On this day … 25 April 1727

The Preston Court Leet had an intriguing reference to a gibbet in Preston when the town’s bailiffs were in trouble ‘for neglecting to repair the Gibbet and Fryergate Barrs’. There is only one other reference to a gibbet in the town in all the other records of the court, and that was when the bailiffs were accused of the same neglect at the court the previous October.

There was another record of a gibbet in Preston, but that was back in the fourteenth century (see 22 April post).

Gibbet and skeleton
A gibbet and its contents serve as a grisly advertisement for the London Bridge Experience: https://assets.londonist.com/uploads/2022/07/i875/52086876899_3fe114662e_c_-1.jpg

The court leet mention of a gibbet puzzled the Preston historian Anthony Hewitson, who wrote in his book on the court leet:

There is no allusion in any of the local histories to the position, or even the existence, of a gibbet in Preston. There are now some gibbet irons (chains) in the show room of John Whitehead’s successors (Messrs. Newsholme Brothers), iron-mongers, &c., Fishergate, Preston.

For many years, and up to quite recently, they were in the warehouse (Glover’s-court) at the rear of the shop. In 1859 they were bought, simply as old iron, by John Whitehead; they came from the House of Correction at the bottom of Church-street— had, in all likelihood, been taken there amongst other ‘relics’ when that place was opened as the successor of the old prison in 1789.

The last time this gibbet was used was in the case of a man named William Whittle. He was tried at Lancaster Assizes on the charge of murdering his wife and two children at Farington, near Preston, was found guilty, hanged on Lancaster Moor on the 5th of April, 1766, and afterwards his remains were gibbeted at the four lane ends, near the present Farington Vicarage, and but a short distance from his house where he committed the threefold tragedy.

In some quarters an idea prevails that this was the last time the gibbet was used in England; but this is quite erroneous. The last person gibbeted in this country was a man named George Cook, book-binder, of Leicester. He was executed for the murder of a commercial traveller, and was gibbeted in Saffron-lane, Aylestone, near Leicester, in 1832.

In the room previously referred to (Messrs. Newsholme’s) there are an iron pillory top, a flogging frame, some leg irons and wrist shackles. which were formerly at the House of Correction, and were bought, at the same time as the gibbet irons, by the late John Whitehead.

If there was a gibbet in Preston in the eighteenth century, then the mentions in the court leet records alongside a mention of the Friargate barrs suggest that they could have been near each other.

The barrs were near the Marsh Lane junction, and so a likely spot for a gibbet would be near the present UCLan roundabouts. Gibbets were normally placed at a prominent road junction, as at Farrington, to serve as a warning and to demonstrate that justice had been done.

Wikipedia supplies the following:

A gibbet is any instrument of public execution (including guillotine, executioner’s block, impalement stake, hanging gallows, or related scaffold). Gibbeting is the use of a gallows-type structure from which the dead or dying bodies of criminals were hanged on public display to deter other existing or potential criminals. Occasionally, the gibbet was also used as a method of execution, with the criminal being left to die of exposure, thirst and/or starvation. The practice of placing a criminal on display within a gibbet is also called ‘hanging in chains.

David Berry’s complete transcript of the court leet records: http://www.wyrearchaeology.org.uk/mw/index.php/Main_Page

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