21 May 1636 – Abraham Clegg

Forget the French guillotine – the inhabitants of Halifax got there way before. The Northerners created an automated beheading machine that was designed to relieve robbers of their heads after they’d been found guilty in a court of law.

Ahead of its time

Dating back to Norman times, the Halifax gibbet was a mechanised axe – a forerunner for the guillotine, it was primarily created to prevent any one person from having to shoulder the burden of executing people.

And execute they did – anyone who had taken as little as 13 pence earned the penalty. One such criminal was Abraham Clegg. He was placed under the gibbet and parted company with his grey matter on this day in 1636. And in doing so, Clegg joined the ranks of 52 others, at least that’s the official number of beheadings since the gibbet’s execution records began.

Deterrent

As it was lead weighted, the Halifax gibbet was 100% fail safe – and being such a gruesome deterrent, it seemed successful in putting would-be criminals off from committing petty thefts.
Testimony to this is that, a few years before Clegg’s death, the infamous gibbet was immortalised in John Taylor’s 1622 poem, ‘From Hell, Hull and Halifax, Good Lord deliver us’:

“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”.

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