Hanging in Chains

THE  time is not so far distant when the gibbet and gallows were common objects in this country. In old road books, prepared for the guidance of travellers, they are frequently referred to as road marks. Several editions of Ogilby's "Itinirarium Angliæ" were published between 1673 and 1717, and a few passages drawn from this work relating to various parts of England show how frequently these gruesome instruments of death occur:—

"By the Gallows and Three Windmills enter the suburbs of York."

"Leaving the forementioned suburbs [Durham], a small ascent passing between the gallows and Crokehill."

"You pass through Hare Street, etc., and at 13'4 part of Epping Forest, with a gallows to the left."

"You pass Pen-meris Hall, and at 250'4 Hilldraught Mill, both on the left, and ascend a small hill with a gibbet on the right."

"At the end of the city [Wells] you cross a brook, and pass by the gallows."

"You leave Frampton, Wilberton, and Sherbeck, all on the right, and by a gibbet on the left, over a stone bridge."

"Leaving Nottingham you ascend a hill, and pass by a gallows."

(from Ogilby's "Book of Roads.")

Pictures found a prominent place in Ogilby's pages, and we reproduce one of Nottingham.

It will be noticed that the gallows is shown a short distance from the town.

It is twenty-six miles from London to East Grinstead, and in that short distance were three of these hideous instruments of death on the highway, in addition to gibbets erected in lonely bylanes and secluded spots where crimes had been committed. "Hangman's Lanes" were by no means uncommon. He was a brave man who ventured alone at night on the highways and byways when the country was beset with highwaymen, and the gruesome gibbets were frequently in sight.


Hanging was the usual mode of capital punishment with the Anglo-Saxons. We give a representation of a gallows (gala ) of this period taken from the illuminations to Alfric's version of Genesis. It is highly probable that in some instances the bodies would remain in terrorem upon the gibbet. Robert of Gloucester, circa  1280, referring to his own times, writes:—

"In gibet hii were an honge."

"The habit of gibbeting or hanging in chains the body of the executed criminal near the site of the crime," says Dr. Cox, "with the intention of thereby deterring others from capital offences, was a coarse custom very generally prevalent in mediæval England. Some early assize rolls of the fourteenth century pertaining to Derbyshire that we have consulted give abundant proof of its being a usual habit in the county at that period. In 1341 the bodies of three men were hung in chains just outside Chapel-en-le-Frith, who had been executed for robbery with violence. In the same year a woman and two men were gibbeted on Ashover Moor for murdering one of the King's purveyors."[8]

An early record of hanging in chains is given in Chauncy's "History of Hertfordshire." It states, "Soon after the King came to Easthampstead, to recreate himself with hunting, where he heard that the bodies hanged here were taken down from the gallowes, and removed a great way from the same; this so incensed the King that he sent a writ, tested the 3rd day of August, Anno 1381, to the bailiffs of this borough, commanding them upon sight thereof, to cause chains to be made, and to hang the bodies in them upon the same gallowes, there to remain so long as one piece might stick to another, according to the judgment; but the townsmen, not daring to disobey the King's command, hanged the dead bodies of their neighbours again to their great shame and reproach, when they could not get any other for any wages to come near the stinking carcases, but they themselves were compelled to do so vile an office." Gower, a contemporary poet, writes as follows:—

"And so after by the Lawe He was unto the gibbet drawe,Where he above all other hongeth,As to a traitor it belongeth."

Sir Robert Constable was gibbeted above the Beverley-gate, Hull, in 1537, for high treason. "On Fridaye," wrote the Duke of Norfolk, "beying market daye at Hull, suffered and dothe hange above the highest gate of the toune so trymmed in cheynes that I thinke his boones woll hang there this hundrethe yere."

According to Lord Dreghorn, writing in 1774:—"The first instance of hanging in chains is in March, 1637, in the case of Macgregor, for theft, robbery, and slaughter; he was sentenced to be hanged in a chenzie on the gallow-tree till his corpse rot."[9]

Philip Stanfield, in 1688, was hung in chains between Leith and Edinburgh for the murder of his father, Sir James Stanfield. In books relating to Scotland, Stanfield's sad story has often been told, and it is detailed at some length in Chambers's "Domestic Annals of Scotland."

Hanging in chains was by no means rare from an early period in the annals of England, but according to Blackstone this was no part of the legal judgment. It was not until 1752, by an Act of 25 George II., that gibbeting was legally recognised. After execution by this statute, bodies were to be given to the surgeons to be dissected and anatomized, and not to be buried without this being done. The judge might direct the body to be hung in chains by giving a special order to the sheriff. This Act made matters clear, and was the means of gibbeting rapidly increasing in this country.

