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18 June 2014
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Legacies - South Yorkshire

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Myths and Legends
sketch of Spence Broughton
Broughton did not avoid punishment

© Sheffield City Council
The rotting corpse of Spence Broughton

A step towards crime

At the time of committing the robbery, which left him rotting away in public for 36 years, Spence Broughton was living in London with his partner-in-crime, John Oxley. In February 1791, Broughton and Oxley travelled north to rob the Sheffield to Rotherham mail coach. The robbery took place at Ickles, at the Rotherham edge of Attercliffe Common. Legend has it that the only item of value was a French bill of exchange worth £123, which the robbers had to use a French dictionary to cash.

In October, Oxley was arrested for taking part in another robbery at Cambridge and admitted his part in this earlier mail coach job. In a state of panic, Broughton fled to the well-known criminal Thomas Shaw, perhaps to get help in avoiding the authorities, but was recognised and apprehended by policeman John Townsend. Both Oxley and Shaw implicated Broughton in the robbery. Oxley managed to break loose, but Broughton did not and was transported to York Assizes where criminals were tried. Broughton was found guilty and sentenced to death.

A warning to the public
© Special Collections, Glasgow University Library
On 16th April, after Spence Broughton had been hanged, his body was taken back to the place of his crime, Attercliffe Common, where it was hung in a gibbet. The event was hugely anticipated by Sheffield’s people, suggesting that Broughton’s case had become famous. Broughton’s body reportedly attracted 40,000 visitors on the first day; to the great benefit of the landlord of the nearest pub, the Arrow, he claimed that passing trade to see Broughton’s body made him a fortune. Broughton’s body soon became a local landmark, remaining in the gibbet until 1827. The only reason it was not on display for longer, was a complaint from the landowner who had grown tired of the trespassers on his land. Yet why was Broughton displayed in public for such an extended period of time?

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