Close Encounters with Gibbets

Sarah Tarlow writes about her recent search for gibbets.

I’ve been getting quite excited about gibbet cages lately. The team was surprised to find from our primary sources how infrequently people were gibbetted outside London. In many counties there were only one or two people gibbetted during the whole period between the Murder Act and the Anatomy Act (1752-1832); in Cornwall there were none at all. Given this infrequency I suspected that for most blacksmiths, a gibbet cage would not be part of their normal repertoire and, given also that the cage had to be made in only a few days, we might expect that gibbet cages do not show any strong regional traditions of style in their design, or any clear chronological development. In effect, each blacksmith would be reinventing the wheel – solving the design problem from scratch. To test this idea I have been travelling the country visiting all the surviving gibbet cages and bits of cages I can find - fifteen so far. The variety of styles and manufactures suggest that gibbet cages were indeed usually the result of independent invention. I have two more gibbets to visit – in Norwich and Warrington – and will then publish an article on the technology of the gibbet in the next few months.

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