The Wilverley Oak or “Naked Man”: New Forest’s Mysterious Gallows Tree

Stump of the Wilverley Oak, curiously referred to (and shown on maps) as the Naked Man, a former gallows tree in Hampshire's New Forest where highwaymen, smugglers and other criminals were hanged in centuries gone by. (Image: Jim Champion. The Wilverley Oak is also known as the “Naked Man”)

The Geograph website has long had a habit of turning up myriad oddities, natural and man-made, across the cities, towns and countryside of the British Isles. And here’s another one: the Wilverley Oak, curiously marked on the Ordnance Survey Map as the “Naked Man (site of)”… But what, you may wonder, could it be?

The location, in Hampshire’s picturesque New Forest, features the fenced-off stump of an oak tree adorned with a crown of ivy, its base pleasantly overgrown with ferns. A discrete plaque on the wooden fence confirms it to be the same “Naked Man” shown on the OS Map.

Jim Champion, who photographed the tree, wrote on Geograph: “Beneath the crown of ivy is the weathered stump of an oak tree which is supposed to have been used as a gallows for at least one convicted highwayman. Originally called the “Wilverley Oak”, it stood by the side of the now-disused Burley to Lymington road not far from Wilverley Post (the intersection with the main Lyndhurst-Christchurch road).”

Champion added: “There are various stories that tell how the stump ended up being called the “Naked Man”, for example: one man waiting to be hung was supposed to have been struck by lightning which removed all his clothes. A more likely explanation is that the shattered trunk and two outstretched branches of the tree resembled a man.”

Site of the Wilverley Oak aka Naked Man gallows tree in the New Forest from above. (Image: Google Maps. The Naked Man from above, location here)

Exactly what the origins of the “Naked Man” label are remain uncertain. But its use as a gallows is backed up by the New Forest website, which states: “Not far from Wilverley is the Naked Man, once called the Wilverley Oak in 1759. This is where highwaymen and smugglers were hung from. Little remains today, although the oak stump is fenced off making the tree easier to find.”

Nowadays the area is far less sinister. Those paying the old gallows tree a visit are more likely enjoying a pleasant walk amid grazing ponies than awaiting the hangman’s noose. This corner of the New Forest, including the ‘Wilverley Inclosure’, is steeped in history that spans the centuries, including its more recent role providing much needed arable farmland during the dark days of World War Two.

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