Eng. (Lancashire). Parish Bury.

The registers of the parish church of Bury in the County of Lancasrter. Christenings, burials, & weddings (Volume 2) online

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at the great leet.

This manor may be divided into three branches, distinguished by
the names of Wakefield Branch, Holmfirth Branch, and Halifax
Branch.

The Halifax Branch is disjoined from the other branches by the
Honor of Pontefract. Tlie most eastern part is about two miles from
Wakefield Branch, and commences at Hartishead, extending thence
Westward to the County of Lancaster, about twenty- three miles.
It is bounded by High-town, Robert-town, and Mirfield, to the East ;



60 THE MANOR.

Kirkheaton, Bradliv, Huddersfield, Lockwood, South Crossland,
and Slaithwaite, to the South ; Marsden and the County of Lancaster,
to the West ; Haworth, Thornton, Clayton, North Bierley, Wike
and Scholes, to the North.

The Lord of the Manor has the return of all writs within his
liberty, the direction being "To the Lord of the Manor of Wakefield,
and his depnties." There is a gaol for the imprisonment of debtors,
appertaining to the Manor, kept at Halifax.

The Court Baron which is held at the Moot-hall in Waketield,
holds plea for recovery of debts under £5, and in matters of replevin.
The jurisdiction of the Court was extended by an act of the 17th
George III, c. 15. The rolls relating to the copyhold estates holden
of the manor and manorial records, are kept at the rolls office, in
Wakefield, in the custody of the deputy steward.

Within the Manor are holden four courts leet, or sheriif-turns,
viz. at Wakefield, Halifax, Brighouse, and Holmfirth.

Under the leet at Halifax are the following Constableries : —

HALIFAX STANSFIELD

SOWERBY RISHWORTH CUM

SKIRCOAT NORLAND

OVENDEN LANGFIELD

W^ARLEY HEPTONSTALL

WADSWORTH ERRINGDEN
MIDGLEY.

Under the leet at Brighouse ;

NORTHOWRAM DALTON

SHELF FIXBY

HIPPERHOLME CUM STAINLAND

BRIGHOUSE BARKISLAND

RASTRICK HARTISHEAD CUM

QUARMBY CLIFTON

Indeed the whole of this extensive Parish with the exception of
the townships of EUand-cum-Greetland and Southowram is included
within the Manor.



THE GIBBET LAW



The exact period of time when the jurisdiction anciently exer-
cised by the Lords of the Manor of Wakefield, namely, the Jus
furccc was first called into operation within this Manor is involved
in great obscurity. It does not appear that any other mode of
punishment than that of decapitation was ever resorted to at this
place. The word gibbet is of doubtful derivation ; it is said to be
a French word as well as an English one, and a French author
declares himself uncertain whether the French borrowed it from the
English, or the English from the French. A MS. note in my pos-
session informs me that this mode of punishment was not unknown
to the ancients, and was considered by them as a mark of the
grossest infamy. That the term was known in this country as early
as the year 1223 is certain ; thus the king orders Gibbetum grandem
preparari ! where the Gibbet meant what is now called a gallows,
or the machine made use of for suspending a criminal in chains.
As modern legislation has happily discarded from our Statute book
the use of this Instrument, and as the interest and pleasure to be
derived from an extended enquiry as to its antiquity, is, after all,
rather of a doubttul nature, putting out of the question the value
of the information to be ultimately derived from an enlarged dis-
cussion, I shall proceed at once to the custom of the place.

As the jus f urea at Wakefield was actually claimed by the Earls
Warren, in their returns to quo warrantos, and never claimed for
Halifax. "I think," says Dr. Whitaker, "the consequence is that
the custom did not commence here till a later period, perhaps not
till the general introduction of the Woollen Manufactory rendered
a special protection necessary for that species of property." The
History of Halifax, published by Bentley, 1712, in "a true account
of their antient and customary Gibbet Law ; and their particular



62 THE GIBBET LAW.

form of trying and executing criminals, the like not used in any
other place in Great Britain," sets forth that the inhabitants within
the forest of Hardwick, claimed a custom from time immemorial,
"that if a felon he taken within their liberty, with goods stolen out
or within the liberty or precincts of the said forest, either hand
habend. backberand, or confessand, cloth or any other commodity
of the value of thirteen pence halfpenny, that he should, after three
markets or meeting days within the town of Halifax, next after such
his apprehension, and being condemned, be taken to the Gibbet,
and there have his head cut olF from his body." These liberties had
their beginning on the West, from the boundaries of Yorkshire and
Lancashire. On the East, Salterhebble Brook as the same runneth
from Illingworth to the river Calder. On the North, they bordered
on the vicarage of Bradford. And on the South, on the rivers of
Riburn and Calder, and contained Avithin their circuit the townships
and hamlets of Halifax, Ovenden, Illingworth, Mixenden, Brad-
shaw, Skircoat, Warley, Sowerby, Rishworth, Luddenden, Midg-
ley, Erringden, Heptonstall, Rawtonstall, Stansfield, Cross Stone,
Langfield, and Wadsworth. The Lord Bailiff of Halifax, was
called the Sheriff of Sowerbyshire, and in the execution of crimi-
nals acted as Sheriff.

