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History - The Halifax Gibbet

The reconstructed Gibbet.
Courtesy of George Barraclough
Beware the blade.
Courtesy of George Barraclough

What is the Halifax Gibbet?

The Halifax Gibbet was a guillotine used for public execution from the 13th to the 17th century. The Halifax Gibbet is in Yorkshire, England (not Halifax, Canada). The earliest recorded execution was in 1286. It is suggested that the Gibbet was built to punish thieves who stole cloth, especially from tenters (a wooden frame that cloth was stretched and dried on).

Escaping the Halifax Gibbet

Convicted criminals did have one thing going for them. For hundreds of years the law stated that if a condemned person could withdraw his or her head before the blade was released and hit the bottom, all they had to do was hustle it to the next town - Hebble Brook - and he or she was free. The one condition: that person could never return. The only lucky and quick guy to do this was John Lacy. On January 29, 1623, John managed to escape and run to freedom. But after seven years, Running Man, as he was nicknamed, foolishly believed that because he had done the impossible he would be allowed back. He was as wrong as he was dumb. As soon as he came back he was immediately put back under the blade again and this time he didn't stand a chance.

Finding the Halifax Gibbet

Almost 60 people, both men and woman, were executed by the Halifax Gibbet. The town finally stopped using it in 1650. The Gibbet originally stood at Cow Green but it was later moved to a marked site on Gibbet Street. The actual site of the Gibbet was lost after the 17th century until it was rediscovered in 1839 when workmen discovered the skeletons and skulls of two bodies. Possibly the last two men executed. The original blade (the head of an axe) was returned to Halifax in 1970. It can be seen at the Calderdale Industrial Museum. A replica of the Gibbet was reconstructed in 1974.

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