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18 June 2014
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Legacies - South Yorkshire

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Myths and Legends
Attercliffe Common
The gibbet on Attercliffe Common

© Sheffield City Council
The rotting corpse of Spence Broughton


During the 18th Century, whipping, pillory, or stocks, and the gallows were popular forms of public punishment for robbery, whilst a conviction of high treason meant a sentence of ‘hung, drawn and quartered’. The use of gibbeting as a punishment for a crime was reserved for felons the authorities wanted to make an example of. Though the term gibbet was sometimes used to refer to the gallows, it was later used in reference to a particular way of displaying the bodies of criminals; the convict’s body was hung in chains or irons after execution, and left to rot away for a number of years. According to J P Bean in ‘Crime in Sheffield’, the Judge, Mr Justice Buller, said on passing Spence Broughton’s sentence:

“that in order to deter other his punishment should not cease at the place of execution but his body should be suspended between earth and Heaven, as unworthy of either, to be buffeted by winds and storms.”

Thus while the gibbet was a means of further punishing the criminal, it also acted as a deterrent to others thinking of committing crimes. Crime and punishment historian Jim Sharp, explains the gibbeting process:

“A gibbet is normally a pole, about 30 feet high. Typically there were variations, but it would probably be that the body would be put in a metal cylinder frame around the torso, so the body is held in place, and that is attached to the gibbet by chains, you occasionally see that process described as ‘body hanged in chains.”

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