Sunday, 11 August 2013



'Off with his, or indeed her,head' was well and truly attribted to Henry V111,and indeed the Halifax Gibbet,  but death by hanging has long been the favoured method of execution in this country
The most famous gallows were at Tyburn in Middlesex, situated somewhere near to where Marble Arch now stands. Known as Tyburn Tree as far back as the 12th century and taking its name from a nearby stream, it was a permanent structure of three uprights joined at the top by three beams, forming an equilateral triangle.   The last footing was a ladder which was pulled away to leave the victims hanging and they were left for half an hour to ensure death by strangulation.   The first hanging at Tyburn was in 1196 and the last was in 1783 when forger John Austin was executed, after which the gallows were moved to a position opposite Newgate Prison.

Most towns had a place for the gallows often on the outskirts of the town and mostly just remembered by the word ' gallows' in a street name. Gallows Hill at Dornoch in Scotland is well remembered with a sign and a stone which marks the spot of the gallows.


Quite often victims were left hanging on a 'gibbet', usually situated near to the scene of their crime, as a deterrent to others.

A good example of a conventional gibbet can be seen at the village of Caxton in Cambridgeshire, standing starkly alongside a pub called The Caxton Gibbet.   This gibbet was last used after the execution of the son of a landlord of the premises, who murdered three guests at the inn and hid their bodies in a well under the stairs.


Situated on the A37 some two miles south of Shepton Mallet in Somerset, the curiously named Cannard’s Grave Inn, displays a sign depicting a man hanging from a gibbet and is liberally decorated with what appear to be sheep.   A simple story surrounding this is that the 18th century landlord of a previous inn on the site, Giles Cannard, was hanged for sheep stealing and buried in front of the inn.   However, there is another story that Cannard in fact hanged himself.  Either way, Cannard was undoubtedly a rogue who was involved in a variety of illegal activities, and his pub was frequented by rogues and vagabonds.   It seems to be a well known fact that several travellers who spent the night at Cannard’s pub failed to reach their destinations, whilst other guests were often persuaded to part with their possessions.  In the end it seems that Cannard became closely involved with a plan to defraud the town of its common land and when the news leaked out the furious townsfolk marched to his pub and, one way or another, Giles Cannard ended up having his neck stretched.


A gibbet was not required when in the mid 16th century, the Rev. Welch, vicar of St Thomas’ Church in Cowick Street, Exeter, was hanged for treason. During the Prayer Book Rebellion of 1549, the vicar supported the rebels against reformation and supported the Latin mass.
 Dressed in full ecclesiastical vestments, he was left hanging from the church tower for four years as ‘ a salutary warning’

St Thomas' Church

Oliver Cromwell didn’t need a gallows in 1642 when two of his soldiers were found guilty of murder and hanged on the spot in Romsey in Hampshire.  They were hanged on a fine wrought iron bracket which displayed the sign of the Swan Inn in the town.  The bracket, a good example of old Hampshire wrought iron work has withstood the centuries of time and can still be seen on the wall outside the building which is now Romsey Working Mens; Conservative Club.
MILITARY JUSTICE, Romsey, Hampshire.  (See comments box for story).
 Useful bracket for hanging purposes

A memorial on the outside wall of St Mary's Church at Beverley recalls a time when Danish soldiers were passing through the town.
It reads :

'Here two young Danish Soldiers lye
The one in quarrell chanc'd to die
The others Head by their own Law
With sword was sever'd at one Blow.
December the 25d


A pair of 19th century handcuffs to be seen in Overbecks Museum at Salcombe in South Devon,  the last use of which are a reminder of an amazing escape from the gallows.   In November 1884, John Henry George Lee was charged with the murder of his employer, Miss Emma Keyse, a former lady-in- waiting to Queen Victoria, at her home The Glen in Babbacombe near Torquay.   Despite his protestations of innocence, Lee was found guilty of murder and was sentenced to death.
Lee went to the gallows still protesting his innocence.  The noose was placed round his neck and the trap door lever was pulled, but nothing happened!  The lever was pulled a second time,  and indeed a third time but the trap failed to open!   Three times the trap failed to open and as the law said that any man who survived three hanging attempts, must have his sentence commuted, Lee ended up serving 22 years in prison.   He was finally released in 1907 and died in America 26 years later.