When an accused person was apprehended he was forthwith
brought to the bailiff, who, by virtue of his authority, kept a common
jail in the town, had the custody of the axe, and was the executioner.
On receipt of the prisoner, the bailiff issued out his summons to the
constables of four several towns within the aforesaid precincts, to
require four Frith-burghers within each town to appear before him
on a certain day, to examine into the truth of the charge laid against
the prisoner ; at the time of appearance, the accuser and the accused
w^ere brought before the jurors, face to face, and the thing stolen
produced to view ; and they acquitted or condemned, according to the
evidence, without any oath being administered.

Bishop Hall, in his Satires, insinuates, that among the jurors of
this court integrity w^as something like an exception to a general
rule.

"Or some more straight-laced juror of the rest,
Impanelled on a Holy-fax Inquest."
If the party accused was acquitted, he was directly set at liberty



THE GIHRET LAW. 63

on payment of his fees ; if condemned, he was executed forthwith,
j)rovided it was the principal market day, if not, he was kept till
then, in order to strike the greater terror into the neighbourhood,
and in the mean time set in the stocks, on the lesser meeting days,
with the stolen goods on his back if portable, if not, before his face.
The party from whom the goods were stolen was not allowed to
compound the felony, but was bound to bring the prisoner with
what he had taken, to the chief bailiff at Halifax, and prosecute
the thief according to ancient custom ; otherwise the goods became
forfeited to the lord of the manor.

After every execution, it appears to have been the custom for
one of the coroners for the county to repair to the town of Halifax,
and there summon a jury of twelve men before him, (sometimes the
same persons who condemned the felon,) and administer an oath to
them, to give in a true verdict relating to the felony for which the
said felon was executed, to the intent that a record might be made
thereof in the crown-office, "which gracious and sage proceedings
of the coroner in that matter, ought," (as the author of the book
alluded to, most sagaciously observes) "one would think, to abate
in all considering minds, that edge of acrimony which hath provoked
malicious and prejudiced persons to debase this laudable and
necessary custom." A mode of proceeding very highly satisfactory
to the poor criminal.

The proceedings at the trials of the last malefactors Avho suffered
at this Gibbet, are fortunately preserved in Bentley's Book, and
are intitled : —

A true and impartial narrative of the trials of Abraham Wilkitison,
John Wilkinson, and Anthony Mitchell, for felony, by them com-
ynitted within the forest of Hardwick and liberty of Halifax.

"About the latter end of April, 1650, Abraham Wilkinson
John Wilkinson, and Anthony Mitchel, were apprehended within
the manor of Wakefield, and liberties of Halifax, for divers felo-
nious practices, and brought into the custody of the chief bailiff
there, to have their trials for the same, according to the custom of
the forest of Hardwick, at the complaint, and prosecution of Samuel
Colbeck, of Warley, and John Fielden, of Stansfield, both within the
liberty of Halifax, and John Cusforth, of Durker, in the pari^li of



64 THE GIBBKT LAW.

Sandal, within the manor of Wakefield; on which, the bailiff did
forthwith issue out his summons to the several constables of Halifax,
Sowerby, Warley, and Skircoat, requiring that without fail they
should make their appearance, with each of them four men of the
most antient, intelligent, and the best ability, within their several
constableries, at his house in Halifax, on the 27th day of April, 1650,
to hear, examine, and determine the several cases between the said
prosecutors and felons. Accordingly those who attended w



vere



For Halifax. For Sowerby.

JAMES HOLLAND. FRANCIS PRIESTLEY.

RICHARD NICOLLS. HENRY RILEY.

ISAAC HOOKER. JAMES DOBSON.

JOHN EXLEY. JOSEPH PRIESTLEY.

For Warley. For Skircoat.

JOHN RIALLS. JAMES WHITAKER.

MICHAEL WOOD. JAMES ELLISON.

JOHN HOLDSWORTH. ANTHONY WATERHOUSE.

