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42056.  Thu Dec 29, 2005 9:13 am Reply with quote

A piece of new information to me - did you know that the gibbet in Halifax was a form of guillotine avant la lettre?

The phrase 'from Hell, Hull and Halifax, good Lord deliver us' comes from a poem by John Taylor, written in 1622, in which the famous Beggar's Litany 'From Hell, Hull and Halifax, Good Lord deliver us' referred to the notorious strictness of the law enforcers at Hull, the horrors of Hell, and the formidable Gibbet Law at Halifax. Taylor's poem continues:

"At Halifax, the Law so sharpe doth deale,
That whoso more than thirteen pence doth steale,
They have a jyn [engine] that wondrous quicke and well
Sends Thieves all headless unto Heav'n or Hell".

The right of a gibbet is believed to have been vested in Halifax and about 100 other places in Yorkshire around 1066, although the earliest reference to it dates from 1280. The notoriety of the Halifax gibbet stemmed from the fact that the custom continued long after it had been abandoned elsewhere. It was used to punish those who stole valuable cloth from the 'tenters' who pegged it out to dry. Local legend says that the locals would not be hangmen, but that eventually 'a "feat friar" invented a "gin" (engine) which could cut off the heads of "valiant rogues". All beheadings took place at the Saturday market.

Daniel Defoe describes its construction and function in his book 'A Tour Through The Whole Island of Great Britain' thus:

The execution was performed by means of an engine called a gibbet, which was raised upon a platform four feet high and thirteen feet square, faced on every side with stone, and ascended by a flight of steps. In the middle of this platform were placed two upright pieces of timber, fifteen feet high, joined at the top by a transverse beam. Within these was a square block of wood four and a half feet long, which moved up and down by means of grooves made for that purpose; and to the lower part of this sliding block was fastened a sharp iron axe of the weight of seven pounds twelve ounces.

The axe thus fixed was drawn up to the top of the grooves by a cord and pulley. At the end of the cord was a pin, which, being fixed to the block, kept it suspended till the moment of execution, when the culprit, having placed his head on the block, the pin was withdrawn, the axe fell suddenly and violently on the criminal's neck, and his head was instantly severed from his body.... the head of the axe being loaded with a weight of lead to make it fall heavy, and the execution so secure, that it takes away all possibility of its failing to cut off the head.

53 people were executed by the gibbet between 1541 and 1650, the last occasion of its use.

Information taken from

Quaintly Ignorant
42092.  Thu Dec 29, 2005 4:17 pm Reply with quote

At this point the thief was confronted by the evidence. If he was then acquitted, he was set free after having paid the court fees; if he was condemned, arrangements were made for the execution.

One wonders what would have happened if he could not afford the court's costs, after having been acquitted.

The only way that a condemned person could escape the Gibbet was to withdraw his or her head before the blade fell, and then escape across the parish boundary over the Hebble Brook (*-mile away). The felon could then go free provided that he or she did not return.

The public house 'The running man' in Halifax celebrates John Lacy, who having escaped in this manner thought he was free to return and did so seven years later, only to face execution for a crime that would have otherwise been forgotten.

A quick search revealed:
Running Man The, 01422 362977, Pellon Lane, Halifax HX1 5QN

The pub stands to this day.

gerontius grumpus
42114.  Thu Dec 29, 2005 8:06 pm Reply with quote

This certainly predates Deacon Brodie's Guillotine in Edinburgh.
The English and the Scots werethere before the French got a look in.

gerontius grumpus
42711.  Mon Jan 02, 2006 7:56 pm Reply with quote

Is there any truth in the story that at the execution of Mary Queen of Scots, it took 15 blows of the axe to sever her head from her body?

42712.  Mon Jan 02, 2006 8:00 pm Reply with quote

The execution was badly carried out and it is said to have taken two or three blows to hack off her head. Various improbable stories about the execution were later circulated. Haven't heard about it being 15 though...

gerontius grumpus
42713.  Mon Jan 02, 2006 8:02 pm Reply with quote

It came up in a pub quiz once and 15 was the official answer.
I don't know how reliable this was because I didn't think much of the quizmaster.

42714.  Mon Jan 02, 2006 8:04 pm Reply with quote

When i did it at school we were taught it was either two or three times...but then that was 5 years ago so maybe my memory is playing tricks...

42719.  Mon Jan 02, 2006 9:59 pm Reply with quote

I've never attempted to decapitate anyone, but I believe that if I did, I could do it in less than 15 chops. It just sounds too many.

