The Halifax Gibbet

The Halifax Gibbet

The Halifax Gibbet existed before the arrival of the guillotine; it was actually the inspiration for the guillotine.

Both of the devices had the same purpose: execution. Both devices had a blade positioned from above ready to drop down onto the offending person’s neck. This executioner's tool got its name from being used in Halifax somewhere around the thirteenth century. The Gibbet Law allowed the Lord of the Manor for Halifax to sentence a person to death by the Halifax Gibbet if the accused was found guilty of stealing an item over 13p.

The Halifax Gibbet is first mentioned as being used in 1286 for the execution of John of Dalton, however there are no surviving records explaining what his charge was. An official register of Gibbet executions was not commenced until 1541; between that year and 1650 there were only 54 people sentenced to death, perhaps indicating the effectiveness of the device as a deterrent.  

The Halifex Gibbet
The Halifax Gibbet

The Halifax Gibbet consisted of a structure made from wood, 15 feet in height with a blade shaped like an axe at the top which was supported by a rope. The executioner cut this rope once the prisoner was properly fastened, and the blade’s weight and speed that it fell would behead the prisoner. The Halifax Gibbet got used during market days to make sure there were a lot of townspeople around for the execution, as it was hoped it would scare people into avoiding crime.

If a prisoner managed to escape on the date of their execution and reached the town’s outskirts, they were safe but could never go back to Halifax.

The last recorded date of the Halifax Gibbet is 1650, and the guillotine’s first use was recorded in 1789.

See also: Medieval Law and Order

MLA Citation/Reference

"The Halifax Gibbet". 2015. Web.