A gravestone in the churchyard of Merrington, in the county of Durham, states:—

Here lies the bodies of
John, Jane, and Elizabeth, children of John and Margaret Brass,
Who were murdered the 28th day of January, 1683,
By Andrew Mills, their father's servant,
For which he was executed and hung in chains.
Reader, remember, sleeping
We were slain:
And here we sleep till we must
Rise again.
"Whoso sheddeth man's blood by man shall his blood be shed."
"Thou shalt do no murder."
Restored by subscription in 1789.

The parents of the murdered children were away from home when the awful crime was committed by their farm servant, a young man aged about nineteen, inoffensive, but of somewhat deficient intellect. It is quite clear from the facts which have come down to us that he was insane, for in his confession he stated the devil suggested the deed to his mind, saying, "Kill all, kill all, kill all." The eldest of the family, a daughter, struggled with him for some time, and he was not able to murder her until after her arm was broken. She had placed it as a bolt to a door to secure the safety of the younger members of the family who were sleeping in an inner room. The full particulars of the horrible crime may be found in the pages of Dodd's "History of Spennymoor," published in 1897, and are too painful to give in detail. Some troopers marching from Darlington to Durham seized the culprit, and conveyed him with them. He was tried at Durham, and condemned to be gibbeted near the scene of the murders. Many stories which are related in the district are, we doubt not without foundation in fact. It is asserted that the wretch was gibbeted alive, that he lived for several days, and that his sweetheart kept him alive with milk. Another tale is to the effect that a loaf of bread was placed just within his reach, but fixed on an iron spike that would enter his throat if he attempted to relieve the pangs of hunger with it.

His cries of pain were terrible, and might be heard for miles. The country folk left their homes until after his death. "It is to be hoped," says Mr. Dodd, the local historian, "that the statement about the man being gibbeted alive is a fiction." Some years ago, a local playwright dramatised the story for the Spennymoor theatre, where it drew large audiences.

Long after the body had been removed, a portion of the gibbet remained, and was known as "Andrew Mills's Stob," but it was taken away bit by bit as it was regarded a charm for curing toothache.

Robert and William Bolas were gibbeted on Uckington Heath, near Shrewsbury, in 1723. They had murdered Walter Matthews and William Whitcomb, who had resisted their entering a barn to steal wheat. A popular saying in Shropshire is "Cold and chilly like old Bolas." Its origin is referred back to the time the body of Robert Bolas was hanging in chains. At a public-house not far distant from the place one dark night a bet was made that one of the party assembled dare not proceed alone to the gibbet and ask after the state of Bolas's health. The wager was accepted, and we are told the man undertaking it at once made his way to the spot. Immediately upon this, another of the company, by a short cut, proceeded to the gibbet, and placed himself behind it, and a third, carrying a number of chains, concealed himself in a hedge adjoining the road. Upon arriving at the gibbet, the person undertaking to make the enquiry, screwed up his courage, and timidly said in a low voice, "Well, Bolas, how are you?" Immediately, in a shaky voice, as from a tomb, came the response from the person behind the gibbet, "Cold and chilly, thank you." This unlooked-for reply completely upset the valour of the enquirer, and turning tail he fled for the inn with all possible speed. Upon passing the place where the person with the chains was lying, he was followed with a loud rattling and reached his comrades in a most exhausted and frightened condition. Tradition has it that the event terminated in the bold adventurer becoming, and continuing ever afterwards, a lunatic.

When Robert Bolas was awaiting his trial he believed that it would result in an acquittal, and that he would thus be permitted to go home for the corn harvest and get his barley. He was a man of immense strength, and a great source of amusement to his fellow prisoners awaiting trial, before whom, although loaded with heavy chains, he would sing and dance with the most perfect ease. It was upon one of these occasions, when he was in a particularly happy and hopeful mood, that he is reported to have made use of the saying, which is known even to the present day, "I would that these troublesome times were over as I want to go home and get my barley."

A curious story is told to the effect that the corpse of Bolas was taken down from the gibbet by some of his companions and thrown into the river Tern, but that it would not sink. Weights were then tied to it, but still it floated upon the top of the water, and subsequently was again placed upon the gibbet. The part of the river into which it was thrown is still called "Bolas's hole."


In the Town Hall, Rye, Sussex, is preserved the ironwork used in 1742 for gibbeting John Breeds, a butcher, who murdered Allen Grebble, the Mayor of Rye. It appears that Breeds had a dispute about some property with Thomas Lamb, and learning that he was about to see a friend off by a ship sailing to France on the night of March 17th planned his murder. Mr. Lamb, for reasons not stated, changed his mind, and induced his neighbour Mr. Grebble to take his place. On returning home and passing the churchyard, Breeds rushed upon him and mortally wounded him with a knife. The unfortunate man was able to walk home, but shortly expired while seated in his chair. His servant was suspected of murdering him, but Breeds's strange conduct soon brought the crime home to him. He was tried, found guilty, and condemned to death, and to be hung in chains. The gibbet was set up on a marsh situated at the west end of the town, now known as "Gibbet Marsh." Here it stood for many years; but when all the mortal remains had dropped away from the ironwork with the exception of the upper part of the skull, the Corporation took possession of it, and it is now in their custody.

