The Halifax gibbet

The ‘privilege’ (right) of a gibbet is believed to have been vested in Halifax around the time of the Norman Conquest in 1066, although the earliest reference to it dates from 1280. At that time, there were said to be one hundred other places in Yorkshire that similarly enjoyed this distinctive honour. In the case of Halifax, however, its notoriety stemmed from the fact that the custom of the Gibbet Law continued long after it had been abandoned elsewhere.

Evidence of the arrival of the gibbet is recorded in Thomas Deloney’s Thomas, of Reading, a romantic and racy ballad in which “Hodgskins, of Halifax, and his fellow clothiers are represented as having obtained the valuable privilege of the gibbet from the Crown, for the purpose of punishing those who filched their cloth from the tenters.”

Local legend goes onto tell of how the good gentlemen of Halifax found it impossible to take on the role of hangman, but that eventually “a ‘feat friar’ came to the rescue of the tender consciences of the townsfolk, by the timely invention of a ‘gin’ [engine] which was capable of cutting off the heads of ‘valiant rogues’ without the direct intervention of human hands.”

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