HENRY MIRRIEL. THOMAS GILL.

These being impanelled by the bailiff in a convenient room in his
house according unto custom, and the prosecutors and felons being
brought face to face before them, and the stolen goods there, to be
viewed and apprized, the said bailiff thus opened to them the occasion
of their summons :

"Neighbors and friends,
" You are summoned hither and impanelled according to the antient
custom of the forest of Hardwick, and by virtue thereof, you are
required to make diligent search and inquiry into such complaints
as are brought against the felons, concerning the goods that are
set before you, and to make such just, equitable, and faithful
determination betwixt party and party, as you will answer it
between God and your own consciences.

"After this, the several informations were brought in, and
alledged against tliem, as follows :



THE GIBBET LAW. 65

"The information of Samuel Colbeck, of Warley.

" This informant saith, and affirmeth, that upon Tuesday the
17th of April, 1650, he had feloniously taken off from his tenters,
by Abraham Wilkinson, John Wilkinson, and Anthony Mitchell,
sixteen yards of russet- coloured kersey, part of which cloth you have
here before you, and of which you are to inquire of its worth and
value, and take their confession here before you.

"The information of John Cusforth, of Durker, in Sandal
parish.

"This informant saith, and affirmeth, that Abraham Wilkinson
and Anthony Mitchell, did feloniously take off from Durker Green,
the 17th day of April, 1650, at night, one black colt, which colt,
as well as the prisoners, are here presented before you ; and also at
the same time, one other grey colt belonging to Paul Johnson, of
Durker, was feloniously taken by these men from off Durker Green,
and is here produced to your view.

" The information of John Fielden, of Stansfield.

"This informant saith, and doth affirm, that he had one whole
kersey piece feloniously taken from the tenters at Brerely Hall, by
Abraham Wilkinson, about Christmas last, which he the said John
Fielden hath found in the hands of Thomas Brown, bailiff, in
Wakefield, six yards of which kersey being dyed cinnamon color,
and eight yards thereof white, and frized for blankets ; which dyed
piece he affirms that Isaac Gibson's wife, of Wakefield, did affirm
to the said Fielden, that Abraham Wilkinson did deliver unto her :
also William Ellison's wife doth affirm the same ; and John Roberts
doth affirm that he knoweth the man, and his name to be Abraham
Wilkinson.

"These three informations being thus given in, Abraham Wil-
kinson, accused by Fielden, alleged in his own defence that he did
not confess the aforesaid piece unto Gibson's wife, but was present
when John Spencer, a soldier, in Chesterfield, did deliver the said
piece unto Gibson's wife. On this point some debates arising among
the jurymen, they, as customary in such cases, adjourned to the
30th day of April, when being again assembled in like manner, at
the same place, after a full examination, and hearing of the whole
matter, with united consent, gave in their verdict in writing in
these words :



66 THE GIBBET LAW.

"An inquisition, taken at Halifax, the 27th and 30th days of
April, 1650, upon certain informations hereunto annexed.

"To the complaint of Samuel Colbeck, &c. we whose names are
hereunto subscribed, being summoned and impanelled according
to antient custom, do find by the confession of Abraham Wilkinson,
of Sowerby, within the liberty of Halifax, being apprehended and
taken, that he the said Abraham Wilkinson took the cloth in the
information mentioned, with the assistance of his brother John
Wilkinson, from the tenter of Samuel Colbeck, in Warley, being
sixteen yards of russet colored kersey, nine yards, at the least,
thereof, being brought before us, with the prisoner, the said Samuel
Colbeck doth affirm to be his own cloth, and part of the sixteen
yards aforesaid, and is so confessed to be by the prisoner, which
nine yards we do value and apprize to be worth nine shillings at
the least.

"To the complaint and information of John Cusworth, &c. we
the aforesaid impanelled jury do find, by the free confession of
Anthony Mitchell, that John Wilkinson did take the black colt of
John Cusworth's, from Durker-Green, and that himself and Abraham
Wilkinson were there present at the same time ; and also that Anthony
Mitchell himself did sell the aforesaid colt to Simeon Helliwell, near
Hepton-Brigg, for forty-eight shillings, whereof he received in
part twenty-seven shillings ; and we do apprize and value the same
colt to be worth forty-eight shillings. Likewise we do find by the
confession of the aforesaid Anthony Mitchell, that Abraham Wil-
kinson did take the grey colt of Paul Johnson's, from off Durker-
Green aforesaid ; and that John Wilkinson was with his brother
Abraham Wilkinson when he took him, and that the said Anthony
Mitchell was by, and present, when Abraham did stay, and bridle
the grey colt : Also he confesseth, that himself and John Wilkinson
did leave the said colt with George Harrison, of Norland, which
colt we have seen, and do value and apprize him at three pounds.
" The determinate sentence.
" The prisoners, that is to say, Abraham Wilkinson and Anthony
Mitchell, being apprehended within the liberty of Halifax, and
brought before us, with nine yards of cloth as aforesaid, and the
two colts above mentioned; which cloth we apprized to nine



THE GIBBET LAW. 67

shillings, and the black colt to forty-eight shillings, and the grey-
colt to three pounds : All which aforesaid being feloniously taken
from the above-said persons, and found with the said prisoners ; by
the antient custom, and liberty of Halifax, whereof the memory of
man is not to the contrary, the said Abraham Wilkinson, and
Anthony Mitchell, are to suffer death, by having their heads
severed, and cut off from their bodies, at Halifax Gibbet ; unto
which verdict we subscribe our names the thirtieth of April, one
thousand six hundred and fifty. James Holland, &c."

"After this, the said Abraham Wilkinson and Anthony Mitchell
were, the same day, f because it was Saturday, or the great market,)
conducted to the said gibbet, and there executed in the usual form.
These felons were the last who suffered by this mode of punishment.

I am at a loss how to reconcile this fact with what Bentley says.
" As touching the manner of the felon's death, you'll find great
kindness and christian compassion to be discovered. In that he
hath six days allowed him after his condemnation to prepare himself
by the best means he can devise, or shall make choice of, to fit and
prepare himself for his latter end religiously and devoutly, as being
well assured that his death is unavoidable." But I have taken the
account as I find it.

This peculiar and humane mode of punishment, was probably
introduced by the great Norman Barons out of their own country,
where it had lately been made the instrument of the most compen-
dious and expeditious massacres that ever disgraced the forms of
justice. It may be traced as appurtenant to the right of outfangtheof
and infangtheof in the domains of the Lacies, both in Cheshire and
Lancashire. In the laws of Edward the Confessor, which William
the Bastard afterwards confirmed, the 21st chapter is entitled, " De
Baronibus qui suas habent curias, et consuetudines," and therein is
express mention made of infangtheof, which in chapter 26th is thus
explained, " Justitia cognoscentis latronis sua est, de homine suo, si
captus fuerit super terram suam." Here is nothing said " de
homine extraneo," or such as did not belong to the manor, whom
the lord had power to execute, by the privilege of outfangtheof, if
taken as a thief within his manor, let the robbery have been com-
mitted where it would. This power, however, was certainly exer-
cised at Halifax, as appears, amongst other instances, from the
F 2



68 THE GIBBET LAW.

following entries in the register there : " Quidam extraneus
capitalem subiit sententiam, 1° die Jan. 1542" — " Richard Sharpe,
and John Learoyd, beheaded the 5th day of March, 1568, for a
robbery done in Lancashire."

" Our early text writers are not agreed as to the power of
infangtheof, and outfangtheof ; the truth is what Spelman has
asserted, " certissima interpretatio a locorum usu petitur." The
proof of certain facts appears to have been essentially necessary,
before a felon was condemned to suffer.

" 1st. He was to be taken within the liberty; and it appears
that if he escaped out of the liberty, even after condemnation, he
could not be brought back to be executed ; but if ever he returned
into it again, and was taken, he was sure to suft'er ; as was the
case with one Lacy, who, after his escape, lived seven years out of
the liberty, but returning, was beheaded on his former verdict,
A.D. 1623. This man was not so wise as one Dinnis, who having
been condemned to die, escaped out of the liberty on the day
destined for his execution, (which might be done by running about
five hundred yards) and never returned again ; meeting several
people, they asked him if Dinnis was not to be beheaded that day ;
his answer was, " I trow not ;" which having some humour in it,
became a proverbial saying amongst the inhabitants, who to this
day use the expression, " I trow not, quoth Dinnis."

