Spence Broughton and The English Terror — Rob Hindle — 3rd October 2016.

In 1867, when the found­a­tions for a build­ing were being excav­ated at Clifton Street, Rotherham, the remains of a gibbet post were found.  It was of solid oak and had been embed­ded since 1792.  It attrac­ted a lot of sight­seers who, three years earlier, in 1864, gathered to gawp at the remains of the Dale Dyke Dam which attrac­ted 10,000 rubber-neckers.  The fas­cin­a­tion of the macabre in those days drew large num­bers of sight­seers which was good busi­ness for the local hostel­ries.

This gibbet was erec­ted for the remains of Spence Broughton whose tarred dead body was sus­pen­ded from it in an iron cage for 35 years.

Why did Spence Broughton meet this fate?  He was bap­tised in 1744 in Sleaford.  He came from a well-to-do family and, at 22 years old, had his own farm and three chil­dren.  However he turned his back on this “homely” exist­ence and found him­self another woman and became engaged in cock-fighting, cards and petty crim­inal activ­it­ies.

On his travels he met up with John Oxley, the latter being acquain­ted with John Shaw who was a receiver of stolen goods. Shaw said that Oxley and Broughton should hold up the mail from Rotherham to Sheffield.  The next even­ing, 28th January, 1791, George (the mail boy from Wentworth), was ambushed by the two men.  He wasn’t hurt but they tied him to a  tree leav­ing his horse nearby.  They took his saddle bag con­tain­ing the mail.  Broughton and Oxley rode to Sheffield and, on open­ing the bag, found a French Bill of Exchange made out to J. Walker of Rotherham (an indus­tri­al­ist) value of £123.  They went on their way to London and split the money.  Numerous other rob­ber­ies ensued includ­ing a £10,000 haul  in Cambridge.  Oxley and Broughton were even­tu­ally caught.  Oxley escaped and Broughton was sent to York Assizes.  He was brought before Judge Francis Buller.  Shaw turned King’s Evidence and Broughton was found guilty and con­demned to be executed.  Hanging, draw­ing and quar­ter­ing had been abol­ished by then so Broughton was to be put to death by hanging.  He was hanged on the 14th of the 4th, 1792 at York.  A gibbet was erec­ted at Attercliffe and 40,000 people came to view the body, making the land­lord of The Arrow pub a very rich man.  The body was covered in tar, lifted and placed in a riv­eted iron cage.  The body was thus dis­played as a deterrent to anyone think­ing of crim­inal activ­ity.

Events influ­en­cing the gibbet dis­play

Thomas Paine “Rights of Man” was, at the time, a sup­porter of the French Revolution. What with that, the Irish rising in 1798, the Napoleonic Wars, and the Peterloo Massacre, the estab­lish­ment was fear­ful of a sim­ilar coup in England.  Thus the dis­play of the tarred body was to dis­suade poten­tial rebels.

After 35 years Broughton’s body was taken down because a local land­lord said it was unset­tling for the fam­il­ies living in the area.

It was a very inter­est­ing and inform­at­ive talk.