Mr. Lewis Evans, has given, in his article on "Witchcraft in Hertfordshire," an account of the murder of John and Ruth Osborn, suspected of witchcraft. Notice had been given at various market towns in the neighbourhood of Tring that on a certain day the man and his wife would be ducked at Long Marston, in Tring Parish. On the appointed day, April 22nd, 1757, says Mr. Evans, Ruth Osborn, and her husband John, sought sanctuary in the church, but the "bigotted and superstitious rioters," who had assembled in crowds from the whole district round, not finding their victims, smashed the workhouse windows and half destroyed it, caught its governor, and threatened to burn both him and the town, and searched the whole premises, even to the "salt box," for the reputed witches in vain. However, they were found at last, dragged from the vestry, and their thumbs and toes having been tied together, they were wrapped in sheets, and dragged by ropes through a pond; the woman was tried first, and as she did not sink, Thomas Colley, a chimney sweep, turned her over and over with a stick. John Osborn, the husband, was then tested in the same way, and the trial was made three times on each of them, with suchsuccess, that the woman died on the spot, and the man a few days later. When the experiment was over, Colley went round and collected money from the crowd for his trouble in shewing them such sport.

The coroner's verdict, however, declared that the Osborns had been murdered, and Colley was tried at Hertford Assizes, before Sir William Lee, and having been found guilty of murder, was sent back to the scene of the crime under a large escort of one hundred and eight men, seven officers, and two trumpeters, and was hung on August 24th, 1751, at Gubblecote Cross, where his body swung in chains for many years.[10]

A Salford woolcomber named John Grinrod (or Grinret), poisoned his wife and two children in September, 1758, and in the following March was hanged and gibbeted for committing the crime. The gibbet stood on Pendleton Moor. It was a popular belief in the neighbourhood:—

"That the wretch in his chains, each night took the pains,To come down from the gibbet—and walk."

As can be easily surmised, such a story frightened many of the simple country folk. It was told to a traveller staying at an hostelry situated not far distant from where the murderer's remains hung in chains. He laughed to scorn the strange stories which alarmed the countryside, and laid a wager with the publican that he would visit at midnight the gibbet. The traveller said:—

"To the gibbet I'll go, and this I will do,As sure as I stand in my shoes;Some address I'll devise, and if Grinny replies,My wager of course, I shall lose."

We are next told how, in the dark and dismal night, the traveller proceeded without dismay to the gibbet, and stood under it. Says Ainsworth, the Lancashire novelist and poet, from whom we are quoting:—

"Though dark as could be, yet he thought he could see The skeleton hanging on high;The gibbet it creaked; and the rusty chains squeaked;And a screech-owl flew solemnly by.
"The heavy rain pattered, the hollow bones clattered,The traveller's teeth chattered—with cold—not with fright;The wind it blew hastily, piercingly, gustily;Certainly not an agreeable night!
"'Ho! Grindrod, old fellow,' thus loudly did bellow,The traveller mellow—'How are ye, my blade?'—'I'm cold and I'm dreary; I'm wet and I'm weary;But soon I'll be near ye!' the skeleton said.
"The grisly bones rattled, and with the chains battled,The gibbet appallingly shook;On the ground something stirr'd, but no more the man heard,To his heels, on the instant, he took.
"Over moorland he dashed, and through quagmire he plashed,His pace never daring to slack;Till the hostel he neared, for greatly he feared Old Grindrod would leap on his back.
"His wager he lost, and a trifle it cost;But that which annoyed him the most,Was to find out too late, that certain as fate The landlord had acted the Ghost."

