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Halifax Gibbet: Wikis


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Coordinates: 53°43′25″N 1°52′02″W / 53.7237°N 1.8672°W / 53.7237; -1.8672

A replica of the Halifax Gibbet, on its original site in Gibbet Street

The Halifax Gibbet was an early guillotine, or decapitating machine, used in the town of Halifax, West Yorkshire, England. Its first recorded use was in 1286 and the last in 1650, between which dates 53 men and women were executed using the device.



Halifax had held the right to execute criminals since 1280. Although there is early reference to a gibbet, including a report that the first person to be beheaded by it was John of Dalton in 1286, formal records of victims did not begin until 1541,[1] when the town acquired a fixed machine which used a heavy axe-shaped iron blade dropping from a height of several feet to cut off the head of the condemned criminal.

The Gibbet could be operated by either cutting the rope holding up the blade or by pulling out a pin which prevented it falling. It is reported that if the offender was to be executed for stealing an animal, the end of a rope was fastened to the pin holding the blade in place and tied to the animal, which was then driven off, causing the pin to pull out and the blade to drop. Otherwise, the bailiff of the Lord of the Manor or his servant cut the rope.[2]

The Gibbet's reputation seems to have been greater than the facts, as between 1541 and 1650, the official records show that only 53 men and women were executed by the Halifax Gibbet. The Gibbet was taken down in 1650 after the execution of Anthony Mitchell and John Wilkinson, perhaps in response to the beheading for treason of King Charles I in 1649, but a replica was erected in 1974 on the original site at Gibbet Street.[1] the replica was dismantled in 2003, after a spate of vandalism and some rot was discovered in its base, but it was rebuilt the following year.[3]


Halifax Gibbet Law

The Halifax Gibbet Law gave the Lord of the Manor of Halifax the power to try and execute any felon for thefts of the value of 13½ pence or more:

If a felon be taken within the liberty of Halifax ... either hand-habend (caught with the stolen goods in his hand or in the act of stealing), back-berand (caught carrying stolen goods on his back), or confess and (having confessed to the crime), to the value of thirteen pence half-penny, he shall after three markets ... be taken to the Gibbet and there have his head cut off from his body.[1]

Popular accounts

The Halifax Gibbet is referred to in Thomas Deloney's ballad "Thomas, of Reading" (1600),[4] while the reputation of Halifax for strict law enforcement was noted by Daniel Defoe, who gave a detailed description in his Travels; by the antiquary William Camden; and by the "Water Poet" John Taylor, who penned the Beggar's Litany: "From Hell, Hull, and Halifax, Good Lord, deliver us!"[5]

The Halifax Gibbet was featured on The History Channel's "Surviving History" on 15 June, 2008. The cast of the show recreated and tested a full-scale, fully functioning Halifax Gibbet.[6]

The Halifax Gibbet featured in J.M. Coetzee's Nobel Lecture in 2003.[7]

See also


  • Lipson, Ephraim (1965), The history of the woollen and worsted industries, Routledge, ISBN 978-0714623399 


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