This pub in Pellon Lane, Halifax, reminds us of the terrible fate which awaited miscreants in the ‘ Liberty of Halifax, ‘ in the West Riding of Yorkshire, prior to 1650.
‘From Hull, Hell and Halifax, the good Lord deliver us.’ What does this old beggar’s litany mean? Hull refers to the prison there, Hell is self explanatory, whilst Halifax 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 a replica, mounted on the original base, can be seen in nearby Gibbet Street, whilst the original blade to be seen in Bankfield Museum. Being axe shaped, it differs from a guillotine blade which is diagonally shaped.
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 Halifax in 1286.
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, John Lacy, managed to do just that but he made the mistake of returning to The Liberty after seven years and was duly executed.
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Photo taken in Halifax, West Yorkshire, UK
Misplaced? Suggest new location