The tragic story of Eugene Aram has received attention at the hands of the historian, poet, and novelist, and his name is the most notable in the annals of crime in the North of England. In the winter of 1744-5 a shoemaker, named Daniel Clarke, who had recently married, and was possessed of money and other valuables, as it subsequently transpired not obtained in an honourable manner, was suddenly missing, and two of his associates, Richard Houseman and Eugene Aram, were suspected of knowing about his disappearance, and even at their hands foul play was suspected, but it could not be brought home to them. Aram left the town, and in various places followed his calling—that of a school teacher. The mystery of Daniel Clarke remained for some years unsolved, but in 1758 a labourer found at Knaresborough some human bones, and it was suspected that they were Clarke's, and were shown to Houseman, who was supposed to have a knowledge of the missing man, and in an unguarded moment said that they were not those of Clarke. His manner aroused suspicion, and on being pressed he confessed that Clarke was murdered and buried in St. Robert's Cave, and that Aram and himself were responsible for his death. The cave was explored, and the skeleton of the murdered man was found. Aram was arrested at Lynn, where he was an usher in a school, and was esteemed alike by pupils and parents. He stoutly protested his innocence, and undertook his own defence. He read it in court, and it was regarded as a masterpiece of reasoning. It was, however, made clear from the statements of Houseman, who was admitted as king's evidence, that Aram had murdered Clarke for gain when he was in indigent circumstances. The jury returned a verdict of guilty against Aram, and he was condemned to death, and his body to be afterwards hung in chains.

It appears quite clear from a careful consideration of the case that Aram was guilty of the crime.

He attempted, after his trial, to commit suicide by cutting his arm with a razor in two places, but when discovered, with proper remedies, his failing strength was restored. On the table was found a document giving his reasons for attempting to end his own life. On the morning of his execution he stated that he awoke about three o'clock, and then wrote the following lines:—

"Come, pleasing rest, eternal slumber fall,Seal mine, that once must seal the eyes of all;Calm and composed, my soul her journey takes,No guilt that troubles, and no heart that aches;Adieu! thou sun, all bright like her arise;Adieu! fair friends, and all that's good and wise."

On August 6th, 1759, he was hanged at York, and afterwards his body was conveyed to Knaresborough Forest, where it was gibbeted.

Hornsea people are sometimes called "Hornsea Pennels," after a notorious pirate and smuggler, named Pennel, who murdered his captain and sunk his ship near to the place. He was tried and executed in London for the crimes, and his body, bound round with iron hoops, was sent to Hornsea, in a case marked "glass." The corpse, in 1770, was hung in chains on the north cliff. Long ago the cliff with its gibbet has been washed away by the sea.

On the night of June 8th, 1773, a man named Corbet, a rat-catcher and chimney-sweep, living at Tring, entered down the chimney the house of Richard Holt, of Bierton, Buckinghamshire, and murdered him in his bed-chamber. For this crime Corbet was hanged and gibbeted in a field not far distant from the house where the murder was committed. The gibbet served as a gallows. A correspondent of the Bucks Herald  says in 1795 he visited Bierton Feast, and at that period the gibbet was standing, with the skull of the murderer attached to the irons. Some years later the irons were worn away by the action of the swivel from which they were suspended, fell, and were thrown into the ditch, and lost sight of. Francis Neale, of Aylesbury, blacksmith, made the gibbet, or as he calls it in his account the gib, and his bill included entries as follow:—

"July 23,a.d. 1773.To 6lb. Spikes 0 2 3
""Iron for Gib-post 0 16 4
""Nails for the Gib 0 4 0
""3 hund'd tenter Hooks 0 3 0
""The Gib 5 0 0"

These figures were copied from the original accounts by the late Robert Gibbs, the painstaking local chronicler of Aylesbury. This is understood to have been the last gibbet erected in Buckinghamshire.[11]

Terror and indignation were felt by the inhabitants of the quiet midland town of Derby on Christmas day, in the year 1775, as the news spread through the place that on the previous evening an aged lady had been murdered and her house plundered. An Irishman named Matthew Cocklain disappeared from the town, and he was suspected of committing the foul deed. He was tracked to his native country, arrested, and brought back to Derby. At the following March Assizes, he was tried and found guilty of the crime, sentenced to be hanged, and afterwards gibbeted. His body was for some time suspended in the summer sun and winter cold, an object of fright to the people in the district.

Christmas eve had come round once more, and at a tavern, near the gibbet, a few friends were enjoying a pipe and glass around the cheerful burning yule-log, when the conversation turned to the murderer, and a wager was made that a certain member of the company dare not venture near the grim gibbet at that late hour of night. A man agreed to go, and take with him a basin of broth and offer it to Matthew Cocklain. He proceeded without delay, carrying on his shoulder a ladder, and in his hand a bowl of hot broth. On arriving at the foot of the gibbet, he mounted the ladder, and put to Cocklain's mouth the basin, saying, "Sup, Matthew," but to his great astonishment, a hollow voice replied, "It's hot." He was taken by surprise; but, equal to the occasion, and at once said, "Blow it, blow it," subsequently throwing the liquid into the face of the suspended body.

He returned to the cosy room of the hostelry to receive the bet he had won. His mate, who had been hid behind the gibbet-post, and had tried to frighten him with his sepulchral speech, admitted that the winner was a man of nerve, and richly entitled to the wager.