42720.  Mon Jan 02, 2006 10:11 pm Reply with quote

Most of the sources i have looked at tonight say that it took no more than three strokes

42739.  Tue Jan 03, 2006 5:24 am Reply with quote

gerontius grumpus wrote:
Is there any truth in the story that at the execution of Mary Queen of Scots, it took 15 blows of the axe to sever her head from her body?

The story about MQoS is that the headsman was clumsy and his axe blunt. He failed to sever her head with three blows and had to saw through the remaining skin and gristle with a knife.

The Romans used beheading for executing their own citizens and cricifixion for others.

Other than its use by the Romans, beheading was introduced into Britain by the Normans and the first person to be executed in this was was Waltheof, Earl of Northumberland in 1076.

Frederick The Monk
42878.  Tue Jan 03, 2006 2:00 pm Reply with quote

gerontius grumpus wrote:
Is there any truth in the story that at the execution of Mary Queen of Scots, it took 15 blows of the axe to sever her head from her body?

I have some notes on this:

The prayers done, Mary stood and placed the crucifix on her stool. Elizabeth Curle and Jane Kennedy stepped forward to help her remove the outer layers of her clothes and, as the executioner approached, she was heard to say that she was not used to undressing in such company. Taking the Agnus Dei from her neck she gave it to her servants and embraced them asking them not to cry and making the sign of the cross on their foreheads. She then turned and stood before her executioners. As was usual, even at such barbarous events, the men knelt before her and begged her forgiveness for the act they were about to perform. This she gladly granted.

The white handkerchief tied over her face, she was then lead to the block, which was so low that she was forced to lie in front of it. Silence fell across the hall. As the executioner was about to strike, his assistant noticed that she was resting her head on her hands to help her to breath. Realising that they would be cut off in the execution he took them and held them behind her back. Mary whispered one final latin prayer, saying:

“Into thine hands I commend my spirit”

and the axe fell. The executioner was nervous however and the blow missed her neck, striking her on the back of the head. She let out a groan but after a second blow she was dead. It took still one more stroke to sever her head from her torso. Amid the bloody butchery Mary’s little dog is said to have emerged from under her skirts and placed himself resolutely between her head, whose lips continued to murmur and twitch for a further fifteen minutes, and her bleeding body. Drenched in her blood, he was eventually dragged off and washed. It was about eleven o’clock.

s:The Historic Life and Death of Mary Stuart William Stranguage 1624, London
A Concise History of the Cathedral Church of Peterborough Anon, 1782
The Tragedy of Fotheringay Mary Monica Scott London, 1905
The English Captivity of Mary Queen of Scots Patrick Collinson Sheffield, 1987
Bittersweet My Heart Mary Queen of Scots London, 1992
Mary Queen of Scots Stephan Zweig London, 1987
Bibliotheca Topographica Britannica (ed J.Nichols), 1740

42912.  Tue Jan 03, 2006 5:53 pm Reply with quote

A famous decapitee?

Mike the Headless Chicken

42917.  Tue Jan 03, 2006 6:06 pm Reply with quote

There is a public house at Tarporpey, on the A51 from Chester to Nantwich called the Headless Woman. Legend has it that Cromwell's troops, engaged in hunting down Royalists in the Chester area, visited nearby Hockenhull Hall. The Hall was deserted with only the faithful housekeeper in charge. When she wouldn't reveal the location of the family treasure, the troops tortured and beheaded her. Down through the centuries since, she has been seen carrying her head under her arm as she walks the bridle path between Hockenhull Hall and the pub.

There used to be a statue of a headless woman in the garden but it was no longer there last time I passed.

42921.  Tue Jan 03, 2006 6:16 pm Reply with quote

The decapitated and restored chicken is a very ancient conjuring trick, in which a live chicken is apparently decapitated, the severed head passed around for examination, then replaced on the headless body, which is thus restored to life. In reality the conjurer hypnotises the chicken by the method described below, tucks the live head under the wing while producing a head previously severed from another bird, with a great show of knifework and gushing blood. The severed head returns from whence it came, and the still living chicken aroused. I do not suggest that Mike was such a trick.
See post 32542 for the method.

42968.  Wed Jan 04, 2006 6:29 am Reply with quote

This is thought to be the basis of the Ozzy Osbourne stunt of biting the head off a dove at LAX. The (later) bat however was real and not staged it seems (rabies shots required) - although Ozzy says he didn't realise that until it was too late; after all, what kind of whacko would throw a live bat onto the stage?

If both were, in fact, publicity stunts they certainly worked - after a fashion.


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