Alan Crosby's blog: The tale of John Massey and the Bilstone Gibbet

By Guest, 31 March 2016 - 5:07pm

While driving through Leicestershire over Easter, Alan came across the Bilstone Gibbet – a grisly reminder of a measure our forebears once used to deter local criminals

Dr Alan Crosby is the editor of the Local Historian and a columnist for WDYTYA? MagazineThursday 31 March 2016
Alan Crosby
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The gibbet post near Bilstone, Leicestershire, has been in place for more than 200 years (Photo: Alan Crosby)

I was in Leicestershire over Easter, driving along the minor road that leads from the A444 towards the villages of Bilstone, Congerstone and Shackerstone.

It’s called Gibbet Lane and my wife noticed that the Ordnance Survey map marked ‘Gibbet Post’. And yes, there beside a little layby was a worn and worm-eaten upright stout post, about six feet high, with some ancient iron bolts still embedded in it.

A helpful information board explained that it was erected in March 1801 to hold the corpse of John Massey, who was executed at Red Hill at Birstall, outside Leicester, on 23 March that year.

John, a farm labourer, was also a famous local wrestler and known to drink heavily. He had brutally assaulted his wife, Lydia, during a violent argument, and pushed her and his stepdaughter into a nearby mill stream. Lydia died but the girl survived and testified against him.

The body was brought to Bilstone the day after the execution and then wrapped round with chains and hung from a metal ring fixed to the top of the post. And there it stayed, as an awful warning to local people and the few passers-by who saw it. And it stayed... and it stayed... year after year. As late as 1818, 17 years on from the execution, the skeleton of John Massey was still there.

On a bright morning in spring with the birds singing it seemed a pleasant enough spot. But I imagined the scene two centuries ago, perhaps on a darkening evening near All Hallows Eve, with the grinning white skull of John Massey visible in the gloom. Very shivery indeed!

Alan Crosby lives in Lancashire and is editor of The Local Historian. He is an honorary research fellow at Lancashire and Liverpool universities.

 

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