It has been asserted by more than one local chronicler that John Whitfield, of Coathill, a notorious north country highwayman, about 1777, was gibbeted alive on Barrock, a hill a few miles from Wetherell, near Carlisle. He kept the countryside in a state of terror, and few would venture out after nightfall for fear of encountering him. He shot a man on horseback in open daylight; a boy saw him commit the crime, and was the means of his identification and conviction. It is the belief in the district that Whitfield was gibbeted alive, and that he hung for several days in agony, and that his cries were heartrending, until a mail-coachman passing that way put him out of his misery by shooting him.

On the night of July 3rd, 1779, John Spencer murdered William Yeadon, keeper of the Scrooby toll-bar, and his mother, Mary Yeadon. The brutal crime was committed with a heavy hedge-stake. The culprit was soon caught, and tried at Nottingham. It transpired that the prisoner was pressed for money, and that the murders were committed to obtain it. He was found guilty, and condemned to be executed at Nottingham, and then his body was to be hung in chains near Scrooby toll-bar. In his hand was placed the hedge-stake with which he had committed the murders. After the body had been suspended a few weeks the body was shot through by the sergeant of a band of soldiers passing that way with a deserter. For the offence he was followed and reported, tried by court-martial, and reduced to the ranks. This disturbance of the body caused its rapid decomposition, and the odour blown over the neighbouring village was most offensive.[12]

Several instances of persons being gibbeted for robbing the mails have come under our notice. In the columns of the Salisbury Journal  for August 18th, 1783, it is stated:—"The sentence of William Peare for robbing the mail near Chippenham stands unreversed.... He will be executed at Fisherton gallows, on Tuesday morning, about 11 o'clock, and his body will then be inclosed in a suit of chains, ingeniously made by Mr. Wansborough and conveyed to Chippenham, and affixed to a gibbet erected near the spot where the robbery was committed." The allusion to "unreversed" has reference to the common practice of condemning people to death, and shortly afterwards granting a pardon. The issue of the paper for the following week records that: "On Tuesday morning Peare was executed at Fisherton gallows.... The remaining part of the sentence was completed on Wednesday, by hanging the body in Green Lane, near Chippenham, where it now is; a dreadful memento to youth, how they swerve from the paths of rectitude, and transgress the laws of their country." The body of Peare was not permitted to remain long on the gibbet. We see it is stated in a paragraph in the same newspaper under date of November 10th, 1783, that on the 30th of October at night, the corpse was taken away, and it was supposed that this was done by some of his Cricklade friends.

Near the Devil's Punch Bowl, at Hind Head, an upright stone records the murder of a sailor, and the inscription it bears is as under:—

in detestation of a barbarous murder
committed here on an unknown sailor,
On September 24th, 1786,
By Edwd. Lonegon, Michl. Casey, and Jas. Marshall,
who were taken the same day,
and hung in chains near this place.

"Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed."
—Gen. chap. 9, ver. 6.

And on the back:—

This stone was erected by order and at
the cost of
James Stilwell, Esq., of Cosford, 1786.
Cursed be the man who injureth or removeth
this stone.

The stone was removed from its original position on the old Portsmouth road, which ran at a higher level, and placed where it now stands some years since.

The three men who committed the crime were arrested at Rake, near Petersfield, and in their possession was found the clothing of the unfortunate sailor. They were tried at Kingston, and found guilty of murder, and condemned to be hanged and gibbeted near where they had committed the foul deed. On April 7th, 1787, the sentence was carried into effect. The gibbet remained for three years, and was then blown down in a gale. The hill is still known as Gibbet Hill.

The murdered man was buried in Thursley churchyard, and over his remains was erected a gravestone, bearing a carving representing three men killing the sailor, and an inscription as follows:—

In Memory of
A generous, but unfortunate Sailor,
Who was barbarously murder'd on Hindhead,
On September 24th, 1786,
By three Villains,
After he had liberally treated them,
And promised them his further Assistance,
On the Road to Portsmouth.
When pitying Eyes to see my Grave shall come,And with a generous Tear bedew my tomb;Here shall they read my melancholy fate—With Murder and Barbarity complete.In perfect Health, and in the Flower of Age,I fell a Victim to three Ruffians' Rage;On bended Knees, I mercy strove t'obtain Their Thirst of Blood made all Entreaties Vain,No dear Relations, or still dearer Friend,Weeps my hard lot or miserable End.Yet o'er my sad remains (my name unknown)A generous public have inscribed this Stone.

