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Ancient Gibbet at Halifax

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Ancient Gibbet at Halifax

Engraving of an execution at the Gibbet, Gibbet Street, Halifax, West Yorkshire.

Author: N. Whittock
Date: not dated
Location: Halifax
Format: Print
Document ID: 100475
Library ID: 35499307

From the print: "Lithog: by N. Whittock from a Drawing by Hollar. Printed by G.W. Lauder 4 Paternoster Row. Published by N.W. Whitley, Halifax". Compare with documents 101675, 100474 which use the same source. Search also Creator's Surname as "Whitlock" and "Whittock".

Gibbet - a device for execution by suspension or decapitation.

It is not known when the Gibbet Law of Halifax was first enforced, but it has been traced back as far as 1280, when Halifax was bestowed on the Earl of Warrene. The gibbet was believed to have been put in place first to deter cattle thieves, but was later used to deter and punish cloth stealers. Records of executions date as late as 1650. Between 1541 and 1650, 53 people are known to have been beheaded on the gibbet. The base of the Gibbet was discovered in development work, when 8 decapitated remains were found. The base was partially restored in 1852 and completed in 1974 when a replica was erected.

"The inhabitants of the forest of Hardwick (which was co-extensive with the Parish of Halifax) had the custom, that, if a felon was taken within their liberty with goods stolen out or within the liberty of the said forest, either handhabend, backberand, or confessand, of the value of thirteenpence halfpenny, he should, after three markets, or meeting days, within the Town of Halifax, next after such apprehension, be tried, and being condemned, be taken to the Gibbet, and have his head cut off from his body." (Source: Halifax Gibbet Law, from 'The County Words', May 1870)

The accused would be presented to the Lord Bailiff by one of the four frith-burghers, who would meet on certain days to present the charge. At the trial the accuser and accused were confronted before the jury with the stolen goods. If acquitted the person was allowed to go free, if found guilty they were to be executed. If it was market day then the subject would be executed immediately, if not they would be placed in the stocks with the stolen goods placed on the person's back. Executions always took place on market days.

The gibbet blade, or axe, weighed 7lb 12oz [3.2Kg] and was attached to a block of wood suspended by a piece of rope from the top of the gibbet. This would deliver a crushing blow to the neck. The rope would be attached to a pin at the side of the gibbet platform; it is said that in the case of a cloth theft the rope would be passed among the crowd, while in the case of stock theft, the rope would be attached to the stolen animal, whatever it was. Other methods was the use of a horse - once the horse was instructed to move the blade fell, cutting swiftly through the neck.

This brutal example of justice is said to have given rise to the Thieves and Vagabonds' prayer "From Hull, Hell, and Halifax, good Lord deliver us."

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