Saturday, 18 January 2020

From Hull, Hell & Halifax, Good Lord Deliver Us. The Halifax Gibbet

The Halifax Gibbet is a set of 8 pictures I took on a couple of occasions whilst passing. The current gibbet is a replica of the original method of execution sat upon a raised refurbished platform that was the site of the original gibbet. The full set of pictures can be seen here and on Flickr with a couple of the pictures also available to view on Clickasnap.

The Halifax Gibbet was a guillotine used for public execution, first used locally in the 13th century, some 500 years before it became more popularly associated with the French Revolution. The first man executed on the gibbet was John of Dalton in 1286, with the last thought to have been John Wilkinson and Anthony Mitchell of Sowerby who met their fate on the 30th April 1650. Between them dates their were 52 confirmed executions although it is widely believed that over 100 took place. 

The gibbet was built centrally upon a platform 4ft high and 13ft square. The gibbet stood approx. 15ft high with the blade fastened to a block of wood between 2 lengths of wood. The blade was fixed in to place by a pin which was withdrawn by a cord at the moment of executions. The blade was approx. 10 inch x 8 inch in size and was not sharp, relying on speed and weight part the criminals body with head. The criminals were charged under Gibbet Law.

The Gibbet law required that any thief who was caught stealing or who confessed to stealing cloth, goods, or animals within the boundaries of Sowerbyshire or the Forest of Hardwick, of which Halifax was part to the value of 13 1/2d, with the value assed by 4 constables, would be arrested. The criminal would then be tried by a jury and if convicted, they would then be places in the town stocks for 6 days and then executed on the 7th day on the gibbet. Gibbet Law made no allowances for man or women and it is known that at least 5 women were executed by this method. They were as follows,

July 13th 1588 Wife of Thomas Roberts, Halifax
February 22nd 1603 Wife of Peter Harrison, Bradford
November 23rd 1623 George Fairbank & his illegitimate daughter Anna
July 5th 1627 Wife of John Wilson, Northowram
December 8th 1627 Sarah Lum, Halifax

The Gibbet Law allowed for an accused to escape the blade, it said that if the accused was able to with draw his head after the pin was released, and escape across the Hebble Brook, the then boundary approx. 500 yards from the gibbet, then they would be free. 2 men are said to have escaped the blades justice, a Mr Dinnis, and more well known John Lacey also known as the Running Man. In 1617 he escaped the gibbet by running beyond the boundary defined as the Forest of Hardwick or Sowerbyshire after the blades release. Unfortunately for him whilst Gibbet Law allowed for you to escape the punishment, provided you never returned to the boundaries prescribed in the law. He returned to Halifax a few years later, was captured and executed on the 29th January 1623.

The gibbet was outlawed by Oliver Cromwell in 1650, the last 2 victims of it's harsh justice,  Mr Anthony Mitchell who was convicted of stealing 16 yards of cloth, valued at 9 shillings, and a Mr Abraham Wilkinson who was convicted of stealing 2 horses, one valued at 9 shillings and the other 48 shillings. They were executed on the same day April 30th 1650.

The site was lost to time, hidden beneath rubbish and soil until a Mr Bates bought the land in 1839 to build a warehouse. In June that year workmen discovered the bodies and heads of 2 people, thought to be Mitchell and Wilkinson and further excavation revealed the gibbet platform. This was eventually restored and in August 1974 a 15ft high replica of the gibbet was constructed upon the platform to highlight it's grisly past. The original gibbet blade is still in existence, having thought to have been lost it was discovered in 1970 at a solicitor's office in Wakefield, it can now be seen at the Bankfield Museum, Halifax.

Thanks for looking and please take a moment to share, all the pictures remain the copyright of Colin Green.