On February 2nd, 1787, two dissolute young men named Abraham Tull and William Hawkins, aged respectively nineteen and seventeen, waylaid and murdered William Billimore, an aged labourer. They stole his silver watch, but were too frightened to continue their search for money which they expected to find, and made a hasty retreat; but they were soon overtaken, and were subsequently, at Reading Assizes, tried and condemned to be gibbeted on Ufton Common within sight of their homes. For many years their ghastly remains were suspended to gibbet posts, much to the terror and annoyance of the people in the district. No attempt was made to remove the bodies, on account of it being regarded as unlawful, until Mrs. Brocas, of Beaurepaire, then residing at Wokefield Park, gave private orders for them to be taken down in the night and buried, which was accordingly done. During her daily drives she passed the gibbeted men and the sight greatly distressed her, and caused her to have them taken down.[13] The ironwork of the gibbets are in the Reading Museum.

William Lewin, in 1788, robbed the post-boy carrying the letters from Warrington to Northwich, between Stretton and Whitley. He managed to elude the agents of the law for three years, but was eventually captured, tried at Chester, and found guilty of committing the then capital offence of robbing the mail. He was hanged at Chester. Says a contemporary account:—"His body is hung in chains on the most elevated part of Helsby Tor, about eight miles from Chester; from whence it may be conspicuously seen, and, by means of glasses, is visible to the whole county, most parts of Lancashire, Flintshire, Denbighshire, Shropshire, Derbyshire, etc., etc."[14] About this period there were three gibbets along the road between Warrington and Chester.[15]

Only five months after William Lewin had been gibbeted for robbing the mails, almost in the same locality Edward Miles robbed and murdered the post-boy carrying the Liverpool mail-bag to Manchester on September 15th, 1791. For this crime he was hanged, and suspended in chains on the Manchester Road, near "The Twysters," where the murder had been committed. In 1845 the irons in which the body had been encased were dug up near the site of the gibbet, and may now be seen in the Warrington Museum. Our illustration is reproduced from a drawing in Mr. Madeley's work, "Some Obsolete Modes of Punishment." It will be observed the irons which enclosed the head are wanting.


Spence Broughton was tried at York, in 1792, for robbing the mail running between Sheffield and Rotherham. He was found guilty, and condemned to be executed at York, and his body to be hung in chains near the place where the robbery had been committed. The gibbet-post (which was the last put up in Yorkshire), with the irons, the skull, and a few other bones and rags, was standing in 1827-28, when it was taken down.[16]

We learn from "The Norfolk and Norwich Remembrancer" (1822), that on May 2nd, 1804, the gibbet on which Payne, the pirate, was hung about 23 years previously, upon Yarmouth North Denes, was taken down by order of the Corporation.

Lincolnshire history supplies some curious details respecting the gibbeting of a man named Tom Otter, in the year 1806. We are told that he was compelled by the old poor law regulations to wed a girl he had injured. He lured her into a secluded spot the day after their marriage, and deliberately murdered her. According to the prevalent custom, Tom Otter's corpse was hung in chains. The day selected for that purpose inaugurated a week of merry-making of the most unseemly character. Booths were pitched near the gibbet, and great numbers of the people came to see the wretch suspended. It is reported that some years later, when the jaw bones had become sufficiently bare to leave a cavity between them, a bird built its nest in this unique position. The discovery of nine young ones therein gave rise to the following triplet still quoted in the neighbourhood:—

"There were nine tongues within the head,The tenth went out to seek some bread,To feed the living in the dead."

The gibbet was standing until the year 1850, when it was blown down.

At the Derby March Assizes, 1815, a young man named Anthony Lingard was tried and convicted for murdering Hannah Oliver, a widow, who kept the turnpike-gate at Wardlow Miers, in the parish of Tideswell. The following account of the crime is from the Derby Mercury, for March 13th, 1815:—

"On Saturday morning, Anthony Lingard, the younger, aged 21, was put to the bar, charged with the murder (by strangulation) of Hannah Oliver, a widow woman, aged 48 years, who kept the turnpike gate at Wardlow Miers, in the parish of Tideswell, in this county.

"It appeared in evidence that the prisoner committed the robbery and murder in the night of Sunday the 15th of January last; that he took from the house several pounds in cash and notes, and a pair of new woman's shoes; that immediately after the deed was perpetrated, he went to a young woman in the neighbourhood, who was pregnant by him, and offered to give her some money with a view to induce her to father the child upon some other person; that he gave her the shoes, and also some money; but it being rumoured that Hannah Oliver had been murdered, and that a pair of shoes had been taken from her, the young woman returned the shoes to the prisoner, who said she had no occasion to be afraid, for that he had had them of a person in exchange for a pair of stockings. The shoes, however, were returned to him; and the evidence adduced in respect to them, as well as in respect to a great variety of circumstances connected with the horrid transaction, was given in such a very minute detail of corroborative and satisfactory proofs, as to leave no doubt in the minds of everyone that the prisoner was the person who had committed the murder, independent of his own confession, which was taken before the magistrates, previous to his committal.