Half  Hanged  Smith,a native of Malton in North Yorkshire, and convicted burglar, earned his sobriquet in 1705 when he was about to be publicly hanged at York Knavesmire.  A crowd of some 40,000 people watched him drop and when, some minutes later a messenger arrived with a reprieve, Smith was cut down and restored to consciousness.   He was soon in trouble again but released due to lack of evidence; and even one more time he was fortunate, for the prosecutor died before Smith could be brought to trial.
The battlemented clock tower situated in the main street of Dufftown in the Moray District of Scotland, was completed in 1839.   It was originally the town jail, later the Burgh Chambers and now the tourist information office and museum.   The clock, originally from Banff, is known locally as  The clock that hanged MacPherson.’
Hailing from nearby Kingussie, James MacPherson was a Robin Hood type of villain and fiddler who was sentenced to death at Banff in 1700 for ‘robbing the rich and giving to the poor.’   The local people secured a reprieve for MacPherson but, before the pardon arrived, Lord Braco, Sheriff of Banff, put the clock forward by one hour and MacPherson was hung.   Before going to the gallows, MacPherson offered his fiddle to the crowd.   The Biggar Fountain in Banff now occupies the site of the former gallows.

Early in the 18th century,  Thomas Busby married Elizabeth Auty, despite strong opposition by the girl’s wealthy father, Daniel Auty, who knew that Busby was a drunkard and ne’er do well.    One day Busby returned home and found his father-in-law sitting in his favourite chair and an argument ensued.   Later on Busby got drunk and went to Auty’s house where a further argument took place, with the result that Busby strangled Auty.   Busby was subsequently hanged on gallows erected at the cross-roads at Carlton Miniott near Thirsk in North Yorkshire, outside the local inn.   Before he died, Busby is said to have put a curse on his chair which had been specially made for him.
The name of the inn was changed to The Busby Stoop and the landlord acquired Busby’s chair which stood in the bar for many years.   The chair soon acquired a sinister reputation and people would sit in it for a dare, and it is said that several people died from accidents after doing so.  The chair is now preserved in Thirsk museum.

The infamous chair is depicted on the inn sign

It was not only murderer’s who were hanged.  a weathered gravestone under the old yew tree in the churchyard at Itchin Abbas in Hampshire, commemorates the last man to be hanged in this country for horse stealing.   The epitaph reads :
‘ In memory of John Hughes, who died March 19th 1825, aged 26 years.
A faithful friend, a father dear, an unfortunate husband lieth here.
The Lord removed his earthly body into the realms of everlasting day.’
The church register reads :
‘ John Smith alias Hughes, a gypsy, a wanderer, aged 26, March 20th 1825.
But why should an executed man be so commemorated?   It appears that the rector of Itchin Abbas, the Rev. Robert Wright, befriended Hughes and it was he who was responsible for the gravestone.
Hughes had been convicted of horse stealing at Winchester Assizes under the alias of Smith.   The judge, Sir James Burrough, Recorder of Portsmouth, had addressed him as follows:
‘ John Smith, you have been convicted of a crime which from its frequent occurrence it has been highly necessary to put a stop to.  The crime of horse stealing prevails to such an extent that it is absolutely necessary the severest punishment should be inflicted to deter other persons from the commission of such offences.   I myself have tried 30 or 40 horse stealers and others have been tried by my  brother judges and those convicted have been sent abroad for life.  But this has been found insufficient to check it.   An example is necessary to repress the crime and your case in one of that description, which merits the severest penalty of law.  You break open a stable from which you take a horse and saddle and at no greater distance of time after you are found with another horse in your possession, which produces a capital charge against you in the county of Surrey.  How the other horse was disposed of does not appear.  I cannot therefore hold out to you the slightest hope of mercy.’  
He was sentenced to death and was subsequently hanged.
The Rev. Wright had tried to save his life and failing this he had visited Hughes in prison, promising the young man that he would bury him alongside his infant daughter under the churchyard yew, and indeed carried out his promise.


No comments: