19 April 1650 – Anthony Mitchell and John Wilkinson

As if execution wasn’t gruesome enough, it was grimmer up North. And you don’t get harder than the inhabitants of Halifax in West Yorkshire.

They dreamed up the famous gibbet, which was based on the guillotine, but meaner. It was built to deal with people who stole cloth and became so legendary in its time that even Daniel Defoe wrote about it.

Heads you lose

Why was it so bad? Well get this, if you were quick enough to move away from the unit and escape before the blade swiped your head off, you could go free so long as you never came back to darken Halifax doorways again. But boy did you have to be nimble.

Sadly Anthony Mitchell and John Wilkinson weren’t quick enough and became the last two criminals to fall victim to the callous contraption. In fact after their executions, the gibbet was retired mainly because people had turned against it as a method of execution following Charles I’s decapitation just a year before the two robbers.

As for Mitchell and Wilkinson, they’d been had up for stealing cloth and horses. And for that they were condemned to death. It’s hard to believe that criminals could lose their life for a bit of material, but in that day and age it was a new industry and they had illusions of taking on the more established haberdashers in Europe and further afield. And to give them a hope of doing that, they came down hard on the perpetrators.

It said that the bodies of two headless men were unearthed a couple of hundred years later and the skeletons are attributed to our two victims.

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