"The trial on the part of the prosecution being closed, and the prisoner not having any witness to call, the learned judge carefully summed up the evidence to the jury, who after a few minutes returned a verdict of guilty.

"His Lordship then passed the awful sentence of the law upon the prisoner, which was done by the learned judge in the most solemn and impressive manner, entreating him to make the best use of his time, and to prepare himself during the short period he had to live, for the great change he was about to undergo.

"Since his condemnation he conducted himself with greater sobriety than he had manifested before his trial; but his temper was obstinate, and his mind lamentably ignorant: and being totally unacquainted with religious considerations, he exhibited very imperfect signs of real penitence, and but little anxiety respecting his future state. He acknowledged the crime for which he was about to suffer the sentence of the law, but was reluctantly induced to pronounce his forgiveness of the young woman who was the principal evidence against him.

"At 12 o'clock yesterday he was brought upon the drop in front of the County gaol, and after a short time occupied in prayer with the chaplain (who had previously attended him with the most unremitting and tender assiduity), he was launched into eternity. He met his fate with a firmness which would deserve the praise of fortitude if it was not the result of insensibility. He appeared but little agitated or dejected by his dreadful situation.

"Let the hope be encouraged that his example may operate as a warning to those among the multitude of spectators, who might not before feel all the horror with which vice ought to be regarded. When wickedness is thus seen not in its allurements, but in its consequences, its true nature is evidenced. It is always the offspring of ignorance and folly, and the parent of long enduring misery.

"Before the Judge left the town, he directed that the body of Lingard should be hung in chains in the most convenient place near the spot where the murder was committed, instead of being dissected and anatomized."

The treasurer's accounts for Derbyshire, for 1815-16, show, says Dr. Cox, that the punishment of gibbeting involved a serious inroad on the county finances. The expenses for apprehending Anthony Lingard amounted to £31 5s. 5d., but the expenses incurred in the gibbeting reached a total of £85 4s. 1d., and this in addition to ten guineas charged by the gaoler for conveying the body from Derby to Wardlow.[17]

A paragraph in Rhodes's "Peak Scenery," first published in 1818, is worth reproducing:—"As we passed along the road to Tideswell," writes the author, "the villages of Wardlow and Litton lay on our left.... Here, at a little distance on the left of the road, we observed a man suspended on a gibbet, which was but newly erected. The vanity of the absurd idea of our forefathers, in thinking that a repulsive object of this kind would act as a deterrent of crime, was strikingly shown in the case of this Wardlow gibbet." It is related of Hannah Pecking, of Litton, who was hung on March 22nd, 1819, at the early age of sixteen, for poisoning Jane Grant, a young woman of the same village, that she "gave the poison in a sweet cake to her companion, as they were going to fetch some cattle out of a field, near to which stood the gibbet-post of Anthony Lingard."

The gibbet was taken down on April 10th, 1826, by order of the magistrates, and the remains of Lingard buried on the spot. We give a drawing of Lingard's gibbet-cap, which is now in the museum at Belle Vue, Manchester.

The Rev. Dr. Cox contributed to the columns of The Antiquary, for November, 1890, some important notes on this theme. "It was usual," says Dr. Cox, "to saturate the body with tar before it was hung in chains, in order that it might last the longer. This was done with the bodies of three highwaymen about the middle of last century, gibbeted on the top of the Chevin, near Belper, in Derbyshire. They had robbed the North Coach when it was changing horses at the inn at Hazelwood, just below the summit of the Chevin. After the bodies had been hanging there for a few weeks, one of the friends of the criminals set fire at night time to the big gibbet that bore all three. The father of our aged informant, and two or three others of the cottagers near by, seeing a glare of light, went up the hill, and there they saw the sickening spectacle of the three bodies blazing away in the darkness. So thoroughly did the tar aid this cremation that the next morning only the links of the iron remained on the site of the gibbet."


On the high road near Brigg, in 1827, a murder was committed by a chimney-sweep. At the Lincoln Assizes he was condemned to be hanged, and hung in chains on the spot where the tragedy occurred. The inhabitants of Brigg petitioned against the gibbeting, as it was so near the town, and consequently that part of the sentence was remitted.

A strike occurred at Jarrow Colliery, in 1832, and Mr. Nicholas Fairles, one of the owners, was a magistrate for the county of Durham, the only one in the district, and he took an active part in preserving peace during the troublesome time. He was seventy-one years of age, and greatly esteemed for his kindly disposition and high moral character. On June 11th he had been transacting some business at the Colliery, and was riding home to South Shields on his pony. When he had reached a lonely place, two men attacked him, dragging him from his horse, because he refused to give them money. They then felled him to the ground with a bludgeon, and as he lay helpless on the ground, heavy stones were used to end his life.

