GIBBET LAW

John Brearcliffe, who was the garrison surgeon for the Roundhead soldiers based in Heptonstall, left with the soldiers when they retreated to Blackstone Edge to join up with the main Roundhead army.  In 1650 John returned to his birth place of Halifax and became the Constable of Halifax.  While in this job he wrote about The Gibbet Law in Halifax.  The following is taken from his writings. (Can be seen in Halifax Antiquarian Society 1908 p321).

John Brearcliffe goes on to list entries in the execution book and accounts books of the Constable. Between 1541 and 1650 53 people were beheaded on the Gibbet in Halifax.

30th December 1648 James Mellor was beheaded.

Paid for maintaining James Mellor and two men to wait on him for five days and nights wages – 8 shillings. Meat and drink for James Mellor and guards – 12

shillings. Spent for Jury – 4 shillings.

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The beheading of John Lea.

Spent on seeking John Lea 12th January 1649 – 6d.  ( sixpence)

Spent on seeking John Lea 10th February 1649 – 1s  (1 shilling)

John Lea was finally caught in March 1649 and executed.

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6th November 1649

Paid for jurymen to try Ellis Nutter 2s 6d  (two shillings and sixpence). 

Ellis Nutter was acquitted on trial.  It is comforting to know that prisoners were sometimes acquitted but it is interesting to note that the jurymen which sent James Mellor to his fate appear to have recieved more money than the jurymen who acquitted Ellis Nutter.

John Brearcliffe then goes on to explain that even if the accused were found not guilty and acquitted at their trial that may not be the end of the matter because according to Gibbet Law if the accused was aquitted he was set at liberty upon payment of all fees.  If they were steeling to stay alive then they are very unlikely to have enough money to pay court fees.

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Lesser, although equally barbaric punishments were also undertaken at the Gibbet in Halifax and John Breacliffe lists two of these cases.

1st January 1649

Frank Frankleton was nailed to the Gibbet post by both his ears.

1st February 1649

A prisoner from Heptonstall was nailed to the Gibbet post by both his ears.

There is no indication as to the offences committed by these unfortunate individuals or the length of time they were left nailed to the Gibbet post.  John Breacliffe then tells us that the Gibbet Law came to an end in 1650, the year that John became Constable of Halifax, apparently on the instruction of Oliver Cromwell.  The last to be beheaded on the Halifax Gibbet were Jo Wilkinson and Anthony Mitchell of Sowerby on 30th April 1650.

Mick Blaylock.

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