From Hull ,
from Hell, ‘tis thus, from all these three,
good Lord, deliver us.’ What
does this old beggar’s litany mean? Halifax , a port, refers to the ‘press gang,’ Hell is self explanatory, whilst Hull
refers to ‘The Gibbet.’ Actually, Gibbet is a misnomer – it was actually a guillotine! This fiendish instrument of death fell into
disuse in the mid-17th century, but the
original base can be seen in Halifax Gibbet
in Halifax West Yorkshire, whilst the original blade
can be seen in . Bankfield
Gibbet Law meant harsh punishment for relatively minor offences in this area of the West Yorkshire Woollen District. The rules were simple :
‘ If a felon be taken within the Liberty of Halifax, either handabend ( with stolen goods in hand); backharend (with stolen goods on his back); confessand (admitted theft); to the value of thirteen and a half pence, he shall, after three markets, be taken to the gibbet and there have his head cut off from his body.’
This related especially to cloth which was the life-blood of the town. When the cloth had been woven and then washed, it was hung outside on ‘tenterhooks’ and so was particularly vulnerable to theft. The gibbet was first used in
in 1286. Halifax
The last two men to be executed on the gibbet were Anthony Mitchell and John Wilkinson of Sowerby. They were found guilty of stealing sixteen yards of russet coloured kersey cloth, value 9s from Luddenden Dean, and two colts value £5.8s from Durkar Green. They were introduced to the gibbet on
30th April 1650, making a total of
fifty recorded victims.. After the
gibbet fell into disuse, the ground on which it stood gradually became a
rubbish dump. In 1839, workmen clearing
the site found the base of the gibbet still intact and nearby they found the
skeletons of two men with severed heads!
It was actually possible to escape from the gibbet! If the accused could remove his head before the blade fell and then escape over Hebble Brook half a mile away, he was free, provided he never returned to the Liberty of Halifax. The Running Man pub recalls that one man, John Lacy, managed to do just that but he made the mistake of returning to The Liberty after seven years and was duly executed.
Only the base of the gibbet remains in Gibbet Street.
The gibbet blade can be seen in Bankfield Museum