He was left for dead, but on being found and carried to a neighbouring house, it was discovered that he was alive, and after a few hours he recovered consciousness, and was able to give the names of the two men who had attempted to murder him, whom he knew, and who were Jarrow colliers, William Jobling and Ralph Armstrong. After lingering a few days, Mr. Fairles died. Jobling was soon caught, but Armstrong escaped, and was never brought to justice. Jobling was tried at Durham Assizes, and condemned to be hanged and gibbeted. On August 3rd he was executed at Durham, and his body was subsequently escorted by fifty soldiers and others to Jarrow Slake, and set up on a gibbet 21 feet high. The post was fixed into a stone, weighing about thirty hundredweight, and sunk into the water a hundred yards from the high-water mark, and opposite the scene of the tragedy. The gruesome spectacle was not permitted to remain, for on the night of the 31st of the same month it was erected it was taken down, it is supposed, by some of his fellow workmen, and the body was quietly buried in the south-west corner of Jarrow churchyard. It only remains to be added that during the construction of the Tyne Dock, the iron framework in which Jobling's body was suspended was found, and was in 1888 presented by the directors of the North Eastern Railway Company to the Newcastle Society of Antiquaries. On 14th April, 1891, passed away at the advanced age of 96, Jobling's widow, and it has been stated, with her death the last personal link with the gibbet was severed.

The last man gibbeted in this country was James Cook, a bookbinder, at Leicester. He was executed for the murder of John Paas, a London tradesman, with whom he did business. Cook's body was suspended on a gibbet thirty-three feet high, on Saturday, August 11th, 1832, in Saffron Lane, Aylestone, near Leicester. The body was soon taken down, and buried on the spot where the gibbet stood, by order of the Secretary of State, to put a stop to the disturbances caused by the crowds of people visiting the place on a Sunday.[18]

Some little time before the execution of a criminal who was also condemned to be hung in chains, it was customary for the blacksmith to visit the prison and measure the victim for the ironwork in which he was to be suspended.

Hanging Alive in Chains

Nearly every district in England has its thrilling tale of a man hanging alive in chains. Some writers affirm the truth of the story, while others regard it as merely fiction. We are not in a position to settle the disputed question. Blackstone, in his "Commentaries," published in 1769, clearly states that a criminal was suspended in chains after execution. Holinshed, who died about the year 1580, in his famous "Chronicle of England," a work which supplied Shakespeare with materials for historical dramas, states:—"In wilful murder done upon pretended (premeditated) malice, or in anie notable robbery, the criminal is either hanged alive in chains near the place where the act was committed, or else, upon compassion taken, first strangled with a rope, and so continueth till his bones come to nothing. Where wilful manslaughter is perpetrated, besides hanging, the offender hath his right hand commonly stricken off."

We glean an important item from "England's Mourning Garment," written by Henry Chettle, a poet and dramatist, born about the year 1540, and who died in 1604. He lived in the days of Queen Elizabeth. "But for herselfe," wrote Chettle, "she was alwayes so inclined to equitie that if she left Justice in any part, it was in shewing pittie; as in one generall punishment of murder it appeared; where-as before time there was extraordinary torture, as hanging wilfull murderers alive in chains; she having compassion like a true Shepheardesse of their soules, though they were often erring and utterly infected flock, said their death satisfied for death; and life for life was all that could be demanded; and affirming more, that much torture distracted a dying man." This subject is fully discussed in Notes and Queries, 4th series, volumes x. and xi.A work entitled "Hanging in Chains," by Albert Hartshorne, f.s.a., (London, 1891), contains much out-of-the-way information on this theme.

Bewick, the famous artist and naturalist, in his pictures of English scenery introduced the gibbet "as one of the characteristics of the picturesque."

The old custom of hanging the bodies of criminals in chains was abolished by statute on July 25th, 1834, and thus ends a strange chapter in the history of Old England.

THE GIBBET (from Bewick's "British Birds.")


[8]Cox's "Three Centuries of Derbyshire Annals," 1888.

[9]M'Lauria (Lord Dreghorn) "Arguments and Decisions," etc., Edinburgh, 1774.

[10]Andrews's "Bygone Hertfordshire," 1898.

[11]Sheahan's "History of Buckinghamshire," 1862.

[12]Stevenson's "Bygone Nottinghamshire," 1893.

[13]Sharp's "History of Ufton Court," 1892.

[14]Trial of William Lewin, 1791, Chester, n.d.

[15]Madeley's "Some Obsolete Modes of Punishment," Warrington, 1887.

[16]"Criminal Chronology of York Castle," 1867.

[17]Cox's "Three Centuries of Derbyshire Annals," 1888.

[18]See "Bygone Leicestershire," edited by William Andrews, 1892.