by one of his victims as a stout and lusty man of 5 ft. 8 inches. He wore a grey wig, a dark blue coat with shiny gilt buttons, a scarlet waistcoat and leather breeches, and rode a large black horse. Although, this may be a description of highwaymen in general, who have been much romanticised through history. This source, a clothier on his way to Cirencester from Woodchester, says he was held at gunpoint and forced to hand over one guinea and some silver before Tom rode off along the Cirencester coaching road, which at that time ran through Minchinhampton Common. It is on the Cirencester road over the common that one lady claims, relatively recently, to have seen a spectral highwayman on a black horse. Tom is also said to haunt the Amberley inn where, one yarn tells, he was taken upon his capture. However, another story says he returns there after death to try to find his lost love, the landlord’s daughter. In recent times, strange footsteps and doors slamming sometimes keep the inn’s residents awake at night.
There is potentially another reason why this crossroads is so called. Minchinhampton Common is an archaeologist’s dream come true (or nightmare, the ground having been much disturbed over the centuries). The area is riddled with prehistoric sites such as the Longstone and various long barrows. There is some evidence to suggest that there were many more named standing stones in the area, which either stood as solitary megaliths or were part of destroyed long barrows. Up until a few decades ago, several of these lay near the post – possibly destroyed or moved because of the numerous car accidents that have unfortunately occurred there. Long Tom is a title used elsewhere in the country to name standing stones (Long Tom near Avebury for instance). Could Tom Long’s Post, in fact, be a rural memory of a standing stone? The common is peppered with pillow mounds and long barrows as well as large earthworks such as the bulwarks and Amberley camp (probably defensive structures). The common was well used in the bronze age (long barrows etc.) And there was much roman activity as well, being so near Cirencester (Corinium) and the substantial villa at Woodchester.
Later Minchinhampton Common was part of a royal manor owned by Goda, sister of Edward the confessor. However, by the Norman conquest, it was granted to the convent of holy trinity in Caen, Normandy. The name Minchinhampton comes from this time – mynchen, being old English for nun. The nuns of Caen held the land until 1415, making money from farming and the woodland that covered much of the common at that time. In fact, many of the names of the surrounding villages derive from that woodland. ‘Leah’ means woodland clearing, hence Amberley, Burleigh and St. Chloe. By 1415, friction arose between the convent and the abbey of Cirencester. The land was confiscated from the convent and granted to Syon abbey in Middlesex who owned it until the dissolution of the monasteries in 1539. It was then in private hands until it was sold to the national trust in 1 9 1 3 to protect it from further damage from the extensive quarrying that had occurred. The quarrying on the common was to extract ‘weather stone’ or great oolite limestone, which is renowned for its hardness. Thus, it was used for Gloucester cathedral and the houses of parliament.
Whitefield’s tump – This tump is the remains of a Neolithic long barrow. In the eighteenth century, George Whitefield used to preach from its peak. Whitefield was one of the founders of Methodism. He was safe to preach on common land because it lay outside the remit of the church authorities and the tump, at that time much higher, gave him an excellent pulpit from which to preach.
The following narrative is the society’s interpretation of his final hours. Tom had an underground hideout in one of the old quarries on culver hill. Perhaps on one of his trips to see the landlord’s daughter at the Amberley inn or coming back from a successful robbery, Tom was spotted by the authorities. To Try to escape, he ran down Theescombe lane (probably deriving from thieves-combe’ – meaning a valley haunted by thieves). A source who lived in the lane in the Sixties states that in the dead of night, she has heard running footsteps and someone gasping for their life, but on investigating there was no one there. So, Tom ran down Theescombe Lane and up Theescombe Hill onto the common where he was run to ground near the crossroads. Once captured, one source states that he was staked through the heart, hung and buried where he’d died.
Starting at Tom Long’s Post, we walked up Butterow hill towardsWwhitfield’s tump. At the tump, Lorna preached part of a selected sermon by the reverend George Whitefield. Walking on & turning into Amberley village, we walked past the Wesleyan chapel and down the hill on the footpath to Culver Hill.
At Culver Hill, we walked the possible escape route used by Tom, to enable the pilgrims to re-enact his escape. Just as Tom did, we walked up Theescombe Lane & then Theescombe Hill. Taking the first left we walked towards the Amberley Inn where Tom’s love may have stood watching his pursuit. We then turned onto the common for Tom’s final run up to the place of his execution. The pilgrimage to Tom Long’s Post & the enactment of his demise ended just as his life did at the crossroads.