" 2dly. The fact was to be proved in the clearest manner; the
offender was to be taken either handhabend, or backberand, having
the stolen goods either in his hand, or bearing them on his back,
or lastly confessand, confessing that he took them. This is what
writers have called by the name of furtum manifestum, answering
to the Open Dypb in the 61st chapter of the laws of the Danish
King Cnute, which is there said to be a crime not to be atoned
for ; and perhaps the bad opinion which our ancestors had of this
offence, might give rise to the Baron's power of punishing it ; for
nothing surely could more effectually deter from the practice, than
to take off the offenders without much trouble, or expence to the
prosecutors, in this public, summary way, without a possibility of
either pardon, or reprieve, if they were found guilty. It is worth
remarking, that neither of the last executed criminals were taken
either handhabend, or backberand, but that both were convicted on



THE GIBBET LAW. 69

their own confession ; and it seems that John Wilkinson escaped,
merely by not confessing; for Anthony Mitchell charged him
directly with stealing the black colt; and Abraham Wilkinson,
with assisting him to rob the tenter of Samuel Colbeck. Does it not
therefore follow, that the two others might likewise have saved
their lives, had they used the same precaution ? But if so, there
was a great defect in this mode of proceeding, for unless a man
was taken with stolen goods in his actual, and immediate possession,
(which would very seldom be the case) his silence was sure to bring
him off, and the person injured had no farther redress ; for it is to
be presumed that the criminal could not be again arraigned for the
same offence in the king's court. There is a mistake in the register
book at Halifax, which has John Willdnson beheaded, instead of
Abraham ; for if this be right, then Abraham Wilkinson was
acquitted, though he confessed that he stole the cloth, and John
was executed merely on the information of the two others, which
is directly subversive of the very foundation on which this custom
is said to stand."

The expression in the determinate sentence, " that the two colts,
and cloth were found with the prisoners," appears foreign to the
purpose, if the nature of this privilege is rightly handed down to
us ; for they were not found with them either handhabend, or back-
berand ; neither could they have been found guilty from the manner
of the discovery, for if they could, John Wilkinson must also have
suffered with them.

" 3dly. The value of the goods stolen must amount to thirteen
pence halfpenny, or more ; (and if at the judgment of the jury, it
be but at the utmost value worth thirteen pence halfpenny, and no
more, or of less value, by this custom they are to acquit the felon,
and he shall not die for it.) The opinions about this, however, have
differed, some fixing the value at thirteen pence ; others that it
was to exceed thirteen pence halfpenny. Dr. Grey, in his notes
on Hudibras, vol. ii. p. 288, seems to think that thirteen pence
halfpenny may have been called hangman's wages, in allusion to
the Halifax law ; if so, might not the Scotch mark, which was
made current in England, in the reign of King James I. for
thirteen pence halfpenny, have been made the standard value for
convicting capitally at this place, and this piece, or the value of it.



70 THE GIBBET LAW.

be the usual gratuity to the executioner ? Nothing renders this
improbable, but that the custom must then have undergone an
alteration, without its being known by what authority ; but it will
be shewn by and by, that it has undergone a greater change than
this.

" 4thly. The accused person was, after three markets, or meeting
days, within the town of Halifax, next after such his apprehension,
and being condemned, to be taken to the gibbet. This is not very
clearly expressed, but the meaning is, doubtless, that after he was
delivered to the bailiff, no time was to be lost in proceeding to his
trial, for the said bailiff was immediately to send his summons for
the speedy bringing in of those who were to try him, which might
be effected in two or three days ; his execution, if he was found
guilty, depended on the day when the sentence was passed, for he
was not to be beheaded but on a Saturday, which was the great
meeting ; thus if he was convicted on a Monday, he would be kept
three market days ; if on a Saturday, he would, as some have
asserted, be led directly to the block. This was the case of the
two last malefactors, who were condemned, and executed the same
day.

" othly. When brought to the gibbet, he was to have his head
cut off from his body. This gibbet stood a little way out of the
town, towards the West end, on an ascent still distinguished by the
name of the Gibbet Hill, and which at that time formed the princi-
pal Western entrance to the town ; where, to this day, is to be
seen a square platform of earth, considerably raised above the level
of the road, walled about, and ascended by a flight of stone
steps ; on the summit of this hill were placed two upright pieces of
timber, five yards in height, joined at the top by a transverse beam ;
within these was a square block of wood, which Harrison, in his
Description of England, vol. i. p. 185. Lond. 1587, says, was of
the length of four feet and a half, which rose up and down, between
the said uprights, by means of grooves cut for that pur^jose ; to the
lower end of this sliding block an iron axe was fastened, which is
yet to be seen at the jail in Halifax ; its weight is seven pounds
twelve ounces ; its length ten inches and a half ; it is seven inches
l)road at the top, and very near nine at the bottom ; its centre i^-
about seven inches and a half ; at the top arc two holet^ made to



Online LibraryEng. (Lancashire). Parish BuryThe registers of the parish church of Bury in the County of Lancasrter. Christenings, burials, & weddings (Volume 2) → online text (page 7 of 52)